My earliest association with the Czech Republic is from school days. When it was still Czechoslovakia. And we all used to dread the teacher asking us to spell it. When it was split, I think we all sighed relief that at least names of both the countries are easier to spell now. We hardly knew anything beyond that about these countries. I am happy I got to go there and get a glimpse of both these countries.
A glimpse of The Czech Republic
The Czech Republic has three primary regions – Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. Bohemia, forming the western part of the country is the biggest. Czech’s capital city Prague aka Praha falls under it. Name Bohemia comes from the Kingdom of Bohemia. Which were a kingdom of the Roman Empire and a province under the Austro-Hungarian rule? I tended to think that term Bohemian came from here. But I was told that it has nothing to do with Bohemia as a region and the term has its roots in France. Moravia is in the east and how our guide distinguished between them was Bohemia is Beer drinking and Moravia wine drinking. Beer and Wine are at the center of existence for people here. Silesia is the smallest in the North-Eastern part of the country.
As many as 80% of people today in the Czech Republic are atheist or indifferent towards religion. And hence believed to be the most tolerant people on earth. Did we Indians not think that tag belonged to us? About 10% are Roman Catholics and that is to be expected based on their history and the rest 10% are a mix of all other religions including Pagans. Interestingly Czechs like to call themselves laughing beasts and dark humor is what they enjoy the most. Authors like Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera, Capek Karel, Bohumil Hrabel adorn the literary scene in the country.
Agriculture & Industry
When we drove between Prague and Cesky Krumlov, we could see a lot of corn and wheat fields. We were told that there are as many potato fields and vineyards. Apparently, Czechs used to have a special variety of Garlic, which has unfortunately been replaced by Chinese garlic now. Did you know that the Chinese are dominating through the agricultural products as well? While automobiles and heavy engineering remain their primary industry, they have a thriving weapons industry. They have Uranium, Graphite & Silver mines, and that information made me think. ‘Why is it that the not-so-rich regions of the world are richest in natural resources?’ They are also rich in semi-precious stones like Garnet.
Mushroom picking is a popular sport during summer months when mushrooms sprout in abundance. People go mushroom hunting as early as 3:00 AM, by 6:00 AM or so all mushrooms are taken. There are competitions held for the best mushroom pickers. Most locals would have personal stories to tell you about their mushroom picking experiences. How they strategized, how they fooled each other, how they competed and finally what they did with the collected mushrooms. Some mushrooms are consumed fresh while most are dried for the rest of the year.
Another interesting tradition that I heard is that on Easter men in the villages go and whip women while reciting poetry for their good health. Who in turn offer them Easter Eggs and Wine. Men go house-to-house whipping women, collecting gifts and drinking wine. This ritual is supposed to enhance the fertility of women. I am yet to figure out the origin of this tradition but it reminded me of Holi at Barsana in Braj Bhoomi, where women beat men to their heart’s content. Are we all not connected by old traditions somewhere?
I wonder if we travel to seek different things or the similarities that lie beneath those differences.
PS: Mushroom image from my Garden and not the Czech Republic.
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