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JAIPUR

Location

Jaipur is the capital and the largest city of the Indian state of Rajasthan. As of 2011, the city had a population of 3.1 million, making it the tenth most populous city in the country. Jaipur is also known as the Pink City, due to the dominant color scheme of its buildings. It was constructed within a period of four years and Jaipur is the only city that has been planned as per rules & regulations of the Vastu Shastra and the Shilpa Shastra. It is located 268 km (167 miles) from the national capital New Delhi.

Jaipur is a popular tourist destination in India and forms a part of the west Golden Triangle tourist circuit along with Delhi and Agra (240 km, 149 mi). It also serves as a gateway to other tourist destinations in Rajasthan such as Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Kota and Mount Abu. Jaipur is located 616 km from Shimla.

History

Jaipur was founded in 1727 by the Rajput ruler Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amer, after whom the city is named. It was one of the earliest planned cities of modern India, designed by Vidyadhar Bhattacharya. During the British Colonial period, the city served as the capital of Jaipur State. After independence in 1947, Jaipur was made capital of the newly-formed state of Rajasthan.

On 6 July 2019, UNESCO World Heritage Committee inscribed Jaipur the ‘Pink City of India’ among its World Heritage Sites. The city is also home to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Amber Fort and Jantar Mantar.

How to go?

By air: Sanganer airport is the nearest airport to the city of Jaipur. It is located at a distance of 10 kilometers from the city centre. The airport has flight connectivity with major Indian cities like Mumbai and Delhi. International tourists can take connecting flights to Jaipur from Mumbai or Delhi airport.

By rail: The railway junction at Jaipur connects it with various cities. For a royal experience one can take the Palace on Wheels. This train leaves from Delhi and connects various cities in Rajasthan.

By road: Jaipur has good network of roads connecting it with major Indian cities. NH 8, NH 11 and NH 12 are the main national highways connecting the city of Jaipur with other cities. National capital New Delhi is just 235 KM from this beautiful city while the city of the Taj Mahal, Agra, is only 220 KM from here. Other important cities include Ajmer at 130 KM, Mathura at 196 KM and Gwalior at 250 KM. There are good services of Buses and Cabs available like buses from Jaipur to Delhi bus.

Tourist Places

Amer Fort: Amber Fort, situated 11 kilometers from Jaipur, is a fort built with great artistic taste. Cradled on the top of a hill forming a beautiful reflection in Maotha Lake, it is popularly known as Amer Fort.

City Palace: Located in Jaipur, The City Palace is the main palace from where the Maharaja reigned from. The palace includes the Chandra Mahan and Mubarak Mahal along with various other buildings within the complex. It is located towards the north-eastern side of Jaipur.

Hawa Mahal: The Hawa Mahal stands at the intersection of the main road in Jaipur, Badi Chaupad. It is regarded as the signature building of Jaipur and was built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh.

Jantar Mantar: Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is the largest stone astronomical observatory in the World. It is located just next to the city palace of Jaipur in Rajasthan. Built during the period between 1727 and 1733, the Jantar Mantar is still in a running condition and it stands as a witness regarding the wisdom of former age.

Nahargarh Fort: Nahargarh Fort, situated on the outer skirts of Jaipur is an epitome of great architecture and planning. Drenched with rich past, the fort allows you a picturesque view of the entire city. Built in 1734, this grand architecture is a perfect way to begin the excursion of this pink city.

Chokhi Dhani: Chokhi Dhani is a luxury heritage resort synonymous with Rajasthani village culture. It is located a little on the outskirts of the city on the Tonk Road. The concept of the village is to give you a tangible feel of rural Rajasthan. It is a true depiction of traditional Rajasthan with ancient artifacts, handicrafts, paintings, folklore and sculptures. The village offers myriad entertainment options- folk dances, singing, camel rides, puppet shows, fortune-tellers, acrobatics, predicting parrots, magic shows, horse riding, boating etc.

Bapu Bazar: Besides the plethora of palaces and forts and havelis and wildlife, Jaipur is also the ultimate shopping paradise. Among the numerous flourishing flea markets of Jaipur is the Bapu Bazaar. Situated in the heart of the Pink city between Sanganer Gate and New Gate, the market is known for its alluring Rajasthani quintessential products including textiles, handicrafts, brass works and precious stones. The bazaar attracts tourists from all over India and worldwide owing to its authenticity, diversity and giveaway price products.

Jal Mahal: Amidst the chaos of the city of Jaipur, lies the splendid Jal Mahal, or Water Palace. Floating in the centre of the Sagar Lake, this low rise symmetrical Palace was once a shooting lodge for the Maharajas. This unique palace fascinates a large number of visitors from all over the world.

Panna Meena Ka Kund: Established in the 16th century, the place is also known by many other names locally, some of which are just derivations of the original name in the local language. A baori or a stepwell is a concept solely originating from the Indian subcontinent and were the most popular source of water during the old times. These are mostly man-made pools of water that can be reached by descending a series of stairwells. Panna Meena ka Kund in Jaipur is one of the many famous stepwells that still stand in the western part of India, where they were mostly constructed. The original purpose of this Baori was to supply the locals with water for drinking and other daily needs, especially during the dry summers, as well as crop irrigation.

So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and set out to discover yourself back in time! Set out to go into history!

COVAXIN

What is Covaxin?

It has been developed by the company Bharat Biotech India (BBIL) in collaboration with ICMR’s National Institute of Virology (NIV). It is an “inactivated” vaccine — one made by using particles of the Covid-19 virus that were killed, making them unable to infect or replicate. Injecting particular doses of these particles serves to build immunity by helping the body create antibodies against the dead virus, according to BBIL.

News about Covaxin

Earlier this week, Bharat Biotech announced that it had developed a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, named Covaxin, together with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune. The company had also received permission from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) to begin human trials, expected to commence in August.

Bharat Biotech is a reputed drug manufacturer that delivers four billion doses around the world for infections like rotavirus, hepatitis, Zika, Japanese encephalitis and others. However, its claim that Covaxin is indigenous – advanced, among others, by managing director Krishna Ella – raises some doubts.

According to Bharat Biotech, Covaxin is an inactivated vaccine developed from an Indian strain of the novel coronavirus isolated by NIV. No further information has been provided, especially about the nature of the vaccine or how it was developed. There have been no prior announcements either about when the process of developing such a vaccine was begun.

ICMR transferred the strain NIV had isolated to Biotech Bharat on May 9. The company published its press release on June 29. So there were only 50 days in between, during which time the company should have developed the inactivated vaccine, conducted preclinical animal trials (with mice and hamsters, according to the company), and sent its reports to be evaluated and approved by DCGI. Although ICMR had promised to expedite the process, animal trials with mice typically take at least three months to conclude.

A related issue is that animal trials for COVID-19 can only be conducted with hACE2 transgenic mice, as ‘normal’ mice can’t get infected with the novel coronavirus. These mice need to be shipped from the US, Europe or China.

These issues therefore raise concerns about whether Bharat Biotech could really have proceeded to the human-trials phase of vaccine development within only 50 days of receiving the inactivated virus from NIV.

Collaboration with US company

Bharat Biotech has currently invested in two other vaccines: CoroFlu in collaboration with FluGen Inc. and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an inactivated rabies vaccine vehicle for coronavirus proteins developed along with Matthis Schnell, director of the Jefferson Vaccine Centre (JVC), Pennsylvania. The latter is of interest.

On May 20, Bharat Biotech announced its collaboration with JVC as well as the license it had received to conduct clinical trials, and to produce and deliver vaccines in 80 countries excluding the US, Europe and Japan. On April 7, JVC announced a promising vaccine candidate named Coravax.

Coravax uses an inactivated rabies vaccine to carry the spike protein of the novel coronavirus. The spike protein attaches to a host cell and causes an infection, so experts expected this vaccine to trigger a good immune response on the body’s part. Schnell corroborated this response following preliminary tests with animals. Schnell added that JVC would need one more month to complete follow-up studies.

Bharat Biotech hasn’t shared any technical details of Covaxin. But based on what we already know, there appears to be room for the possibility that Covaxin is Coravax by another name – and by another viral strain. And even if the vaccine is wholly indigenous, the timelines for the animal trials don’t line up.

When does ICMR plan to launch it?

Aiming to make it available for public use by August 15, Bhargava wrote to the 12 trial sites to ensure “all” clinical trials were conducted by then. While BBIL’s application with the Clinical Trials Registry of India (CTRI) shows it plans to complete enrolment of trial participants by July 13, Bhargava has directed the sites to complete enrolment by July 7.

Is this even achievable?

A vaccine usually goes through three phases of human trials. The Central Drugs Standard Control Organization has given approvals for phase I and II trials so far. According to details from CTRI, BBIL in its application estimated phase I and II trials to take a year and three months, including at least a month for phase I alone.

Experts have questioned how all three phases can be concluded within a month and a half. “I would find it very surprising if it is done. Even the most ambitious companies in the world that are in more advanced stages of development for their Covid-19 vaccines have a longer time-frame. Even having all the trial results, with safety and efficacy data, by August 15 is difficult. This raises several questions,” said Dr Anant Bhan, Researcher, Global Health, Bioethics and Health Policy.

While vaccine trials can be fast-tracked, it still takes over a year to launch the product, experts said. In a pandemic, emergency-use approval can be given if data from the first two trial phases is compelling enough, said an expert on condition of anonymity. This would allow the launch without the third phase being conducted, but this approval would likely be given with riders to submit additional data and adverse event reports.

SYLLABUS REDUCTION IN ICSE AND CBSE

ICSE Syllabus Reduction

The Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations CISCE, popularly called ICSE Board has announced a reduction of up to 25 per cent in the syllabus for classes 10th and 12th. This reduction would be applicable for ICSE, ISC board exams to be conducted in 2021.

The board has decided this on account of learning disruption that students faced as the schools were closed during the nation-wide lockdown. The ICSE, ISC board has directed all its schools to ensure that the subject teachers go by the syllabus strictly as per the sequence of topics listed in the syllabus. This would make it easier to facilitate a further reduction in syllabus. ICSE Board Exams remaining papers for the year 2020 have recently been cancelled and the new assessment scheme for the students is expected soon on cisce.org. 

CICSE Chief Executive and Secretary Gerry Arathoon said, “Schools across the country have been shut for the past three months due to the lockdown. While a number of CISCE-affiliated schools have tried to adapt to this changed scenario and have tried to keep alive the teaching-learning process through online classes, there has been a significant shortening of the academic year and loss of the instructional hours.”

He informed that the currently used syllabi would be reduced by 25 per cent which is subject to the condition that prevails in the next few months. He asserted that in case the conditions do not improve the syllabus might be reduced even more.

“To make up for the loss in instructional hours during the current session, the CISCE has worked with its subject experts, to reduce the syllabus for all major subjects at the ICSE, Class 10 and ISC, Class 12 levels. Syllabus reduction has been done, keeping in mind the linear progression across classes while ensuring that the core concepts related to the subject are retained,” he informed while talking to the media.

The Chief Executive officer and Secretary informed that there might be a fifty per cent reduction in syllabus too if the conditions did not improve in the coming months. He added, “Given the academic loss till July, which is around 45 days we have reduced the syllabus for the students appearing for Class 10 and 12 Boards up to 25 percent. However, that is subject to further review as from July first week our schools are only able to resume online classes. This could have further adverse effects. We may even have to reduce the syllabi further and may even have to go up to 50 per cent reduction.”

The Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) has worked with its subject experts to reduce the syllabi for all major subjects of the ICSE and ISC.

“Syllabus reduction has been done keeping in mind the linear progression across classes while ensuring that the core concepts related to the subject are retained,” said Gerry Arathoon Chief Executive and Secretary of the Council in the circular dated July 3.

The reduced syllabi for the current academic year 2020-21 have been made available on the CISCE website. Student may see ICSE reduced syllabus for class 9 and 10 and ISC reduced syllabus for classes 11 and 12 on the website.

CBSE Syllabus Reduction

Central Board of Secondary Education, CBSE is expected to share a reduced syllabus with the various schools for Classes 9 to 12 soon. The new syllabus, officials have shared, are almost ready and would be shared with the respective schools soon. Furthermore, it is expected that the syllabus may be reduced by 33% for 10th 12h Board Exams 2021. Paper pattern is also expected to be revised.

CBSE has been in conversation with various stakeholders and also NCERT to rationalize the existing syllabus for secondary and higher secondary classes in view of the prevalent conditions. It has taken cognizance of the slowed speed of online learning, existing situations and also the fact that the schools may not open soon enough for many regions in the country. Taking all the factors into consideration, the board would be releasing a revised curriculum for Classes 9 to 12. For classes 1 to 8, the board has already notified schools to accordingly make the changed. 

Though the exact extent of the changes has not been shared as yet, Mr. Anurag Tripathi, in a webinar with various school Principals from across the country shared the board’s readiness. Heads of schools have shared the broad outline as shared by the secretary of the board, highlighting that the new syllabus and paper pattern is going to be more ‘student centric’.

The board has also pointed out the simple reduction of syllabus is not enough. With COVID-19 and closure of schools, education has been impacted to a large extent. Though online classes have started, there are considerable differences in classroom coaching and online classes. With this in mind, the board is expected to also make the following changes in the class 10, 12 exams, including revised paper patter, evaluation and assessment strategy.

Inclusion of online assessment in terms is small tests, project based and inter-group activities are being considered. Schools have also been advised to consider ‘Digital Labs’ and changing ‘practical’ to make it at home. No change in weightage of practical or internal marks was suggested. Guidelines for summative assessment are also expected to be shared by the board along with revised syllabus structure.

In another unconfirmed report, it was suggested that CBSE may increase the MCQ part of the paper pattern further. In previous years plans shared by the board, CBSE had already suggested an increase in the MCQ section to cover about 20%. This was further reminded by the board to the schools in a circular released in April. The board is likely to further increase the weight of MCQs. Some even suggested that the same may be increased to about 50% of the paper – this, however, was not suggested by the secretary in the meeting mentioned above.

KASHMIR

Location

Kashmir is the northernmost geographical region of the Indian subcontinent. Until the mid-19th century, the term “Kashmir” denoted only the Kashmir Valley between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal Range. Modern usage of the term encompasses a larger area that includes the Indian-administered territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the Pakistani-administered territories of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, and Chinese-administered territories of Aksai Chin and the Trans-Karakoram Tract.

History

In the first half of the first millennium, the Kashmir region became an important centre of Hinduism and later of Buddhism; later still, in the ninth century, Kashmir Shaivism arose. In 1339, Shah Mir became the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir, inaugurating the Salatin-i-Kashmir or Shah Mir dynasty. Kashmir was part of the Mughal Empire from 1586 to 1751, and thereafter, until 1820, of the Afghan Durrani Empire. That year, the Sikhs, under Ranjit Singh, annexed Kashmir. In 1846, after the Sikh defeat in the First Anglo-Sikh War, and upon the purchase of the region from the British under the Treaty of Amritsar, the Raja of Jammu, Gulab Singh, became the new ruler of Kashmir. The rule of his descendants, under the paramountcy (or tutelage) of the British Crown, lasted until the partition of India in 1947, when the former princely state of the British Indian Empire became the subject of the Kashmir conflict. The modern region is administered by three countries: India, Pakistan, and China.

How to go

By air: To fly into Kashmir, take the Srinagar Airport (15 km away), which is well connected to prime Indian cities. Air India, GoAir, IndiGo and Jet Airways operate regular flights for Delhi, Goa, Jammu, Leh Mumbai and Bangalore. After reaching the airport, visitors can hire taxis to reach various cities and towns of Kashmir.

By train: Jammu Tawi Railway Station, situated at a distance of about 330 km, is the nearest railhead serving the beautiful valley of Kashmir. New Delhi-Jammu Tawi Rajdhani Express, Jammu Mail and Jammu Tawi Express are some of the prominent trains operating from Delhi. From outside the railway station, one can hire private taxis or take state or private buses to reach various places in Kashmir.

By road: The state of Kashmir is well connected by a network of state and private buses with several nearby cities and towns. National Highway 1-A connects Srinagar with Jammu. Also, the popular Jawahar Tunnel connecting Jammu with the valley of Kashmir also falls on the way. A number of J&K State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC), luxury and private deluxe buses ply frequently to and from state. These buses are extremely comfy and cost-effective.

Tourist Places

Srinagar: Srinagar is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and famous places to visit in Kashmir as well as in India. From boating to trekking, bird watching to water skiing, Srinagar place has it all. Locally this place is known as the mirror to the mountains, Srinagar is a first stopover for every traveler and there is a long list of places to visit in Srinagar, Kashmir. The largest city of Kashmir, this place is enclosed by the green mountains and the main highlight being the Dal Lake which is the gem of the city. This place gives a close outlook to the Kashmiri cuisine and the state’s culture.

Gulmarg: Famously known as the ‘Meadow of Flowers’, Gulmarg is a treat to the eyes with its spread of vibrant flowers against snow capped mountains as backgrounds. Gulmarg is considered to be one of the best places to visit in Kashmir for all right reasons. This region of Kashmir is also known as the adventurer’s paradise because of its vast options of skiing in the snow while enjoying the views around. The best time to visit Kashmir for snowfall is in winter season i.e. December-January.

Sonamarg: Sonamarg, as the name suggests, is famous as the ‘Meadow of Gold’. An endless stream of stunning flowers and undulated trekking routes are its attractions. Sonamarg has to be in every visitors’ list of places to visit in Kashmir for its mesmerizing aura and breathtaking views. The best season to visit Kashmir would be in summer i.e. May-June when the valley is blooming with variegated flowers.

Leh: Leh is one of the best and safe places to visit in Kashmir in summers. The lofty mountains, the alpine lakes, and the quaint settings enable Leh one of the best places to visit. This place is every biker’s dreamland. Clad in the beauty and love of nature, Leh offers breathtaking views, leaving no visitor disappointed. You must explore all the top places to visit in Leh when traveling to Kashmir.

Kupwara: Kupwara is a small district located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and situated at a distance of 90 kilometres from the state capital, Srinagar. Blessed with nature’s finest views, the thriving meadows, alpine mountains, and the gushing clear water make Kupwara a must-visit destination in Kashmir. This city epitomizes the beauty of Kashmir.

Why should you visit Kashmir?

Breathtaking landscapes: There would be not a single person on this planet who doesn’t love nature. We all admire nature, but no one sees it in chaotic cities. Kashmir has everything including mountains, dense forests, green meadows, grasslands, and water streams that together create wonderful scenery. From Aru Valley to Saffron fields, Zabarwan Mountain range to the Chashme Shahi, Badam Vari to Apple Garden, Almond trees to Chinar Tress, all these naturally beautiful locations make Kashmir a Heaven on Earth. Gulmarg, Pahalgam & Sonmarg are some such marvelous locations that everyone loves to visit repeatedly.

Wonderful climate: Plan your trip to Kashmir in the scorching heat of summers when the temperature rises up to 40 degrees. Kashmir is cool even in the harshest of summer and you can visit this valley between March and May to see the blooming flowers, green meadows, and Chinar trees. Overall you can experience the new phase of spring in the Valley of Kashmir. If you plan your trip in Winter Season then you will enjoy beautiful snowfall that would be an incredible experience. The snow-capped mountains fill the region with exquisite surroundings and the snow-capped trees look awesome while offering a serene feeling to everyone. Also, you can enjoy the most stunning views of sunrise and sunset at Dal Lake in Srinagar.

Pristine Lakes: Your Kashmir trip is not complete without taking a ride of Dal Lake and these lakes are the perfect reason to plan a Kashmir trip. It is one of the favorite destinations for the tourists where shutterbugs also love to capture the exquisite scenes. The houseboats and Shikaras are the most famous attraction of Dal Lake. Here, you can see the floating markets and gardens with the sweet smell of flowers and various other attractions. Apart from this, Wular Lake is also popular as the largest freshwater lake in Asia, Mansbal Lake is home to many aquatic birds and surrounded by lush greenery and mountains. Nagin Lake offers the utmost tranquil space to enjoy the serenity. The list doesn’t end here; the waterholes like Gadsar, Gangabal, Tso Moririm, Pangong and Mansar are the greatest attractions for the visitors. The different waterholes provide a perfect landscape in the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

Trekking points: Enclosed by the Great Himalaya and Pir Panjal mountain range, Kashmir Valley is the best place for camping, trekking, and mountaineering. While traveling to this gorgeous land, you will witness the most enchanting views of mountains, lakes, and meadows. Walking through the foothills, Kashmir Great Lakes Trek is popular among tourists where you will cover the lakes of Gangabal, Kishansar and Vishansar that are close to the Harnukh Peak. Aru-Valley, Kolahoi Glacier Trek and Yousmarg Trek are yet another challenge for trekkers. Kashmir is one of the best places for trekkers where fun is boundless.

Art and heritage: You can explore the past events and lifestyle of ancient Kashmiri people in the museums that hold the glory of the rich culture and heritage of the state. These museums include items like paintings, copper utensils, shawls, handicrafts, pottery, stones, arms, and metal substances that stand as proof of the rich sculptural execution of Kashmir. Some of the museums of Kashmir were palaces in old times, which got converted. You can see here some art galleries having old clothes and even a library with old books. Some famous museums of Jammu & Kashmir are Amar Mahal, Dogra Art, Sri Pratap Singh, Kanchenjunga, and Stok Palace Museum where you can check out amazing paintings, old utensils, books, musical instruments, and textiles.

EXASCALE COMPUTING

What is Exascale computing?

The speed of a computer is typically measured by the number of arithmetic operations per second it can perform (floating point operations per second or FLOPS). As of summer 2017, the fastest computers have reached a speed of 93 PetaFLOPS (on a standard benchmark), which is 93×1015 (or 93,000,000,000,000,000) operations per second. A system delivering one ExaFLOPS would be more than 10x faster (with at least 1018 operations per second). In comparison, a standard desktop computer reaches a computing performance in the GigaFLOPS range (one Gigaflop is 109 operations per second). Such an Exascale computer would be roughly more powerful by a factor of one billion.

If (by way of analogy) we let the speed of an Exascale computer correspond to the speed of a moon rocket (which was around 40,000 km/h for Apollo 10), then the computing performance of a typical desktop computer would correspond to about 1/10 of the speed of a snail (which crawls around 3 metres per hour).

History

The first petascale computer that came into operation was in 2008. At a supercomputing conference in 2009, Computerworld projected exascale implementation by 2018. Although the exascale wall for FLOPS was not broken in 2019, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory performed a 1.8×1018 operation calculation per second (which is not the same as 1.8×1018 FLOPS) on the Summit OLCF-4 Supercomputer while analyzing genomic information in 2018. They were Gordon Bell Award winners at Supercomputing 2018.

The exaFLOPS barrier was first broken in March of 2020 by the Folding Home project, used to fold proteins for medical research.

Exascale computing would be a significant achievement in computer engineering, as an exascale computer would have processing power on the order of the estimated processing power of the human brain at the neural level (although the functional power required to simulate a human brain might be lower). The Human Brain Project targets exascale computing capability.

Why building a fast computer is hard?

One could naively think that just connecting enough standard computers and memory would result in a fast enough system. However, this is not true. Just putting 1,000 cars or car engines together will neither produce a car 1,000 x as fast nor lead to a usable system 1,000 x as powerful, not to speak of noise, pollution and fuel consumption. Instead, different approaches would be necessary to reach those goals.

Similar barriers exist for computers. At the most basic level, a computer works by moving data from memory to a computer unit, calculating the results and moving the results back to memory. If using standard PC technology for the connection between memory and compute units, the sole movement of data for an Exascale computer would roughly need the same level of power as the whole of the UK. Thus, a promising approach to build Exascale machines is to store data very close to the compute unit where they are needed. One technique to put data closer to the processing unit is to extend the traditional two-dimensional layout of electric circuits by stacking integrated circuits also in the third dimension.  This will not only consume much less energy, but will also be much faster: Nowadays, the transport of data has become a major constraint on processing speed (much more than the computing itself), similar to the speed difference between slow airport security checks and fast flights. An Exascale computer would need hundreds of thousands if not millions of units comprising processing and memory, and fast connections between them, for data that is needed in more than one place. However, designing and producing such novel compute units is very expensive, so it is of paramount importance to find ways to use components which can be mass produced, and used outside the HPC world, to reduce cost.

Road to Exascale

Because of both the importance of increasing the speed to the Exascale FLOPS level and the difficulties encountered in building such computers, the EU, like other big economies, has launched a research program for the development of Exascale technology.  Member states have launched cooperation for the deployment of Exascale computers until 2022. The ETP4HPC think tank & advisory group has defined a research agenda to overcome the multiple difficulties of building and operating Exascale class systems.

Technological Challenges

It has been recognized that enabling applications to fully exploit capabilities of Exascale computing systems is not straightforward. In June 2014, the stagnation of the Top500 supercomputer list had observers question the possibility of exascale systems by 2020. Developing data-intensive applications over exascale platforms requires the availability of new and effective programming paradigms and runtimes systems.  The Folding Home project, the first to break this barrier, relied on a network of servers sending pieces of work to hundreds of thousands of clients using Client–server model network architecture.

Conclusion

Semiconductor engineering has never been easy, but one can argue that the industry had the wind at its back for roughly 60 years. During that time, manufacturing process improvements have complemented architecture and software advances to produce seeming clockwork gains, often doubling the performance every 18 to 24 months. Those process improvements have helped to drive the industry to exascale computing, but now appear to be slowing. As this article highlights, there will be no shortage of innovative approaches and creative concepts that could be perfected over the next decade to continue the exceptional growth of computing capabilities.  This is the beauty of computer engineering – demand driving innovation, and the exascale era is just the next milestone on the never-ending HPC journey.

PRAGUE

Location

Prague is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, the 13th largest city in the European Union and the historical capital of Bohemia. Situated on the Vltava River, Prague is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of 2.7 million. The city has a temperate oceanic climate, with relatively warm summers and chilly winters.

History

Prague is a political, cultural and economic centre of central Europe complete with a rich history. Founded during the Romanesque and flourishing by the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras, Prague was the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia and the main residence of several Holy Roman Emperors, most notably of Charles IV. It was an important city to the Habsburg Monarchy and its Austro-Hungarian Empire. The city played major roles in the Bohemian and Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War and in 20th-century history as the capital of Czechoslovakia between the World Wars and the post-war Communist era.

Prague is home to a number of well-known cultural attractions, many of which survived the violence and destruction of 20th-century Europe. Main attractions include Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, Old Town Square with the Prague astronomical clock, the Jewish Quarter, Petrin hill and Vysehrad. Since 1992, the extensive historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

The city has more than ten major museums, along with numerous theatres, galleries, cinemas and other historical exhibits. An extensive modern public transportation system connects the city. It is home to a wide range of public and private schools, including Charles University in Prague, the oldest university in Central Europe.

How to go

By air: It is quite easy to travel to Prague by flight, thanks to the international airport in the city. The Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague is one of the busiest airports among the ones in the newer European Union countries. A hub for Czech Airlines, the airport is well-connected to many cities around the globe, especially other European countries, like Athens, Dublin, Moscow, Paris, Rome, London, Brussels, etc. Some of the main carriers flying these routes are Lufthansa, Czech Airlines, Emirates, Easy Jet, China Eastern Airlines etc. Travellers from the East will find it difficult to find direct flights to this exotic city. But a lot of connecting flights are easily available from many eastern countries.

By bus: Prague is easily accessible by bus from many other neighbouring European cities. Buses from international cities stop at Prague Central Florenc Bus Station. There are buses connecting various cities with Prague like London, Paris, Brussels, Vienna, Zurich, Budapest etc. The main service providers on these routes are Flixbus, Eurolines, RegioJet, Blueline-bus, National Express (London) etc. Prague is also well-connected with many national cities like Brno, Ostrava, Plzen, Liberec etc. Public transportation is the most frequently used means to reach this beautiful city.

By train: There are a number of trains connecting Prague with other cities in the European Union. Cities like London, Zurich, Vienna, Budapest, Paris, Munich, Frankfurt etc. have regular train services to Prague. With assured comfortable commute and less travel time, a lot of European tourists tend to opt for a rail journey to reach Prague. Most of these trains are run by the German railway company Deutsche Bahn.

Tourist places

Prague Castle: Located in Prague’s Hradcany neighborhood, Prague Castle once the home of Bohemia’s kings, is today the official residence of the Czech Republic’s President and one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions. Originally built as a walled fortress around AD 870, the castle has changed dramatically over the years and contains examples of most of the leading architectural styles of the last millennium. Within the castle walls are a number of Prague’s most popular tourist sites, including St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, the Powder Tower, the Old Royal Palace, and the Golden Lane.

The largest castle complex in the world, this vast fortress requires considerable time to tour, but it’s time well spent (particularly rewarding are the excellent views over the Vltava River with the old town and its many beautiful spires in the background). Highlights include the Old Royal Palace’s main hall, the Vladislav Hall, so large it could be used for jousting tournaments, and staircases wide enough to allow mounted knights to use them. Be sure to also spend time in the Royal Garden, dating back to 1534 and home to a number of superb old buildings, including the Ball Game Pavilion, the Royal Summer House with its Singing Fountain, and the Lion’s Court.

The best way to fully explore the castle is on a Prague Castle Walking Tour. One of the top things to do at night in Prague is to find a good spot from which to enjoy the castle illuminations that light this magnificent structure in a range of hues. In fact, basing yourself in a hotel in the vicinity of Prague Castle is a good idea, so you can experience the city highlights by day and night.

Charles Bridge: One of the most recognizable old bridges in Europe, magnificent Charles Bridge boasts 32 unique points of interest along its 621-meter span. Built in 1357, the bridge has long been the subject of a great deal of superstition, including the builders having laid the initial bridge stone on the 9th of July at exactly 5:31am, a precise set of numbers (135797531) believed to give the structure additional strength. For added good measure, it was constructed in perfect alignment with the tomb of St. Vitus and the setting sun on the equinox.

The bridge is particularly famous for its many fine old statues. Among the most important are those of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and John of Nepomuk, the country’s most revered saint, unveiled in 1683 (a more recent superstition involves rubbing the plaque at the base of the statue for the granting of a wish). Other highlights include spectacular views over the River Vltava and the structure’s superb Gothic gates. Viewing Charles Bridge at night is also highly recommended.

Wenceslas Square: A highlight of Prague’s New Town district—an area that grew out of the city’s need to expand as it prospered—is the wonderful Wenceslas Square, home to the National Museum and numerous other architectural treasures. Named after the patron saint of Bohemia, whose statue can be seen here, Wenceslas Square was created in the 14th century during the reign of Charles IV as a horse market and has since become one of the city’s most important public spaces, still used for demonstrations and celebrations alike.

A visit today is a fun experience and undoubtedly one of the top free things to do in Prague, and will introduce visitors to some of the city’s best dining and restaurant experiences, as well as great shopping. If you are visiting Prague in December, it’s also the site of the city’s largest Christmas Market.

National Museum: Fresh from a seven-year-long renovation, the National Museum in Prague is spread across a number of locations and houses numerous important collections representing a variety of fields, with literally millions of items covering mineralogy, zoology, anthropology, and archaeology, as well as the arts and music. The entomology collection alone numbers more than five million specimens. The oldest museum in the Czech Republic, it was established in the early 1800s before moving to its current location in 1891.

A particularly enjoyable highlight is the archaeology exhibit with its extensive collection of 1st-and 2nd-century Roman artifacts, along with numerous Bronze and Early Iron age finds. Another museum to include on your must-visit list is the excellent National Technical Museum, which documents the many technological advances the country has contributed to, including displays of machinery and equipment built here over the years, from automobiles to aircraft.

National Gallery: Spread across some of the city’s most important architectural landmarks, the National Gallery in Prague is home to some of Europe’s most important art collections. The bulk of the collection is housed in the Veletrzni Palace a relatively modern structure built in 1925 that holds the 19th- to 21st-century works. While there’s a strong emphasis on Czech artists, foreign artists such as Monet and Picasso are included, as are other art forms such as photography, fashion, applied arts, and sculpture.

Other notable works are held in the Kinsky Palace, home to Asian art, art from the ancient world, and the gallery’s Baroque collections, and at the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia, where you’ll find European art from the Middle Ages.

Finally, the splendid 17th-century Sternberg Palace houses some of the gallery’s most famous pieces, focusing on European art from the Classical era to the end of the Baroque period and including important ancient Greek and Roman pieces; 14th- to 16th-century Italian masterpieces; and 16th- to 18th-century works by artists such as El Greco, Goya, Rubens, van Dyck, Rembrandt, and van Goyen.

ARREST WARRANT FOR DONALD TRUMP

Iran and Trump

Iran has issued an arrest warrant for US President Donald Trump over the drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in January, the semi-official Fars news agency reported Monday.

Trump is one of 36 people Iran has issued arrest warrants for in relation to the death of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), according to Fars, but the Tehran attorney general Ali Alqasi Mehr said Trump was at the top of the list.

Tehran prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr said on Monday that Trump, along with more than 30 others Iran accuses of involvement in the January 3 attack that killed General Qassem Soleimani, face “murder and terrorism charges”, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported. Alqasimehr did not identify anyone else sought other than Trump, but stressed Iran would continue to pursue his prosecution even after his presidency ends. Also, Mehr claimed Trump would be prosecuted as soon as he stands down presidency after his term ends, Fars reported.

Iran also said it had asked Interpol to issue a Red Notice for these 36 individuals, semi-official state news agency ISNA reported, though it was unlikely that Interpol would grant the request.

Interpol, based in Lyon, France, said in a statement its constitution forbade it to undertake “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character. Therefore, if or when any such requests were to be sent to the General Secretariat, Interpol would not consider requests of this nature.”

The US’s Iran envoy Brian Hook described the move as a “propaganda stunt”.

“Our assessment is that Interpol does not intervene and issue Red Notices that are based on a political nature,” Hook said at a news conference in Saudi Arabia. “This is a political nature. This has nothing to do with national security, international peace or promoting stability… It is propaganda stunt that no one takes seriously,” he said.

Red notice request

Alqasimehr was also quoted as saying Iran had requested a “red notice” be put out for Trump and the others, the highest-level notice issued by Interpol, requesting that seeks the location and arrest of the individual named.

Under a red notice, local authorities make the arrests on behalf of the country that requested it. The notices cannot force countries to arrest or extradite suspects, but can put government leaders on the spot and limit suspects’ travel.

After receiving a request, Interpol meets by committee and discusses whether or not to share the information with its member states. Interpol has no requirement for making any of the notices public, though some do get published on its website.

The US killed General Soleimani, who oversaw the Revolutionary Guard Corps’s expeditionary Quds Force and others in the January attack near Baghdad International Airport.

The assassination came after months of incidents raising tensions between the two countries and ultimately saw Iran retaliate with a ballistic missile strike targeting American troops in Iraq.

Political Stunt

US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook called the move a “political stunt” during a joint press conference with the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir on Monday.

“It’s propaganda that we’re used to,” Hook said. “This has nothing to do with national security, international peace or promoting stability, so we see it for what it is – it’s a propaganda stunt that no one takes seriously and makes the Iranians look foolish,” he added.

Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport in January along with five others, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

The strike, condemned by Iran and its allies as an “assassination,” raised the specter of further regional destabilization.

A spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, announced in early June that an Iranian citizen had been sentenced to death for allegedly working for foreign intelligence agencies. Esmaili claimed that Seyed Mahmoud Mousavi Majd disclosed the whereabouts of Soleimani to US intelligence officials.

The Trump administration viewed Soleimani as a ruthless killer, and the President told reporters in January that the general should have been taken out by previous presidents. The Pentagon blamed Soleimani for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and US allies in the months leading up to his killing.

“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Pentagon said at the time, calling the strike “decisive defensive” action aimed at deterring future Iranian attacks.

BOYCOTT CHINA CONTROVERSY

What is Boycott China controversy?

Boycott of Chinese products is a slogan used by Internet campaigns that advocate a boycott of Chinese-made products. Commonly cited reasons for the boycott include the alleged low quality of products, human rights issues, territorial conflicts involving China, support for separatist movements within China, and objection to more specific matters relating to China, such as the eating of dog meat and the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, and more recently, the government’s alleged mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Countries including India, Philippines, and Vietnam have called for a boycott of Chinese goods, as have separatist movements in China itself. A full boycott of Chinese products is considered to be difficult to achieve, as the country manufactures a large number of goods that are widely sold and used across the world, and also holds stakes in various non-Chinese companies.

Causes

China is the largest country in the world by population, and the third largest by territory, sharing long borders with several other nations. Border conflicts have occurred many times between China and their neighbors during its history.] At the center of Asia, some Chinese emperors attempted to expand their empires through war. There are also a lot of conflicting national interests and policies between China and other nations, like the disputes between the other nations with China and its allies. As a result of these conflicts, there is dissent against China amongst its bordering nations, and calls for the boycotting of Chinese products originate from residual resentment due to border conflicts.

In 1949, the Communist Party of China won the Chinese Civil War, gaining control of China. Since the 1980s, with the “reform and opening up”, Chinese leaders have made economic development one of their first priorities. Chinese businesses often produce goods tailored to market expectations; therefore, Chinese products generally may lack quality when consumers prefer to pay a low price.

Overpopulation is also considered a possible reason for manufacturing low-quality products; some firms cannot find enough of the needed raw materials to produce goods that serve customer requirements and follow safety standards, instead producing products made with cheaper or low-quality material. Many companies and businesses also lack capital, industry expertise, and marketing power, leading to their manufacturing of counterfeit products. Many companies produce such goods to piggyback on the popularity of legitimate companies such as Apple, Hyatt and Starbucks are copied. However, by looking at the situation in the context of history, it is often argued that this is simply a normal transition in manufacturing, and that a phase of low quality and counterfeit manufacturing is not unique to China alone, as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have undergone very similar economic phases. Keeping the aforementioned information in mind, with high quality goods being delivered from Chinese firms such as Huawei and Lenovo in recent years, it can be observed that the state of Chinese manufacturing quality is ostensibly trending upward.

The 2008 Chinese milk scandal was considered a signal of poor food safety, affecting thousands of people, and as a result, many Chinese parents do not trust Chinese milk products. In recent years, however, the Chinese government has taken many actions in order to prevent sales of substandard food.

Technology produced by Chinese companies has also been a subject of scrutiny, especially by the United States; for example, in 2018, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 into law, containing a provision that banned Huawei and ZTE equipment from being used by the U.S. federal government, citing security concerns.

Some organisations have used the COVID-19 pandemic as part of campaigns against China; for example, the Vishva Hindu Parishad in India has called for a boycott of China in retaliation for China’s allegedly being directly responsible for the Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 virus strain and the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic.

Boycott in India

India and Tibet have called for a joint campaign to boycott Chinese goods in response to border intrusion incidents allegedly perpetrated by China. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh sarsanghchalak (chief) Mohan Bhagwat stated “We speak about self-dependence and standing up to China. The new government seems to be standing up to it. But where will the government draw strength from if we don’t stop buying things from China?”

In 2016, China denied the entry of India to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Along with this, China is viewed as a major roadblock by Indians towards its permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, with China having used its veto power repeatedly to keep India out of the UNSC while the US, UK, France and Russia support India. Meanwhile, China provides Pakistan unconditional support in many international stages; despite the fact that many countries including India and the USA claim that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism. Also, China makes a large amount of investments in Pakistan. During the conflict between the India and Pakistan in August–September 2016 after the Uri attack, the supporting stand of China towards Pakistan led to a campaign to boycott Chinese products in India. As a consequence, sales of Chinese products dipped by about 40 percent in the period immediately after the boycott call. Patanjali Ayurved founder Ramdev Baba was among the many people to have spoken of boycotting Chinese goods amid the 2017 Doklam standoff when nationalist sentiments had risen.

In May 2020, in response to the 2020 China–India skirmishes which were allegedly perpetrated by China’s People’s Liberation Army, Indian engineer, educator and innovator Sonam Wangchuk appealed to Indians to “use your wallet power” and boycott Chinese products. He called for India to “stop using Chinese software in a week and hardware in a year”. This appeal was covered by major media houses and supported by various celebrities.

In spite of various campaigns by notable individuals and organisations, Chinese companies still have influence over various markets, especially relating to consumer technology and software. For example, as in March 2020, Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme and Vivo accounted for approximately 73% of smartphone sales in India. On the other hand, Samsung Electronics and Nokia, both companies that once led the market, together accounted for less than 22% of smartphone sales. In spite of the campaigns, retailers have stated that the growing rhetoric is unlikely to sway consumer behaviour, especially due to alleged “value for money” in Chinese products, especially smartphones.

Chinese companies also invest heavily in Indian companies; 18 out of 30 of India’s billion-dollar startups are funded by China. Major Chinese investment firms like Alibaba Group and Tencent hold investments in major companies that are considered to be Indian, like BYJU’S, Zomato, Ola Cabs and Flipkart. In spite of the Indian government recording the origin of foreign direct investment, many Chinese companies exploit loopholes by investing in Indian companies through their non-Chinese subsidiaries; for example, Alibaba’s investment in Paytm was by Alibaba Singapore Holdings Pvt. Ltd. Hence, these investments don’t get recorded in India’s government data as Chinese investments.

In view of these circumstances, various other issues have been pointed out. For example, B. Thiagrajan, managing director of Blue Star Limited, an Indian manufacturer of air conditioners, air purifiers and water coolers said “We are not worried about finished goods. But most players across the globe import key components such as compressors from China,” and added that it would take a long time to set up local supply chains, and that there were few alternatives for certain kinds of imports. Besides, boycotting popular Chinese apps such as TikTok has been suggested as a more effective alternative to boycotting physical goods in terms of value added because there are multiple alternatives

Is it practically possible to boycott China?

It is not practically possible for India to cease the entry of Chinese products altogether. Even if the Government passes a law to stop the official use of Chinese products, then also Chinese products are going to hit the market through unauthorized entry and smuggling. People are all so attracted towards the Chinese products because they are cheap. We all know that India is a third world country or a developing country. So the majority of the population here are lower middle class or lower class. As a result they do not have enough money to spend on costly luxurious things. So they try to settle for a cheap but look-alike substitute by which they can still enjoy some of the benefits of the modern world. This chiefly includes smartphones, smart watches, laptops and other electronic items.

Apart from that, there is a huge annual transaction between India and China. This boosts the economy of both the countries. But as China is the producer of the goods, so even if they are cornered, they can produce their own stuff and carry on their life almost normally. But if the boycott is started by India, then India will not only suffer monetary losses, but also it will not receive the goods needed for the day to day life of its citizens.

So although the hostilities between India and China in recent times is completely unacceptable and also there have been reports that China heavily funds Pakistan, which is renowned all over the world as the hub of terrorist funding, it is not pragmatic for India to completely stop using Chinese hardware, that too in the course of a year. But, of course, if the Indian Government plans to stop the use of Chinese apps and softwares, that is a still practical decision but then Indian companies will have to come up with applications and softwares that would replace the boycotted Chinese apps. In a nutshell, before India plans to make any drastic decision, it should check all grounds to see if this #BoycottChina is a very practical decision or not.

CORONAVIRUS VACCINE DEVELOPMENTS

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.  Older people and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette.

At this time, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. However, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments. So sooner or later, we are going to come up with a permanent solution for this virus too.

Vaccine developments

With confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide surpassing 9 million and continuing to grow, scientists are pushing forward with efforts to develop vaccines and treatments to slow the pandemic and lessen the disease’s damage. Some of the earliest treatments will likely be drugs that are already approved for other conditions, or have been tested on other viruses.

As of May 8, two medications had received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): the antiviral remdesivir and a drug used to sedate people on a ventilator.

The FDA issued a EUA in March for the antimalaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, but later revoked it after studies showed that they’re unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19.

EUA allows doctors to use these drugs to treat people with COVID-19 even before the medications have gone through the formal FDA approval process. These drugs are still being tested in clinical trials to see whether they’re effective against COVID-19. This step is needed to make sure the medications are safe for this particular use and what the proper dosage should be.

It could be months before treatments are available that are known to work against COVID-19. It could be even longer for a vaccine. But there are still other tools we can use to reduce the damage done by the new coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2.

Antivirals

Remdesivir: Developed a decade ago, this drug failed in clinical trials against Ebola in 2014. But it was found to be generally safe in people. Research with MERS, a disease caused by a different coronavirus, showed that the drug blocked the virus from replicating. The drug is being tested in many COVID-19 clinical trials around the world. This includes studies in which remdesivir is being administered alongside other drugs, such as the anti-inflammatory drug baricitinib. The drug is also being tested in children with moderate to severe COVID-19. In late April, the drug’s manufacturer, Gilead Sciences, announced one of its trials had been “terminated” due to low enrollment. Gilead officials said the results of that trial had been “inconclusive” when it was ended.

A few days later, the company announced that preliminary data from another trial of remdesivir overseen by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) had “met its primary endpoint.” Gary Schwitzer, founder of HealthNewsReview.org, though, said the researchers changed the primary endpoint 2 weeks before Fauci’s announcement. Schwitzer compared that to moving football goalposts closer to make it easier to get a touchdown. At the same time, another study published in The Lancet reported that participants in a clinical trial who took remdesivir showed no benefits compared to people who took a placebo.

Despite the conflicting results, the FDA issued an order on May 1 for the emergency use of remdesivir. In early June, federal officials announced their supply of remdesivir will run out by the end of June. Gilead is ramping up production, but it’s unclear how much of the drug will be available this summer.

Arbidol: This antiviral was tested along with the drug lopinavir/ritonavir as a treatment for COVID-19. Researchers reported in mid-April that the two drugs didn’t improve the clinical outcomes for people hospitalized with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.

EIDD-2801: This drug was created by scientists at a nonprofit biotech company owned by Emory University. Research in mice has shown that it can reduce replication of multiple coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2.

Pharmaceutical company Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP signed an agreement in May to develop this drug. It’s already being tested in a clinical trial in the United Kingdom. Unlike remdesivir, EIDD-2801 can be taken orally, which would make it available to a larger number of people.

Favipiravir: This drug is approved in some countries outside the United States to treat influenza. Some reports from China suggest it may work as a treatment for COVID-19. These results, though, haven’t been published yet. Japan, where the medication is made, is sending the drug to 43 countries for clinical trial testing in people with mild or moderate COVID-19. Canadian researchers are testing to see whether the drug can help fight outbreaks in long-term care homes.

Kaletra: This is a combination of two drugs — lopinavir and ritonavir — that work against HIV. Clinical trials are being done to see whether it also works against SARS-CoV-2. One small study published May 4 in the journal Med by Cell Press found that lopinavir/ritonavir didn’t improve outcomes in people with mild or moderate COVID-19 compared to those receiving standard care.

Another study, published May 7 in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the drug combination wasn’t effective for people with severe COVID-19. But another study found that people who were given lopinavir/ritonavir along with two other drugs — ribavirin and interferon beta-1b — took less time to clear the virus from their body. This study was published May 8 in The Lancet.

Merimepodib (VX-497): This drug developed by ViralClear Pharmaceuticals Inc. has been shown previously to have antiviral and immune-suppressing effects. It was tested against hepatitis C but had only modest effects.

The company is running a phase II trial of this drug. People with advanced COVID-19 will be randomized to receive either merimepodib with remdesivir, or remdesivir plus a placebo. The company hopes to have results by late summer of this year.

NEPAL

Location

Nepal, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a country in South Asia. It is located mainly in the Himalayas, but also includes parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. It is the 49th largest country by population and 93rd largest country by area. It is landlocked, and borders China in the north and India in the south, east and west, while Bangladesh is located within only 27 km of its southeastern tip and Bhutan is separated from it by the Indian state of Sikkim. Nepal has a diverse geography, including fertile plains, subalpine forested hills, and eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. Kathmandu is the capital and the largest city. Nepal is a multiethnic country with Nepali as the official language.

History

The name “Nepal” is first recorded in texts from the Vedic period of the Indian subcontinent, the era in ancient India when Hinduism was founded and the predominant religion of the country. In the middle of the first millennium BCE, Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbini in southern Nepal. Parts of northern Nepal were intertwined with the culture of Tibet. The centrally located Kathmandu Valley is intertwined with the culture of Indo-Aryans, and was the seat of the prosperous Newar confederacy known as Nepal Mandala. The Himalayan branch of the ancient Silk Road was dominated by the valley’s traders. The cosmopolitan region developed distinct traditional art and architecture. By the 18th century, the Gorkha Kingdom achieved the unification of Nepal. The Shah dynasty established the Kingdom of Nepal and later formed an alliance with the British Empire, under its Rana dynasty of premiers. The country was never colonized but served as a buffer state between Imperial China and British India. Parliamentary democracy was introduced in 1951, but was twice suspended by Nepalese monarchs, in 1960 and 2005. The Nepalese Civil War in the 1990s and early 2000s resulted in the establishment of a secular republic in 2008, ending the world’s last Hindu monarchy.

The Constitution of Nepal, adopted in 2015, affirms Nepal as a secular federal parliamentary republic divided into seven provinces. Nepal was admitted to the United Nations in 1955, and friendship treaties were signed with India in 1950 and the People’s Republic of China in 1960. Nepal hosts the permanent secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), of which it is a founding member. Nepal is also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Bay of Bengal Initiative. The military of Nepal is the fifth largest in South Asia; it is notable for its Gurkha history, particularly during the world wars, and has been a significant contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations.

How to go

  • Delhi to Kathmandu: If you want to fly (and get some incredible Himalayan views), Delhi to Kathmandu is the least expensive, least time-consuming route by air to Nepal (under two hours). Otherwise, the best option is to take a train to Gorakhpur and then a bus. Taking the bus all the way has become slightly more appealing since the Delhi Transport Corporation launched a direct service to Kathmandu. However, it’s still a long 25-hour haul!
  • Varanasi to Kathmandu: Many people travel overland from Varanasi to Kathmandu, either by bus, or train and bus combination. It takes less time than overland from Delhi (around 15 hours). It’s also possible to fly. However, it’s much costlier than from Delhi and there are very few direct flights.
  • Kolkata to Kathmandu: Nepal-based Buddha Air operates three direct flights a week from Kolkata to Kathmandu: on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The flights depart at 9.05 a.m. and the flight time is about 90 minutes. Expect to pay about 20,000 rupees one way. Air India also operates direct flights for a slightly cheaper cost, starting at 15,000 rupees. Alternatively, you can go by land via the Raxaul or Panitanki borders.
  • Via the Sunauli Border Crossing: Most people going overland from north India to Nepal pass through the Sunauli border to Bhairahawa in central Nepal, accessible from rather unappealing Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh (although, pleasingly, Gorakhpur has become a lot cleaner in recent years). This is the biggest and busiest India-Nepal border crossing. There are frequent connections to Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Lumbini from there.
  • Via the Raxaul Border Crossing: The Raxaul border crossing to Birganj in southern-central Nepal is accessible from Patna in Bihar. It’s most convenient for anyone traveling from Bodh Gaya or Kolkata. There are direct trains from Kolkata to Raxaul (16 hours). From Bodh Gaya, it’s quicker to take a bus or car and travel by road as opposed to train (13 hours). From the border, buses take six to seven hours to reach Kathmandu and eight hours to Pokhara. Shared jeeps to Kathmandu are a quicker option and only take four to five hours.
  • Via the Panitanki Border Crossing: The Panitanki border crossing, to Kakarbhitta in far eastern Nepal, is accessible from Siliguri in West Bengal. It’s most utilized by people traveling from Darjeeling, Kolkata, Sikkim and the rest of northeast India. Buses, taxis and shared jeeps run to the border from Siliguri, Kalimpong, and Gangtok in Sikkim. Siliguri to Panitanki (for those going from Darjeeling) takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Though the border crossing is open 24 hours, the Indian and Nepali immigration offices close are only open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. so foreigners should ensure that they arrive within this timeframe. There are regular buses to Kathmandu (14 to 16 hours) and Pokhara (15 hours) from Kakarbhitta. It’s worth stopping at Chitwan National Park on the way to break the journey. Get off the bus at Sauraha (nine hours from Kakarbhitta), which is the closest town and travel hub to the park.

Tourist Places

  • Kathmandu: Kathmandu, the capital and largest city in Nepal, is like no other city in the world. The decaying buildings in the heart of the city are a stark contrast to the lively atmosphere that permeates the streets. The smell of incense wafts from stores while street sellers push their goods, and people go about their daily lives, all against a backdrop of historic temples and carved statues. For several hundred years, Kathmandu was one of three rival royal cities, along with Bhaktapur and Patan. Situated in close proximity to each other, today these three almost run together. The highlight of Kathmandu has long been Durbar Square, the largest of the palace squares in the three royal cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Temples and monuments of varying shapes, sizes, styles, and faiths can be found here. Kathmandu’s Durbar Square was severely damaged in the 2015 earthquake, with many buildings destroyed beyond repair, but it still remains a special place to visit.
  • Bhaktapur: Bhaktapur, the third of the “Royal Cities,” lies on the old trade route to Tibet, just outside of Kathmandu. For Bhaktapur, the trade route was both an arterial link and major source of wealth. Its relative remoteness at the time allowed the city to develop independently and in ways which distinguish it from the other two cities. In contrast to Patan and Kathmandu, the population of Bhaktapur is primarily Hindu. The best place from which to begin a tour of the city is Durbar Square, where in addition to the royal palace, several temples are also situated. The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Boudhanath Stupa: The Boudhanath Stupa, just outside Kathmandu, is one of the largest stupas of its kind in the world and dates to sometime around the 6th century, possibly even earlier. Like Bhaktapur, it lies on the old trade route to Tibet and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The stupa itself is a symbol of enlightenment but at Boudhanath the symbolism is particularly clear. Each different shape represents one of the five elements, earth, water, fire, air, and sphere, which are also the attributes of the five Buddhas. Brought together in the form of the stupa, their unity reflects in abstract fashion the structure of the universe itself. The stupa sustained minor damage during the 2015 earthquake and is now fully repaired.
  • Pokhara: Set at the base of the foothills and surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world – Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, and Annapurna I – Pokhara is one of Nepal’s most scenic cities. For trekkers, Pokhara is the gateway to the Himalayas and the starting point for treks to Jomsom and the Annapurna region. It’s also a wonderful spot to relax for a bit, either before or after a hiking trip. By population, it is the second largest city in Nepal after Kathmandu but still does not feel like a big city. As you travel from Kathmandu, 200 kilometers to the east, you’ll notice the much cleaner air and pleasant climate almost immediately. Lake Phewa, with its cluster of lakeside hotels, restaurants, and shops, is ideal for those looking for a little relaxation.
  • Swayambhunath: Set on a hilltop to the west of Kathmandu, Swayambhunath is the second most important shrine in the Kathmandu Valley after Boudhanath. Due to the resident monkeys that inhabit parts of the temple, it is more affectionately known as the Monkey Temple. The Swayambhu Stupa, painted with the eyes of the omnipresent god, forms the centerpiece of the temple complex. It was originally a prehistoric cult site, but the temple complex dates to the 5th century. Swayambhu plays a major part in the lives of the Vajrayana Buddhists of Northern Nepal and Tibet, but especially of the Newari Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley.

Why visit Nepal?

  • Nepal is a country of contrasts. Spectacular natural riches combine with a vibrant culture and sense of history. Home to ten of the world’s 14 highest mountains, the country offers a magnificent setting for hiking and mountaineering, as well as some of the world’s best white water rafting.
  • With its vast range of altitudes, Nepal is also home to an incredible variety of plant and animal species, including more than 300 species of orchid. With over 800 bird varieties, it accounts for almost 10% of the world’s avian species.
  • The diverse national parks of Chitwan and Bardia encompass lowland tropical jungles and grasslands and Nepal shelters a rich variety of wildlife. The Bengal tiger, rare snow leopard, one-horned rhino and the Himalayan black bear can be seen in the remote national parks.
  • The ancient culture and traditional architecture of Kathmandu means that the city boasts no less than seven World Heritage Sites, while Nepal is famous for its scenic monasteries as well as being home to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha.

A wide variety of accommodation can be found, however, what we recommend and use is the award-winning property mostly in the five-star category. It is strongly recommended that you reserve all your accommodation as far in advance as possible, especially if you want to travel during their festival period.

Nepal is a wonderful, family-friendly destination, offering a range of activities for children such as tailored wildlife safaris, rafting, nature hikes and cultural excursions. So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and set out to Nepal!