Travel en Wed Nov 02 10:41:09 IST 2022 why-entrepreneur-pallavi-agarwal-wants-to-build-the-largest-youth-hostel-chain-in-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There are several haunted hostels for backpackers in Europe. New media sites make listicles out of it on Halloween. Some are converted army prison buildings which still retain original solitary confinement cells in the basement while others might be located in cities rife with vampire tales by virtue of birthing real-life inspiration for movies like&nbsp;<i>Dracula</i>.&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in 2011 that Pallavi Agarwal visited one of these &quot;haunted hostels&quot; in Slovenia as part of a Eurotrip which had her hopping from one youth hostel to the next over 20 days. &quot;I really don't have any horror stories to report about the condition of these hostels. I absolutely loved them. And wondered why there weren't such places for young, solo, group travellers in India back then,&quot; says Agarwal. The thought stayed with her and soon after, she quit her job in consumer behaviour research to set up goSTOPS in 2014. The first hostel was set up in Varanasi. The hospitality start-up for the GenZ-millennial mix of backpackers, digital nomads and travel junkies on a budget is now on an expansion spree. &quot;Before the pandemic, we were at 13 hostels and today we are at 33. That has been the growth over the last two years,&quot; says Agarwal, CEO and Co-founder of goSTOPS.</p> <p>While the advent of budget travel and hostels really started with the non-profit Youth Hostel Association of India all the way back in 1946 (with the idea being introduced in the 1940s by the Boy Scouts and Girls Guides of India, Punjab Circle), it was in the second decade of the 21st century that playful colour bombs with funky decor heralded the birth of a new generation of youth hostels. Chains like Zostel, Moustache, The Madpackers, Bunkyard had free-wi-fi, en-suite bathrooms indoor movie nights with board games, foosball and snooker tables. They often have the look and feel of three-star hotels, except you share the room with four to twelve other travellers with dynamic prices starting 500 a night. Pallavi, however, is not satisfied with the spread of these essential options for young, itinerant travellers. Especially the way staycations have caused the demand to surge for these hostels. &quot;In terms of the players that are there in the market, I don't think it helps to differentiate ourselves from each other. Right now it is more important to build that ecosystem. I think the total count of hostels in India is about 1,000 right now. This was about a year back. And I don't know how many of them have closed down due to pandemic-induced losses. And people were still shutting down such properties because it's been difficult to sustain. This market is so terribly underserved,&quot; says Agarwal who is ready to lead and fill the gap as she plans to build a network of 1,500 goSTOPS in the next five years, hoping to become the largest hostel chain in India which is a distinction currently held by Zostel.</p> <p>Agarwal's vision is hardly far-fetched. Already goSTOPS has the largest bed count in the youth hostel segment. Their huge, rambling property in Mussoorie's mall road has wide circular corridors and reupholstered furniture in delightful blue and pink; it has 150 beds by itself, a number largely unheard of in new-age hostel properties. Before the pandemic, goSTOPS was bootstrapped. But from 2019 onwards, they have managed to rope in angel investors to pump $3 million in funding which includes a $1 million in pre-series-- a round led by Indian Angel Network (IAN) and Yuj Ventures. goStop hostels stand out because they are &quot;full stack hotel operators&quot; which entails a standardization across properties in terms of design, hiring of staff and operations.</p> <p>Currently on the look-out for Series A funding, the need to grow has also been spurred by the way workplace dynamics are changing with the onset of remote log-ins. The pandemic has altered the way employers and companies are looking at workspaces. While earlier there were digital nomads and the gig economy was on the rise, they were mostly for people who were not in the office physically. Now the regular employees too have the option to work from outside. &quot;I think the future is a hybrid model of work, with both office and remote workspaces. As a result what has happened is people have increased the length of stay at various goStop locations. So pre-pandemic you'd catch a Volvo on Friday and return by Monday to get to the office. Now you might end up staying a week more.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Apr 21 13:43:00 IST 2022 Rival-of-Goa-Shivrajpur-beach-new-hitherto-unexplored-destination-for-tourists <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The&nbsp;<a href=""></a><a href="">beach</a>&nbsp;never seems to lose its special touch. The soft sand and rolling waves instantly make us forget all our worries and instead focus on the amazing vista before us. In Gujarat, the summer is very hot, but a walk on the beach in the morning and evening in the bracing sea breeze is exhilarating.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;And in the benign sunshine of the Indian winter a visit to the Gujarat coastline means a holiday replete with good food, sun and sand.</p> <p>Beaches are the favourite destination for tourists from 1<sup>st</sup>&nbsp;September to 31<sup>st</sup>&nbsp;May in India. Goa, Andaman-Nicobar and some beaches in southern part of India are very popular. Today I introduce a new beach to the reader. “Shivarajpur” is a beach recently revealed and opened for tourists near Dwarka. The Government of Gujarat has decided to add this one more destination for domestic and international tourists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shivrajpur Beach is located near Shivrajpur village on the Arabian sea in the Devbhumi Dwarka district. Recently Shivrajpur Beach has received the&nbsp;<b>blue flag certification</b>. The iconic Blue Flag is one of the world’s most recognized voluntary awards for beaches, marine and sustainable boating tourism operators. In order to qualify for the Blue Flag, a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety and accessibility criteria must be made and maintained.&nbsp;Shivrajpur Beach has given boost to the tourism of Gujarat.In total, eight beaches of India, including ‘Shivrajpur Beach’, have been awarded ‘Blue Flag Beach’ status. The ‘Blue Flag Beach’ certifications were awarded by Denmark based non-profiting organization, ‘The Foundation for Environment Education’</p> <p>From Shivrajpur Beach, Dwarka is only 13 km away while Okha of the lighthouse fame is situated around 23 kms away. This famous beach is situated on Dwarka – Okha Highway and one of the famous beaches in Gujarat on account of its scenic beauty.</p> <p>The serene lapping sound of waves rolling in from the Arabian Sea, sand that caresses the feet when walked upon, leaving footprints that are maps to a destination in mantled in solitude, suggest that it is more in the realm of reality than myth that Lord Krishna chose these shores to build his glittering city.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Government of Gujarat is planning to develop tourist amenities in the first phase at a cost of Rs.20 crore. New infrastructure worth Rs.150-200 crore is in the pipeline. Smt. Mamta Verma, Principal Secretary (Tourism), Government of Gujarat apprised that state government is making world class facilities for the tourists. Eco-friendly services, cottages will be available at the beach site. The tourism department of the state government is also planning to create unique marine sports facilities, she added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dwarka is the right place to stay for tourists in both luxury and budget hotels are available here. There is also air connectivity from Delhi and Mumbai to Rajkot, the road journey from Rajkot to Dwarka is only 5 hours, part of the journey is along the scenic coastal highway. Dwarka is also connected by train from various parts of the country. For tourists searching for a new destination, Shivrajpur Beach is an ideal find. Dwarka, Porbandar, Somnath, Sasan Gir and Diu are nearby places which would make the experience of a visitor complete with access to historical, cultural and wildlife experiences. The cuisine and hospitality of this area called “Kathiawad” is also amazing.</p> <p>&nbsp; &nbsp;All in all, Shivrajpur is an incredibly beautiful beach soon to have amenities to rival any beach tourist destination in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>********</p> <p><i>Nilesh Shukla is a Joint Director of Information in Gujarat Bhawan. He is working in Delhi for the last 25 years. A number of stories on different subjects have been published in different publications. He also looks after the work related to PR and Media on behalf of the Government of Gujarat in Delhi</i></p> Sat Mar 27 17:30:07 IST 2021 call-of-the-atoll <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A 30-minute scenic seaplane ride from the Maldivian capital of Male brings us to the Kunfunadhoo Island on Baa Atoll. On a site classified as a "UNESCO Biosphere Reserve", we're smitten with the turquoise waters of an atoll protected by its own reef. Hundreds of small coral islands surrounded by the cleanest water in the world, the sea teeming with exotic fish, bright blue skies.....what's not to love?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our destination here is the secluded Soneva Fushi eco resort The `No News, No Shoes' blueprint barefoot luxury hotel offers 57 capacious beachfront villas, ranging in size from one to nine bedrooms nestling amidst dense vegetation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our stylish four-bedroom villa is fashioned from blanched, weathered wood, with shingled rather than thatched roofs and opens out to blinding white stretches of sand fronted by a private salt water swimming pool. It has a colour palette of greens, blues and mauves to reflect the sublime Indian Ocean seascapes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To call Soneva Fushi simply an “eco-friendly” resort would be like referring to the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger as a `cat'. Rather, this state-of-the-art luxury resort offers unimaginable luxury and has bagged every conceivable travel accolade for its beauty, service and green initiatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Camouflaged by the trees, our villa offers us full privacy, though we also have direct access to the beach, where we observe sea turtles. In the evening, we enjoy the open air cinema or head to the observatory and touch the stars. Candlelit meals are served on the beach or on a private island, just for us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the staff never drop names, during our five-day stay, we discover that the hotel has hosted everyone from Prince William and Princess Kate to David and Victoria Beckham to Katrina Kaif to the Arab royalty. Madonna went public after she stayed here, calling it the "definition of heaven – [a place for] riding bikes in the moonlight and watching movies under a starlit sky".</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We feel no less regal as we're pampered by an efficient team of man and woman fridays, award-winning chefs and other personnel helmed by the resort's dynamic General Manager Ranvir Bhandari.</p> <p>But what we found most remarkable was that luxury at Soneva Fushi never strays from more ethical concerns: recycling water, using solar panels and protecting biodiversity, have been part of the resort's DNA since it debuted in 1995.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Due to the Maldives already fragile ecosystem, the hotel has ensured that luxury comes with responsibility. During the resort's construction, no trees were cut down. Instead buildings were moved around, and the resort's architecture tweaked to fit in among the trees to minimise damage to the environment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The resort's carbon neutral footprint since 2012, self-sufficiency in water management, and its ‘Waste to Wealth’ programme which converts 90 per cent of the waste into an income, including turning Styrofoam and glass waste into lightweight bricks for construction have been pioneering initiatives. Soneva Fushi’s Youth Career Initiative programme offers employability training to local young natives while teaching hundreds of children to swim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These measures are underpinned by the vision of the resort's founders Sonu Shivdasani, an Oxford undergraduate and his wife Eva Eva Malmstrom, a Swedish fashion model. The couple liked Kunfunadhoo so much when they visited it in the 1990s that they leased the uninhabited island to build the resort naming it Soneva (for Sonu and Eva) Fushi (‘island’ in local language Dhivehi).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soneva introduced the archipelago’s first solar array in 2008 and gets about 75% of its energy from renewables. It currently recycles 90% of its solid waste–with glass, food waste, jungle trimmings, plastic, paper, cloth, Tetra Pak packaging and polystyrene all processed onsite in its own pyrolysis system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"We regard waste as wealth," elaborates Bhandari, explaining the resort's Waste-to-Wealth scheme as we tour the centre brimming with different types of waste at various stages of being transformed. "Food and cardboard are composted; fallen branches turned into charcoal; polystyrene made into pellets for beanbags..."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A state-of-the-art glass factory at the resort recycles its own waste as well as that of neighbouring resorts in the Baa Atoll. The in-house glass studio turns much of this into stunning artworks thanks to an artists-in-residence programme where world-renowned glassblowers are invited.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the help of aquaponics, the resort also grows 12 different types of mushrooms, raises chickens and eggs apart from whittling down the energy consumption required for chilling (ice, air conditioning). "Aquaponics," explains the resident naturalist as we tour mist-sprayed damp and cavernous rooms where hundreds of mushrooms are growing, "is a system of aquaculture in which waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic creatures supplies the nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water. It combines conventional aquaculture with hydroponics in a symbiotic environment. In normal aquaculture, excretions from the animals being raised can accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity, but this system forestalls this."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The resort's kitchens (for its dozen-odd restaurants) are similarly mindful of weighing their use of exotic meat—Australian wagyu or Argentine beef—against the environmental impact of the cattle industry and the carbon footprint of flying it to the far-flung island.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The hotel measures its carbon emissions using the three-pronged plan: One, direct emissions; two, indirect emissions from purchased electricity, heat or steam; and three, other indirect emissions from outsourced activities</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Plastic is considered as contraband. The hotel banned the use of plastic water bottles in 2008, preferring instead to desalinates the water on site, playing classical music during the process. This method follows the principles of Masaru Emoto, the famed Japanese chemist who claimed that human emotion could affect water molecules.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Guests are served hotel-made desalinated water in handsome glass bottles with ceramic lids. In a triple whammy the bottles benefit the guests, the environment, and the company’s bottom line. By using their own filtered tap water instead of the expensive bottled brands, the resort's water cost has plummeted from 20 per cent to 2 per cent while profits are funnelled into charity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How's that for twinning luxury with responsibility?</p> Tue Sep 18 20:19:05 IST 2018 speechless-in-the-sounds <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A strong ice-tipped wind is blowing through the Fiordland in New Zealand`s South Island when I board the launch that is to take me through the Milford Sound.<br> </p> <p>This is big sky country and the gigantic, chubby clouds moving at a rapid clip overhead makes for a most dramatic sight. Many of us have rushed onto the top deck amidst excited chatter and the pulling on of beanies and windbreakers. However, the moment the launch sets sail, a hush descends as people stare wide-eyed about them, the ubiquitous cameras and phone cameras raised to eye level.&nbsp;</p> <p>The sky is a brilliant azure above us, the waters echoing that shade below. It is a glorious day and fittingly enough,&nbsp; as we sail out, a clutch of bottlenose dolphins leap about our boat, eliciting a collective gasp of pure delight all across the upper deck. On our return, we watch as a small colony of seals sunning themselves on a boulder set to bullying an outsider, pushing him right off the stone! The Sound is home to whales, seals, dolphins and Fiordland penguins; spotting two out of that list isn`t too bad, I muse.</p> <p>Since it is late summer moving into autumn in this part of the world, the sheer rock faces that tower on both sides are not coated with snow; instead, they stand stark, streaked green and brown, with a few waterfalls coursing down them. The Mitre Peak looms up but is not as austere or harsh as I had imagined it to be; instead,&nbsp; it seems like a benedictory sentinel, calmly watching us pass. The Elephant Peak and the Lion Peak are other formidable cliffs that we glide between.</p> <p>This Sound is apparently the wettest inhabited place in all of New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world. When it pours, the copious rains create a slew of&nbsp; temporary waterfalls, all striating and crashing down the cliff faces from on high. The weather holds dry , though, so there aren`t too many waterfalls around. However, the two permanent ones, the Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls, are putting on a magnificent display for us and I can feel the spray from the former on my face as we cruise close to it.&nbsp;</p> <p>Strictly speaking,&nbsp; the Milford Sound, Piopiotahi in the Maori language, is not a Sound at all, it is a fjord. A Sound is a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, wider than a fjord, or a narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land. Fjords, on the other hand, usually occur where ocean water flows into valleys formed near the coast by glaciers, and this is one such.&nbsp;</p> <p>Fittingly enough, the fiord (as the word is spelt in New Zealand) was used frequently by the Maori, much before the advent of the European settlers. Then in 1812,&nbsp; Captain John Grono discovered this series of glacier-fed inlets and promptly named it Milford Haven after his homeland in Wales. Captain John Lort Stokes later renamed it as Milford Sound.</p> <p>The Milford Sound attracts more than one million visitors per year, making it one of New Zealand's top&nbsp; &nbsp;tourist destinations. The Milford Discovery Centre &amp; Underwater Observatory is a big draw, since it allows visitors to view the fiord's unique marine environment at a depth of ten metres.&nbsp;</p> <p>Fjord or Sound, I won`t quibble; it`s a sheer marvel of nature. And it`s best appreciated in silence.</p> <p>Back home in Bengaluru, I'd been searching for a pre-trip screen saver for my desktop and had chanced upon a glorious overview of the Marlborough Sounds. Now, on the Sounds itself, some of the topography looks familiar, others are breathtakingly fresh.&nbsp;</p> <p>I am aboard the big Interislander ferry with its seven decks and here too,&nbsp; I have eschewed the plush comforts of our coach`s company`s designated private cabin, choosing instead to stand on the viewing deck, the wind coursing steadily through my hair, watching the vessel make its steady way through the watery valleys of these Sounds.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Marlborough Sounds are an intricate network of sea-smothered valleys at the very northern tip of the South Island of New Zealand. The Sounds were created by the rising sea levels and&nbsp; &nbsp;the gradual caving in of land. The Maori mythology relating to this place is far more poetic: according to them, the Sounds are the prows of the sunken wakas (canoes) of AorakI, son of the Sky Father.</p> <p>The Marlborough Sounds wind themselves softly and smoothly around a stupendous 4,000 kms of sounds, islands and peninsulas. We pass an endless succession of densely wooded hills and small picturesque bays; access to these, I am informed, are difficult and those who live in these isolated spots use boats to move to and fro.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Marlborough Sounds are connected to the Cook Strait at the north-east extreme, with Picton on the mainland being the main large port, at the head of the Queen Charlotte Sound. The other main (and simply gorgeous) bodies of water are the Queen Charlotte Sound, the Pelorus Sound and the Kenepuru Sound.</p> <p>The Sounds are home to the entire breeding population of the rare New Zealand king cormorant which nests on the rocky islets all around us. Several of the islands surrounding the Sounds are designated as predator-free sanctuaries for native wildlife.</p> <p>Just like the Milford Sound, the Marlborough Sounds too, were first used by the Māori people long before the coming of the Europeans. Small populations of the Maori inhabited some of the hills that lie beyond the sheltered inlets. Then Captain Cook came to the Sounds in the 1770s, discovered a plant (Cook's scurvy grass) high in vitamin C which helped to cure scurvy amongst his crew, and then, on Motuara Island, he proclaimed British sovereignty over the South Island.</p> <p>There is a reason we are cruising at a slow and steady speed. Environmental groups have consistently protested against the speeding ferries which they say damage marine farming areas, destroy crab breeding grounds and strip the local beaches bare of sand. Now the ferries move along at a sedate cruising speed which of course, is ideal for the tourist who wishes to savour the experience of sailing in the Sounds to the fullest extent possible and in the longest time possible, too.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>The waters in the main channels of the Sounds are calm and I spot many a sailboat out and about. Cook Strait, however, is all about rough waters, strong currents and vortices, and even a ferry as large as the one I`m on, seems to rock and roll a bit.&nbsp;</p> <p>Sure enough, there has been a famous shipwreck in the Marlborough Sounds, that of the Russian cruise liner MS Mikhail Lermontov, which collided with rocks and sank in 1986 at Port Gore, close to the mouth of the Queen Charlotte Sound. The ship is now a popular dive wreck.</p> <p>My cruise is a lovely slow voyage, and my entranced gaze has not moved much beyond the teal blue waters, the formidably wooded hills, the shallow sandbars and bays. There are any number of birds wheeling at eye level, the seagulls screeching loudly and discordantly.&nbsp; When we enter the Cook Straits which connects the Tasman Sea on the northwest with the South Pacific Ocean on the southeast, the waters immediately take on the hue of splashed ink. The sun is warm on my head but there is a fierce wind blowing that ameliorates the harsh glare. There are sailboats aplenty in the bay at Picton as we set off, then there are large vessels out on the horizon beyond Cook Straits and as we draw into the pretty Wellington harbour, jet-skis whiz all around us, their riders emitting whoops of exhilarated laughter.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>On the viewing deck of the ferry, however, we remain a silent but deeply appreciative lot. It really is the best way to take in the Sounds.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Sep 01 15:09:45 IST 2018 legazpi-hidden-gem-philippines <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Legazpi is a Filipino haven for whale shark interaction, firefly watching, eating chilli ice cream and visiting the Church of Our Lady of the Gate and Cagsawa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Jump ma’am jump,” said my butading interaction officer (butading is the Bicol term for whale shark) softly but persuasively as I sat on the ledge of the fisherman’s outrigger boat. I jumped right into the waters of the San Bernardino Strait. I had on a life jacket, snorkeling gear and flippers and held onto the lifeguard rescue can which the officer maneuvered effortlessly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Ma’am now put your head inside the water,” he instructed a few seconds later. Once again I complied and immediately saw a magnificent whale shark swim right in front of me. It was my first whale shark interaction and Donsol in Philippines had been kind. For a few minutes, I marveled at the beauty of the largest species of fish before heading back to the boat. It was an adrenaline rush seeing her 2 feet away from me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I babbled at the grace with which the whale shark swam, how she ignored us and how this would be a once in a lifetime experience. The officer, spotter who had spotted the whale shark and two fishermen responsible for steering the boat heard me out, quite used to similar reactions from visitors who choose to experience this activity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before getting into the boat, visitors are briefed and shown an orientation video at the registration centre. Throughout the activity they are accompanied by the whale shark interaction officer and spotter. Visitors cannot touch the whale sharks. This is an ethical activity because the sighting is kept natural and the whale sharks are not fed to increase their sighting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Still excited from my aquatic quest, we drove back to Legazpi for another adventure—this one being a fiery culinary challenge. We stopped at a shop called 1st Colonial Grill which is the pioneer of Sili ice cream. Bird's eye chilly or sili as it is locally known in Legazpi is used to make this blazing handmade ice cream. There are four levels ranging from level one which is mild to level four which is known as the Oragon volcano level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“For level 4, half a kilo of chillies are used to make a few scoops. Cream, coconut milk, sugar with chillies are whipped together to form this ice cream whose tagline is: I am hotter than you think,” added Rowena Aspe who has curated sili ice cream. While level one is light pink in colour, level four progressed to dark pink and true to its tagline is an eruption of spice in the mouth. The trick to appease the raging taste buds is to immediately drink cold milk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rowena has also curated other unusual ice creams that are made from taro, moringa, cucumber, corn, ginger and burnt rice. Each of these ice creams' main ingredient is indigenous to the provinces around Legazpi and is an endeavour to highlight that region. A new flavour called carmelado was introduced on May 27 this year and tasted like our Indian malai kulfi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had enough adventure for a day and at night opted for soothing firefly watching on the Ogod river. In the solitude and dark of the night, our fisherman’s boat glided on the river. The fireflies on the trees on the river bank welcomed us to their territory. Some were solitary while others were in groups. The trees came alive with their flickering bursts of light. A solitary spark here or a congregation there in synchronised rhythm lit up our surroundings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next day I walked on the boulevard of Legazpi which has earned the moniker of boulevard of broken dreams because unrequited promises of marriage were made on it. “The boulevard sees joggers and walkers early in the morning while the fitness vibe is replaced with satiating hunger pangs and chilling out in the afternoon at its cafes. The city’s triathlon is also conducted here,” added Liziel Mascarinas, a local guide who accompanied me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The town of Cagsawa is a short drive from Legazpi. Founded in 1887, this town was buried under the eruption of Mayon Volcano on February 1, 1814. Today the still standing bell tower is an iconic example of the resilience of its people. Souvenir shops line the bell tower complex and sell abaca bags, printed t-shirts, lava rock fridge magnets and chilli chocolates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the way back from Cagsawa, we stopped at The Church of Our Lady of the Gate to pay our respects. This church is also known as the Church of Daraga. Part of it was declared a cultural treasure and it has Mexican and renaissance architecture. Its feast falls in the month of September. A local Filipino tradition of the area has women bringing pieces of rocks while men pile them around the church to symbolise joint effort and faith.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Fri Aug 24 15:41:21 IST 2018 zipping-around-zemun <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As I nip up to the cobblestones-paved Gardos Hill on the outskirts of Belgrade, the Serbian capital city, an enchanting view of terracotta-hued rooftops and the Danube riverside opens out before me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I'm in Zemun, a border town that straddles the erstwhile Ottoman and Austrian Empires and stretches all the way from Old Belgrade across the azure expanse of the Danube. Located in one of the oldest parts of Belgrade, and wrapped around Gardos Hill, it is peppered with narrow lanes, quaint buildings and private residences painted in powder pinks, yellows and greens. Cafes do brisk business selling the famed Serbian espresso coffee as well as a variety of beers and German brews.</p> <p>Gardos Hill is the perfect lookout point over the Danube. Right below me is a panoramic sweep of Belgrade with skyscrapers rising out of its concrete legoland. Across the Danube, beckons the bucolic landscapes of Vojvodina, one of South-Central Europe's most significant agricultural regions. Further afield lies the Great War Island, situated at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zemun leverages its riverside location to good effect. I see colourful boats clustering around its atmospheric shores taking tourists on cruises along the Danube. Fine dining restaurants offer delicious fish dishes and fine wines. Its old town is a historically preserved area which showcases life in the 18th and 19th century and was earlier known as Taurunum. Adjacent to the old town is the Zemun Quay, a popular walking zone in Belgrade. A slew of orthodox and catholic churches, an old post office, houses of traders from the 18th and 19th century, and a few schools add character to the landscape.</p> <p>Zemun sits on layers of history. Ruled by the Romans, Byzantine and Austro-Hungarians, it bears eclectic influences on its architecture and culture. As I move my gaze around Gardos, the turreted, brick red and white tower of Janos Hunyadi or the millennium tower veers into view. It was built, the guide explains, in 1896 to celebrate a millennium of Hungarian settlement in the area. The 17th-century derelict hostelry Beli Medved (The White Bear), the oldest in Belgrade, sits adjacent. The Zemun cemetery located close to the millennium tower is where Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Muslims and Jews were buried.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"Until World War I, Zemun was a standalone town, the last frontier of the Austria-Hungarian empire," the guide elaborates as I soak in breathtaking views of Belgrade from Gardos Hill. "However, after the Second World War, New Belgrade was built between the two old towns, connecting them."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zemun is today classified as a neighbourhood and municipality of New Belgrade. It became an official part of Belgrade in 1934 and remains fiercely independent to this day. Proud local residents spurn claims that their town is just a Belgrade "neighbourhood". To them, Zemun has its own distinct personality with deep roots that go back to Roman times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the Romans, the town passed through many hands—the Byzantines, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Mongols, Serbs, and Ottomans—before becoming part of the Hapsburg Empire. Despite multifarious ownerships, or perhaps because of it, Zemun's past is riddled with tragedy and tumult. Up until the 19th century, it was a quarantine centre for people travelling between the Austrian and Ottoman Empires. Travellers and tradesman alike would be lodged here for months before being cleared for further travel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of Zemun's architectural centrepieces—the Yugoslavia’s Air Force Command Building built in 1935—was also bombed during NATO's 1999 campaign of aggression against Yugoslavia. It now stands forlorn and abandoned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After World War II Zemun was drafted into the Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi puppet regime, which granted permission for the establishment of the horrific Sajmiste concentration camp. During the first phase of the camp, from autumn 1941, Sajmiste primarily functioned as a "Judenlager" or a place to house the Jews rounded up in Belgrade in inhuman conditions. Later the camp saw extermination of an estimated 20,000 people, mostly Serbian Jews.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, however, there's little evidence of this turbulent history as there are no museums nor memorials in Zemun to commemorate the camp's victims. Perhaps it's a conscious effort on the part of the ruling political dispensation to eradicate this chapter from Serbian history?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whatever it is, there's no denying that Zemun's history bestows upon it dignity and gravitas. As I bid adieu to the town that had me completely under its spell, I try to capture in my mind's eye its mesmerizing landscape where the air is rife with intrigue and time seems to stands still.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Sat Aug 18 12:51:16 IST 2018 victoria-manna-for-the-gourmand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A mesmerising landscape, a lingering woody spicy musk and a vintage Shiraz tangoing with your palate is all a poet seeking inspiration in Australia’s stunning state of Victoria can ever ask for. In a country of astounding geographical contrasts, Victoria’s tranquil and picturesque charms are refreshing solace from many of Australia’s intimidatingly rugged regions.</p> <p>Melbourne, the capital of Victoria effervesces with zest from its vibrant international population contributing to its multicultural and multi-lingual mosaic. Along with strains from varied musical streams from around the globe filling the air, the city, considered to be one of the world’s most livable, is a classic gourmand’s getaway with its formidable international culinary treasure house. While the Arabo-Levantine hummus is one of the city’s favourite daily treats with innumerable restaurants serving cerebral innovations, iconic Jewish, Italian, Greek and Asian ( Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian) restaurants to name a few, strive to offer their sumptuous best.</p> <p>Melbourne’s sprawling Queen Victoria market is the place to indulge in exotic treat-tastings from the world over. Right from tantalising Egyptian ‘Dukkah’ (a dip-mixture of herbs, nuts and spices), mouth-melting Greek ‘Halwa’, Moroccan spices and local Australian cheeses to Lebanese falafel, visitors from diverse countries flock to shop here at affordable prices.</p> <p>Not too far from Melbourne lies a wonderland of pristine beauty. The Yarra Valley, about an hour’s drive from Melbourne embraces you with verdant vibes of lush, rolling vineyards. Legendary Persian poet Omar Khayyam, ‘the poet of wine’ resounds with each sip of the local varietals, ‘<i>Jaami o boti o barbati bar lab e kesht. In har se maraa naghd o tu ra nasye behesht</i>’ ( the goblet, the maiden and the lute in a verdant field are my heaven on earth, about paradise I care less!)</p> <p>The cozy charm of Yarra Yerring, the region’s world famous winery prepares you for rounds of generous tastings, the terroir’s top-ranking vintages springing-up exotic bouquets of fruity notes, woody touches in the reds and bergamot, green apple and citruses in the whites, when freshly nosed-every fragrance aficionado’s delight!<b> </b>Hopping on to another famed winery, Oakridge gears you up for another round of tastings and nosings.</p> <p>If you think the Yarra Valley is an all-wine lover’s playground, get ready to relive your childhood with some chocolaty vibes. The Yarra Valley chocolaterie and ice creamery is where you renounce your sense of time and space and dive into the bottomless ocean of sweet treats with experts on the panel seducing your palate.</p> <p>A kaleidoscope of colourful chocolate boxes arranged on symmetrically placed shelves dazzles you at first instance. In the open kitchen are mavericks from France and Belgium putting in their passion and years of training in creating magic with the world’s most beloved sweet.</p> <p>Boasting of over 250 exotic varieties, they cater to customers of all ages, even little children who vie for chocolate-coated jelly snakes and chocolate baby animals. The chocolaterie is known for using high-quality ingredients like fruits and nuts from their orchard and herbs from their unique kitchen garden.</p> <p>Victoria’s cheeses cast a spell on the taste buds with each bite. Fresh, rich, creamy and palate-teasing varieties invite cheese freaks from around the globe at the Yarra Valley dairy. Located in fairytale surroundings, starring out at the lush green landscape for hours together with a goblet of a local white paired with the dairy’s cheeses can have you addicted to the experience.</p> <p>A cheese tasting here seems like a divinely ordained indulgence. ‘Instant nirvana’ is what one would describe the first bite of their Persian Fetta. With its enormous popularity throughout Victoria, the soft, melting, exhilarating Fetta variety is often paired with eggs, meat and other dishes in the region’s leading restaurants.</p> <p>‘Saffy’ is yet another fresh cow’s milk delicacy marinated in saffron, lemon rind, cumin seeds, garlic and olive oil- an unbelievably innovative and rare variety. While ‘Le Jack’ , a fresh semi-mature white mould goat milk cheese provides fine accompaniment to crisp green apples, green olives and Sauvignon Blanc pairings, Chevre and Dill-fresh goat milk curd with fresh dill is a pure treat with bagel and smoked salmon or pickled vegetables, not to forget, apple cider or an aromatic and sweet floral Arneis ( white wine from an Italian grape varietal) to go with.</p> <p>While there are no tours of the cheese factory or farm for tourists, a well-equipped cheese shop within the dairy draws-in the crowds at any given time, with innumerable cheese and wine varieties to get you in the groove.</p> <p>One of the world’s most sought-after culinary treasures is the truffle. A type of a fungus that closely associates with certain tree roots, the truffle has made history with its unique taste and aroma , giving the legendary gilt-edge exotic flavor to foods, elevating it from under the soil to some of the world’s most celebrated Michelin Star kitchens. The truffle is also considered aphrodisiac due to the presence of pheromones.</p> <p>While Italy stands as one of the world’s leading truffle cultivators and producers, Australia has its share of glory in the trade, thanks to renowned senior veterans like Jenny McAuley and her ancestral Red Hill truffle farm in Victoria’s tranquil Mornington Peninsula.</p> <p>There is nothing more thrilling than truffle hunting with McAuley on a cold rainy morning. A brief introduction at her quaint and cozy wooden alpine reception and distributing rubber shoe covers for each guest, she leads the group of international visitors on a truffle hunting trail along with her cute and cuddly truffle dog Thomas, a gentle English Springer Spaniel specially trained to sniff truffles under the earth!</p> <p>Battling the chill, the group finally halts after a long walk down the verdant slopes as McAuley signals with mystical silence, hinting that Thomas’s nose may have stumbled upon the presence of a truffle under a tree. And voila! The canine is on his stomach wagging his tail pointing to the direction of the truffle, awaiting a ‘treat’ soon after his trainer dug it out!</p> <p>With astounding agility at her age, McAuley perches herself on the ground, carefully digging out a large black stony, irregularly shaped piece that resembles a muddy and moist rock and triumphantly declares that ‘a truffle had been discovered’ to an elated crowd!</p> <p><a name="_GoBack" id="_GoBack"></a>Placing a food treat in Thomas’s mouth rewarding him for correctly discovering the crude-looking yet invaluable gem, she meticulously passes on the freshly harvested truffle to the guests to nose its unique aroma . Despite their diverse backgrounds, each of them seem to revel in its unique earthy, raw fragrance which elevates the senses.</p> <p>After heading back to the reception, a hearty spread awaits you-butter, mayonnaise, honey, a selection of cheeses and breads and a mouth-melting desert, all bathed with eclectic truffle— truly manna for the soul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Aug 11 16:59:12 IST 2018 Ladies-Market-in-Bulgaria-A-bustling-bazaar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Exploring local markets is the best way to immerse yourself in a country's culture. From the atmospheric food markets of London, Toronto and Israel to the souks of Oman, Bahrain and Dubai to the fabled Khan-Al-Khalili in Egypt and Chatuchak Market of Bangkok, I've savoured each and every one of my outings to these buzzy venues, meeting local people, sampling local food and wines and shopping for local wares.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A recent visit to the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia took me to its largest and busiest market—Zhenski Pazar or 'Ladies Market'. Existing from the Ottoman times, the sprawling marketplace, located adjacent to the Synagogue and Banya Bashi Mosque, radiates enough kinetic energy to power a ship. It brims with fresh local produce—vibrant seasonal fruits and vegetables, cheese, cured meat, spices, dried fruit, nuts, Bulgarian pottery, homemade honey, wine, plumbing equipment, clothes and more. Cheap socks and underwear, anyone? Or touristy tat? Perhaps contraband cigarettes? The explosion of colours (green, red, yellow, purple, blue), smells and the surround sound of vendors and shoppers here put all my senses in turmoil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a nod to Sofia's inclusive ethos (the city hosts migrants from countries as diverse as Russia, Egypt, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Australia, UK, China), the Ladies Market resembles a mini United Nations! Products are on sale from all corners of the globe. Authentic Arabic products (including Halal meat) jostle for space with Chinese bric a brac, Iraqi bakeries with Syrian grocery stores and Kurdish restaurants. There's homemade halwa from Turkey, as well as traditional Turkish sweets like kunafa and the unctuous, pistachio-anointed baklava. Buzzy cafes sell refreshments for shoppers—mostly savoury pastries (including the famed Bulgarian banitsa) and rich aromatic coffee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speciality shops tucked away in tiny, cobblestoned alleys stock the prized Bulgarian yoghurt made of high-quality cow's milk that contains the bacteria 'Lactobacillus bulgaricus' and 'Streptococcus thermophilus' isolated in Bulgaria. It is great for one's gut and nutritionists recommend it highly. Also on sale are briny and nutty cheeses, wines, honey and butter. Many shops sell exotic spices as well as different kind of edible seeds—flax, rice, sunflower seeds, nuts, beans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Competition is brutal, so prices are kept low. Vendors holler, haggle and hustle like they do in Middle East bazaars, adding the distinctive Bulgarian grouchiness to the mix. The atmosphere is so thick, you can slice it with a knife. Friendly vendors invite you in for a dekko. "India? So beautiful! Indian women are so gorgeous," a Bulgarian handicrafts seller tries to entice me into his outlet as I inspect his stunning smorgasbord—handcrafted tableware, rugs, fridge magnets, mugs and pottery. Unable to resist his charm, I'm soon loaded with shopping bags looking like a mule!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many shops and restaurants are owned by Arab immigrants. Those who can't afford to rent a shop, squat on the pavements selling whatever produce they've harvested from their garden that morning. Local village women sell homemade pickles, jams, chutneys in glass jars sealed with a chequered cloth and a ribbon. Antique dealers hawk items from both pre-socialist and socialist times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"Earlier, the stall-holders at the market were all women. Hence, its name Ladies Bazaar. But now sellers of both sexes from surrounding hills travel down daily to sell their produce here," explains the elegant Dragomir Dimitrov, executive director of Sofia Municipality, who manages two of the biggest markets in Sofia including the Ladies Market. Under Dimitrov's vision, the Ladies Market has underwent a massive revamp in 2014 to make it more inclusive, streamlined and tourist-friendly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dimitrov has grander plans for the market. "We're working with artists to hold art shows and exhibitions here as the area is steeped in history and culture," he says. "Visitors from all over Sofia and neighbouring areas come here to shop, socialise and network, and the market sees 60,000 footfalls daily," elaborates Dimitrov.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The idea is to develop the Ladies Market as Sofia's international social and artistic hub. "I want to nourish the spirit and soul of the place and make it one of the city's top attractions, generate social interactions, develop studios here like in European markets, organise contemporary events, food/wine and art festivals."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"Even in its new avatar, the spirit of the place has not changed," explains feted Bulgarian gallerist Stephan Stoyanov who is planning to hold an international video show of top artists from across the world in the market next year. "There will be international speakers, projections, music, food and wine. We want to leverage the magic of this unique and historic venue to showcase it to the world.”</p> Wed Aug 01 22:57:47 IST 2018 terracotta-treasures-bishnupur <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If you are a lover of history and art, you will get your fix if you travel to Bishnupur and Ambika Kalna in West Bengal. The monuments here sing a magnificent paean to a bygone era. The Rasmancha in Bishnupur, for example, was built in 1600 by the Malla king Hambir. It was where all the Radha and Krishna idols would be worshipped during the Vaishnava Ras festival. At first glance, the pillared hall looks like a step pyramid of Egypt or Mexico. Except it is built of brick and not stone.</p> <p>Stone had always been in short supply in the vast flood plains of Bengal. Hence, the architects had to resort to a substitute. The easy availability of clay gave birth to a new type of temple architecture in the form of the elaborately decorated terracotta temples. Some of the more famous temples here are Shyamrai, Kestorai and Madan Mohan in the five-pinnacled, Jor Bangla and single-pinnacled style of architecture respectively. Their outer walls, which were built in the 17<sup>th</sup> century by the Malla kings, are ornamented with the most intricate terracotta work recounting mythological events and stories.</p> <p>There is an interesting legend to the origin of the Malla dynasty in Bishnupur. In the 7<sup>th</sup>century, the wife of a Rajput king who was passing through Bengal went into labour. The king deserted her and continued on his journey. The wife gave birth to a son in the nearby village of Bagdi, who grew up to be a popular leader. Eventually, he founded the Malla dynasty in Bishnupur under the name of Adi Malla. When the Mughals invaded Bishnupur in 1574, the Mallas were ruling chieftains in the Rarh region of Bengal. They gave in to the dominion of the Mughals and enjoyed the patronage and prosperity of the Mughal empire.</p> <p>Bishnupur will be like Disneyworld for terracotta lovers. There are small terracotta structures strewn all around, on playgrounds and in between peepul trees. Other than the larger terracotta temples, Bishnupur is known for seven single-pinnacled stone temples or Jor Mandir, a beautiful stone chariot, two gateways leading to the town, and the massive Dalmadal Canon. Built in 1742, the canon weighs 112 quintal, and legend has it that when the Marathas attacked Bishnupur that year, Lord Madan Mohan, an avatar of Krishna, himself fired the gun.</p> <p>The town is also famous for its terracotta artefacts; special cards used to play <i>dashavatar</i>, a traditional game of the Mallas; and the Baluchari sari, with its designs inspired by mythological scenes carved on the temple panels.</p> <p>Ambika Kalna, another temple town of West Bengal located 82 kilometres from Kolkata, is lesser known than Bishnupur. As a result, it has been relatively unsullied by selfie-clicking tourists and guides reeling off facts that are more fiction. You can revel in its old-world charm without being disturbed by the cacophony of your surroundings.</p> <p>As you near Ambika Kalna, the lush landscape gives way to narrow and cluttered bylanes. It is not just geographically that you travel; it is historically, too, as time dissolves into another era. Ambika Kalna is one of the oldest towns of the state, dating back to a thousand years. Two 10<sup>th</sup> and 11<sup>th</sup> century Bishnu idols were recovered around 50 years ago from the Bhagirathi river flowing by the town. A 1660 map of Bengal mentions the place as Ambowa. Most of the important temples of Ambika Kalna were built by the kings of Bardhaman in the 18<sup>th</sup> and 19<sup>th</sup> centuries.</p> <p>The 108 Shiva temples here are arranged in two concentric circles, in the pattern of the 108-bead prayer garlands of the Hindus and Buddhists. There are 74 temples in alternating black and white Shiva lingams in the outer circle, and 34 in white in the inner. The temples were built in 1809 by the Bardhaman king Tej Chandra Bahadur. The place once flourished as a prosperous port town and reached its pinnacle of glory in the 18<sup>th</sup> century under the patronage of the maharajas of Bardhaman. The temple complex has been beautifully maintained with paved pathways and manicured lawns flanked by flower beds. Ambika Kalna is one of the few places where modernity and tradition co-exist without grating against each other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Wed Aug 01 16:06:24 IST 2018 give-a-pause-and-pack-your-bags-because-dubai-is-calling-you <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nothing compares to the pure joy of spending time together during vacations. The unending discussion and recollections are unforgettable. We're all quite busy in our hectic lives, but taking a break from all of this not only allows your mind to calm, but it also gives your heart serenity. After taking a holiday, you will undoubtedly feel more active at work. Even research shows that taking vacations and doing adventurous things increases work efficiency. So it's a good time to put your work aside and take a trip to a fantastic place full of adventure, pleasure, and relaxation. If you are looking for such a place , Dubai could be your first choice as it fulfills all these requirements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Thriving the best joy ever</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The United Arab Emirates is known as a place of opportunities, enterprise, and wisdom, where the happiness of the people is at the top of the leadership's priority list. An iconic skyline, miles of gorgeous beaches, family-friendly water and theme parks, and world-class shopping can all be found in this city. Dubai has attracted a large number of tourists due to its ability to provide every atmosphere, from party to cosy. Dubai is a thriving metropolis with something for everyone. A short drive from the city brings you to a world of outdoor and sporting activities such as helicopter excursions, hot air balloon rides, desert safaris and camping, dhow cruises, kayaking, and much more. Dubai is open and ready to welcome travellers, with the strictest security standards in place to ensure the safety of its citizens and visitors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Explore endless happiness and adventure in dubai</b></p> <p>There is no doubt that you may find unlimited enjoyment and adventures in Dubai, but the question is where to begin and what to choose. The answer is very simple: start your Dubai journey with its authenticity, which are the dunes. You simply cannot take your gaze away from the Dubai Desert Safari. Step away from Dubai's glittering cityscape and explore its pristine dunes! It's an amazing natural creation. The first and most important aspect of a&nbsp;<a href=""></a><a href=""><u>desert safari</u></a>&nbsp;is dune bashing. Dune bashing is fun and thrilling , you will be accompanied with meals, cultural experiences and entertainment.</p> <p>A desert safari provides a getaway from the city's opulent attractions and chaotic atmosphere. But it doesn't imply you have to do it on a shoestring budget. Don't worry if you're on a budget; our low-cost desert safari with dune bashing allows you to enjoy the Arabian Desert like a prince! Oasis Palm tourism will provide you the best ever experience at a reasonable Price.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Things that you can relish in dubai desert safari</b></p> <p>There are several campsite activities that you can enjoy over there. And made you completely forget the time, work and other tension. Several activities such as belly show dance, tanura dance, fire show, camel riding and BBQ dinner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Belly show dance:</b>Like every cultural event in Dubai, belly dance is unique. Belly dance is an important aspect of Emirati culture, which is why tourists want to witness at least one belly dance performance during their Dubai vacation. It provides you a cultural arabic nights vibe with its own importance. People from all over the world come to see the Belly dance. A belly dance will spice up your evening. Booking a desert safari that includes belly dancing is one of the greatest ways to experience this Arabic dance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tanura dance :&nbsp;</b>When you see the tanura dance, you will realise how rare and unusual it is. Tanoura is an Egyptian folk dance performed by a male dancer. It originated among Sufis and has since become one of Dubai's most popular tourist attractions. This divine energy is incredibly intriguing. Tanoura refers to the weighted skirt worn by the dancer. The performer will spin during the dance. It is thought that the circular motion represents the planet circling around the sun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Fire show:&nbsp;</b>Explosive fire breathing, exhilarating pyrotechnics, and stunning flame twirling are just a few of the spectacular skills that their large roster of fire acts and entertainers can provide. The&nbsp;<a href=""></a><a href=""><u>Desert Safari dubai</u></a>&nbsp;fire spectacular will leave you speechless.The fire performance is an outstanding blend of dance and flame juggling. It's a jaw-dropping performance by professionals who have taken all the safeguards. The performer in a fire show will combine fiery illustrations with current motions. It mainly comprises fire breathing, fire eating, and fire twirling techniques.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Camel riding:&nbsp;</b>No one can pass up the opportunity to ride a camel, which is the true essence of a desert safari in Dubai. It offers you a cultural arabic vibe. Camel riding is popular, and you can take images of it. Enjoy a camel ride, some sand art, a henna tattoo, and a starlit barbeque meal back at the camp. Each of these has an own specialty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Tue Dec 27 14:23:37 IST 2022 bewitched-by-belgrade <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Creaking trams and trolley buses trundle down the gritty streets. As we walk along, open air cafes, ice cream shops and buskers playing music on accordions, remains the omnipresent motif. Locals seem to love their dogs and they are allowed in cafes and restaurants too. I am in Belgrade, the capital of the landlocked country of Serbia, located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. I arrive here taking advantage of the Serbian government’s recent waiver of visa to Indian travelers.</p> <p>This resilient city with a tumultuous past is one of the oldest cities in the world, settled by Celts in the third century and then the Romans who built a fortified camp on the hill overlooking the Danube and Sava rivers. The city is a survivor—it has been razed and rebuilt more than 44 times in the past.</p> <p>History whispers from every corner of the city—from the stark shell of the Yugoslav army building that were bombed by NATO in 1999 and stands in mute testimony even today, to the Soviet style apartment blocks of New Belgrade (which used to be a swamp before it was reclaimed) and the chandeliers made of bullet casing and gun parts in Ruzicka Church. But there is also a spark of hope and freedom that echoes everywhere—from the raucous bars and coffee houses filled with people to the gypsy bands playing lively, foot tapping music.</p> <p>My home away from home is the Metropol Palace built in 1950, with wooden panels and chandeliers, which has played host to celebrities from Nehru and Che Guevara to Brigitte Bardot. In the 60s and 70s it was the stylish place for people to have a coffee or meet friends.</p> <p>My local guide <i>Bojana Sestovic,</i> starts our tour at the Republic Square, with an equestrian statue of Prince Mihailo who was the person responsible for expulsion of the Turks. “This is the favourite meeting place for the locals –‘by the horse’,” she says with a smile. We walk to the medieval core of the city—the <i>Kalemegdan Fortress and Park</i> which was once established by the Celts and then a Roman outpost, and the park with its medieval fortifications. It was built to defend the city from the Ottomans but later it was invaded by them and converted into a defensive outpost. I see souvenir stalls where an old woman with a headscarf attempts to sell me 500 million dinar notes that were issued during the country’s hyperinflation in 1993, as a souvenir for just 5 Euro!</p> <p>We walk through parks, wooden bridges, and gates to reach the citadel. Against the ramparts are army tanks and cannons which are part of the <i>Military Museum</i> which has on display, weaponry from Roman swords and Serbian suits of armour to spears and bombs. At the end of the park is a towering nude statue- the Victor Monument designed by artist Ivan Mestrovic to commemorate Serbian victories in the Balkan wars and the victory over the Austrian Hungarian Empire. This was supposed to be a part of a decorative fountain but was rejected by the scandalised public ‘because it was a bad influence’. Today it’s placed high above the park and has become an icon of the country.</p> <p>For an architecture buff like me, Belgrade’s cocktail of styles is attractive. Some of the prettiest buildings are found on Knez Mihailova Street. This long, pedestrian street is lined with historical buildings embellished with intricate carvings—from Neo Classical mansions to ornate Renaissance stunners. We walk down to the <i>Kosancic Circle—</i>a cobblestone lane peppered with old family homes. Many movies have been shot here; this was the area where the Serbs first settled when the Turks settled around the fortress.</p> <p>Close by is the Residence of Princess Ljubica which was built by Prince Milos in 1831 and is the work of Hajji Nikola Zivkovic, the first architect of free Serbia. I admire the classic rooms of this wooden structure which is a museum of 19<sup>th</sup> century Serbian homes today- they are furnished according to the different historical times in the city, with period furniture from the royals and Belgrade’s rich families.</p> <p><a name="_GoBack" id="_GoBack"></a>The city has a distinct café culture which dates back to the Ottoman period. Coffeehouses called <i>kafanas</i> were introduced by the Turks in the 20th century; these kafanas became a popular meeting place for Serb nationalists. We settle down for a coffee at a café on Kralja Petra, with old oak tables, sepia images of the city and souvenirs from the past, whose name translates as a ‘question mark’. They say that the owner named it after the Catholic Church across the road and when it was criticized, he defiantly changed the name to a question mark!</p> <p>But the prize for the most stunning building goes to the Cathedral of St Sava built on the site where it is said Turkish invaders burned the relics of Saint Sava who founded the Serbian Orthodox Church. This is the country's most important church and a symbol of faith and freedom—with a marble facade and a 4,000 ton Neo- Byzantine copper and marble dome, the church can accommodate 10,000 worshippers at a time. It’s a perpetual work-in-progress and has taken a century to build and is still under construction. I watch worshippers light candles under the scaffolding reaching up to the golden painted dome; I am awed by the underground crypt with stunning gold chandeliers, Murano glass mosaics and gargantuan frescoes.</p> <p>One of the best parts of my Belgrade sojourn is the afternoon spent crossing the River Sava to the old village of Zemun, now a suburb of Belgrade. Zemun was an independent town till the 50s and part of the Austro- Hungarian Empire, and this independent streak remains even today. Cobbled streets lined with fish restaurants, cafes and charming trader’s houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, a quay along the Danube lined with cafes and populated with joggers and dog walkers; I climb the hill to Gardos tower built by the Hungarians, for a panoramic view of orange tiled roofs and the Danube meeting the Sava River.</p> <p>Come night the city transforms into one big party scene: Skadarlija is Belgrade’s bohemian quarter and its answer to Montmartre—we walk down the cobblestone street with wrought iron lamps, buildings festooned with graffiti, and traditional taverns called <i>kafanas</i>, nightclubs, live folk bands and free flowing Rakija- the grape brandy. We end our night at Breton Hala the regenerated warehouse district near the Sava River. Street art enlivens grey concrete and the young and beautiful dance and dine the night away. In Belgrade, the party is just beginning.</p> Mon Jul 30 16:39:39 IST 2018 strolling-around-paris <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A group of young men and women dressed in running gear practice diligently on a quiet street, cheering for each other loudly. The street is empty but for the odd vehicle that passes by silently. The sun has started to set casting its golden glow on the athletes and their surroundings; the sky meanwhile has turned deep shade of orange with streaks of crimson, violet, and silver. The evening chill has started to set in and so has the drizzle. This scene could be happening anywhere, except the cheering is in French, and the street is flanked by the Seine on one side and the Louvre on the other. As I walk along the river towards the gleaming Eiffel Tower, soaking and shivering in the rain and yet smiling at the setting sun, the colourful sky and the dreamy setting, I realize that the moment perfectly personifies the city for me.</p> <p>I had not planned anything about my trip to Paris. I had done no research and booked no tickets, I hadn’t read any books set in Paris, neither did I watch any movies filmed here. It may sound like an oxymoron, but I wanted to discover Paris at my own pace, in my own space.</p> <p>The beauty of Paris dawns upon you the moment you step into the city—whether you are in a residential area with tall, imposing apartment blocks, quaint street-side cafes, and tiny neighbourhood shops, or in the historical centre with palaces, boulevards, museums and bridges, Paris leaves you awestruck. But then the very foundation of Paris is based on grandeur—from the teardrop shaped island that gave birth to the city, to the medieval castles and palaces, and the not-so-old boulevards and avenues built by emperors and kings. The grandest of all, however, is the majestic iron and steel structure in the heart of the city.</p> <p>The Eiffel Tower was built as a temporary exhibit to commemorate the 100 years of French Revolution, but such was its impact on the city and its people— including the Nazi general who defied Hitler’s order to demolish it—that it was never taken down. Decades later, it still stands tall and proud as a symbol of Gustav Eiffel’s defiance.</p> <p>I had, of course, seen my share of pictures of the Eiffel Tower, but I had no idea of its magnitude. And now, that I was right in front of it, I could not believe my eyes. The 324 metre high spire pierces through the sky and it golden metal glistens and glimmers in all its might. I almost topple over as I crane my neck to catch its peak. It’s only when you see the Eiffel Tower you know what it is — truly a marvel, I promise to come back to it later and gaze at it at leisure.</p> <p>There are many ways to see Paris—on a bus, by the metro, through curated tours, and by personalised taxi services. I, however, want to walk. Walking, in my view, is the best way to get to know a place. I also realise though that I have very little time, there was a lot to do. Who goes back from Paris without going to the Arc de Triomphe or the Louvre? So I decide to hop on to the underground for longer distances and walk the rest of the way.</p> <p>My first stop is Ile-de-la-cite, the island where Paris was born. While the tiny island boasts of places of historical significance, like the gothic Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle, it is to the adjacent island of Ile-de-st-louise where I headed. Dotted with cafes, lined with bookstores and boutiques, this neighbourhood boasts of 17<sup>th</sup> century architecture and is dedicated to the good life that Parisians cherish. I’d have perhaps lived here if I were a local, as a traveler my choices however are limited to sipping coffee, ambling along the Seine, watching a street performance, or just wandering on the streets. I decide to do all.</p> <p>And so, I spend my morning ambling in the lanes of Latin Quarters, watching a cute boy play accordion, shopping for souvenirs, and stuffing myself with cheap Greek sandwich and strangely tart Fanta.</p> <p>&quot;Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise.” The words displayed prominently on the wall tell me that I am finally at Shakespeare and Company, the playground of world famous writers like Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce. Set up in 1919, and again in 1951, it happens to be the oldest English bookstore in Paris and the only place I have as a must-do on my itinerary.</p> <p>The store is famous not only for its literary significance, which is huge, but also because it offers shelter to anyone who may need it. The only catch—you have to be friendly with the resident cat. Apart from the cat, and the two beds, the place is overflowing with books of all kinds. The tiny room on the first floor has people sitting by the sunlit window browsing and reading. Muffled sounds and bits of conversation filter in from the window but it is still quiet inside. Strangers smile and make conversation with each other even as they squeeze through the tiny doors and narrow walkways. As I pick up a collection of love poems from a shelf dedicated to verses, the man next to me smiles in approval. Content with his acknowledgment, I walk out of the store.</p> <p>Paris has been a torchbearer of fashion and style for centuries and no place in the city demonstrates this better than the Champs Elysees. It is said that the famous brand H&amp;M was denied space here for years because the authorities believed that the shop would turn the elite high street into a commercial marketplace. You know what they meant when you take a stroll along the avenue flanked by the likes of Tiffany’s, Chanel, Breitling and more such. A short metro ride has brought me to the most coveted High Street in the world, and I must confess that I feel embarrassingly under-dressed in my pink sneakers and tacky jeans. But what is a traveller who cannot overcome embarrassment to enjoy the moment? Forgetting all about my attire, I join the chic locals in window-shopping. Soon I become one of them.</p> <p>While people from world over go to look at Paris, Paris enjoys looking at people. People-watching is serious business here. Whether it is sitting by the Seine watching the boats cruise by and waving at the tourists occasionally, or sipping espresso from tiny mugs while smoking cigarette after cigarette and smiling at the passerby, or just lazing in the umpteen parks of the city watching the tourists go gaga over it, you will always see the Parisians relaxed and smiling, watching the world go by.</p> <p>As they say when in Paris, do as Parisians; so I decide to indulge in some people-watching too.</p> <p>It is late evening now and I am in the gardens of the Louvre. The sun is still shining bright and the sky is as blue as it can possibly be. At a little distance a lady plays ball with her tiny dog, a little further, some young men are having a picnic; around me in the hedge, two boys play hide and seek, and in front of me is a group of girls jumping every few seconds trying to coordinate their smiles with their height of the leap to get the perfect picture. Across the museum, on the far end of the horizon, I see the Mona Lisa smiling at the world, and at the other end of the horizon stands the majestic Eiffel Tower. I know I have to keep my appointment with it in the evening, but for now I lay on the grass, happy and content, experiencing the joy of Paris through its people.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Sat Jul 21 16:24:23 IST 2018 on-the-tudor-trail-in-england <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On my flight to London many years ago one of the in-flight entertainment options was a film <i>The Other Boleyn Girl</i>, the story of the two sisters, Mary and Anne, who king Henry VIII of England bedded in turn in the early 16th century. In the film, Mary was his true love, but he got Anne on the rebound, married her and had a daughter by her who was later to become Queen Elizabeth I.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In England I was staying in the Kent countryside, close to the Hever Castle which was Anne’s home where Henry courted her. A visit to the castle had a retelling of the story of the second king of the Tudor dynasty thrown in. As if that was not enough, in the evening when I switched on BBC, they were showing a series on, what else but, the Tudor dynasty. By the time I left UK, five days later, I had the Tudors popping out of my ears, but there is something so fascinating about this family that, at my next stop in Freeport, Illinois, I went to a public library and the book I picked up was none other than <i>Six Wives – the Queens of Henry VIII</i> by David Starkey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story of the second Tudor king, and of the family in general, has all the elements of an exciting soap opera. He married six times and second of these nuptials led to England’s break with Papacy and setting up of the Church of England. He beheaded two of his wives, divorced another two, saw one die soon after child birth, with the last surviving him and marrying again, the fourth time for her. The story has high politics, drama, conspiracy, deceit, miscommunication, excommunication, in-laws, outlaws, proxy weddings, violence, romance, adultery and wars. Seldom has so much action been packed in the lives of three generations of a family and none other has had as much impact on history either.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It all began in 1485 when Henry VII won the 20 year War of the Roses, and then got his elder son Arthur betrothed to Catherine, daughter of Ferdinand, the ruler of Aragon, in Spain. The groom was only 15 and the bride a year older. A few years after they got married, Arthur died of testicular cancer and the question whether the marriage had been consummated became the pivot on which England’s history turned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was decided to continue the alliance by getting Catherine married to the younger sibling, Henry. A special Papal dispensation had to be obtained to enable the new heir to the throne, then 17, to marry his brother’s widow. The presumed absence of consummation, which was the subject of several missives between London and Rome, was a key factor in obtaining the Pope’s consent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon after, the founder of the dynasty died and the second son became king as Henry VIII. As soon as he reached adulthood the royal eye began to wander. Catherine gave him only one daughter and miscarried six other pregnancies. Her looks deteriorated and one Anne, daughter of Thomas Boleyn, resident of Hever in Kent, caught his fancy. In the film it was her sister Mary that the king fancied more and even had a bastard son by her. But she was already married. And even getting Anne was not easy because Henry was already married to Catherine. The Aragon ruler had the Pope under his thumb and would not allow him to grant dissolution of her marriage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Henry contended that marrying his brother’s widow was sinful and therefore illegal. Now new evidence was sought to be put forth that his brother had actually consummated his marriage, making Henry's subsequent wedlock invalid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For six years Henry pursued the matter, but when the Pope still did not agree, he decided to break connection with the Roman Catholic order, proclaim a new 'Church of England', with the king as its head, appointed a new Archbishop of Canterbury and had him annul his marriage with Catherine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The wedding with Anne Boleyn followed quickly. But she, too, could not give him the son that he desperately desired; only a daughter—Elizabeth. Henry soon wearied of her, but what was worse were reports he received that the queen had committed incest with her own brother. In the film, the source of the rumour was the brother’s estranged wife. That was enough for the king. He had both the queen and her sibling beheaded at a spot so marked for posterity in the Tower of London.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Queen number three was Jane Seymour. Henry married her on the day of Anne’s execution. She was a bit of a plain Jane, but gave Henry what he wanted most, a son, Edward. When it happened, she promptly wrote to her husband that she had given birth ‘to a prince, conceived in most lawful matrimony between my lord the King’s majesty and us.’ She however, died soon after childbirth and for once a disconsolate Henry did not have an affair overlapping his marriage. ‘The machinery of love on the rebound,’ writes Starkey, ‘did not come into play and the post of the queen lay vacant.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the Tudor stud could not remain celibate for long. A political alliance was arranged with the Cleves of Flanders and their daughter Anne became the fourth queen. Unfortunately, Henry had not seen his bride before he got married, and what he saw he did not like. The marriage was probably not even consummated and soon after the new wife was persuaded to agree to a divorce.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile Henry’s ‘notorious eye had started to rove again’ settling on Catherine Howard, almost 30 years his junior who he found most accomplished in bed. Writes Starkey, ‘Henry, lost in pleasure, never seems to have asked himself how she obtained such skill.’</p> <p>She continued her dalliances even after she hitched up with Henry. The king was now getting old. His first daughter was older than his new wife. His sexual drive too had suffered. And when he came to know of the new wife’s extracurricular activities, he exploded in rage. Once again, he had both the queen and her alleged lover beheaded.</p> <p>To make sure that no subsequent wife came with a baggage of past affairs, Henry promulgated the Act of Attainder whereby concealment of past illicit liaisons was made an act of treason for any future queen, punishable by death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such was the state of the contemporary English society that it became difficult to get another bride after this law was enacted.</p> <p>But Henry still managed his sixth wedding. The new queen was Catherine Parr, herself twice widowed. He almost fell out with her on the religion issue, but the situation was saved when the king himself, after suffering long from an ulcerated leg and other ailments died in 1547 at 55.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His widow out-Henryed him and got married once more, to a former lover, Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane, the third queen. Rumour has it that she once caught her new husband in bed with step-daughter Elizabeth. She, too, died soon after giving birth to a girl.</p> <p>Henry’s son, Edward, still only nine, succeeded him. He ‘ruled’ for six years before succumbing to tuberculosis. His major claim to fame is as the subject of the famous story <i>Prince and the Pauper.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was followed for a few days by Jane Grey, a distant aunt, put up by a cabal that wanted to keep elder step-sister Mary out. They failed. The ‘queen’ ended up as a prisoner in the Tower of London, and her supporters divested of their heads.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mary, who became queen next, tried to take England back to Roman Catholicism, since the break was what had made her own birth illegitimate. She even married Philip of Spain in a bid to repair the religious breach, but died soon after a second miscarriage in 1558.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She was succeeded by the last surviving child of Henry VIII, Elizabeth. She made sure that the severance with Rome was complete, because if the Papal view was correct then Mary was the legitimate child and not she. The religious character of an entire nation was thus determined by the matrimonial conundrum of one king and the tussle between his daughters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elizabeth I reigned for nearly 45 years as the supposed ‘virgin queen’. Her life was no less dramatic than her father’s. England is dotted with monuments of this fascinating era. Following the Tudor trail with a history book in hand would be an exciting way to tour the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Jul 13 14:16:12 IST 2018 7-places-you-must-visit-before-you-get-old-lifelong-memories <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As we grow older and time slips through our fingers, there are inevitably certain milestones that line the path of adulthood. We remember some monumental events with fondness, and others are rites of passage. Travelling is one of those things that we must all undertake in our lives. These 7 Places You Must Visit Before You Get Old to prove that travel and tourism are powerful, memorable, and life-affirming concepts. They open our hearts and minds to new cultures and ways of life, to the beauty of nature, and to the thrill of adventure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Destinations to see before you grow old</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>1. Shillong</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shillong is one of those unique places that you must see before you grow old. Located in the North East of India, the town is a classic example of tropical rainforest and mountains, which makes it a perfect spot for a holiday at any time of the year. The town has a quaint charm with a unique culture and environment, and it is a perfect place to go to see what it is like to grow old in a different world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>2. Kudlu Falls</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kudlu Falls is a beautiful waterfall in Ladakh, an autonomous region of India. The waterfall is one of the most surreal sights in the area and perfectly shows the beauty of nature. It is clear why people have come here to experience it first hand. The sheer size, beauty, and power of the waterfall are pretty astounding. Its natural beauty is a must-see before you grow old and Lifelong Memories has provided you with the opportunity to do just that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>3. Ladakh</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ladakh is a beautiful region of India. The land has a diverse history and culture that is extremely interesting to learn about. It is little wonder why so many people come to this fantastic part of the world each year. If you are looking for an experience that will change your perspective, going on holiday in Ladakh will be one of the best decisions you ever make in your life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>4. Alleppey</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alleppey is the perfect place to visit on holiday. The locality is full of beautiful beaches and stunning scenery. It is home to some incredible monuments and structures that are a must-see when staying in the area. The cloudy beaches, beautiful views, and rich culture make this place a memorable holiday destination. The colorful city has many great things to do and see that will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>5. Pondicherry</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pondicherry is an incredible destination that deserves at least one trip in your life. The buildings in the area are beautiful, and there is some incredible history to be found here. This makes it the perfect place to come for a holiday. The beautiful monuments, exciting history, and exotic locations make it a great place to bring your family and stay for a week at least.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>6. Hampi</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hampi is a place that is truly a must-see when you are looking for the best holiday to go on. The temple ruins and the remains of an ancient city that has been immortalized through paintings are precisely what you would expect from the area. The place is like a fairy tale, and even though it is a big tourist destination, the area still has an air of mysticism and mystery that sets it apart from other places in India and across the world. People flock to Hampi every year to see what is considered one of the most important remains of Indian culture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>7. Gangtok</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gangtok is a region in India that is one of the most beautiful places in the country. The region has spectacular views of the Himalayas and is home to some incredible monuments of art and architecture. The town has a lot to offer when it comes to tours and activities for holidaymakers. There are some opportunities for adventure, such as skiing and trekking, which means it is an ideal place for you looking for an unusual destination on your holiday where you can enjoy something different with your family, friends, or alone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These Places You Must Visit Before You Get Old show us how much difference travel can make to our lives. Even though we spend our lives growing up, visiting these places will give us a new perspective on what we have lived and how it could be in the future. The&nbsp;<a href=""></a><a href=""><u>flights to India</u></a>&nbsp;are relatively cheap, and it is well worth the money you spend on a holiday to see these unique places. These places will give you an experience you will never forget and probably never stop talking to friends and family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Mon Sep 19 15:23:37 IST 2022 building-on-hope <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“You are welcome to sit on any of the chairs. Choose one that speaks to you,” reads the board beside the chairs. From vintage chairs, to stuffed sofas, bean bags, even a wheelchair and a baby car seat, the collection of eclectic chairs is moving. This stark memorial to the earthquake with a collection of 185 white chairs was designed by artist Peter Majendie, in a vacant plot—each chair is a memorial to one person who dies in the earthquake. I am in Christchurch, the largest city of New Zealand’s South Island, hemmed in between the Pacific Ocean and the vast Canterbury Plains, seven years after a devastating earthquake decimated the city and razed it to the ground. Almost 95 per cent of the Central Business District was destroyed or declared unsafe.</p> <p>The city is now in the throes of a multi-million dollars rebuild. As I drive around the city, it still looks like a work-in-progress with fences and orange cones cordoning off unsafe buildings and sites, workers in fluorescent orange suits, building cranes and decrepit buildings with grass and weeds growing out of walls, waiting for their fate to be decided.</p> <p>But scratch below the surface of abandoned buildings and scaffolding and you find sparks of hope and optimism peeking through—brilliant murals and street art brighten up grey streetscapes. Empty lots have giant walls that act as canvasses, with a riot of images from a graceful ballerina, to a collection of penguins. A Maori girl with silver fern in her hair, by artist Rone, looks down at me from a huge wall on Worcester Street. A flock of sheep painted in cheery stripes double up as benches; close by is a mirror maze that distorts shapes and sofas and tables covered in artificial turf where children lounge and clamber. What stands out is the local government support for street art. In 2013, the council organized an art Festival called RISE when local and international artists were invited to paint walls. Everywhere there are signs of the resilient city asserting its ability to survive. Organisations like Gap Filler and Greening the Rubble have developed colourful art projects around the city.</p> <p>One of the most beautiful things that arose from the earthquake is the Transitional cathedral popularly called the Cardboard Cathedral, designed by the Japanese disaster Architect Shigeru Ban, using wood, cardboard and glass. I look up at the sloping roof with gargantuan cardboard tubes—98 on each side. Cardboard- accented choir stalls and a stained glass window with motifs from the original window.</p> <p>We have lunch at C1 Espresso, reopened by a local after the earthquake, in an old Post office building with vintage balloon-like lights, a book-covered doorway which slides open as an entrance to the bathrooms, and old pneumatic tubes which whoosh and deliver curly fries and sliders to your table, much to the delight of children.</p> <p>New Regent Street is lined with restored buildings in distinctive pastel colours and beautiful Spanish Mission architecture dating back to 1932. Designed by Francis Willis, the 40 buildings on the street were one of the few large-scale building projects undertaken during the Great Depression. The street is home to entrepreneurs like the gelato shop, which started as a cart after the quake and today is famous for its organic sorbets and gelatos.</p> <p>Local artists have created art projects out of salvaged materials like wood- I see an art installation of native Rimu trees, called <i>Woods from the Trees</i> by artist Regan Gentry using reclaimed wood from demolished homes. There is local designer Juliet Arnott’s enterprise called Rekindle which designs one of a kind furniture pieces from the salvaged wood from demolition sites. I see a large piece of art made of painted intersecting boards in the middle of cordoned off areas and rebuilding called <i>Call me Snake</i> by Kiwi artist Judy Millar.</p> <p>The council crowdsourced ideas for rebuilding the city and it was voted that they would focus on high quality public transport, low rise urban housing, green parks and playgrounds. A new project that brightens hearts is the $3 million Margaret Maly Playground that has recently opened with a vast area covered by slides, water fountains, trampolines and climbing frames. I see tiny tots and young ones scamper down slides and play with water fountains in the afternoon sun.</p> <p>Of course there are stories of people fighting for compensation or leaving the city with their insurance money, stories of dodgy repair jobs and endless debates—the Cathedral was caught in battles of whether it should be rebuilt or brought down. Finally work has started on rebuilding it at a whopping cost of nearly of $104 million which might take years.</p> <p><a name="_GoBack" id="_GoBack"></a>Christchurch was a staid city—serious and industrious. With the tragedy, what has emerged is the playful spirit of the people. The city has earned a place on Lonely Planet’s list of the world’s top 10 cities for its “breathtaking mix of spirit, determination and flair”. What really impresses me is how creativity can actually help people heal from such calamities. Art after all is restorative. And every cloud of tragedy has a silver lining.</p> Sat Jun 30 17:14:24 IST 2018 a-slice-of-persian-history <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Though I had visited Petra in Jordan and Palmyra and Bosra in Syria, I was excited to visit Persepolis, Iran, which had seen great days during the Persian rule and later on the Greeks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shiraz is the nearest town, about 55km from the archaeological site of Persepolis. I was pleasantly surprised to meet with Saeed Behrouzmanesh, who greeted me warmly. He had guided me during the previous day’s walking tour of the historic city of Shiraz, capital of the Fars province south of Tehran. I had joined a group of tourists from Shiraz, I being the only ‘foreigner’. However the guide told me in all seriousness, “You look like an Iranian!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a festive atmosphere with huge crowds milling around to get into the archaeological site after parking their vehicles and buying the entry ticket. Camels had lined up to let visitors take a ride if they so wished. Tall pillars with decorative blocks on top stood out against the backdrop of distant bare mountains. The site spread out in the valley though a few necrophilia are cut into the distant hillside. Through descriptive boards placed near the monuments, visitors are able to appreciate the greatness of this site which was granted World Heritage Site tag in 1979 by UNESCO.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Persepolis, also known as Takht-e Jamshid, (Throne of Jamshid), was the ceremonial capital of Archaemenid Empire or the Persian Empire, which flourished from 550 –330 BC. The name of Persepolis is a transliteration of the Greek word that means Persian City. It was Cyrus the Great who chose this site but it was Darius the Great who built the Apadana palace and the Council Hall though it was completed during the reign of his son Xerxes the Great. Construction activities continued till the fall of the Archaemenid Empire. In 330 BC Alexander the Great invaded and destroyed Persepolis, looting and setting fire to buildings. It then became part of the Macedonian Empire. Its importance gradually diminished and finally lost to the world till it was discovered by a Spanish ambassador to the court of the Shah Abbas of the Safavid Dynasty in 1618 AD.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After climbing the 111 steps made of local grey limestone, I came face to face with the magnificent monument at the entrance on the high terrace on which the main buildings were constructed. This is known as the Gate of All Nations or Xerxes Gate. There are inscriptions in three languages—Babylonian, Elamite and Persian. Four tall columns with decorative stone carved in various shapes adorn the top of the column. In front is a huge lion figure. These stand out as mute testimony to the glorious years of Persian rule. The highly developed Archaemenid cuneiform inscription is located here. On the terrace once stood a big hall—the treasury—that stocked valuable booty brought from captive lands that included gold, silver and precious stones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Construction of Apadana palace began in 515 BC by Darius the Great but was completed by his son Xerxes I 30 years later. An inscription reads: “Darius the great king, king of kings, king of countries, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenian, built this palace.” Another inscription during the reign of Xerxes, son of Darius, states, “When my father went away from the throne, I became king on his throne by the grace of Ahuramazda. After I became king I finished what had been done by my father and I added other works.” This is the most magnificent structure in Persepolis with its huge hall and tall columns—19 metre tall, 13 of which are still standing. It was perhaps the largest and most beautiful building that could hold several hundreds of people at one time. Its eastern stairs are famous for the bas-relief representation of the peoples of the empire, such as Cappadocians, Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Libyans. In one bas-relief, a figure represents Indians carrying gifts to the king. A bas-relief from the northern stairs shows Darius sitting on a throne, with his son Xerxes behind him, receiving tributes. On the south of the terrace is the badly ruined private palace of Xerxes, the Hadish, which shows signs of fire set off by the forces of Alexander the Great. Major tunnels for sewage were dug underground beneath the rocks. Water supply was ensured by having an elevated water storage tank carved out from the side of the hill. Water was a precious commodity in those desert-like conditions</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is most striking about Persepolis is the large number of bas-relief, which have stood the test of time. One of the repetitive themes I saw was a bas-relief where a lion was attacking a bull, which was a symbol of Zoroastrian Nowruz—the power of the eternally fighting bull, representing the earth and a lion representing the sun. Bas-relief gives details of various events that took place during the reign of mighty Persian emperors, the territory they conquered and subjects who were part of the vast empire. Row of soldiers with spears, camels and horse-drawn chariots, people carrying gifts to the king, and king sitting on throne are some of the familiar bas-relief found at various places on the site. The site is littered with various objects such as fallen pillars, decorated pieces of stone and fluted columns. The conquered territories owed their allegiance to the king of Persepolis by offering revenue and gifts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A pair of Lamassus—bulls with the heads of bearded men—stand by the western threshold. Another pair, with wings and a Persian head (Gopät-Shäh), stands by the eastern entrance, to reflect the Empire’s power. Xerxes' name was written in three languages and carved on the entrances, informing everyone that he ordered it to be built.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Next to Apadana is the Throne Hall which shows Xerxes on a throne. It is known as 100-column palace. Another bas-relief is Xerxes fighting a lion. The 70x70 metre hall was started by Xerxes but completed by his son Artaxerxes during the 5th century BC. The hall was used mainly to receive military commanders from the vast empire, which became later on an imperial museum. On the hill nearby are three rock cut tombs with richly decorated bas-relief. An interesting piece of architecture is the twin winged mythical figures mounted on a column.</p> <p>The tombs of a few Persian emperors are about 13km away at a place known as Naqsh-e Rustam (The picture of Rostam). Tombs of Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes are cut into the rock at a height of about 15 metres above the ground to make these all but inaccessible. Huge bas-relief adorns the hillside over which the tombs are located. Most of them relate to the conquests of the emperors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A modern museum within the archaeological site depicts objects of historical importance. Those who would like to see a few places in and around the site but are unable to walk prefer to ride a camel, though no animal is allowed within the site where monuments are located. It would be desirable to join a guided tour with a qualified guide. Cooler months would make the tour more enjoyable as it is located in a desert-like place.</p> <p><br> Persepolis that saw the glorious years of Persian rule with kings like the Darius the Great and Xerxes is a must-see tourist place in Iran. It is easily accessible by road from the town of Shiraz.</p> Sat Jun 23 16:20:50 IST 2018 belgium-hidden-treasure-ghent <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ghent is often referred to as the hidden treasure of Belgium. A lesser-known university town, which is overlooked in elaborate itineraries, Ghent happens to be an eclectic blend of traditional and modern. Dominated by the Gothic Bell-tower, the Belfry and the medieval count’s castle, the town is all about cobbled streets, narrow lanes, gliding tramcars and meandering canals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I arrive in Ghent on a sunny morning on a train from Brussels. The train (I took it from the Brussels Midi station) was packed but I had been lucky to find a window seat. It would not have mattered though, for barely had I been able to take in the storybook landscape when the station was announced. A little disappointed, I de-boarded. I had expected everyone else to get off too but hardly anyone did. They were, it seems, headed to the next destination, the ever-popular Bruges. “To get to Ghent, you can take a train from Brussels Midi; the same train will take you to Bruges too.” I remember my Airbnb host, John, telling me even as I walked out of the station wondering if I should have also headed straight to Bruges instead, it is more popular after all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My doubts are laid to rest as I stepped out of the station. The town looked inviting and friendly. With fascinating brick-coloured houses—the kind I had only seen in pictures until then—and juxtaposed against them, slick trams and buses gliding on cobbled streets, it was rather beautiful too. I took one such tram to arrive at the town centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The town centre, or town squares in Europe have an old world charm about them. Stepping into one is like stepping into a time wrap—bell towers, cathedrals, townhouses, and marketplaces transport you to the medieval ages. If not for modern cars and people, you may as well believe that you are in another age. Ghent is no different. With a castle dominating the skyline, and a canal meandering through, it turns out to be one of the quirkiest town squares I have set my eyes on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My first stop is the Castle of the Count. Built in 1180 by Count Philip of Alsace, the castle is small and compact, and is known for its role in Flemish history—it has served as the home of the counts, a prison, a court, and even a cotton factory. Presently it houses a compact museum. The torture chamber from the medieval ages is replicated on the top floor with weapons, models and methods of coercion; arms are displayed a level below. A walk through the rugged fortress confirms that it was built to intimidate the people rather than protecting them. The best thing about it, however, is the view of the town from the top. One can see the belfry, the cathedral, the canal, and the beautiful 18<sup>th</sup> century gabled houses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not very far from the castle stands the majestic St. Bavos’s Cathedral. “The Gothic church is home to some of the world’s most famous art pieces <i>The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb</i> by the Van Eyck Brothers happens to be the most precious of those. The painting, made in 1432, is touted as the most influential painting ever made, and has been stolen a record number of times and is considered the prde of Ghent. Nearby the Belfry stands tall. A UNESCO world heritage site, the Belfry is a majestic sight, climbing it however is not for everyone, with 350 steps to conquer, I chose to give it a miss and walk around.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghent may have a rich history and great cultural standing in Belgium, but it also has a cool vibe about it. Being a university town, it is hip, trendy and contemporary, especially in summer when the entire town, and the tourists, are out and about. Cosy lunch spots, hole-in-the-wall cafés, and gourmet restaurants are brimming with people, streets are overflowing with tourists, and trams have no space to stand—quite a contrast to the empty railway station of the morning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am now in the narrow cobbled lanes of the old town rubbing shoulders with locals, students, tourists, and the tramcars. Bikes glide past me, even as the shoppers strut around in high heels and designer dresses. A lady plays guitar on a corner; a gentleman sells Cuberdons nearby. Boats sail on water; tiny dogs trot past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghent is known all over Belgium for shopping. Designer stores stand proudly alongside independent boutiques, branded shops and large chains. The main shopping street, Veldstraat, is pedestrian only and lined with retail chains. It is also a haven for people (like me) who can neither afford to shop from a chic boutique nor a designer store but must shop nevertheless. I spend the rest of the afternoon collecting lotions and potions of every kind from Kruidvat, Chocolates and preserves from Carrefour, and knick-knacks and gifts from Hema—all popular chains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is upbeat and touristy during the day, Ghent becomes dreamy in the evening. Tiny watering holes fill up; alfresco cafés come to life. The lights glimmer in water, and the skyline sparkles in the dark. I am now at Paterschol, a web of cobbled paths in the shadow of The Count’s Castle. This neighbourhood was once a run down ghetto of leather traders, now, it is known for its bohemian charm. As I wander in the picturesque lanes, looking up at the crumbling yet beautiful facades of medieval buildings, munching on my fifth portion of fries, I am only glad that I did not skip Ghent this morning. I would have never known what I had missed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 14 16:55:13 IST 2018 london-travel-tips-to-help-you-make-the-most-of-your-adventure <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The adventure of travel is something that appeals to individuals on a grand international scale. what we have seen more and more in recent years is that as individuals had begun to recognise the need to focus more on things like that home due to unforeseen circumstances, that travel has definitely begun to evolve to adapt with the way that the world is not moving. It has been an incredible time of being able to figure out how to move forward in the most meaningful and sustainable ways possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It certainly helps to have some handy tips and tricks up your sleeve to help you make the most of your adventures around the world. And when it comes to understanding and appreciating just how innovative it is to be able to travel again, there is a lot of innovation surrounding which destinations around the globe are most innovative and which are going to have the most profound impact moving forward. In London particularly, it can be overwhelming to know how to scale down while also effectively covering every aspect of the trip. So, here are some handy travel tips to help you make the most of your adventure in London town.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Be smart with your packing</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Something that is so common for individuals wanting to go on a trip is that they overpack tremendously and as a result they are lugging around extra baggage and having to pay additional fees when they simply do not have to. For individuals who are fortunate enough to be able to travel more off and many of them have mastered this fact and it can be beneficial for any traveller he was travelling for any period of time. Be smart with your packing. Pack a portable battery, all of your charges, your toiletries, your devices, and then just enough clothes to cover you for a week (and at maximum, ten days). No matter where you are there are washing machines. Save yourself some money by being smart with your packing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Explore the hidden gems just as much as the tourist attractions</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>London is such a special city. And while there are many tourist attractions out there, the hidden gems are just a special, if not more so. Make it a point to explore the hidden gems just as much as you do the tourist attractions because these often find you in a position where you have used out of the box thinking to completely transform the way that you travel and it is hugely beneficial. You get to explore more of her place while also effectively and successfully transforming the way that you approach travelling to destinations that are tremendously popular around the globe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Give your accommodation search attention to detail</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is quite a lot of innovation surrounding how people can find the best places to stay. It is really sometimes challenging to find a place that is beautiful that you enjoy spending time in and one that is going to be utilised in accordance with your trip. For individuals who typically spend most of their time outside of their accommodation, it is not as necessary to really splurge. Even so, you always want to make sure you are getting the best of every place to go to in line with your own priorities and values and so finding the&nbsp;<a href=""></a><a href=""><u>best areas to stay in London</u></a>&nbsp;plays a huge role in how your trip comes together and how you are able to enjoy it. This is one of the most worthwhile aspects of travel not just in London, but anywhere, to invest in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Wed Dec 01 16:12:22 IST 2021 of-sea-sand-and-surreal-sunsets <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>With a plan jotted down in a notebook, and a map saved offline, it was going to be another day with another exciting new journey. It started with the groggy, hungry, and airsick me silently requesting my stomach to hold on to some dignity for the two-hour long journey from Seattle to San Diego.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The city greeted us with a stunning night view of downtown from the air, and warmth and humidity from land. The drive to Ramada Inn was all butterflies— some remnants from the flight and new ones from anticipation. What seemed like a shady hotel, turned out to be a surprisingly comfortable weekend home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We were away from all the rain in Seattle only to find it raining in San Diego on our first morning there. Not letting it dampen our spirits, we set off to Perry's Cafe, a famous local restaurant, for some breakfast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Off we went to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, one of the most spectacular places to see in the city. Loaded with Spanish culture right from food and artefacts to songs and dances, this place is a must visit if you ever set foot in America’s Finest City.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After shying away from dancing at a 'country-dance for dummies' setup, we walked around goofing with the pots and masks, picking out some ornate key-holders, fridge magnets, and handmade painted tiles to keep the town-vibe going. Aplenty with souvenirs to take home both in kind and in memory, this old town really takes a cosy spot in your heart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trotting off from the Old Town, we drove on to Seaport Village. With a magic show, some cheesy pretzels, and a splendid sunset by the sea, Seaport Village brings a bit of the Old Town charm right to the heart of downtown San Diego. While kids enjoy the magic show, adults take a stroll to the ice-cream stalls, and lovestruck couples sit for a portrait caricature with the famous Keith Osborn.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With a rustic vegan dinner of buffalo cauliflower and philly cheese sandwich at Grains, the first day came to an end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, what's a visit to San Diego without visiting at least one beach. Having meticulously planned beach-hopping with seven beautiful beaches, we packed our bags and set off to our first stop at Torrey Pines State Beach, located north of La Jolla. After a bit of contemplation about hiking, we decided not to so we could cover more beaches. Climbing onto the railing and down some rocks, we let our feet sink into the velvety sands. With only five other people around, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of having the place almost only to ourselves, walking along the never-ending coast for over an hour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We moved on to Solana Beach next. With beautiful houses lined up on the steep cliffs along the shore, this picture-perfect beach is yet another beauty. Picking up pebbles, watching gulls circle the sea to prey, contrails whizzing past drawing perfect white lines in the clear blue sky, we lost track of time walking along this cliffy coast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Losing track of time also means forgetting lunch. All the walking on sands got our stomachs gurgling and off we drove to Native Cafe, a vegan Californian restaurant to devour some native nachos with guac and crispy avocado wrap, and downed it with some sugar-free iced tea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With a happy tummy, we reached the famed La Jolla Caves and Coves. With thousands of birds resting on the rocks and hundreds taking turns soaring in the sky, competing with the contrails, this beach is a sight to behold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, as if this just wasn't enough, we were in for a surprise when we stepped into a gift shop. What if I told you that for $10, you could walk into an underground tunnel that takes you right inside of one of the coves! To climb down through a cold cave, look at the wild sea crashing against rocks, at men and women kayaking their way through one coast to another while standing on the creaky floorboards of an old viewing deck makes for a dreamlike experience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wanting to go stay in the cove, we walked out only to hear the exciting barks of the sea lions. A quick walk along the sidewalk above the coast and we spotted a few sea lions basking lazily in the afternoon sun, alongside some pelicans resting with their fresh catch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With a heavy heart knowing well we can no more cover the remaining four beaches (out of the seven shortlisted), we set off to the last beach. To cheer ourselves up, we chose the Ocean Beach aka Dog Beach. Right on time for sunset, we caught all furry friends happily playing fetch with their humans, resting after a long relaxing swim in the ocean, and watching the sun set with as much delight as their human counterparts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In what was one of the most bewitching of sunsets I've ever witnessed, I kissed San Diego a sandy goodbye with a silent vow to return and visit more of its charming beaches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Quick Facts</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Where to stay? Ramada Inn</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What to buy? Hand-painted tiles, handmade pots and masks</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What to eat? All things Mexican</p> Sat Jun 09 16:00:30 IST 2018 the-modern-and-the-medieval <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The old and the new sit easy in Bahrain. The 33-island archipelago, nestled between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Arabian Gulf, hosts towering skyscrapers next to mosques, spiffy malls alongside souks and Michelin-star eateries besides hole-in-the-wall kebab joints. Despite overarching Arabian and Persian influences, capital city Manama is packed with enough cosmopolitanism —instagrammable locations, luxury hotels, chic restaurants, theatres, night clubs, bars—to give its glamorous peer Dubai a run for its money.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Known as the original Garden of Eden, Manama is also home to an array of natural attractions— man-made islands, the Persian Gulf rimmed with azure waters, turquoise lagoons, stunning reefs and of course the "disappearing” island of Jarada which appears in the ebb and disappears with the tide's flow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I begin my city tour with Manama Souk famed for its pearl and gold jewellery shops. Located in the warren of streets behind the famous “Bab al-Bahrain”, the souk is an Alibaba's cave of assorted goodies. Shops going back centuries brim with a cornucopia of goods—Turkish and Moroccan lamps/glassware, frankincense, spices, sheesha bottles, garments, shoes, carpets, ittar—after an immersive experience of retail therapy, I head to a local cafe to enjoy creamy homemade icecreams available in a mind boggling array of flavours—zaffran, ittar, khus khus, kewra, allspice. Needless to say I had a tough time choosing just one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Next stop: Al Fateh Mosque. One of the Gulf's largest shrines at 6,500 square metres, the historic mosque can accommodate a whopping 7,000 people. It also houses an Islamic centre, a department for Quranic studies and an Islamic library. As we perambulate the shrine, we notice its Italian marble clad floors and doors (made of teak wood imported from India) inlaid with intricate carvings. The mosque's fibreglass dome, accoutred with 12 stained glass windows, is the world's largest such construction we're told while the central chandelier crafted in Austria is surrounded by hand-blown round lamps imported from France.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manama is peppered with UNESCO World Heritage sites. One such construction is the 16th century Bahrain Fort or Qala’at al-Bahrain constructed under Portuguese domination. It was built around the Persian Gulf to protect the country's prized spice trade routes. As I nip up to its vertiginous top, a panoramic view of the city opens out before me like a medieval painting. To my left shimmer the green-blue waters of the Persian Gulf, while to my right stretch the 4,000-year-old ruins of the Dilmun civilisation referenced in Sumerian writings of the Bronze Age.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The island nation's premier showcase, the Bahrain Museum in Manama, offers a fascinating peek into the 5,000-year-old Bahraini civilisation. It mainly houses artefacts from the ancient Dilmun civilisation that flourished in the region for millennia. The largest and one of the oldest public museums in the Gulf, millions of dollars were funnelled into building it as part of the country's larger drive to preserve its heritage and history. The multi-tiered museum's first floor recreates a souk, the second one has a display of art and sculptures while other floors showcase Dilmun seals, pottery and other excavated objects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of Manama's most photographed sites are the Dilmun Burial Grounds where thousands of graves dating as far back as 4,000 years greet one. It is believed that over 350,000 ancient burial mounds cover the area spanning a period of 1,000 years. Story goes that the mounds are where Adam and Eve came from. Others believe the site to be the world's largest pre-historic burial plot. Some mounds also hold copper and bronze weapons, others entomb jewellery and pottery. All exhibits tell the story of the unique Dilmun civilisation that spread across swathes of Mesopotamia, South Arabia and India..</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No visit to Manama is complete without a visit to the beautiful city of Muharraq, Bahrain's erstwhile capital. Its winding alleyways host exquisite 19th century town houses of pearl merchants which now stand restored. As we wind our way through the streets, the guide points to the Sheikh Isa Bin Ali House, with its ornate panelling and carved doors. Exhibits at the Bin Matar House trace the history of Bahrain's pearling industry. Another traditional building, Siyadi House, once belonged to a 19th-century pearl merchant, the guide informs us as we soak in the freshly whitewashed area splashed with vibrant graffiti.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Overlooking these historic houses is the 15th century Arad Fort. Souk al Qaisariya, also the cornerstone of Muharraq Souk, is famed for its pearls and spices. We next visit the Al Oraifi Museum which showcases artworks from the Dilmun civilisation including masterpieces by the 20th-century Bahraini artist Rashid Al Oraifi. At the nearby Kurar House, local women keep alive the tradition of Kurar embroidery, weaving threads of gossamer gold into silken cloth as we watch fascinated their deft fingers flying in and out of the garments!&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Fri May 25 17:13:03 IST 2018 the-charms-of-quebecois-countryside <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The picturesque Cantons de L’Est or the eastern townships in Canada’s Quebec province were an open air theatre for us, offering autumn thrills of another kind. The region packs in old-world charm thanks to architecture influenced by American, Loyalist, Scottish, and Irish founders of yore. A petite region famed for gourmet cuisine, culture, and the stunning outdoors characterise this salubrious corner of Quebec bordering New England in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Little fairytale villages dot the countryside with their own idyllic and quaint appeal, drawing nature lovers around the year. Outdoor adventure and thrilling activities beckon visitors to stunning locales like Mississquoi and Brome with walking, trekking and cycling trails, chocolate tastings, glorious vineyards and where Alpaca roam in abandon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Memphremagog is surrounded by misty blue mountains a fabulous mirrored lake and the quaint Abbey which lend colonial charm to the region—it’s a favorite spot for vacationers. The scenic Coaticook River valley region enscons the historic Pioneer Trail and sprawling farmlands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We cruised through the Valley of Saint Francois with its interesting woolen mill at Ulverton. But the icing on the cake was the Megantic region that has the unique International Dark Sky Reserve and its astronomy gallery offering fascinating insights into the heavens beyond.</p> <p>Strolling through tiny and tree-lined Sutton village with its quaint local boutiques, knick knack outlets, chatty cafes with beer and wine quaffing revelers, we made our way into the cheery local patisserie-boulangerie-charcuterie-fromagerie where the magnetic aromas of fresh bakes, cakes and choicest country cheese stopped us relishing one fermented nugget after another. Our weakness for local cheese prompted us into an extended cheese tasting thrill as we relished Alfred Le Fermier, Benedictus, Brise de Vigneron, Cheddar Tigouidu, Frechette, Frere Jacques and Mont Saint Benoit. Espresso and croissants finished our lazy afternoon sojourn as we stepped out, welcomed by some spirited street side music.</p> <p>Little Sutton is neat and colourful, open and easy. It is packed with so many little thrills you will discover at every nook and bend. Like the many little towns and villages in this salubrious region this village attracts backpackers, ski enthusiasts, gourmands and cross country freaks like bees to a hive. We checked out what this was all about. It has a Jazz festival, several music events on its streets, open art and culture exhibitions, wine events and weekend markets. The cheese shop and Boulangerie cooks up delectable numbers, the restaurants have their own French-Quebecois delights.</p> <p>Exhilarating altitudes</p> <p>Bracing and enchanting. Two words rolled out in a whisper as we climbed into the gondola (sky lift) to Mount Sutton high up on the hills. From atop the vantage point we scanned the magnificence of lakes, lush pine forests, ski runs and winter thrills, tiny hamlets and endless expanse of virgin woodlands that make this the ‘piece de resistance’ of the Cantons de L”Est in the French speaking Quebec Province.</p> <p>Autumn and winter are special times for this environmental paradise. Scores of adventurer seekers line up the village streets driving into boutique and B&amp;B accommodation for a fortnight’s power and snow-packed time over the ski slopes and snow-blanketed valleys.</p> <p>It’s also fine gourmet time here as local chefs stir up amazing signature dishes at quaint fine wining and dining landmarks paired with excellent local wines, -capped up with the leit motif Ice Wine. By summer the scenario welcomes open skies, bikers, trekkers, strollers, mountain climbers, kayakers, canoeists, naturalists and bird lovers by the dozens.</p> <p>Several villages in the eastern townships, some lodged in a green valley or located on rolling green hills attract the outdoor freak like no place on earth. Five panoramic little villages score over the region’s many such settlements for their unique USPs. Dudswell at the foot of Appalachians and nestled around a beautiful lake in a green, lush valley has two delightful hamlets of Bishopton and Marbleton, and offers a myriad of activities and attractions. Picturesque Frelighsburg on the the Brochets River is home to the world’s finest, award winning apple wines cidery –Domaine Pinnacle .</p> <p>In quiet little Hunter Mills we discovered Victorian-styled homes with gable walls and endearing comfort. We drove over to Knowlton on Brome Lake. This little leafy village is cushioned into the beauty of its landscapes and the quaint streets lined with small shops, antique boutiques and lively cafes. Nestled in the bed of Lake Massawippi Valley, North Hatley is heavenly tranquil, a hotspot for gastronomy and the local arts scene where French and English charms blend with amazement.</p> <p>One more little village crossed our colorful route—Stanbridge East—where strollers take in truly breathtaking views crisscrossed with old English American-styled 19<sup>th</sup> century ancestral homes.</p> <p>And not far are the luscious vineyards of Domain de Cote D’Ardoise and Vignoble D”Orpailleur at Dunham. Boutique wineries in this small region have made a significant mark with their indigenous grape varietals, especially Canada’s pride—the ice wine—a hugely successful export to international shores.</p> <p>The winery excitement continued further into the sprawling ‘Vignoble D’Orpailleur’, a prominent name in select wines at Dunham overlooking rolling meadows and gentle hills. That evening we ingested fine dining country specialties like ‘Pork Tenderloin with apple sauce and white wine’ and ‘Leg of Duck, cranberry and red wine’ with exceptional wine varietals at the ‘Restaurant Le Tire Bouchon D’Orpailleur’.</p> <p>As we watched a lingering sunset sweeping the vast horizon with swathes of deep ultramarine inked with intense mauve and blazing crimson, we smiled. Taking the day with it, the sunshine would return the next day to colour and bathe the Cantons de L’Est with newer, more fascinating tones of originality, blessing the well nurtured and passionately tended landscapes and highlands of plenty. Sante, we exclaimed.</p> Tue May 15 10:52:46 IST 2018 many-charms-rayong <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Rayong—a quaint fishing town abutting the Gulf of Thailand—punches far above its weight in terms of visitor attractions. Located on Thailand's eastern seaboard, this beach town still remains an undiscovered gem minus breathless hordes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What prompted me to visit Rayong, however, was its accessibility from capital city Bangkok, an easy two-and-a-half hour drive. Besides, it was en route Thailand's other three eastern cities—Chanthaburi, Chonburi and Pattaya—I was exploring on my recent holiday.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fringed by a 100 kilometre-long coastline, Rayong is peppered with velvety beaches, gurgling waterfalls and gorgeous greenery. It also has a bustling street market and a happening nightlife. What's not to love? Rayong ticks all the boxes for a quintessentially Thai vacation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But strangely, my introduction to Rayong takes place not through one of its stunning beaches (though I do head there later), but through the exotic Kru Kung Museum. No ordinary museum this. Located in the Kram Klaeng district, the place is a trove of antiques and everyday items housed in the unpretentious home of Somkiat Boonchuayleau, a 64-year-old retired school teacher. It showcases his staggering personal collection of all the objects he has lovingly bought, restored and revived over 40 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As I move around the collector's capacious wooden house, I stumble upon a smorgasbord of ancient clocks, trunks, doorknobs, furniture, hand-wound cameras, porcelain tea sets, even an ancient tuk tuk (three-wheeler)! "I've built this collection over four decades," the toothless and frail museum owner tells us with the help of a translator.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from such charming attractions, Rayong offers plenty of surf and sand as well. Sink your toes into the soft golden sand of the longest beach on Thailand's eastern coast—Mae Ramphung Beach. Lined by casuarina trees, it has food shacks serving delectable seafood and local delights. Those seeking to spike their adrenaline can go swimming, paddling or snorkelling. If you'd rather relax with a beer under an umbrella, head to the park that cuts through the beach offering well-manicured palm-fringed gardens with lots of places to rest in shade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you're a nature lover, the dense Khao Chamao-Khao Wong National Park—spread over a whopping 20,000 acres—is the place to go. A rich tropical forest, it sustains bountiful flora and fauna while well-marked trails allow you to observe the wilderness and wildlife thriving in this natural habitat. Fed by the Prasae River system, the park also provides tents and lodges for adventurers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, my favourite place in town turned out to be the Rayong Aquarium, home to diverse and fascinating marine life. As I peered through the glasses of the aquarium, gigantic sharks, spotted turtles, stingrays, and an array of vibrant fish, including the popular clown fish, flirted with me. The fossil museum next door displays extinct animals as well as rare species like the Irrawaddy and humpback dolphins. The museum also holds exhibitions, showcasing the life of the fishermen and various fishing tools.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They say that to get under the skin of a place, you must explore its markets. So I head next to the atmospheric Yom Jinda Walking Street to get a feel of local culture. It is lined with charming wood houses, Chinese shrines, Thai temples, exquisite French-Indochinese buildings and other historic landmarks. Shops sell authentic Thai snacks and handicrafts. Music, dance, puppet shows and a night market all add to the street's vibrancy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As we admire the street's historic landmarks, guide Khun Pat talks about Rayong's important place in Thai history. "The town is best known as a resting point for Thai general and later king, Taksin during his quest to rebuild an army that went on to vanquish Burmese forces from Ayuthya in the late 1760s," she elaborates as we snap photos of a shrine dedicated to King Taksin at Wat Lum Mahachai Chumphon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While cars and chemicals power Rayong’s economy, fruit and seafood are its most famous local products. Each year during the rainy months, the massive Tapong Fruit Market explodes with delicious fruits—the spiky, stinky durian, rambutan, snakefruit, mangosteens, lychees, dragon fruit, passion fruit and more. Dozens of colourful boats selling fresh seafood bob up and down on the spot where Rayong River meets the Gulf of Thailand, Pat says as I wistfully recreate the salubrious images of the location in my mind's eye.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Neeta Lal is a Delhi-based Editor and journalist&nbsp; &nbsp;</b></p> Tue May 15 16:46:35 IST 2018 aquamarine-romance-fiji-islands-tourism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is much like delectable, finely crafted Belgian artisan chocolate with the necessary prominence of good cacao, a hint of light sugar and the lingering back palate leading onto honey sweet. The Islands of Fiji—lodged in the South Pacific rim where our flight window offered a bird's eye view of sweeping ocean expanses punctuated by neon turquoise dashes. The ground level ‘artisan chocolate’ flavours were quite distinct, we discovered, much to our delight.</p> <p>Heightened expectations edged us into the hinterland inhabited by gruff knolls and miles of sugarcane fields. Flashing its endless stretch between palm rows and occasional villages is the blue Pacific, the omnipresent, leit motif clasp that never ceased to amaze our imagination right till the end of our stay. From international airport base Nadi (Nandi, actually) to a scenic hillock perch spa and a vantage oakwood chapel commanding stunning vistas of the Pacific, it is a brief ride into a canvas of eye-soothing frames that are magnificent.</p> <p>An exotic haven for honeymooners’ and romantically rooted from the world over, the Islands of Fiji pack in the right allure with singular experiences not available anywhere else.</p> <p>Getting married and solemnised in grandeur at the hilltop chapel and reviving marital vows for endearingly married twosomes is as memorable as para-jumping off together from an airplane over the English Dales. Weddings are big business round the year and Fijians go all out to create lavish appointments for couples yearning for the ‘Bula’ experience they can cherish and take back into their digital albums.</p> <p>Extraordinary culinary creativity comes alive in contemporary global-Fijian fine wining and dining for couples, capped by exciting on-the-spot wonders like Cointreau-flambéed orange rind flavoured Crepe Suzette dessert. We were bowled over by some superbly crafted, exotic ‘South Pacific Lobster with Butter Roasted Corn-on-the-cob’ paired with premium vintage world wines. But signature wonders like the ‘Creamy Blue Vein Souffle delicately baked with baby Fijian ‘Saijan’ leaves with petite Waldorf salad’ score international appeal.</p> <p>From the oceanfront ‘Bure’ (Fijian-styled villa) on scenic Yanuca Island that was barely 10 feet from the lagoon shores, we spent quality time in silent awe. The sea exerted its might across different aquamarine patches in the glorious tones of a sunny, cloudless day. The Bure boasted premium elegance in minimalistic appeal and decor, the porch-side Jacuzzi offering seductive champagne moments of intimacy cheered exclusively by the ocean waves.</p> <p>By day the al fresco lagoon bay front fine dining restaurant overlooks idyllic views of kayaking couples, honeymooners on a luxury yacht and beach bumming bodies in seductive neon bikinis. By night, mellow amber candlelight glows and jazz pianoforte takes over this elegant dining haven where delicacies like ‘Fijian pumpkin encased in pastry trelis served with red pepper compote and snake beans’ and ‘Spinach and cheese Tortellini, green olives, basil and tomato puree’ sang along with gourmet melody.</p> <p>The Denarau Beach front is for couples who stroll and amble along enclasped in oblivious abandon. The scene is alluring, the tended, landscaped grass from ultra-chic luxury ocean villas extending onto the sparkling white sands. Infinity plunge pools bordering the shores offers seamless aqua reflections of magnificent frames along the waterfront that languor miles ahead, the flaming torches add a surreal, twilight glow into the Prussian sky.</p> <p>At Denarau’s elitist Denarau Golf and Racquet Club where the city’s crème-de-la-crème converge for some verdant muscle-flexing over the court and championship holes on the weekends, enterprising honeymooners can find a unique ‘spiritual experience’ for both Him and Her (!) Liam Costello unfolds the pleasantly imploring, award-winning flavours of Bounty Dark, Bounty Spiced, White and coffee flavoured rums (for robust gentlemen) while the genteel aromas and bouquets of White Chocolate, Golden Honey and Banana flavored rums and liqueurs (for dainty maidens) make a dedicated tasting at the boutique Fiji Rum Co.</p> <p>The day unfolds with a shimmering carpet of endless aquatic waltz. Fijian lifestyle is totally incomplete without the liquid lift—para-surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, jet boating and loads more. Island hopping is the icing on the Pacific cake and our jet boat zipped across the breakers into the ocean depths, on to scenic castawayisland. Here, as twosomes frolicked in the mid-day lagoon waters, some strayed ahead into the white sandy stretches, our intriguingly sumptuous Fijian-Indian Thali created conversation on the alfresco cabana deck restaurant. The typically explosive Fijian red chilli flavors mingled with well made true-to-taste Indian specialties. Matching merry momentum, lithe sun-tanned forms in Panama caps cavorted in the blue beyond.</p> <p>Romance rides every wave, crest and surf here in Fiji. There are serene moments of solitude, total privacy and uninhibited intimacy for die-hard lovers of hideaways and exclusivity. Except for zipping jet boats etching a white tail on the cerulean Pacific expanse, all is quiet and breezy, cool and comfortingly calm at the Likuliku Lagoon. From a tiny island jetty with a panoramic open oceanfront lounge bar and high water walkway on Malolo Island, the views are breathtakingly beautiful. On the far end of the lagoon, a seaplane gracefully lands on the sparkling waters, eager couples alight to barefoot up the sandy path. A once-in-a-lifetime Robinson Crusoe adventure awaits the chosen newlyweds as the jet boat carries them away to their private, secluded honeymoon Island for a day’s leisurely ‘sweet something’ picnic!</p> <p>The sun plays a celestial drama by evening on Malolo Island as we cheer the changing mauve-to-peach-to-crimson moods. The ocean wells up to greet the magic on the horizon, the villas twinkle with soft glows and the scene is set for fine wining and dining on the Lagoon’s edge. Table for romantic two is under a tree on a platform overlooking a noir night, Fijian instrumentals linger on as fine fare meticulously crafted create culinary seduction of another kind. ‘Grilled King Prawn, smoked coral trout kedgeree, crayfish foam chervil and baby coriander’ match an interesting ‘marinated pork cutlet, Kim Chi, Baby cos lettuce, Sushi rice and soy and sesame dressing’.</p> <p>Out on the Bure ocean deck as we sip our night cap, we catch the fleeting nocturnal wisps of a grand sunset, the gentle lapping of coral waters bidding a soft adieu.</p> <p><b>Fact file</b></p> <p>Fiji is accessible conveniently from Mumbai and Delhi to Hong Kong by several airlines. Fiji Airways connects Hong Kong to Nadi (Nandi in Fijian) non-stop direct. Island hopping is facilitated by speed boat transfers and swift catamaran passenger ferries plying regularly to and from Port Denarau to island resorts. Fiji’s several award winning super luxury resorts offer world class accommodation, fine wining and dining along with a host of interesting activities for guests. On land pre-booked private tour taxis and car rentals are available. Prior bookings advisable.</p> <p>Climate is warm tropical, but its mild winter time from April to July.</p> Fri May 11 16:34:47 IST 2018 in-the-city-of-kings-lima <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>We stand around a small street cart, grabbing spoonfuls of a wine-coloured dessert made of purple corn and fruit and thickened with sweet potato flour, spiced with cinnamon and cloves and served with rice pudding. With every spoonful of this thick jelly, I am lost in thoughts of Spanish conquistadors, Incan warriors and terraced fields of corn—I am in Lima, the oldest city of the Americas.. The multi-cultural, frenetic capital city of Peru, situated on the arid Pacific Ocean coast, was the royal capital of the Spanish in the past. Founded in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, today, Lima’s colonial buildings with carved wooden balconies and Spanish Baroque architecture are juxtaposed against Pre-Columbian sites and modern high rise buildings. Lima is a city of contrasts—from golf courses to swish seaside neighbourhoods, to gritty shanty towns on hill sides.</p> <p>As we start exploring the city on our first day, we notice that the sky looks feather grey, shrouded in mist, what the locals call the ‘colour of the donkey’s belly’. “In the 70s and until the 90s, Lima suffered a bad rap due to terrorism, crime and the city centre used to be notoriously crime ridden. But today Lima is riding a wave , with tourists from all over the world, and several Mayors have been successful in cleaning up the city and sprucing it up,” explains Magali Chariarse (Maggie for short), my effervescent guide. The city, laid out in grids with green plazas, statues and fountains has come out of its turbulent history and has emerged as a gastronomic capital of South America with many world renowned chefs and restaurants on the list of 50 best restaurants of the world, besides a food festival called Mistura.</p> <p>I am in the historical centre of the city which is a UNESCO World Heritage site with banana yellow-coloured colonial buildings, Catholic churches and plazas with statues, palm trees and manicured gardens. Locals sit on benches, as Quechua women in colourful skirts sell coca leaves and jewellery. Plaza Mayor is surrounded by a host of stunning buildings- the Lima Cathedral, Archbishops’ palace and the Government Palace which is the official office of Peru's president with the ceremonial changing of the guard around noon every day. I love the Peruvian House of Literature — this was Lima's old train station with a stained glass ceiling, which was restored in 2009 and turned into a library. The ticket houses, the polished Nicaraguan wood, and the wrought iron staircases.</p> <p>All around the square are colonial houses with intricately carved wooden balconies. These box-like balconies provided shade and fresh air, and also allowed Lima’s high society ladies to observe the street life without going outdoors, much like Indian Jharokas.</p> <p>A short stroll away is the bright yellow Church and Convent of San Francisco. I am awed by its interiors—a library with ancient tomes, Seville tiles and frescoes adorn the walls; but the piece de resistance are the catacombs which are macabrely fascinating, with thousands of neatly stacked bones and skulls in different patterns. To take a respite from this scene we stand in a queue outside for some delicious churros made in assembly line fashion.</p> <p>My hotel, the luxurious Country Club Lima, is in the upmarket district of San Isidro with even a golf course. I visit the nearby Bosque El Olivar, an olive grove first planted in 1560 from olive trees brought from Seville, Spain. Today there are more than 1,600 olive trees in this little oasis where people walk their dogs and newly married couples come to be photographed. It has developed its own ecosystem and is home to over 30 different species of birds including flycatchers and hummingbirds.</p> <p>Maggie introduces us to some of Lima’s districts, each with its own character. Grassy parks and a bike path separate a coastal bluff from the “Malecon” stretch in San Isidro and Miraflores, the wealthiest districts. We watch the paragliders soar above the cliffs and gaze at the statue of lovers at “Parque Del Amor.” What I enjoy is the history peppered around the city—Maggie takes us to the Huaca Pucllana, in the city's upscale Miraflores district—a adobe pyramid of bricks where many ancient artefacts and even a mummy was excavated. “When we were young, these were just dump yards and children used to cycle and climb these hills. Much later it was discovered and restored. At night it is lit up and even has an onsite restaurant where you can dine, looking at the ruins!” she explains.</p> <p>In a city of many museums I definitely make the right choice: the Larco Museum is an archaeological museum housed in a beautiful 18th-century mansion, surrounded by a garden overflowing with cacti and bougainvillea. The museum has more than 45,000 archaeological objects and Pre Columbian art from gold and silver jewellery, pottery, exquisite Moche vessels to even erotic sculptures! Most of all I love the storehouse of the museum with endless rows of archaeological artifacts lined up in shelves till the ceiling.</p> <p>My favourite Lima neighbourhood is the bohemian Barranco district, studded with cafes, bars and art galleries, has more modest parks on its bluff. Its cobbled walk down to the beach from the “Puente de Suspiros,” or bridge of sighs, is a nice stroll. I spend a day at the boutique hotel B owned by Relais and Chateaux , to soak in the charms of this district. I walk along the Pacific, visit craft stores and speciality coffee</p> <p>On my last day in the city I take a tour with a guide from Haku Tours to the seaside area of Chorillos to get a different perspective of Lima. My guide, a young architect, talks about life in the shanty towns in the distance perched on sand dunes of the city where people live cooped up facing poverty, drug abuse. I visit the port, where bright coloured boats bring in the catch, pelicans and cormorants wheel at hand to grab a fish or two and fishermen sit on the sands mending their nets. Nathaly tells me about the sea lions on the nearby islands that ruin the fishing nets. We end the afternoon at a small fruit stall, feasting on indigenous fruits like lucuma, camu camu (a berry,) chirimoya (custard apple) and small, sweet <i>pepinos—</i> a cross between cucumbers and melons. It’s a fitting end to my Peruvian sojourn- many flavours in one city.</p> Sat Apr 28 17:21:26 IST 2018 the-dream-land-of-winchester <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><a name="_GoBack" id="_GoBack"></a>During a summer vacation, my mother and I visited United Kingdom to meet my aunt and explore the country. Since I fancy history and historic places, this place was on top of my travel list. We stayed there for 22 days. My aunt lived in the north of London in Cambridge County. We visited Cambridge, London, Birmingham and Leicester and enjoyed the tourist attractions of London including tower of London, Big Ben, London eye, Buckingham palace and Baker Street.</p> <p>We also dropped by at Bath district which is in the south of London to view the magnificent Roman baths. We also visited the Stonehenge which was on the way.</p> <p>We wanted to explore more of south London so we thought of visiting Hampshire County on the southern coast of England. Hampshire is the most populous ceremonial county in the United Kingdom excluding the metropolitan counties with almost half of the county's population living within the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth.</p> <p>Notable for housing the birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force, the county is also famed as home of writers Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.</p> <p>After spending a day at Brockwood, a countryside with sprawling meadows and enigmatic scenery, we visited Winchester. Winchester, the former capital city of England, is the county town of Hampshire. Winchester's major landmark is Winchester Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, with the distinction of having the longest nave and overall length of all Gothic cathedrals in Europe. The city is home to the University of Winchester and Winchester College, the oldest public school in the United Kingdom.</p> <p>Winchester Cathedral was originally built in 1079 and remains the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe. It contains fine architecture and is the place of interment of numerous Bishops of Winchester, Anglo-Saxon monarchs and later monarchs such as King Canute and William Rufus, as well as Jane Austen. It was once an important pilgrimage centre and housed the shrine of Saint Swithun. The ancient Pilgrims' Way to Canterbury begins at Winchester. The plan of the earlier Old Minster is laid out in the grass adjoining the cathedral. The New Minster (original burial place of Alfred the Great and Edward the Elder once stood beside it. It has a girls choir and a boys choir, which sing on a regular basis at the cathedral.</p> <p>I was fortunate to hear the evening mass and it was really a first time experience for me. It was so amazing and as I moved across the cathedral viewing the Roman glasses I could feel a different aura around me. It was as if the harmony was spreading through the cathedral and through me. As I roamed around, I saw tombs of many people. It felt like I was in a different world surrounded by all of these great people. I paid my tributes at the tomb of my favourite author Jane Austen, a brave woman who wrote wondrous tales during a time when women were treated as second class citizens.</p> <p>Winchester is well known for the Great Hall of its castle, which was built in the 12th century. It is famous for King Arthur's Round Table, which has hung in the hall from at least 1463. The table actually dates from the 13th century, and as such is not contemporary to Arthur. Despite this it is still of considerable historical interest due to King Arthur’s legendary story. The table was originally unpainted, but was painted for King Henry VIII in 1522. The names of the legendary Knights of the Round Table are written around the edge of the table.</p> <p>If you are planning to visit United Kingdom, then you should definitely visit Winchester.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Apr 21 16:50:20 IST 2018 mesmerising-jabalpur-rock-city <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The name Jabalpur comes from 'Jabal' meaning rock and 'Pur' meaning city. So that means Jabalpur is Rock City. Until I visited the third largest city in Madhya Pradesh, I had no idea about why the city was called such. But on a recent visit, I was surprised to know this city is home to large marble formations that have earned it this moniker.</p> <p>I start my journey at the famed Balancing Rocks, an eroded volcanic rock formation that is a huge rock that is delicately balanced on another. Said to have survived earthquakes clocking 6.5 on the Richter scale, these are a natural wonder and make for a compelling sight. Shrouded in dense greenery, this rock reminded me of Krishna’s Butter Ball in Mahabalipuram. This rock has stood the test of time and the location adds to the charm of the place.</p> <p>At a close distance is the Rani Durgawati fort on the Madan Mahal hills that is a small fort belonging to the Gond rulers. Dating back to the 11<sup>th</sup> century, this was a used to keep vigil and is said to be associated with Rani Durgavati who was the Gond Queen and her son Madan Singh. There over 200 odd steps that will take you atop the hill and a few more inside the fort but what you will be rewarded with are panoramic views of the city of Jabalpur. The fort itself is largely in ruins but it is impossible to miss the architecture and the beautiful arches here. On the way down, stop at the small temple midway called Sri Manokamna Shanidhan that has a Shiva linga, Ganesha idol as well as a stunning black structure of Shani. I also suggest a stop at the 10<sup>th</sup> century Chausath Yogini temple built by Kalchuri dynasty. Dedicated to Shiva and Parvati, the temple can be accessed by climbing over a hundred steps. The temple has several small cubicles around that were supposed to have beautiful idols of female yoginis which are unfortunately defaced or are missing. And if you want to reconnect with your inner self, pay obeisance at the Pisanhari ki Madiya, a famed Jain temple that has a serene and calm ambience as well as rooms to stay. In the vicinity are approximately 13 smaller temples like the Samavsaran Mandir, Maan Stambh, Bhagvan Bahubali and Shri Nandishwar Dweep Jinalaya among others.</p> <p>After a spiritual fill, head to the Dhunadhar falls and marble rocks. When I was here it was a rather hot day and the long walk to the falls had me wondering if it was worth the effort. However when I reached the falls, I stood transfixed, spellbound by its sheer beauty. The roaring waters of the Narmada cascade down 98 feet in such majesty that it is indeed a sight to behold. The water is a nice milky white and roars down crashing against the huge rocks, creating a fog like atmosphere that will mesmerise you completely. No wonder this is a hot spot to take photographs and in today’s time selfies, too. There are a few locals who will actually jump in to the falls from a height if you pay them Rs 100 too and it is quite fascinating to see the deftness with which they swim here. All along the path leading to the waterfalls are huge marble rocks on one side and vendors selling marble products on the other. This is a good place to pick up souvenirs at relatively reasonably prices, too.</p> <p>If you want to get an aerial perspective of the waterfalls buy a ticket for a cable car ride that will ferry you to and from the waterfalls and give you a different perspective of these stunning waterfalls. Do also take a boat ride amidst the marble rocks on either side which is an ethereal experience especially on a full moon night when the marble absorbs and reflects the moon’s light making the place almost seem surreal. There is a point called the ‘Bandar Kudni’ where the mountains on either side are so close to each other that a monkey can jump across. Interestingly egg shells of dinosaurs have been found at the ghats here too.</p> <p>For a history lesson, head to the Rani Durgawati museum that has a veritable collection of ancient inscriptions and sculptures. The museum has several ancient statues, old coins as well as Kala Vithika—an exhibition space for artists to showcase different art forms including paintings. Photography and videography is restricted in this museum and the museum is closed on Monday. And if you prefer to experience some ecotourism, the Dumna Nature Park, is a must visit. This is a lung space spread over an area of 1,058 hectares and is home to a dam, forest children's park, restaurant and wildlife. The biodiversity here includes wild animals like chital, wild boar, porcupine, jackals, leopards and several bird species. The park also has a hanging bridge, tent platform, fishing platform, toy train, and boating and you can hire a cycle and guide to see the entire space. As it opens at 6 am, a visit here is also a great way to start your day in the city. I also suggest you stop at the Tilwara Ghat which is the place where the Gandhi Smarak is situated, as this is where Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were immersed into the Narmada. This place was also the venue for the opening session of the Tripuri Congress way back in 1939.</p> <p>Incidentally, both sides of the canyon here are made of pure marble and the place is well maintained. While the city has several attractions, it is also a good base to reach the famed tiger zones of Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Pench. A visit to the city of Jabalpur is interesting as it is still not very touristy and it has attractions that are both offbeat and interesting. So the next time you are looking for a holiday with a difference, choose Jabalpur.</p> Thu Apr 12 15:58:45 IST 2018 quiet-brilliance-of-bishnupur-west-bengal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At 10 in the morning you’d expect any tourist place to have people around. You would also expect to get basic nourishment, and directions to the touristy ‘spots’ the town is famous for. But then Bishnupur is hardly a tourist place. A tiny town that appears to be more of a hamlet, Bishnupur sits right in the centre of rural Bengal. Surrounded by thick paddy fields and tiny settlements, devoid of any trappings of a modern town and showing no signs of being an important place of the historical and cultural map of Bengal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We arrived in Bishnupur after a scenic three-hour drive and drove around in circles for almost 30 minutes, trying to locate the terracotta temples the town is famous for. We were directed and redirected in the same lanes by the same people but weren't able to locate anything. Until a man took matters into his hands and led us to the first ‘spot’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rasmancha stands tall and proud right in the middle of the town, encircled by old houses, an empty park, and some autos. There are people, too, all locals going about their work, paying no heed to the temple. “These temples are a part of our lives, they are not special for us. Yes, we are proud of them but that’s all.” We managed to find a guide—perhaps the only one at the temple—and he shows us around the temple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To call rasmancha a temple may not be completely correct through. It is more of a stage, with a deep sanctum and long arched corridors. While the sanctum did have idols of Radha and Krishna, the galleries were used only during the famous ‘ras’ festiva to display idols from all other temples. The subjects would assemble where the lawns are, and the king had a special place to sit. The main sanctum has a pyramidal roof, the corridors seem to be inspired by the Mughal architecture with arches and domes, and reminds one of the galleries of the Bhul Bhulaiyya in Lucknow. The pillars that hold these together are shaped like a lotus and are lightly decorated. All in all, it cuts an impressive figure even though the trademark Bishnupur terracotta is missing here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most temples in Bishnupur were constructed between the 17th and 18th century by the wealthy kings of the Malla dynasty. They patronised art, craft, music and textile. Under them, Bishnupur became a shining metropolis. Something that is hard to see in today’s small town with dilapidated buildings, crumbling facades, broken roads, and cattle infested streets. But dig a little deeper and you will find the gems hidden under the thick layer of red earth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The example of this is the central and southern group of temples. Located a little off the main town, they stand testimony to the glory of Bishnupur under the Malla dynasty. Constructed in various styles—Oriya, Mughal, Islamic and Hindu—the temples reflect various contemporary influences. Some have octagonal spires, some have multiple towers, some are dome-shaped, some look like multiple Hindu temple towers have been fused together, while some don’t look like temples at all. They are different in colour, shapes, and sizes too. The more recent ones are painted in white with multicoloured floral patterns, the older ones are bare bricked, covered in moss and broken in parts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My favourite is the Shyam Rai temple, adorned with terracotta tiles featuring stories from the <i>Ramayana, Mahabharata</i>,<i> Krishna Leela</i>, and scenes from everyday life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The temple is surrounded by jasmine tress and lush lawns. A blue Archaeological Survey of India board marks its entrance; a uniformed man sits guard. The tiles on the temple have many stories to tell. Like that of Dasaratha killing Shravan Kumar’s parents, and being cursed by him, or that of Krishna’s battle with the demons sent by Kansa. There is <i>Mahabharata</i> too, and <i>Rasleela</i>; then there are local influences of flora and fauna, birds and animals, traders and invaders. In just a few panels, you can learn both history and geography of the town.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are hardly any people though: a Bengali family, with elderly parents and a not so young daughter, a group of four adults from some nearby village and the guard. It is strange to see no takers for such beauty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“People come here, but only in winter. Also most tourists are Bengalis only, outsiders like you hardly come to Bishnupur. Maybe if you tell your friends they will come to see our town,” Madhusudan Mukherjee, our guide who is taking us around the town, says wistfully.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The crowd that you’d expect around the terracotta temples is concentrated in one narrow lane in the heart of the town. Typical terracotta horses of all sizes line the street. Some have detachable parts, which make them easy to transport, some are one-piece. The tallest one is as high as me, the smallest one fits in my fist. There are other artifacts too—faces of Durga, idols of Ganesha, Nataraja, tribal women with babies, Santhal men with sickle, wind chimes, tea cups, jewellery and what not. True to its roots, Bishnupur is still a town of craftsmen— men and women who uphold the tradition of their ancestors’ brilliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike most tourist places, the shopkeepers do not pester you here. They don’t mind if you pick, look, ask the price and move on. Sometimes though they gently insist that you buy something. “Didi ekta kare nin na, eta nishcita apani bishnupr ke smarana karabe!” A young man in one of the shops urges me to pick a pair of horses in Bengali. It will help me remember my trip to Bishnupur forever, he says. Even though I had not planned on buying anything, I agree. Not because I will ever forget Bishnupur, but because I want to remember these simple people forever.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> Tue Mar 27 14:27:49 IST 2018 tawang-travel-experience-tryst <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>What does one look for when planning a trip with the family? In my case, it has always been a place where nature reigns supreme, human company is at a premium, and return on investment (in terms of time) the maximum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the opportunity came for an ‘excursion’ to Tawang, naturally I grabbed it with both ‘paws’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My family—myself, my wife Madhavi, my daughter Ankita, a full time traveller, and my son Aniket, a UX designer—met up at Guwahati and started off. We had a two day halt at Shillong, to enable me to complete my act as a resource person for a national workshop on creative writing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From Shillong, we moved to Dirang. On the way, at Bhalukpong, our interline permits were checked by the police. It was slightly difficult to explain to Aniket why we needed permits to go from one state to another within our own country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We stopped for a night halt at Dirang, a picturesque little town which goes to sleep at eight. Its most popular hotel had an awesome view of the place. There were quite a few places of tourist interest in Dirang, but we were in such a desperate rush to reach Tawang that we gave them all a miss.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A little distance from the town is a hot water spring. We went down a lot of steps to ultimately reach a tank, which served as the ‘collection centre’ for the spring water. It was a huge disappointment since I was hoping to wade in a gurgling, springy, ‘cousin’ of a brook, and gift my family a Lourdes-like experience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the way we stopped at Tenga, an Army post to sample momos at a restaurant called Chulha. The ambience was near perfect and we truly enjoyed the hot and spicy snack.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We, as a nation, have often been accused of not acknowledging the contribution of our martyrs. I was thrilled to see that at least in Tawang our brave countrymen were given their due respect and their saga of sacrifice engraved in rock, steel, glass and more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Jaswant Garh, the place named after Jaswant Singh Rawat, there is a memorial dedicated to his deeds. It comprises a glass house with a monument on which is placed his bust. The inscription on the monument, “In the loving memory of Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat MVC(posthumous) of 4 Garhwal Rifles who laid down his life on 17 November, 1962, in defence of Nuranang,” gives a glimpse of the patriot’s greatness. On either side are chambers showcasing his personal belongings right from the rifle he used to the slippers he wore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As I left the sanctum sanctorum of sacrifice, nestled in the clouds, I felt a sense of pride. And this feeling deepened a day later when we visited the war memorial in Tawang. The memorial, according to a commemorative plate, reads, “In memory of the over 2,420 officers, JCOs and soldiers who laid down their lives in Kameng sector during the 1962 war. THEIR NAMES LIVETH EVERMORE.” It is dedicated to the martyrs of the Sino-India War of 1962. It is a magnificent structure clearly influenced by the aesthetics of Tibetan and Chinese culture. What struck me the most was the legend on one of the plaques, which read: “The memorial is in the form of a traditional <i>chorten</i> (shrine) which venerates the departed in the Buddhist custom. It signifies the eternal spirit and has been constructed in accordance with the religious praxis. In keeping with tradition, this <i>chorten</i> was blessed by monks and local citizens of Tawang. They also donated scriptures, idols of Lord Buddha, gold and silver ornaments which are consecrated within. These include scriptures and idols of Arya Avoloktheswara and Lord Buddha which have been personally donated by his holiness The Dalai Lama.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coming back to our journey to Tawang, easily the most delectable of part of this phase was our tryst with the Nuranang Falls also known as Jang Falls. The milky water was hurtling down from a phenomenal height, its whiteness brilliantly highlighted by the myriad shades of green all around. I just stood mesmerised by the sight, which seemed to have been lovingly created and then artistically photoshopped by the master himself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a popular myth, Nuranang falls are named after a local Monpa girl named Nura who had helped Jaswant Singh Rawat in the 1962 Sino-Indian War. The girl was later captured by the Chinese forces. Her selfless sacrifice has been immortalised by the pure and pristine waters of the enchanting falls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We reached Tawang in the evening and were taken straight to the VIP guest house. We were greeted by a girl who looked barely sixteen and a man the lines on whose face indicated he had weathered many seasons. He was sporting a monkey cap and a serious demeanour. The girl on the other hand welcomed us with a smile that would give Madhuri Dixit a complex.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the man picked up our luggage I rather tactlessly asked him, “Is the girl your daughter?” He looked at me for a second and replied curtly, “She is my wife.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I felt like kicking myself and the kids added to my embarrassment by continually reminding me of my faux pas. Fortunately the husband, Dawa was a sporting fellow and I think by next morning forgave me for my peccadillo. Seeing him without his monkey cap and with a smile on his face I realized that he looked quite a match for the minx who was called Lhamu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Next morning, we were off to visit the second largest monastery in Asia—the Tawang Monastery. Tawang has been named after this monastery which is perched on the top of a mountain at a height of 10,000 feet. The piece de resistance of the monastery is the 18 foot high statue of Buddha seated in a lotus position. Below the statue is a framed photograph of the 14<sup>th</sup> Dalai Lama.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As I entered the monastery what engulfed me was the complete peace and quietude, and an absolute riot of colours all around. The ornate designs, the beautiful patterns and the spectrum of colors left me breathless. It reminded me of my experience at the Temple of Heaven in China. The monastery offers a rich tapestry of legends, each more fascinating than the other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per records, in 1959, the Lama fled Tibet, and after an arduous journey, crossed into India on 30 March 1959. He reached Tawang and took shelter in the monastery for a few days. The photos chronicling his historic journey and his stay in the monastery were on display.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next morning, we started for Bumla Pass or the Indo-China border which was located 37 kms from Tawang. Our driver cum guide, who looked like a rock star, was called Nima.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have roamed many parts of India as well as abroad and enjoyed the grandeur of nature. But I found this experience incomparable in every sense of the word. The road was treacherous and tourists are advised to take it only on clear days. When we started it was foggy which I think added to the surreal mystique. Nature seemed to have unleashed its charms with a vengeance. The landscape almost had as much variety as Madhavi’s wardrobe. One moment there was a wave of bright yellow flowers, rivalling a Van Gogh in beauty. The next minute we were serenaded by purple hues. A few moments later we were treated to a red carpet welcome, with leaves the colour of cherry casting their mesmerising spell. Chocolate brown, beige, jade, olive, and sea green—the mountains were like an artist’s palette. And the best was yet to come.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As we climbed up we had our first glimpse of snow. Soon the green and brown started giving way to white. It was almost as if the master had taken time off his busy schedule to pick up slabs of ice and place them on peaks and slopes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We stopped on the way to show our permits (special ones for the Indo-China border) and to refurbish our tummies at the army canteen. Hot <i>jalebis</i> and <i>samosas</i> sipped down with hot tea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I got talking to a <i>jawaan</i> who related to me his experience during the Kargil war. “Whether it is Kargil or Tawang, war or peace, a soldier’s life is always tough. A few hours in these environment can be fun, but if one has to spend months and years it can be cruel.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We moved on and soon reached the border. After the routine check we were taken across the line of control by a team of charming army personnel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their spokesman, Jagatar Singh, welcomed us. “The Chinese and Indians who fought a deadly war at this spot, now present cultural programmes for each other, right here,” he said showing us the various points of tourist interest including the ‘Heap of Stones’, and the ‘Rock of Peace’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We were now at a height of 16,500 feet, snowflakes had started falling ever so gently and the mercury had dipped below the number India had invented.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Standing at the confluence of two greatest civilisations of the past and possibly two most powerful entities of the future, shivering in the bone chilling cold and basking in the majesty of the moment I couldn’t help but feel how wonderful it would be if these borders were dissolved forever.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One thing which struck me as I travelled across the paradise was the sheer profusion of lakes. We would be driving up the serpentine roads and I would glance below expecting to see chasms girdled with green and brown; instead my heart would imitate Wordsworth’s as I beheld a pool of grey or blue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of all the lakes we came across, the most gorgeous one was Shungetser, a lake that is sacred for the Buddhist Monpa tribe of Tawang. The lake was rechristened ‘Madhuri’ lake after the Bollywood Diva, whose dance number for the movie Koyla was shot here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is believed that this lake was created by flash floods following an earthquake – not the one unleashed by Madhuri’s twinkle toes, but an actual seismic shock. That is the reason its placid waters are still punctuated by tree trunks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When we reached Shungetser (the other name sounds too cosmetic), it started drizzling. We walked up a wooden bridge and, under a canopy, set our eyes on the lake. The mist, the dew drops on the still waters, bare trees standing like morose sentinels and the freezing cold—it was an experience I shall never forget.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We ‘met’ a huge yak. As I started trying to use my PR skills on it, an Army <i>jawaan</i> ran towards me asking me to desist if I wanted to return limb and life intact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After a round of a couple of monasteries, we left for Tezpur the next day. On the way back we went through the Sela Pass which is at a height of 13,700 feet. Here too the special attraction is the eponymous lake with its sapphire blue languid waters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As we made the descent to Tezpur, the fog increased in intensity. On occasions we could barely see a few feet, it was almost as if were floating in a sea of mist. I was amazed at the dexterity of the driver, Ram, who negotiated every twist with aplomb. On numerous occasions, as he turned the wheel, I was wondering whether I would live to see my grandchildren. To add to my concerns it started raining. However, Ram was unfazed as he took us safely. On the way he stopped to show us a few sights which served as punctuations marks while the vehicle caressed the slopes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As I bid the last of the curves goodbye, I replayed the myriad scenes of the past few days. I wondered whether I would ever get a chance to see nature in such a pure and pristine form, almost untouched by the ogre called civilisation.</p> Sat Mar 17 18:49:44 IST 2018 sprawling-city-of-moscow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The earliest signs of human settlement near the Moscow (Moskva) site dates back to the Neolithic period. But, it was only in the 14th century that Moscow gained importance and became the capital of the Russian Federation. Even when the capital was moved to Saint Petersburg for some years, Moscow’s position remained unchallenged. This sprawling city with 12 million residents is situation on the banks of River Moskva.<br> </p> <p>I was impressed by Moscow's green cover, walk-paths along the river banks, parks and gardens. While small boats ply on the river, small barges can be seen carrying goods. There are many piers along the river where small boats are anchored. A few lovely bridges span River Moskva. The city has seen many wars, revolutions, and fires but it always bounced back. Muscovites, as the citizens of Moscow are called, are a friendly lot despite the language barrier. Traffic jams are common, but no one honks. Instead, people wait patiently for the traffic move. The city's public spaces such as streets, pavements, railway and metro stations or even metro coaches are clean and well maintained.<br> </p> <p>Metro Subway trains are the lifeline of transportation in Moscow. Some metro stations are work of art with murals, paintings and sculptures. The 10 metro lines—differently colour coded, and with two circular lines—carry 9 million passengers every day. During peak hours the trains are usually jam packed.<br> </p> <p>The Russian president's resides in the Kremlin—a fortress in the heart of Moscow. The city, which houses many official buildings, is experiencing suburban expansion with a well-connected network of ring roads. Most major attractions are situated near the Kremlin and the Red Square, one of the largest city squares in the world. These places are always crowded by tourists from all parts of the world. At the Red Square, we saw women in ethnic attires, trying to gain attention. They were willing to pose for pictures with tourists. We also saw many small souvenir shops and snack/drink stalls.<br> </p> <p>Moscow has well-preserved its ancient monuments and buildings. The State Historical Museum is an impressive tall, red building at the Red Square. Cathedrals are well maintained too. The famous department store chain in Russia, GUM, has a huge presence in the city. The horse show at the Red Square attracts thousands of people to the city every day. The horses are led by riders who perform various spell binding acrobatics. There are a few women riders too. The horses are well trained and trot, dance and sometimes run sideways to amuse children and others watching the show from the stands. Annual military tattoo, held at the Red Square, is a wonderful event that should not be missed as it showcases the Russian army and its wonderful band.<br> </p> <p>The Cathedral of St Basil the Blessed near the Red Square has lovely domes—the typical onion-shaped domes unique to Russian architecture. Some of these domes are painted in golden-yellow colour, making them more attractive. The eternal flame, near the square, is a national memorial guarded by two soldiers standing to stiff attention. Lenin's Mausoleum is also situated nearby.<br> </p> <p>Theatres and opera houses in Moscow attract hundreds of visitors and locals alike. The most famous among them is the Bolshoi theatre, famous for its ballets and operas. Russian National Folk Theatre showcases the culture of many ethnic groups in Russia—from the ancient times to the modern period. These shows are booked months in advance and are quite pricey too. Further up the Red Square is the famous Kitay-gorod street known for shopping. The street is a part of the historic quarter of the city. Arbat street (Ulitsa Arbat) is the oldest original street of Moscow. It houses the Pushkin House Museum, churches and souvenir shops.<br> </p> <p>In Moscow, one much take precautions against pickpockets in crowded places. The Moscow State University, established many years ago, boasts of outstanding architecture. The Cathedral of St Basil the Blessed is located on the banks of River Moskva. The famous Christ the Saviour Cathedral, the largest Orthodox Church in the world, situated in Moscow, was established in 1881.<br> </p> <p>The best way to ensure that you do miss out on any must-visit tourist spot is by hopping on to a Red Bus that runs on two routes everyday or by taking a boat tour on the river. The one as well as two-day tickets are modestly priced and could be booked in advance online. It starts from the Red Square and covers many attractions en route to the destination. Recorded commentaries are available in several languages, including English. The boat tour is a relaxed way of seeing the city, without worrying about the traffic hassles. I came across a bridge, where the upper deck was meant for pedestrians and cyclists only, while the lower deck was for regular traffic. You get a lovely sight of the city from the top of the bridge.<br> </p> <p>Public signs are mostly in Russian, with a glimpse of English here and there, sometimes. An elementary knowledge of the Russian alphabets and words would prove quite handy. Despite the language problem, we found local people helpful and friendly.<br> </p> <p>There are a few Indian restaurants in the city that serve authentic Indian food, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Ruble notes and coins are used extensively for monetary transactions, while credit-debit cards are accepted at a few places.<br> </p> <p>Compared to many other countries, the cost of food, accommodation and transport is modest. There is a frequent Aero express train, non-stop, from Moscow Domodedovo Airport to the city’s metro station.<br> </p> <p><b>Tips</b><br> - The best time to visit Moscow is between July and September.<br> - There are a few airlines from India that fly to Moscow.<br> - Getting a visa to visit Russia is not easy. Check online or consult a travel agent before planning the trip.<br> </p> Wed Feb 21 21:01:00 IST 2018 alaska-glaciers-cruise-frozen-glory <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Any visit to Alaska is incomplete without a glacier tour. The short cruise offered by the “26 Glaciers Cruise” by Phillips Cruises &amp; Tours, developed in 1987, suited my time as well as budget. Reserving a seat and making the payment by credit card online hardly took time. We were picked up in the morning from the pick-up point at Anchorage City Center by an experienced driver cum guide. It was an interesting drive towards Whittier, along the scenic highway that touches the Turnagain arm of the sea inlet. We spotted birds like bald eagles and seagulls, but the whales remained as elusive as ever. The highlight of the road trip was the passage through the 4-km long rail cum road tunnel—an engineering marvel—which cuts through the Maynard Mountain.</p> <p>It was a murky weather with light drizzle. But that did not stop any activity that was going on the dock. We were welcomed on board by the cruise team and were given a slip of paper with details of the seating arrangement during the cruise. I noticed a couple seated at my table. The Indian doctor, settled in the US with his American wife welcomed me. “Sir, shall I get you coffee? It’s free,” the doctor offered. Lunch was served soon after. I got the vegetarian meal that I had ordered. The only problem was the light drizzle which left its mark as rain drops on the glass wall of the deck thus restricting view sometimes.</p> <p><b>The cruise</b></p> <p>The custom-built M/V Klondike, our ship for the “26 Glacier Cruise”, glided off smoothly. Whittier is the western gateway to Prince William Sound, part of Gulf of Alaska, Pacific Ocean. The cruise would be on the Port Wells, College Fjord and Harriman Fjord, covering a total distance of 225 kms in about five hours. We had a woman Forest Guard officer on deck who spoke about the cruise. The captain introduced himself and promised an exciting cruise. “Watch out for any wildlife, sea or land.” His was a fund of knowledge, acquired after many trips. Just soon after we left the docks, we slowed down to observe a whale breaching. Despite stopping for a few minutes the whale proved to be elusive as it had swam nearer to the edge of the coast. Humpback whales are rare to be seen in the sea, whereas Orca/Killer whales and Minke whales could be spotted, with a bit of luck. Later during the cruise, we saw a few Steller Sea Lions and Sea Otters basking in the open.</p> <p>It was exciting to watch the ship gliding smoothly through the narrow passage of sea at the Esther Passage. The scene changed rapidly from pine forests on mountain sides to snow, glaciers and occasional lovely waterfalls. It was wild nature at its best. We were soon approaching the glacier zone at the College Fjord. This fjord has an interesting history. It was in 1899 that Edward Harriman, one of the most powerful men with plenty of riches, undertook a vacation to Alaska as suggested by his doctor ‘to get some rest.’ Instead of going alone he brought with him a scientific team of arctic experts, botanists, biologists, zoologists, geographers, artists, photographers, ornithologists and writers—a complete comprehensive team with various experts who would rediscover that part of Alaska that was little known to the world, except the native Chugach Eskimos.</p> <p>Excitement ran high as we entered the College Fjord. The adventurous among the passengers went on the open deck below, braving the cold and rain, to get a first hand picture of the scene of immense glaciers looming large so near. Glaciers on the north west were named after prominent women’s colleges such as Barnard, Smith and Wellesley, while those on the south west were named after men’s colleges such as Harvard, Yale and Williams. However, it may be noted that some of these colleges are now co-educational. There are three types of glaciers in this region: Alpine, Piedmont and Tidewater. We went close to three glaciers avoiding floating ice blocks. Some of the glaciers, such as Harvard, are huge, extending miles sideways and anchored deep beneath the water while towering high with huge blocks of ice or compacted snow. There was a spectacular show when loose ice rolled down the slope of a glacier with a thunderous noise spreading white mist. Floating ice blocks, white and blue coloured were found near the glacier zone. Our captain deftly manoeuvred the ship amidst these blocks to get close to the glaciers. All glaciers do not look alike but each has its own distinct shape and size. Some of the Alaskan glaciers in this region are actually growing, though ‘calving’ is a general phenomenon.</p> <p>The ship after being close to some of the glaciers in the College Fjord now entered the Harriman Fjord where we went near a few glaciers like Barry and Cascade. One common feature was the huge size of some of these glaciers with compacted snow turned into ice, white and blue in colour. Ice blocks, although a fascinating sight, posed a hazard for ships. These cold regions are wild, remote and without human interference. During the cruise we saw a few birds like Bald Eagle, Black-legged Kittiwake and seagulls. On a mountainside, many hundreds of birds had made their nest and we got a noisy reception when we neared the rock. The mountains give shelter to wildlife such as black bear, mountain goat and moose, though we didn’t spot any during the cruise.</p> <p>We neared our port of departure at Whittier, satisfied that we witnessed cold nature in all its glory untouched by any human interference. We had a glimpse of America’s largest intact marine ecosystem carved by 15 million years of glaciations. It was a brief but satisfying trip with a first-hand experience of glaciers, wildlife and pristine water of Prince Williams Sound. The captain and the cruise staff did a good job of being informative as well as helpful during the cruise. It was time to say ‘goodbye’ to my table friends and disembark orderly to get into our shuttle bus waiting at the parking lot to take us back to Anchorage.</p> <p><b>Tips</b></p> <p>Phillips Cruises could be booked on line from Anchorage that would include a paid shuttle bus service from Anchorage to Whittier, the departing point of the cruise. It is a day’s tour from Anchorage. Summer is the best time to take the glacier tour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Mon Feb 19 21:53:49 IST 2018