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Landmarks of India

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Taj Mahal - Wonder of the World

 


Taj Mahal, a mausoleum that was built on the southern bank of the Yamuna (Jumna) River, outside Agra in India, by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Arjumand Banu Begam (also called Mumtaz Mahal, of which the name Taj Mahal is a corruption). She died in childbirth in the town of Burhanpur in 1631, after having been the emperor's inseparable companion since their marriage in 1612. The building was commenced around 1632 by plans prepared by a council of architects from India, Persia, Central Asia, and beyond. More than 20,000 workmen were employed daily to complete the mausoleum itself by about 1643 and the immediate adjuncts (mosques, wall and gateway) by about 1649. The entire Taj complex took 22 years to complete, at a cost of 40,000,000 rupees.


Qutab Minar

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Qutab-ud-din Aibak, founder of the first of the five dynasties known as the Delhi Sultanate, built this earliest surviving Islamic structure in India. Located about 9 miles south of Connaught Place in Delhi, construction of this tower was started in 1199. It was completed by another Muslim king, Iltutmish. Made of sandstone, its fluted form narrows at the top. This tower (minar) is 238 feet tall and consists of five progressively shorter stories that are separated by balconies. Inscriptions from the Quran are inlaid in the stone to form bands of intricate designs. In front of the imposing structure is an iron pillar and beside it is a mosque. It is commonly believed that Qutab Minar set the tone for Islamic architecture in India.


Jama Masjid

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One of the country's largest mosques, this is handsome structure where thousands of Muslims offer prayer even today. Located across the Red Fort in Delhi, this grand structure was also built by Shah Jahan. It was completed in 1656. It highlights the Mughal kings' commitment to religion and prayer.


Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi

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The official residence of the President of India was built on Raisina Hill near Parliament House. This magnificent sandstone building was designed by Lutyens as the home of the British Viceroys of India. It was completed in 1929 and combines the best of both Indian and western architecture. The building is crowned by an impressive dome.
Built on 330 acres, it overlooks a beautiful Mughal garden and sits on one end of Rajpath, the site of Republic Day (January 26) parades. Rashtrapati Bhawan has 340 rooms, 18 staircases, 74 lobbies and 37 fountains. The Durbar Hall and the Ashoka Hall within the complex is where the president hosts visiting dignitaries and swears in the Prime Minister and his or her cabinet.


India Gate

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This 42-meter high structure is located on the other end of Rajpath from the Rashtrapati. Also designed by Lutyens as a war memorial, it has the names of Indian soldiers who died in World War I inscribed on it. An eternal flame, a tribute to the Unknown Soldier, was placed under the arch in 1971.


Lotus Temple

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A recent architectural marvel of the Bahai faith, this marble temple is in the form of a blossoming lotus. Completed in 1986, its main hall is designated as a place of meditation. The temple is a symbol of the spiritual unity of mankind. Located in South Delhi near Kalkaji, it is surrounded by acres of gardens.


Red Fort

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Also known as the Lal Qila (Lal - red, Qila - fort), the fort is laid out along the river Yamuna as an irregular octagon. It is surrounded by a wall of about 2.4 km circumference built of red sandstone. The Mughal ruler Shah Jahan transferred his capital from Agra to Delhi, and 9 years later in 1648 the fort was completed. The fort has two main entrances, the Delhi Gate and the Lahori Gate. The latter faces Chandni Chowk, the city's most crowded and diverse market.
The fort has the Diwa-e-am, where the king would grant audience to the public to listen to their grievances. The other feature is the Diwan-e-Khas (khas means "special") where the king would grant audience to important people.


Jantar Mantar

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The Yantra Mantra (literally the 'instrument and formula', and often called the Jantar Mantar), is a collection of architectural astronomical instruments, built by Maharaja (Ruler) Jai Singh II at his then new capital of Jaipur between 1727 and 1734. He constructed five astronomical observatories in west central India. One of five built by him, is located in the modern city of New Delhi, Delhi. It consists of 13 architectural astronomy instruments. The observatories, or "Jantar Mantars" as they are commonly known, incorporate multiple buildings of unique form, each with a specialized function for astronomical measurement. The primary purpose of the observatory was to compile astronomical tables, and to predict the times and movements of the sun, moon and planets. Some of these purposes nowadays would be classified as astrology. These structures with their striking combinations of geometric forms at large scale, have captivated the attention of architects, artists, and art historians world wide, yet remain largely unknown to the general public.


Lingaraja Temple, Bhubaneswar

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This is a prime example of Indian architecture in its most mature and fully developed state. The great Lingaraja soars above the city and dominates the landscape. It dates to the 11th century, the time the Jagannath cult had become predominant in Orissa. The presiding deity is the Svayambhu Linga - half Shiva, half Vishnu. Almost all Hindu gods and goddesses are represented in this temple, reflecting the basic harmonious nature of the religion.


The Golden Temple, Amritsar

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The Golden Temple was first built by the fifth guru, Guru Arjun Singhji, to house the Granth Sahib - the holy book of the Sikhs. It was rebuilt in 1803 by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The temple is also known as Darbar Sahib or Hari Mandir Sahib. The temple is located in Amritsar and is the holiest place of the Sikh faith. It is built in the middle of a holy pool. The dome of the temple is covered by a gold leaf. The interior decoration consists of inlay work done with semi-precious stones in a delicate floral design.
The Akal Takht (or the immortal throne) was established near the temple by the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind Singh ji. It is the seat of the supreme head of the Sikh religious authority.


Sun Temple, Konark

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One of the most stunning symbols of ancient Indian architecture, the Sun temple is the crowning glory of Oriya temple art. Centuries of myth and legend shroud its past. Built in the 13th century, the entire temple was designed in the shape of a colossal chariot, carrying the Sun god, Surya, pulled by seven horses.
The 24 giant wheels of the chariot symbolize the division of time. The temple is a brilliant chronicle in stone, with thousands of images including deities, the Surasundaris, heavenly damsels and dancers, and other scenes from courtly life.


Hawa Mahal

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Or 'The Palace of Winds' is the most recognizable monument of Jaipur. The five-story pyramidal building with overhanging latticed balconies is unique in conception and is designed to catch the cool breeze on a hot summer's day.
The Palace borders one of the busiest thoroughfares of the city. It was built in 1799 for the ladies of the royal household to view the activity of the market-place from the privacy of their balconies.


Ajanta, Maharashtra

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It was as late as the 19th century when a party of British officers discovered the Ajanta caves. For a long time, they lay buried in the debris of time. The caves survived hundreds of years in the Sahyadri hills to tell the story of a rich and a glorious past from 200 BC to 650 AD. These 30 caves were built to offer seclusion to the Buddhist monks who lived, taught and performed rituals in the Chaityas and Viharas, which were the seats of learning and cultural movement. Inspired by faith and devotion, each figure has been carved by the monks using just hammer and chisel.
Ajanta offers a rich tapestry of images that speak of places, royalty, culture and tales of everyday life of ancient India. Many of the Ajanta caves hold panels that illustrate stories from the Jatakas - a large repertoire of tales of incarnations of Buddha. From numerous images of Buddha to nymphs and princesses and various other characters, Ajanta engravings are an unmatched visual treat.
A few other examples of these engravings are the flying apsara in cave 17, the preaching Buddha in cave 16 or the sculptured Nagaraja in a sitting posture with his consort and a female attendant. These enigmatic caves set deep in the hills still illuminate with natural light during some part of the day.


Ellora, Maharashtra

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The finest example of cave temples, these 34 caves have intricate interiors and ornamental facades. Carved between 350 AD and 700 AD, the rock temples and monasteries represent three faiths - Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
The Vishvakarma cave of the Buddhists, the Kailasa Hindu temple and the Jain Indrasabha, present a captivating sight. These were carved out of a solid rock to provide sanctuaries to Buddhist monks.
The Kailasa temple in cave 16 is a masterpiece in itself. The entire structure was etched out of a monolith and took over 100 years to complete. The temple itself is decorated with themes and incidents from the puranas in a manner that leaves one in rapturous delight.
Vishvakarma cave is both a Chaitya and a Vihara with a seated Buddha in the stupa. Its double storied structure features dwarfs dancing and playing musical instruments. Figurines of river goddesses adorn the entrance to the Ramesvara cave.
The Dumar Lena cave resembles the great cave shrine at Elephanta and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Cave 32, belonging to the Jain faith, is a beautiful shrine with exquisite carvings of a lotus flower on the ceiling and an imposing yakshi seated on her lion under a mango tree laden with fruit. The ceilings of this double storied cave are also decorated with paintings.


Mumbai (Bombay) and Gateway of India

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The word Mumbai is derived from Mumbadevi, the patron goddess of Koli fisherfolk, the oldest inhabitants of Mumbai. A dynamic, modern city, Mumbai, the financial capital of India and the capital of the state of Maharashtra, has risen from rather unlikely beginnings. A group of seven islands of no great value, ceded to the Portuguese in 1534 by the Sultan of Gujarat, were in turn given as part of the wedding dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married England's Charles II in 1661. In 1668, the British government leased the islands to the East India Company for 10 Pounds in gold per annum and Mumbai grew gradually to become a center of trade. A major land reclamation project joined the seven islands into a single entity — Mumbai was on its way to becoming a major metropolis.
Today, it is a lively city with a character all its own - a major industrial and financial center - with an active interest in the arts and theater. Mumbai is also the main center of the Indian film industry.
Gracing the water's edge at Apollo Bunder is the Gateway of India - a triumphal arch designed by George Wittet and completed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911 for the Delhi Durbar. This was the first landmark that visitors to Mumbai saw in earlier times as they disembarked from their ships.


Khajuraho

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Located in east-central Madhya Pradesh, Khajuraho was the capital of the Chandella kings from the early tenth to the twelfth century. King Yasovarman began the era of temple construction here. Now a mere village, it has become one of the country's major tourist attractions. Eighty-five such temples were built, of which about twenty-two have survived. The murals and motifs depict scenes from hunting, feasting, dancing - with special stress on the sensual and the erotic.


Victoria Memorial, Calcutta

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In the fall of 1687, Job Charnock, an agent of the East India Company, secured permission from the Mughals to establish a base at Sutanati. In 1696, Old Fort William was established and this was the origin of the city of Calcutta. The name Calcutta is derived from Kalikata, one of the three villages whose lands became part of the new settlement.
In the three centuries of its history, Calcutta has grown from a mere fishing village into the largest city in India with a population of 11 million, and indeed, one of the largest cities in the world. Calcutta served as the capital of British India until 1912, and it is not surprising that one sees predominantly western architectural styles in its many buildings and monuments. One of the finest examples is the Victoria Memorial, where the architecture is a medley of the best of occidental and oriental styles. Lord Curzon conceived the idea of Victoria Memorial, a huge marble museum that tells the story of the British Empire in India. It was opened to the public in 1921


Charminar, Hyderabad

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Hyderabad is the creation of the Qutab Shahi rulers, who were of Turkoman origin. In 1589, it was Mohammed Quli Qutab Shah who decided to shift his capital from the legendary fortress of Golconda to the banks of the River Musi. The splendid city that arose was adorned with fine mosques and palaces built in a style of architecture that was uniquely theirs - elegant buildings with domes and minarets decorated with fine stucco ornamentation.
Standing majestically in the midst of the congestion and cacophony of the old city is the Charminar - the elegant arch, a masterpiece of Qutab Shahi architecture. An imposing square structure with its four minarets piercing the sky, the Charminar is the symbol of this historic city.


Varanasi

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Varanasi is another holy dot on the life giving Ganges river. As a religious center, it is beyond compare. It is one of the foremost 'tirthas' (place of pilgrimage). Varanasi, as the legend goes, was created by Shiva, the cosmic lord. It figures prominently in the epic Mahabharat.
Varanasi has been a great center for learning and civilization and is sacred to the Hindus. Its original name, Kashi, is said to have been derived from the word 'Kasha', meaning "bright", which defines its significance as the 'city of light' or its spiritual luminance. The present name is believed to be a combination of Varuna and Asi, the two rivers on its northern and southern periphery. Banaras, as it is popularly known, is only a corruption of the name.
The city is situated on the west bank of the Ganges extending back from the riverbank ghats to a winding maze of picturesque alleys dotted with temples. Varanasi's principal attraction is a long string of bathing ghats which line the river. Pilgrims of all castes and creeds make their sin cleansing dip in atonement. It is most reputed for its silk brocade sarees and carpets.


Somnath Temple, Gujarat

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This temple is one of the 12 most sacred "jyotirlingas" or Shiva Shrines in India. The treasures of the temple were ransacked by Mahmud Ghazni seven times. It was also destroyed by Allauddin Khilji and Aurangzeb. It was rebuilt each time.


Meenakshi Temple, Madurai

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Madurai is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu. It is more than 2,500 years old and is an important cultural and commercial center. Even as early as 550 AD, the Pandyas in the Indian epic, Mahabharat, had made it their capital.
Legend has it that Lord Indira installed a lingam in a shrine and informed his king, who had the forest cleared and built his lotus-shaped city around it. On the day the Pandian Monarch Kulasekhara was to name his new city, Lord Shiva appeared to bless the people and nectar flowed from his matted locks. So it was called 'Madhurapuri' and later it became Madurai.
Madurai is a temple town: everything physically, emotionally, culturally and commercially revolves around its great temple, the Meenakshi. The temple complex is one of the largest and most impressive in India and its soaring towers, the tallest over 157 feet high, are visible for miles around. The temple is dedicated to Shiva, known here as Sundareswara, and his consort, the 'fish-eyed' goddess Meenakshi. It is believed that there are 30 million sculptures in the temple.


Ranakpur Jain Temple, Rajasthan

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In a remote and enchanting valley of the Aravalli mountain range, about 60 miles from Udaipur, is the Chaturmukh (four faced) Ranakpur Jain Temple.
This three-storied marble complex covers 40,000 square feet. The construction of the temple began about 600 years ago and took 50 years to complete. The most outstanding feature of this temple is its infinite number of pillars, said to number 1,444 in all. None of the pillars are similarly carved.
In the main chamber of the temple are four white-marble images of Jain Trithankar (Revealer of Truth) Adinath.


Chennai (Madras)

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The East India Company established a fort, Fort St. George, in a small village called Chennai. This took place in 1639 and subsequently the settlement grew into one of the largest cities in southern India. Old English buildings built in Indo-Sarascenic style are located all around this metropolis. Some places of interest include the following: Kapaleeswarar, a Shiva temple; Sri Parthasarathy Temple devoted to Lord Krishna; Santhome Cathedral Church; Fort Museum; the 12 kilometer long Marina Beach; St. Mary's Church; and the National Art Gallery.
Next to Mumbai, Madras is a major center for movie production with over 150 Tamil feature films being produced each year.
Fort St. George, in Madras, was completed in 1654 but owes its present shape to the remodeling work that was undertaken in 1749.
The 6 meters high walls of the fort have withstood several fierce sieges. The fort was attacked by Daud Khan, general of Emperor Auranbzeg, in 1701; by the Marathas in 1741; and by Haider Ali on several occasions in the late 18th century. In 1746, the British lost possession of their fort for a two-year period when they surrendered the keys to the victorious French admiral, La Bourdonnais. The keys were restored only in 1749, under the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.