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Bangkok: Top 10 Offbeat Things to Do in the City of Angels

Bangkok is a city of fantastic ironies. Animated street life intertwines with luxurious shopping malls. Cheap markets inhabit unremarkable residential streets. Fiery scents of street food mingle with intense urban…

Bangkok is a city of fantastic ironies. Animated street life intertwines with luxurious shopping malls. Cheap markets inhabit unremarkable residential streets. Fiery scents of street food mingle with intense urban fumes. Epic Muay Thai kickboxing bouts and Buddhist monasteries co-exist like old friends. Busy riverine canals lead to floating markets and obscure villages. These quirks lend the city an irresistible personality, a potpourri of sharp aromas. With so much to do, it’s easy to miss out on all the little hidden joys the city has to offer. So, we’ve compiled a list of the best offbeat things to do in this fiercely unique city called Bangkok.

  1. Papaya Studio: Part antiques store, part museum of curiosities, the Papaya Studio houses several random yet unique objects in its collection. Including but not limited to life-size superhero action-figures, dolls and toys, antique furniture, old televisions, and more. Sadly, many of these interesting objects on display at this multi-storey store aren’t available to be bought; a rule enforced by the owner, the eccentric Mr Tong.
  2. Bangkok Puppet Shows:Bangkok Puppet Show 

    The centuries –old Thai tradition of puppetry has ebbed and flowed through periods of proliferation and disuse, but a few theatre companies continue to foster this beautiful art. A typical performance depicts stories from the Ramayana, with three-four puppeteers operating each ornately decorated puppet. The art form is best witnessed in an intimate setting at the free-for-all afternoon shows at the Artists’ House, or you may attend a show at one of the bigger arenas, by excellent puppet companies like the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre.

  3. Rama IX Park: The city being a heady cocktail of automobile exhausts and people and street stalls, it is hard to find a quiet corner here. And much harder to find a green, quiet one. Fortunately, the outskirts of the city are blessed with some sprawling verdant parks. Sadly, they still remain obscured from the eyes of most tourists. You could go cycling in the Bang Krachao Park, or stroll and observe local life at the Lumpini Park. Our favourite is the Rama IX Park, the largest green area in Bangkok, built to commemorate the late king Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 60th A sprawling botanical garden, lake, pavilions and lotus ponds, are punctuated by smaller gardens built to represent major countries of the world. So, there is a park with colonnades and statues for France, a modern domed one with a small desert for the US, a walled one with tiny lotus ponds to represent China, and many more.
  4. Museum of Counterfeit Goods: The 26th floor of the Tilleke and Gibbins law firm is taken up by a quirky Museum of Counterfeit Goods. The museum houses a curious collection of fakes and genuine objects of a staggering variety- from automobile parts, calculators and shoes, to detergent powders and biscuits. Your tour guide will diligently walk you through the history and geography of this pandemic of fake goods, and illuminate you on some best practices. Do seek a prior appointment; it’s a private museum owned by a leading law firm fighting this issue.
  5. Chatuchak Market:The Chatuchak market, a proper Thailand tourism landmark, is a gigantic weekend market, home to over 8000 shops over any typical weekend. Previously only of interest to wholesalers and retailers, the several thousand shops now sell almost everything under the sun, including clothes, books, food and beverages, art and handicrafts, furniture, and quite a bit more. It is advisable to buy a map beforehand; newbies stand a great chance of getting lost here.
  6. Scala Cinema: Across the road from the enormous Siam Paragon mall, the Scala Cinema preserves the old-world charm of going to the cinema. The name of the current movie is still hand-mounted in big scarlet letters. The staff still dresses in bright yellow jackets and bow-ties. The tickets are still cheap and hand-torn, and the booths are like the old ones you see in, well, movies. Upon entrance, you’re welcomed by a low-hanging chandelier and a sculpture exhibiting the country’s brief history. Gorgeous art deco flowers adorn the grand domed roofs. The theatre itself is huge, with a 1000 red velvet seats. The whole experience is preserved as if in a time-capsule.
  7. Experience Muay Thai:Muay Thai, BangkokMuay Thai, a phenomenal martial art in the manner of kickboxing, is the national sport of Thailand and a medium for many youngsters to seek success and glory. The bouts happen multiple times through the week in enormous stadiums and arenas, the biggest being the Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums, the hallowed grounds for thousands of young prospects. Witness a few bouts with the fervour reaching fever pitch. Or if you’re of a more athletic kind, you may choose to take a few Muay Thai training sessions here. Some of the most elite combat athletes and mixed martial artists of the world come to train in the gyms here. The Banchamek Gym, Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Academy and the Meenayothin Muay Thai Gym are some of the best ones.
  8. Kra Thon, the Flying Chicken Restaurant: While chickens are generally incapable of flying for any considerable distance, you’d see chicken flying here for long distances at a ferocious pace, at this aptly-named restaurant. Mainly because the staff here performs this attractive ritual of catching flying fried chickens fired from catapults, while riding unicycles. To add to the appeal, the food is delicious and quite affordable, and they serve a good range of liquor too. Do feel free to try other items off the enormous menu, some of them made of wild boar, frogs and ostrich.
  9. Khlong Tour: Unlike other rivers flowing through major cities, the Chao Phraya River snaking through Bangkok is central to the city’s daily life. Take a ride on a long-tail boat through the various khlongs (Thai for canals) of the river and make your way back in time to a Bangkok more peaceful and less frantic. Watch stilted shacks, wooden houses beside luxury homes built more recently, observe commuters, traders and hawkers going about their daily life, and contrast the rustic leisurely pace of life of the Bangkok of the western banks with the ‘always-on’ modern Bangkok. The best way to embark on this journey is through a guided tour.
  10. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market:Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, ThailandOver an hour’s drive from Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak, Thailand’s most popular floating market is a bustling confluence of fruits and flowers, street food and fancy apparels, memorabilia and more. The overcrowded ruckus created by the converging sellers and shoppers can be an onslaught on your senses, but therein lies the floating market’s appeal, a general element of all Thailand travel actually. From cheap ‘I Was Here’ Thailand tourism souvenirs to some great cuisine, fresh local produce to some wacky products, there is a lot to try and buy. You could also visit the Orchid and coconut farms that lie on the road journey here.
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Destination Guide-Pune

Overview Pune has come a long way from being a place that has been host and home to so much history. It is now where that heritage co-exists with a…

Overview

Pune has come a long way from being a place that has been host and home to so much history. It is now where that heritage co-exists with a blossoming modern city that is young at heart and young in its opportunities. A hub of education and technology, the pleasant Pune is also home to so much culture that is hidden in its unassuming exteriors.

Experiences

  • Joshi’s Museum of Miniature Railway: One man’s passion is another’s amazement. Model train enthusiast Bhau Joshi has built a functional, elaborate mini-township layout complete with railway stations, roads, flyovers, buildings, traffic signals and more. A truly curious engaging sight by a man who materialized his vision into a technological marvel.
  • Osho Teerth Gardens: What was, till a few years ago, a wasteland with a dirty canal making its way through it, is now a fantastically green Japanese-style park bordering the Osho Ashram. The park spread over 12 acres, is a fine marriage of conservational ethos with the needs of a modern city. What you’ll enjoy is diverse greenery, a clear stream bisecting the park, and ample photo opportunities.
  • Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum: A fascinating, prosperous collection of antique objects from Indian daily life collected by the eponymous collector, it is one of Pune’s finest places to visit. Observe members of the 20,000-strong collection, including jewellery, music instruments, household equipment, toys, entire doors & windows, and a lot more, most of them still in pristine condition.
  • Gliding: 

    Take a few gliding lessons or fulfil your dreams of flying on a joy ride in a glider, at the Hadapsar Gliding Centre in Pune. If you don’t have the time or inclination for lessons, you should definitely partake in a bit of guided gliding in the company of a trained pilot, given that it’s for an ultra-cheap price here.

  • The Sawai Gandharv Bhimsen Music Festival: Bharat Ratna Bhimsen Joshi founded the Sawai Gandharv Music Festival, India’s leading classical music festival in 1953 in memory of his guru Sawai Gandharv. The festival, which had the revered founder’s name appended to its name recently, has been the breeding grounds of prodigies and the showcase for established names in Indian classical music. Attend and have your mind blown.
  • Shanivar Wada: 

    An 18th-century Peshwa fortress only the mammoth gate to which remains, owing to a fire, Shanivar Wada is now the verdant hangout of choice for the average Pune person. Evenings see a couple of light shows being hosted, in Marathi and English that recapitulate the vivid history of this former Peshwa stronghold.

  • Book Shopping: Being a genuine education hub, with numerous colleges and universities and research institutions, it is only natural that Pune loves to read. That love is aided by so many great bookshops around the city, many of them centred on the Appa Balwant Chowk. Shop for the latest fiction, no-fiction and educational titles, or second hand books, or books by the kilo; you’d most probably find it all.

Grub

  • Independence Brewing Company: One of Pune’s best dining experiences; the Independence Brewing Company is a world-class going out experience- impeccable décor, a delicious much-loved menu, and the seven brewed beers on tap, the best part about the place. The seven brews on tap keep rotating, but some crowd-pullers, but do try the Four Grain Saison and the Method to Madness IPA. The fine aesthetics and the great service will get you hooked.
  • High Spirits Café: The centre of all action, the High Spirits Café is where everybody flocks to for some live entertainment or a nice meal throughout the week. From comedy nights to live music and DJs spinning the latest in dance music, the place has everything to keep the young occupied and make the elderly young.
  • Kayani Bakery: A part of history, Kayani Bakery has delighted people of the city with its cakes and breads and biscuits since the days of the British Raj. As in demand as ever, its Shrewsbury biscuits, bread and sponge cakes exemplify what ‘selling like hot cakes’ means.
  • Malaka Spice: As much a warm family-run establishment as it is a stalwart culinary institution, Cheenu and Praful Chandawarkar’s Malaka Spice is a mouth-watering barrage of one great Oriental dish after another. Putting the local in stay local firmly in bold, the chefs firmly scrutinize everything that goes into their preparations; one bit and you’ll know why it is so well-loved.
  • Dario’s: An elegant, intimate Italian joint serving up heavenly pastas, pizzas and salads in its indoor and al-fresco dining settings, Dario’s is a vegetarian foodie’s delight. And their desserts are the cherry on the cake.

Stay

To book from the widest range of hotels, visit SpiceVacations.com.

First Class

  • Conrad Pune: Be inundated with luxury at the Conrad Pune from the Hilton chain of hotels. Plush, well-equipped rooms ensure superior comfort. Elsewhere, the hotel pampers your senses with 6 dining options and a bar, a 24-hour fitness centre, a 24-hour business centre, a salon and spa, and an enrapturing temperature-controlled outdoor pool. Can’t ask for more, if you’re willing to pay a premium.
    Distance from airport: 6 km
  • Atmantan Wellness Retreat: A rejuvenating wellness retreat, Atmantan is located on the outskirts of the city, in a revelatory lakeside part of the country. Facilities are indulgent, but the real strength are the infinite opportunities to disconnect, unwind and go for many wellness services like massages, therapy sessions, fitness sessions, hammam baths and a whole lot more.
    Distance from airport: 60 km

Premium Economy

  • Four Points by Sheraton: World-class hotel and serviced apartments, with gym, 24-hour spa and more, minutes from the Pune Airport.
    Distance from airport: 4 km
  • Vivanta by Taj: Blue Diamond: 5-star luxury hotel, with extensive amenities, fitness centre, spa and more.
    Distance from airport: 6 km

Economy

  • Hotel Sagar Plaza: A comfortable stay in the heart of the city that is as friendly in service as it is on your pocket.
    Distance from airport: 9 km
  • Laxmi Happy Homes: A no-frills homestay, with tastefully done rooms for rent at surprisingly cheap costs. Guests can enjoy common areas, free Wi-Fi, a well-equipped shared kitchen, and warm hosts, among other privileges like the excellent location.
    Distance from airport: 6 km

Weekend Getaways

  • Matheran: Just under three hours away, Matheran can feel worlds apart from Pune, thankfully so, for the absence of all motor vehicles. All vehicles are banned here, and by default the hill station gentles ambles along, absorbing so many visitors in its quiet retreat. Walk around green vistas, take in gorgeous views, ride on horseback or cross a valley on a rope, you’ll love the serene nature of this place.
  • Khandala:Khandala, Maharashtra 

    Conveniently located about an hour and a half away from Pune right on the Mumbai-Pune highway, Khandala is a verdant hill station preferred by lovers of nature, great views and hiking. Not really known for vigorous action, you can certainly enjoy many scenic view-points and the slightly-challenging hiking trails that lead there, along with the Bhushi Lake.

  • Khadakwasla: A small hamlet centred around the eponymous dam on the river Mutha, Khadakwasla is, unbeknownst to most, central to India’s defence acumen. Short distances from the dam are the acclaimed National Defence Academy, the Defence Institute of Advanced Technology, the College of Military Engineering and some other defence establishments. A few kilometres to the south is the Sinhagad Fort of lesser-known origins, believed to be about 2000 years old.

General Information

Languages: Hindi, English, Marathi

Public Transport: The major means of public transport are the public buses operated within the city by the PMPML, the city’s transport authority, and auto-rickshaws. Ride-hailing services like Uber and Ola Cabs have also established a robust network of cabs across the city.

Weather: Pune experiences a combination of semi-arid hot and tropical pleasant climate. The summer months from mid-March to June see hot, dry spells, with the temperature sometimes soaring past 40.

Monsoon and winters are quite pleasant, with the Monsoon season seeing pleasant temperatures and moderate rainfall. The daytime temperatures can be pleasant during winters while the night can get chilly, with mercury often dropping to 5-6 degrees Celsius.

21,062 Comments on Destination Guide-Pune

Destination Guide- Ahmedabad

Overview A busy economic and manufacturing hub, Ahmedabad easily endears itself to you. While the weather takes some getting used to, the infrastructure is great and the people are warm….

Overview

A busy economic and manufacturing hub, Ahmedabad easily endears itself to you. While the weather takes some getting used to, the infrastructure is great and the people are warm. Being one of the largest, most populous cities of the country, its importance cannot be overstated. And it has enjoyed great significance throughout its history, as evidenced by its stupendous architectural marvels.

Enjoying Gandhi Ji’s influence, the city prohibits consumption of alcohol (with some caveats). That is not to say that the residents don’t know how to live it up. It is a foodie’s heaven, with glorious street food, signature ice cream parlours, and fine dining restaurants to suit all tastes. Ahmedabad’s old walled city was India’s first UNESCO World Heritage City, and a visit to its culturally, historically, architecturally rich streets is ample evidence why.

Experiences

 

  • Auto World Vintage Car Museum: Behold some of the finest pieces of automotive engineering at Ahmedabad’s Auto World Museum. Behold, or be held by, over 100 gorgeous vintage cars from the likes of Rolls Royce, Ford, Fiat, Jaguar, Mercedes, Lincoln, and many more. Some of these beauties are pretty iconic, including the Ford Model T and the first Rolls Royce Phantom 1. For a nominal fee, you can also ride in one of the 4 cars available for riding. Later, you may choose to kill time in the game zone or on the toy train ride, or enjoy some traditional Gujarati food at the restaurant here.
  • Sabarmati Riverfront & Sabarmati Ashram:On the western bank of Sabarmati, on green serene grounds, stands a certain Mohandas K. Gandhi’s former headquarters. Marvel at and be inspired by the artefacts and teachings and records of Bapu, then observe his austere living quarters where his vision of India’s freedom struggle took roots.
    A short walk away begins the lengthy walkway central to the ambitious Sabarmati Riverfront project. Stroll amidst breezy surroundings at this pleasing promenade, take a boat ride, zip line across the river or just take in the quotidian Gujarati life around you.
  • Calico Museum of Textiles: The remarkable museum houses a world-renowned collection of antique and modern Indian textiles, all handmade and extremely beautiful. The collection on display ranges from extravagant specimens of Mughal and other court fabrics, pieces of ritual and religious textiles, to regional specimens of immense virtuosity brought in from across the country. Do book in advance and you’d be overwhelmed by the intricacy of each artefact in the collection, which also includes ancient sculptures, miniature paintings, temple arts, etc.
  • Kite Museum:Kite Museum Ahmedabad

     

    Every year around January 14th, known as ‘Uttarayan’ in this part of the country, the sky comes alive in vibrant shades. Countless kites block out the Sun, so to speak, as the residents fervently partake in kit-flying. To honour this unique tradition, a certain Shri Bhanu Shah donated his humongous ‘patang’ (kite) collection to the local municipal corporation. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation duly reciprocated by setting up India’s first and the world’s second kite museum on its premises. A visit here captures your imagination as the colourful kites are an insight into the local culture and a relic of simpler times.

  • Adalaj Stepwell:
    Of the several step-wells in this region, the Adalaj step-well is certainly the most elaborate. 20 km north of Ahmedabad, the step-well, originally created for weary travellers, is remarkable for the elaborate stone carvings on the walls, and the 16 pillars around the octagonal step-well and on the platforms supported by the pillars.
  • Kankaria Lake:

    Kankaria Lake, AhmedabadA centuries-old manmade lake, the Kankaria Lake is now a fun family destination to spend a day engaged in enjoyable activities. Enjoy zorbing, boating, a hot-air balloon, and an evening sound-and-light show. The lake has an island housing a summer palace of the former royals, and is surrounded by an amusement park, a butterfly park and botanical garden, a small zoo, and old, Dutch colonial-era tombs.
  • Sunset Drive-in Cinema: A unique movie-going experience, the Sunset Drive-In Cinema is just as the name suggests: a sprawling green area with an enormous screen at one end playing the latest movies, where you can drive in with your car and enjoy a movie under the cool night sky. Grab some snacks from the stalls here, or carry a picnic with you. The kids are sure to enjoy this.

Grub

  • Vishalla: A surreal dining experience, Vishalla serves an endless thali of lip-smacking Gujarati fare, yet it is a lot more than that. Seated below a canvas awning under the open night-sky, with folk music and dance, and puppet shows for company, words defy you here. There is also the interesting Vechaar Utensil Museum here, with over 4000 pots and pans and more on display from all parts of the country and from a wide period in time.
  • Bhatiyar Gali: Every evening, the Bhatiyar Gali delights its patrons with delicious non-vegetarian delicacies. For centuries, it is believed; stalls here have served such non-vegetarian dishes as the age-old classics like Rogan Josh and Bhuna Gosht to recent innovations like skewered chicken and non-vegetarian samosas.
  • Agashiye: On the rooftop of the vintage hotel called the House of MG, Agashiye, literally meaning ‘on the terrace’, serves a daily-changing menu of absolutely yummy traditional Gujarati preparations under a canopy, a cottage roof or al fresco. You may want to book ahead.
  • Dairy Den: Ahmedabad is one of the largest consumers of ice cream in India. While there may be a connection with the prohibition on alcohol, the city nonetheless boasts of a massive multitude of ice cream parlours and cafes serving frozen delights. And Dairy Den, a chain of ice cream parlours is the oldest and probably one of the best ones here. Their chocolate brownie ice cream, thick shakes and soda pops are especially well-received.

Stay

To book from the widest range of hotels, visit SpiceVacations.com.

 

First Class

  • Renaissance Hotel: Located on the outskirts of the city, the hotel is steeped in luxury. Well-furnished rooms, with ACs, flat-screen TVs, tea-coffee makers, iPod docks and more, are designed to pamper you. Besides, facilities like a 24 hour fitness centre, sauna, multiple dining options, and a lot more, are designed to ensure you have a memorable stay.
    Distance from airport: 15 km
  • Novotel Ahmedabad: Modern property decked out in accordance with the latest in international hospitality. Lavish rooms, spa, pool, fitness centre, meeting rooms, currency exchange and more make it great for international travellers and people here for business.
    Distance from airport: 18 km

Premium Economy

  • Ramada Ahmedabad: An ideal hotel for the business traveller, with conference rooms, business centre, high-speed Wi-Fi currency exchange and more, besides multiple restaurants and a well-equipped gym.
    Distance from airport: 20 km
  • Country Inn & Suites Ahmedabad: Spacious, tastefully done rooms with modern amenities, in a hotel that suits all purposes- business or leisure.
    Distance from airport: 14 km

Economy

  • The House of MG: Surprisingly cheap for the amenities on offer, the House of MG is a grand old haveli restored to serve the purpose of a modern boutique hotel. And it does that with aplomb. The well-appointed rooms ensure a comfortable stay, while guests can enjoy other amenities like a gym, massage, multiple dining options etc.
    Distance from airport: 9 km
  • The Grand Bhagwati: One of the most preferred properties in the city, known for a very comfortable stay with all the modern amenities, interesting features like a piano café and well-appreciated food and dining, perfect for families.
    Distance from airport: 16 km

Weekend Getaways

 

  • Gandhinagar: The state capital, about 30 km from Ahmedabad, is one of India’s best-planned modern cities. Being the capital, the city is more business than pleasure, but the city’s serene nature and tourist favourites like the renowned Akshardham temple, the Children’s Park and the Adalaj step-well, besides quite a few beautiful temples, are sure to leave you impressed & entertained.
  • Udaipur:
    One of India’s best-known tourist destinations, Udaipur is a fantastic exhibition of Rajasthan’s grand history- the legacy of its Rajput kings and the Mughals. Its four lakes give it the moniker ‘the City of Lakes’, and the lakes Pichola, Fateh Sagar and Jaisamand are must-visits, as is the City palace on the Lake Pichola. There are several opulent palaces to visit, and the imposing Kumbhalgarh Fort, with the second-longest wall in the world, is not too far from here.
  • Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary:Nal Sarovar Bird SanctuaryJust under a two-hour drive from Ahmedabad, the Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary is a treat for bird-lovers and adventure and wildlife enthusiasts. Spot over 200 species of vibrant indigenous and migratory birds around the 120 sq. km of the Nal Sarovar Lake and marshy land. Do visit the interactive interpretation centre to learn more about the birds here.
  • Lothal: Have your mind blown at Lothal, an ancient city of the 5700 year old mythical Indus Valley Civilization of the Bronze Age, about 2 ½ hours away. Visit the museum at the site to revel in enlightening antiquities- pottery, jewellery, figurines, agriculture equipment, copper and stone tools, and a lot more that were used by the residents of the ancient city. The residents pioneered methods of metallurgy, agriculture and town planning that have stood the test of time. Then, proceed to the site of the city, and observe ancient localities, wells, drainage system, warehouses, and burial sites, to see how they lived.

General Information

 

Languages: Gujarati, Hindi, English

Public Transport: Ahmedabad has an extensive bus transport system for the general public, including general public buses and a Bus Rapid Transit System called Janmarg. Over 1200 buses ply under these two services, operated by the Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service.

For faster, although slightly costlier than the buses, transit, you can opt for a CNG-run auto-rickshaw that will drop you right at your destination.

The Ahmedabad metro rail is also under construction and shall be operational soon.

Weather: Ahmedabad has a typical North Indian hot, dry climate. The summer months (March-June) tend to be very hot and dry. The ravage high temperatures often soar above 40 degrees Celsius and heat waves are not uncommon. The winter months from November to February bring some relief, with temperatures ranging between 13-14 and 30 degrees Celsius. January months can also often see chilly winds. The monsoon months from mid-July to September bring humidity and decent rainfall is experienced frequently.

21,058 Comments on Destination Guide- Ahmedabad

Top 10 Tips for Travelling on a Budget

Travel is one of the greatest joys of one’s life. It gives you incomparable, indescribable experiences, and can often change you- from the inside and out. Given that it is…

Travel is one of the greatest joys of one’s life. It gives you incomparable, indescribable experiences, and can often change you- from the inside and out. Given that it is not always a pocket-friendly affair, we have compiled a list of tips and tricks to help facilitate budget travel for you. Without much ado, here’s SpiceJet’s guide for travelling on a budget.

  1. The early bird catches the deal:
    This is basically a no-brainer for any traveler worth their salt. Book in advance, about two months in advance ideally. That is the cornerstone to executing a low cost air travel plan, anywhere in the world. To expand it a little further, try to travel on a Tuesday. Being a proper weekday, that is when air fares are likely to be at their lowest.
  2. Achievement unlocked- expert packer:
    Planned Packing- Budget TravelAny passionate traveler will acknowledge that packing is an art in itself, which can dampen or heighten your travel experiences. Knowing exactly what to pack and what not to pack, and how to fit it all in a form that doesn’t break your back or dislocate your shoulder takes a bit of planning and experience. Take into consideration the destination you’re travelling to, the tentative length of your stay, the kind of climate you’re likely to encounter, your itinerary, and any specific tradition or health factors to take into consideration. Pack no more than what you’re absolutely going to use, and try to pack it in as few bags as possible. The legend goes that a well-heeled traveler can go around the world with just a backpack’s worth of luggage.
  3. Don’t be a glutton:
    As it usually happens, food and beverages comprise a major chunk of most casual travelers’ travel expenditure. While it’s only natural, and imperative, to sample some local delicacies. But it’s best that you stay frugal and stick to simple, healthy foods that you cook for yourself, or pick from a supermarket or eat at a small local store. Splurge on the occasional good meal. Your pocket will thank you, so will your tummy, and you’ll be saved the usual guilt pangs you get afterwards.
  4. Ask and you shall receive:
    You’d surprised to know just how many people miss out on great deals and free privileges just because they don’t ask. Go ahead; feel free to ask for that upgrade to business class or an upgrade in the room, or a complimentary meal with the stay. You stand to be turned down at worst; at best, you could end up with something quite lucrative.
  5. Be credit-card wise:
    Use Credit Card Wisely For Budget TravelIn the same vein, ask your travel agent, airline, and credit card Company for membership offers, frequent flier miles, rewards and loyalty programs, etc. You could get to enjoy everything from lounge access to handsome discounts with a simple query. SpiceJet, for example, has its own Loyalty Program called SpiceClub, besides several ongoing offers. Use credit cards smartly, though. Running high credits could spell long-term financial troubles.
  6. Stay wise:
    Be smart about where you choose to stay. You do not have to book the first expensive hotel/resort that you spot. If you’re going solo or with a few friends, consider staying at a hostel or dorm. Alternatively, if you’re travelling with a large group or family, it could actually be cheaper to book an independent house, with all the rooms and a kitchen at your disposal. Or, utilize sites like AirBnB, CouchSuring or HotelTonight to find alarmingly cheap rooms. In any case, keep your eyes and options open, and you’ll save a ton of money.
  7. Read the label, and book flexible travels:
    If your travel plans are confirmed, but your travel dates may change, it is important that you read the cancellation policy just so you’re prepared about the worst-case scenarios. A few airlines have begun offering flexible travel plans at a small extra fee; e.g. you may check and opt for SpiceJet’s MyFlexiPlan. The small premium may end up saving you a ton of money in the case of a delay/cancellation.
  8. Hop on, hop off:

    Use Public Transport While Traveling
    When in Rome, or Antigua, or New Delhi, consider the public transport your best friend. Most cities have a well-connected, pocket-friendly public transportation network. And if you haven’t realized it yet, low cost bus and train travel is one of the most authentic ways to explore a place.
  9. Off-season is the best season:
    Popular travel destinations tend to be exceptionally expensive during the school vacations and the specific peak seasons. So, as a rule of thumb, it is invariably cheaper to not travel during the peak seasons. A good travel hack is to research the general best time to visit for the destination, and then travel before or after that peal period. That is when you’ll get to have the best fun while saving a bunch of money.
  10. The best things come in packages:
    Cheap travel packages are travel industry’s best-kept secret. All it takes is a few Google searches to realize that, barring exceptional cases, it is generally cheaper to book flights and hotels in a package than booking them separately. Fortunately for you, SpiceVacations has already done the heavy lifting for you. Just click through and book the best low cost travel packages online.
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48 HOURS IN MUSCAT

THE CULTURAL HOTSPOT OF THE REGION, MUSCAT IS A POTPOURRI OF TRADITION, HERITAGE AND MODERNITY WOVEN TOGETHER SEAMLESSLY TO GIVE THE VISITOR AN UNPARALLELED EXPERIENCE BY BINDU GOPAL RAO It…

THE CULTURAL HOTSPOT OF THE REGION, MUSCAT IS A POTPOURRI OF TRADITION, HERITAGE AND MODERNITY WOVEN TOGETHER SEAMLESSLY TO GIVE THE VISITOR AN UNPARALLELED EXPERIENCE BY BINDU GOPAL RAO

It was my first visit to Muscat and Oman and I went with an open mind. I suggest you too do so as this city will surprise you with the many things it has to offer – from food and museums to shopping, culture and more.

DAY 1

A mix of heritage, history and shopping – there is so much to see and do in Muscat on your first day here.

7:00 AM
BREAKFAST AT THE SHERATON HOTEL

Start your day on a good note as you tuck into an elaborate breakfast at the Courtyard restaurant at Sheraton in Muscat. Set in the tallest building in Muscat, this breakfast is extensive with local Omani, Indian and Continental choices. An array of fresh fruit and vegetable juices, cut fruits and even soft idlis are served for breakfast. Do try the local delicacies especially the kaboos (a local bread) with ful medames (a curry made with rajma-like beans with vegetables). Wash it all off with a fresh kahwa, an Omani coffee mixed with cardamom powder and you are ready to go.

9:00 AM
VISIT THE GRAND MOSQUE

The Grand Mosque

An ornate and beautiful structure, the Grand Mosque is a fine example of Islamic architecture and is one of the few mosques that allow non-Muslims inside its precincts. There are of course specific timings and a list of rules which includes being fully clothed, covering your hands and legs and women need to also cover their head. The interiors of the mosque are ornate and covered with intricate mosaic work and carved wooden doors, beautiful carpets and large chandeliers. There are separate prayer halls for men and women as well as ablution areas. The mosque covers an area of 4,16,000 square metres and is set amidst well landscaped lawns and gardens.

11:30 AM
VISIT THE AMOUAGE PERFUME FACTORY

The Amouage Factory

Amouage is one of the most highly rated perfumes in Oman and as you enter the factory, you are greeted with a whiff of fragrance that draws you into the world of perfumery. One of the staff members will take you on a quick tour where you are taken through the entire gamut of processes that shows you how the flowers or the raw materials go through various kinds of processing where their essential oils are extracted and distilled and how the perfume is made and finally packed. Interestingly, the men’s perfume bottle caps resemble the traditional khanjar (knife) and the women’s perfume bottle caps resemble the dome of a mosque. A range of unisex perfumes are also available and you can buy perfumes at the in-house store too.

1:00 PM
LUNCH AT THE RESTAURANT AT CHEDI

Chedi Muscat Dining Restaurant

The Restaurant is a fine dining space with ornate chandeliers, curved Omani arches and contemporary seating with live piano music and large bay windows. There are four open show kitchens where Western, Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian food is prepared and paired with award-winning wines. I suggest you try their chilled Mezze selection for starters as it comes with hummus, smoked eggplant, tabouleh and stuffed vine leaves served with an assortment of local breads. Also check the quinoa salad — a delectable mix of roasted vegetables, fresh herbs, Yarra Valley Feta and toasted pumpkin seeds. The Phad Thai Kung made with fried rice noodles, prawns, bean sprouts and dried radish is another dish you must try.

4:00 PM
VISIT THE PALACES

Al Alam Palace

The Al Alam (meaning ‘The Flag’) Palace is the ceremonial palace of Sultan Qaboos. This is one of his six  royal residences and has a history dating back to 200 years. It was built by Imam Sultan bin Ahmed and has a beautiful gold and blue facade. You can see the royal insignia and the khanjar symbol on the gates. The palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens. It is not open to the public but you are allowed to take pictures outside the gate. The other palace that you can see is the Al Bustan Palace now a A Ritz-Carlton hotel that is again in a large green space among the Al Hajar mountains and the Oman Sea. A private beach is part of the property that is currently undergoing renovation.

5:00 PM
PHOTO-OP AT BARR AL JISSAH

This is a beautiful cove which is also where you will see a clutch of luxury private boats parked. Surrounded by tall beige cliffs, you can see the stunning marina with sleek yachts in the pristine blue waters where ancient dhows used to sail in the past. It is a beautiful sight to see the water framed against the Al Hajjar mountains here. The rocky coastline is a photographer’s delight especially around sunset when the water changes to a warm hue. Naturally this place is a favourite with locals and tourists alike.

6:00 PM
VISIT THE CORNICHE AND SHOP AT MUTRAH SOUQ

Muttrah Souq

The waterfront corniche in Muscat is the place to be especially after sundown. If the Sultan is not using them you can even see his personal private yacht parked here. The waterfront has a beautiful path to enjoy a nice walk too. Opposite to the corniche is Mutrah Souq, the oldest shopping market in Muscat with a labyrinth of stores in its little lanes. This is where you can find local souvenirs, clothes, silver jewellery, incense and more. While you are shopping do take a moment to admire the beautiful ceiling of the souq too.

8:30 PM
DINNER AT KARGEEN

End the day with a true Omani meal at Kargeen where they make the best lemon mint drink – an instant refresher. Incidentally kargeen means little wooden cottage in Omani and this place is well laid out amidst greenery with traditional Omani décor that is as enticing as the food itself. The restaurant prides itself in ensuring traditional food is not forgotten. While you are here do try the Zatar Cheese Lebnah bread that is light and fluffy. They also serve a large number of refeshing and fresh salads and my vote goes to the in house special Kargeen’s salad made with lettuce, avocado, tomato, cucumber, greenpepper, mushrooms, red cabbage, celery and pomegranate tossed in a special dressing. For the main course try the delicious Omani specialities like the Omani Shuwa, Mandi Laham, Boram and Biryani Dajaj and do not forget the desserts especially the delectable Umm Ali.

DAY 2

Explore the cultural aspects of Muscat and take a trip down memory lane through its museums while indulging in some retail therapy.

7:00 AM
BREAKFAST AT GRAND MILLENNIUM

Breakfast atGrand Millenium

The Taybat Restaurant here offers a lavish buffet of international delicacies for breakfast that includes a salad bar with lettuce and condiments and dressing for you to create your own customised salad. Assorted cut fruits, bread, cereal, local foods and also a variety of dates will leave you spoilt for choice. And if you want something else, the attentive staff is always around to help. Do try the special coffee and tea here.

8:00 AM
GO DOLPHIN WATCHING

The Gulf of Oman has so many dolphins that it is impossible to believe. If you head in the morning to the DMC (Destination Management Company), you can book a boat for yourself and head to the seas where you will be treated to a great show by the dolphins as you head into the deep seas. In fact you might be concerned that you have not spotted any dolphins close to an hour in the trip but they appear magically jumping in and out of the blue waters and if you are lucky you can spot several hundred of them.

11:00 AM
SHOPPING AT THE MUSCAT GRAND MALL

This mall has a good mix of indigenous and global brands across all categories that make the shopping experience quite a pleasure. Also you can look around for some great deals so that the shopping does not burn a hole in your pocket. With over 150 stores, you have a wide range of top brands to choose from.

12:30 PM
LUNCH AT MUMTAZ MAHAL

If you have been missing Indian food, head to the Indian specialty restaurant Mumtaz Mahal that serves delectable North Indian fare. There is a lunch buffet usually laid out that is pretty extensive with soups, salads, starters, main course and desserts. Non vegetarians will drool over the Garlic Tandoori Fish Tikka and the Gun Powder Tandoori Prawns. Do try the delectable Gulab Jamun and Carrot Halwa to end this filling meal on a sweet note.

3:00 PM
VISIT THE AL ZUBAIR MUSEUM

This is a museum that gives you a good insight into the history, culture, tradition and art of Oman and is all part of a private collection. Colourful goat figurines greet you on the outside. The museum is well laid out and the separate sections over the two levels house various sections. These include The Khanjar, Male Attire, Jewellery, Female Attire, The Household, Swords And Firearms, Stamps, Coins And Medals and The Manuscript Room.

5:00 PM
CATCH A SHOW AT THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE

Located in Shati Al-Qurm district of Muscat, the royal opera house is one of a kind in the Middle East and reflects contemporary Omani architecture. The opera house has a capacity to accommodate upto 1,100 guests and has a concert theatre and auditorium. Set in formal landscaped gardens, the opera house is home to luxury restaurants and an art centre for musical, theatrical and operatic productions.

8:00 PM
DINNER AT AL LOOMIE

A curious mix of Omani fusion food, Al Loomie is quite a winner. There are separate dining rooms named after different cities in Oman and everything here from the table runner to the cutlery is sourced locally. The food itself is delectable with winners like the Signature Shew Salad made with lamb marinated in traditional spices with chef’s Shewa mix, cabbaged and dressed with an a Loomie vinaigrette.

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MY TOWN – SRINAGAR

Our ongoing series in which we look at various Indian cities through the eyes of SpiceJet staffers eyes of SpiceJet staffers. This month, Tabasum Sofi, Security, Airport Services, holds forth…

Our ongoing series in which we look at various Indian cities through the eyes of SpiceJet staffers eyes of SpiceJet staffers. This month, Tabasum Sofi, Security, Airport Services, holds forth on Srinagar

Connection to the city:

My association with Srinagar is very old, having been born and brought up here.

Best thing about Srinagar:

There is a sense of oneness here. Togetherness among family members is still deep-rooted. People of Kashmir are known for their warmth and hospitality. Even tourists are considered as part of the family. Apart from its cool climate, Srinagar is also one of the most scenic places in India, thanks to the tall mountains surrounding the valley and its world famous lakes.

Favourite eating place:

We Kashmiris are famous for our traditional cuisine (the multi-course wazwan; Tabak Maaz, prepared from lamb ribs; and harissa, a wintry, mutton dish). Shamyana restaurant is my favourite eating place. It is a foodie’s delight, located next to the picturesque Dal Lake on the stunning Boulevard Road which makes it all the more beautiful. Nobody serves the renowned wazwan like them. Their Wazwan Thali is one-of-a kind, with multiple varieties of non-veg served in the traditional way.

Local attractions:

Srinagar has rightly been called paradise on earth – it has the largest number of tourist attractions compared to any other place. The world famous Dal Lake is in the heart of the city and is known as Srinagar’s Jewel. Nigeen Lake, Nishat Garden and Shalimar Bagh are also worth visiting. Srinagar’s  beauty cannot be described in words; one needs to visit the place to experience the magic in the air. There are a number of places worth visiting like Pari Mahal, Hari Parbat, Sri Pratap Singh Museum and the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden, among others.

Recommended places nearby:

I would suggest Pahalgam, just 86 km away, for its stunning scenery, fresh water streams, river rafting and para gliding. Dachigam Wildlife Sanctuary, 22 km away, is the home of the Hangul, or Kashmir Stag. Himalayan Black Bear, Leopard, Common Palm Civet, Jackal and Red Fox can also be spotted here.

Srinagar when compared to other cities:

I have stayed in other places like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. But Srinagar is different from all the other places as far as climate is concerned. You won’t find Srinagar’s lovely climate at any other place in India – that is the best part about my city.

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A KALEIDOSCOPE OF JOYS

THE SOUTHERN STATE OF KARNATAKA HAS MANY SURPRISES UP ITS SLEEVE AND THE BEST WAY TO DISCOVER THIS IS BY ACTUALLY VISITING THE DIFFERENT PARTS TO EXPERIENCE THE MYRIAD CULTURES,…

THE SOUTHERN STATE OF KARNATAKA HAS MANY SURPRISES UP ITS SLEEVE AND THE BEST WAY TO DISCOVER THIS IS BY ACTUALLY VISITING THE DIFFERENT PARTS TO EXPERIENCE THE MYRIAD CULTURES, FOOD, SIGHTS AND MORE. BY BINDU GOPAL RAO

The diverse elements of the state that was formed on November 1, 1956, incidentally celebrated as Rajyotsava Day has a royal connect too. Well, this was always the State of Mysore that was renamed as Karnataka in 1973. The state itself has a motely mix of ancient temples, beautiful mountains, scenic beaches and amazing wildlife. In fact this is why the Tourism department has aptly branded the state – ‘One State Many Worlds’. A pioneer in ecotourism, the state has the second most number of nationally protected monuments in the country, second only to Uttar Pradesh. In fact the state is also emerging as a medical tourism hotspot courtesy its alternative therapy centers as well as holistic health units. Well, most recently Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal checked into a naturopathy center in the State to treat his chronic cough. Likewise Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla Parker- Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall has been here several times for holistic healing sessions! This apart the state is home to several important cities like Mysore, Mangalore, Hassan, Coorg, Bijapur and Shimoga, apart from the capital Bengaluru.

RING IN THE FESTIVITIES

The stunning elephant parade during Mysore Dussehra

Think festivals and you instinctively think of Deepavali and Dasara. While these are also celebrated with much pomp and gusto in Karnataka, there are also several unique festivals like the Karaga – said to be one of the oldest festivals (dating back to many centuries) of the state celebrated to honour Goddess Shakti. Held annually at the Dharmarayaswamy temple in Bengaluru in March/April, the nine day festivities derives its name from an earthen pot in which the Goddess is invoked and a grand procession is held in her honour. There is a fire-walking ritual on the last day which sees frenzied activity where the participants are immersed in devotion. Interestingly the person who carries the Karaga has to undergo rigorous rituals including being confined to the temple with a diet of milk and fruits as the pot he carries is a symbol of the Goddesses’ power. In fact his wife becomes a `widow’ and hands over her mangalsutra and bangles to him and he wears the same in the procession. The Karaga bearer is surrounded by many turbaned, bare-chested dhoti- clad Veerakumaras with uncovered swords which is significant as in the event that the Karaga trips and falls, they are supposed stab him. However, till date this is has never happened. The couple remarry post the festival and the Karaga is immersed in the salt water pond from which it was brought originally.

Revellers brave the rain during Mysore Dussehra

This apart, the Hampi Festival is another annual affair that celebrates the birthday of famous poet Purandaradasa. The festival has dance, music, puppet show and fireworks as part of the festivities. Likewise the Pattadakal Dance Festival that takes place in January every year is an ode to different forms of dance and also has a crafts mela that showcases the traditional arts and crafts of the state. Ugadi is the New Year of Kannadigas and the nine day Dasara festival is celebrated with a display of dolls at home, a tradition unique to the state. If you are in Bengaluru in November, you can also witness the Kadalekai Parishe or the annual groundnut fair near Dodda Ganesha temple, near the Bull Temple at Basavanagudi.

The controversial Kambala is an annual festival celebrated in the South Canara district of Karnataka that involves a traditional buffalo race. Likewise, Naga Panchami, Ganesh Chaturthi and Makara Shankranti are celebrated with great gaiety.

GASTRONOMY CALLING

The popular bise bile bhath

Karnataka’s cuisine reflects a beautiful story of the state. If you are looking for traditional food, you can have a typical breakfast of idlis served with mildly spiced coconut chutney, chitranna or lemon rice, puliogare or tamarind rice and khara pongal. Of course the famed bisi bele bhath is a one pot meal made with lentils, rice, vegetables and freshly ground spices and is an absolute must-try when you are here. The best part is that this is a great example of a balanced diet rich in proteins and carbohydrates.

A bowl of kosambri

A typical meal includes Kosambri, a salad made with cucumber, sprouts, and grated coconut and seasoned with mustard and green chilies; Palya, a vegetable preparation made with parboiled vegetables, grated coconut, green chilies and mild spices; and Gojju, vegetables cooked in a spiced tamarind curry. The meal will also have Tovve, a mildly seasoned dal curry; Saaru, a rasam; Huli, a thick broth of lentils and vegetables cooked with ground coconut, spices, tamarind and special spice powder. Another rice dish, vangibath, a spiced rice with eggplant, ragi mudde or steamed ragi dumplings served with soppina saaru (a light rasam made with fresh greens) are also well known dishes.

Likewise when you head to the South Canara district you get to experience a mix of authentic vegetarian Udupi food as well as coastal delights like those made with white meats including local fish, crab, prawn, and squid preparations marinated with coconut, ginger, turmeric and local spices. Bhatkal for instance is home to Laun Miriya Mhaure, a fish preparation cooked in a red chilli masala while Ankola is known for Kotte Roti, an idli-like preparation that soaks up the curry. And while in Mangalore do try the Neer Dosa, a crepe made with rice batter and Kori Roti, crisp wafers made of dry rice and fish and prawn chutneys and pickles. And if you are in Coorg, the Pandi curry or the pork dish is the most famous alongside other pork based delicacies that will entice your palate. And to wash it all down what better than the best fresh filter coffee made with beans from Chikamangalur or Sakleshpur as well as masala majjige, buttermilk with ginger, green chili paste, and coriander.

WATER MATTERS 

Jog Falls, one of the highest plunge falls in India

Karnataka is home to many waterfalls and if you visit them in the right season (post monsoons) it is a great experience to see natural water gushing down in its full glory. The Abbey Falls in Coorg, located about 10 km from Madikeri in the Western Ghats in the midst of thick coffee bushes and tall trees entwined with pepper vines, can be accessed via a short walk on the hanging bridge that takes you very close to them. Likewise the small but magnificent Achakanya Falls is a fascinating sight in the monsoons. Surrounded by lush greenery all around, this waterfall is hidden being located within the dense forest range of Western Ghats and a trek will take you to them.

The Alekan or Alekhan falls located around 18 km from Charmadi Ghats in Chikamagalur can also be reached via a tough trek along a 90 foot drop. The Apsarakonda Falls in Honnavar taluk of Uttara Kannada descends from a height of about 50 feet to a natural pond formed below and you can witness some magnificent sunsets as well thanks to the endless stretch of the Arabian Sea. For a simpler experience head to the Balmuri Falls, a famous picnic spot about 18 km away from Mysore, on the way to the Krishna Raja Sagar Dam. The waterfall is smaller compared to most falls. Barachukki and Gaganachukki are two waterfalls situated near Shivanasamudra in Mandya district created by the Cauvery that runs down a 75 metre gorge before it divides into two branches that flows around the island of Shivanasamudra. They are very easy to access.

Among other falls in Karnataka the noteworthy ones include Barkana Falls, Shimoga; Benne Hole Falls and Burude Falls (both in Karwar), Chunchanakatte Falls, Mysore; Chunchi Falls, Mekedatu; Dabbe Falls and Hidlumane Falls (both in Shimoga), Dondole Falls, Ujre; Godachinamalki Falls and Gokak Falls (both in Belgaum), Hebbe Falls, Kallathi Falls and Honnamma Falls (all in Kemmanagundi) and Iruppu Falls, Coorg. Of course the most well known falls are the Jog Falls about, 8 km north-west of Sagar town. This is where the Sharavati river flowing over a rocky bed about 227 metres wide leaps from the chains of the ghats. The water has four distinct falls, presenting a sense of transcendent grandeur and sublimity and are rightly named as Raja, Roarer, Rocket and Rani.

EXPLORE YOUR WILD SIDE

Wild elephants in the Bandipur National Park

If you love wildlife, Karnataka has an enviable set of national parks and sanctuaries that are home to several species of animals and birds. The state has a rich diversity of flora and fauna. It has a recorded forest area of 38,720 sq km which constitutes 20.19 per cent of the total geographical area of the state. This is where 25 per cent of the elephant population and 20 per cent of the tiger population of India reside. The Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks, part of the Nilgiri biosphere and Kabini, are great places to sight these animals. You can also spot other animals like leopard, wild dog, sloth bear, hyena, spotted deer, sambar, barking deer, four-horned antelope, gaur and wild boars. At Kabini, you also have the option to take a boat safari where you can see the marsh crocodile, monitor lizard and a variety of water birds. The common langur, bonnet macaque, jungle cat, slender loris, leopard cat, civet cat, mongoose, common otter, giant flying squirrel, giant squirrel, porcupine, jackal, mouse-deer, hare and pangolin are also found in these parks. You will need to book a safari at the offices of these parks in advance and typically there is an early morning and later afternoon safari that is conducted. The Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary is situated on the banks of the River Kali at Dandeli in North Karnataka and also happens to be the second largest sanctuary in the state. This is a natural habitat for tigers, leopards, black panthers, elephants, gaur, deer, antelopes, crocodiles and a variety of snakes, apart from avian species like the golden-backed woodpecker, crested serpent eagle, white breasted kingfisher, grey hornbill, great pied hornbill and Malabar pied hornbill. The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area and a tiger reserve, situated amidst Western Ghats in Chikmagalur and Shimoga, is rich in wildlife with diverse range of flora and fauna. The Anshi National Park in North Karnataka has semi-evergreen and evergreen forests and a rich bio diversity as well. If you are in Bengaluru, stop by at the Bannerghatta National Park that is a combination of a zoo and national park and has safaris that take you through a tiger zone, bear zone, leopard zone and more. The Kudremukh National Park in Dakshina Kannada is home to the Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, dhole, golden jackal, lion-tailed macaque, sloth bear, gaur, sambar, spotted deer, barking deer and more.

HERE IS AN ENVIABLE SET OF NATIONAL PARKS AND SANCTUARIES THAT ARE HOME TO SEVERAL SPECIES OF ANIMALS AND BIRDS. THE STATE OF KARNATAKA IN SOUTH INDIA HAS A RICH DIVERSITY OF FLORA AND FAUNA

LUXURY JOURNEYS

The Golden Chariot allows you to explore Karnataka in style

If you have a week and want to explore Karnataka in style, hop on to the Karnataka special luxury train the Golden Chariot that will transport you to the lap of luxury taking you on the only luxury train in South India. Named after the iconic stone chariot of Hampi the train is done up in majestic hues of purple and gold and has 18 coaches, 11 of which are reserved for guests. Named after the various dynasties that once ruled Karnataka, each coach has four rooms equipped with a TV and an attached bathroom. Apart from Wi-fi, the train has a gym, spa, business centre and control room so it is like a hotel on wheels!

RUNNING BETWEEN OCTOBER AND MARCH EACH YEAR, THE GOLDEN CHARIOT TRAIN OFFERS TWO ITINERARIES, THE SOUTHERN SPLENDOUR AND THE PRIDE OF SOUTH. NAMED AFTER THE VARIOUS DYNASTIES THAT ONCE RULED KARNATAKA, EACH COACH HAS FOUR ROOMS EQUIPPED WITH A TV AND AN ATTACHED BATHROOM.

The Golden Chariot has been named after the iconic stone chariot of Hampi

Running between October and March each year, the train offers two itineraries, the Southern Splendour and the Pride of South. The Pride of Karnataka offers you a sneak peek into the diverse sites of the state including heritage, history, architecture and wildlife. This includes stops at the heritage city of Mysore, a wildlife experience at Kabini, a visit to the historical sights of Tipu Sultan’s summer palace and tomb in Srirangapatna and Hassan where you can see the unique 57- foot monolithic statue of Bahubali in Shravanbelagola as well as the sculptural marvels of the Halebid and Belur temples. You also visit the UNESCO world heritage sites Hampi and Pattadakkal as well as the caves of Badami as part of the week long itinerary. The food is another highlight and the mix of local and international cuisine on board will whet your appetite.

TOURISM INITIATIVES

The Mysore Palace is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Karnataka

Tourism minister Priyank Kharge and his team ensures that there is something new all the time, The Tourism Department of Karnataka has recently launched Prathama (Pravasi Thana Mahiti) an online management information system that will collect, collate and disseminate information relevant to tourists. The website hosts the list of tourist destinations, hotels, resorts and home stays, facilities for tourists and more. In fact the government also dedicates each year to a specific aspect of tourism and 2017 has been declared as “The year of the wild”. The tourism department will also be opening 12 eco trails in the Western Ghats and reduce the movement of unauthorized trekkers here. Likewise the famed annual Dasara festivities at Mysore are offered as a package that includes accommodation, meals, sightseeing and events at the Palace.

In fact the Golden Chariot has a special run at this time too. The tourism department has also curated royal walks to enable tourists to explore the heritage-rich city of Mysuru. It is creditable the the department is instrumental in promoting destinations in a unique way through events and festivals that showcase the potential of the destination and this is what makes Karnataka a place like no other.

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THE ROAD TO MANDAWA

A SMALL TOWN IN THE SHEKHAWATI REGION OF RAJASTHAN, MANDAWA IS FAMOUS FOR ITS OLD BUT STILL ATTRACTIVE HAVELIS WITH THEIR COLOURFUL FRESCOES. BY GITIKA SAKSENA I find myself on…

A SMALL TOWN IN THE SHEKHAWATI REGION OF RAJASTHAN, MANDAWA IS FAMOUS FOR ITS OLD BUT STILL ATTRACTIVE HAVELIS WITH THEIR COLOURFUL FRESCOES. BY GITIKA SAKSENA

I find myself on the road to Mandawa. The last stretch of the six-hour-long drive from Delhi is spectacular; a smooth velvety road cuts across an arid grassland. Twisted skeletons of dry Acacia trees add character to the landscape. We enter the busy chaotic main road in town. Among the nondescript bylanes, the glorious past plays peek-a-boo. Colourful frescoes on the walls, ornate wooden doors, deep wells marked by pillars — the town invites travellers to its famous havelis and beckons them to peel through the dusty layers of time.

RADHIKA HAVELI

Radhika Haveli

This haveli has been completely restored and is now a hotel. Getting off the car, I am greeted by walls of lime and mud, embellished with beautiful traditional paintings. The main entrance is crowned by two stone elephants paying obeisance to an idol of the Sun God. Thick colourful borders demarcate rectangular panels with paintings of floral motifs, elephants, men and women in traditional attire, et al. As I walk past the boundary wall on the right, I discover ever more interesting designs including a British man riding a Penny Farthing-esque cycle (a type of bicycle with a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel). A flight of steps leads us to the inner courtyard of the double- storeyed haveli. The art inside is stunning, with contiguous stretches of panels running across the four walls. Mural artists, locally known as ‘chiteras’, were commissioned by the Marwaris to paint the facades, the columns and walls in the courtyards, even the inner chambers of the havelis. Natural colours mixed with cow urine were used to enhance the life of the frescoes. Initially influenced by the Mughal or Persian schools, the designs later drew inspiration from the Jaipur school of art after the decline of the Mughal empire.

JHUNJHUNWALA HAVELI

Mandawa attracts a lot of French tourists with a keen interest in art and architecture. As I walk down a bylane, a gaggle of kids follow, imploring me in impeccable French to choose a guide among them. ‘A golden painted room’ – a sign outside a haveli piques my interest and I step inside the courtyard of the Jhunjhunwala haveli. A small contribution made to the resident family, and I have a ticket to step inside the room. With all the windows shut, I widen my eyes to adjust to the low light. A gold leaf painting of Lord Krishna and his gopis on the ceiling is the show stopper here.

CASTLE MANDAWA

CASTLE MANDAWA

The Mandawa fort was built by Thakur Nawal Singh. Now called Castle Mandawa, a section has been converted into a hotel. The story of Mandawa starts in 1755, when Thakur Nawal Singh decided to fortify his trading outpost . A Rajput royal, he ruled over Nawalgarh and Mandawa towns in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. Caravans on the Silk Route were passing through Mandawa, and it was necessary to assert control. Trade prospered and soon, the Marwari merchants and moneylenders from neighbouring regions in Rajasthan set base here. They built beautiful havelis to mark their growing affluence.

THE NAWALGARH TWINS
Do visit the neighbouring town of Nawalgarh, 28 km away from Mandawa, and explore the well-preserved Poddar and Morarka havelis. They have retained their old glory. The frescoes here can be broadly classified into three styles: decorative (including floral designs, flowers, leaves, birds, horses, etc), portraits (of gods, kings, soldiers and public figures like Jawaharlal Nehru and Swami Vivekananda) and descriptive (with scenes borrowed from mythology and anecdotes – an army of soldiers and elephants, a couple in a hot air balloon, a lady listening to a gramophone, et al). The incredible aspect about these frescoes capturing scenes from Europe is the fact that the artists had never been to these places. They imagined them, based on the anecdotes shared by the Marwari merchants who had travelled abroad.

THE CHOKHANI DOUBLE HAVELI

My next stop is an interesting haveli, one which is however, not in the best of shape. Built for two brothers, it has two identical wings, and thus named as the Double Haveli. The havelis of Mandawa were built to suit the needs of the business and household. They were walled on all four sides, with the open courtyards bringing in light and ventilation. The rooms had thick wooden ridged doors, with imported Belgian glass fitted in semi-circular cavities at the top. The outer courtyard was meant for visiting traders, where the value of the deals were negotiated. The inner courtyards of the havelis were meant for family members.

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MONSOON TREKS AROUND PUNE

COME MONSOONS AND THE LAKES AROUND PUNE FILL UP, THE CITY LOOKS CLEAN AND FRESH AND THE HILLS ARE DRENCHED IN GREEN. THE CITY THAT WAS ONCE KNOWN AS A…

COME MONSOONS AND THE LAKES AROUND PUNE FILL UP, THE CITY LOOKS CLEAN AND FRESH AND THE HILLS ARE DRENCHED IN GREEN. THE CITY THAT WAS ONCE KNOWN AS A RETIRED MAN’S PARADISE, SEES MANY ENTHUSIASTIC TREKKERS SCALING THE SEVERAL FORTS THAT SIT PERCHED ON HILL TOPS ALL AROUND. BY PRANJALI BHONDE

Maharashtra has a rich history of rulers and invaders that saw a lot of forts being build for fortification during the era of Shivaji and the Mughals. And thanks to the presence of Western Ghats, Pune is the focal point for many a trek that are located at over an hour’s drive from the city. So brave the rain and undertake these mesmerizing treks that give you a chance to witness nature at her most beautiful.

KALSUBAI PEAK

Early morning view from Kalsubai

Drive time from Pune: 4 hr 43 min (175 km)

Drive up to: Bari village

Kalsubai is the highest peak in Maharashtra (1646 m) and is popularly called the Everest of Maharashtra. The trek starts at Bari village, 15 km from Bhandardhara and winds its way up through lush green valleys and waterfalls. The trek is a mix of easy-toascend slopes as well as treacherous rocky areas overlooking the valley. The trek winds through paddy fields and a wildlife sanctuary that spreads from Kalsubai to Harishchandragad. The final part of the trek is a moderately steep climb made easy by iron ladders built along the slope. The other route via Indore is provided with stone steps along with iron chains. The highest point, Kalsubai peak (5400 m) is reached after a walk through clouds and rocky terrain. Your reward — gorgeous views of the adjoining forts and a chance to walk in the clouds. This truncated peak holds the Kalsubai temple that has a traditional prayer service every Tuesday and Thursday. Navratri is marked with a fair organized each year at the summit with many stalls being set up near the summit to provide pooja materials to the devotees.

KALAVANTIN DURG

Kalavantin Durg

Drive time from Pune: 5 hr (276 km)

Drive up to: Thakurwadi

Located 276 km from Mumbai, brace up for this amazing one day trek to Kalavantin Durg situated between Matheran and Panvel. This trek starts from the base village at Thakurwadi and presents a brilliant introduction to the flora and fauna of the Sahyadris, taking you through some amazingly stark mountain scenery. The Kalavantin Durg trek is divided into two phases — first an uphill terrain till Prabalmachi from where the trek forks into two — Kalavantin Durg and Prabalgad. The fort is adjacent to Prabalgad Fort between Matheran and Panvel and can be reached by deviating through Shedung from the Mumbai-Pune Express Highway. The trek is fairly tough and is recommended only for experienced trekkers. The Kalavantin trek follows a steep upward climb through rock cut steps that wind their way up to the fort. The trail passes through lush green thickets and narrow valleys only to end in a panoramic view at a height of 2,300ft. The ‘Durg’ was initially used as a watch tower. The view from the Durg is mesmerizing, an undeterred view of the adjoining landscape and spectacular views of the Sayadris. The trek also presents an opportunity of sampling the local village food at Prabalgad wadi and capturing snippets of village life and farm.

LOHAGAD FORT

Lohgad Fort

Drive time from Pune: 1 hr 40 min (63 km)

Drive up to: Lohagad village near Lonavala

Located 63 km from Pune close to Lonavala, Lohagad stands for “Iron Fort” in Marathi. It is a choice location for trekkers this season for its fairly easy climb. Shivaji Maharaj captured Lohagad in the 17th century, but he was forced to surrender it to the Mughals by the Treaty of Purandar. He recaptured the fort soon after and used it for keeping his treasures. The fort has witnessed several dynasties during its history — Satavahanas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Yadavas, Bahamanis, Nizamshahis, Mughals and Marathas. Although there are two ways to the Fort, the best is via Bhaja caves that include 22 rock cut caves that date back to the 2nd century BC. The trek up is relatively easy with wild flowers and lush green dotting your path. It’s a climb of 450 odd steps to the fort (1033 m), that is shrouded in clouds and mist during the monsoons. Enjoy an amphitheater view of the Indrayani- Pavna basin and the Sahyadris. There are four doors to the Fort — the Ganesh Darwaja, the Narayan Darwaza, Hanuman Darwaza and the Maha Darwaja. The Maha Darwaja is an architectural wonder with fortified strong walls. Trekkers can choose to hike up to the neighbouring Visapur fort which is connected by a small range.

SINHAGAD

Drive time from Pune: 1 hr 18 min (38 km)

Drive up to: Sinhagad village or Atekar Vasti though there is a motorable road that takes you to the top of the fort.

If you are looking for a trek where you can pack in adventure and fun, this one’s just for you. Located at an hour’s drive from Pune, Sinhagad is a favourite trekking destination for most Punekars. Many trekkers can be seen making their way to the top on any given Sunday, taking in the expansive views of the hills shrouded in green. The fort was earlier known as ‘Kondana’ but after the battle between the Mughals and the Marathas in 1671, it came to be called Sinhagad . There are two ways to trek up to the fort — either from Atekar Vasti or you can drive right upto the forts parking lot. The climb to the top is fairly easy and takes two hours approximately. But as you make your way to the fort, you will be met with two ‘darwazas’- the Kalyan Darwaza and ‘Pune drawaza’. Do not miss out on the ‘Kade-lot’ – the cliff where prisoners were thrown off, ‘Hawa point’ – where the wind will literally blow you off your feet and also the famous cliff edge that was scaled by Tanaji Malusare with his monitor lizard. And while you take in the beauteous views of the Khadakwasla Dam, relax and feast on the crisp ‘kanda bhajis’ and ‘zunka bhakars’ , that have almost become synonymous with the fort.

HARISHCHANDRAGAD

Drive time from Pune: 4 hr 36 min (172 km)

Drive up to: Khireshwar

Harishchandragad Fort located in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra dates back to the 6th century Kalachuri dynasty while the caves around the fort were carved in 11th century. The fort is steeped in history and there are references to it in various Puranas. In the monsoons, the surrounding hills are drenched in green, the withering landscape is revitalised and the lakes fill up. The trek is daunting if you are a novice and is a steep climb upwards from the base village at Khireshwar. You can choose to visit the Nageshwar temple near Khireshwar that has beautiful carvings and houses a 1.5 m long sculpture of Lord Vishnu in the sleeping posture. The trek meanders through ponds, caves and peaks and presents an introduction to some notable places of interest like the Saptatirtha Pushkarni, Kedareshwar Cave and Konkan Kada. As you trek upwards, the route winds through Kedareshwar Cave which houses the Shiva Linga that is completely surrounded by water and is picturesque. The Konkan ‘Kada’ (resembling snake’s hood), inclined at almost 80 degrees, looks down upon Konkan region. If you are lucky, you may spot a circular rainbow from the cliff during the monsoons.

 

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HOLIDAYS UNDER A CANVAS

STUNNING OUTDOOR LOCATIONS, A DEEP CONNECT WITH NATURE, A LIFE AWAY FROM THE ONSLAUGHT OF 24/7 TECHNOLOGY AND A SENSORY EXPERIENCE WHICH ENGAGES THE MIND, BODY AND THE ADVENTUROUS SOUL……

STUNNING OUTDOOR LOCATIONS, A DEEP CONNECT WITH NATURE, A LIFE AWAY FROM THE ONSLAUGHT OF 24/7 TECHNOLOGY AND A SENSORY EXPERIENCE WHICH ENGAGES THE MIND, BODY AND THE ADVENTUROUS SOUL… WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE ABOUT GLAMPING? BY NEETA LAL

Glamping – a portmanteau coined from `glamorous’ and `camping’ – is the latest buzzword in vacationing. The concept fuses luxury with nature in the most seamless way possible. The eco-friendly activity puts people in touch with nature without destroying it or building on it. An immersive experience that allows one to not just go to the destination, but also become part of it.

Glamping experiences can be unique and enchanting in all terrains – deserts, valleys, mountains, even on treetops. Accommodation options too can run a gamut from farmhouses, cabins, eco lodges, huts, tents and villas to tree houses. The holiday is perfect for those seeking al fresco experiences without getting their feet wet at a traditional camp site.

Glamping also allows you to dive into a welter of activities (some quite literally) including hiking, biking, rafting, swimming, animal interactions, scenic walks and wine tasting. With several upmarket hotels joining the glamping bandwagon, the traditional holiday under the canvas has also got a five-star twist.

To tempt your travel binge, here are a few interesting glamping destinations across India.

THE ULTIMATE TRAVELLING CAMP (TUTC), KOHIMA, NAGALAND

How about living in billowy luxury tents on the outskirts of Nagaland’s capital city Kohima with the craggy Japfu Range as the backdrop? This is the campsite of TUTC, the pioneers of tented luxury in India. Though the company also operates popular glamping sites in Ladakh (Thiksey and Nubra Valley), its Kohima offering has won rave reviews.

The capacious tents come outfitted with en-suite bathrooms, a private sit-out deck, four-poster beds, leather chairs and even a tiny study. There is also a living room with books and free Wifi. You can enjoy gourmet meals and the services of a private butler who will wake you up with bed tea and cookies.

Nagaland – known as the Switzerland of the East – is tucked away between Tibet and Myanmar. The Kohima camp coincides with The Hornbill Festival (November 29 to December 12), the largest celebration of the indigenous tribes of Nagaland when all of them come together to showcase the richness and diversity of their distinctive cultures. Guests can embark on a tribal exploration experience in the lap of luxury. Each day brings forth the tribes’ vibrant performances, crafts, sports like archery and wrestling, food fairs, games and religious ceremonies.

TUTC guests can also partake of local Naga cuisine, quaff the local rice beer called zutho and shop for beautiful bamboo baskets, beaded and bone jewellery and handwoven tribal shawls. The intrepid can participate in fun events like chilli eating contests or climb a greased bamboo pole. As the day winds down, you can return to the warmth of your sybaritic camp. Excursions can also be organized to the Kohima War Cemetery, the Khonoma village and the local Naga markets. If you are seeking a bigger adrenaline rush, try trekking up to the Japfu peak. Standing tall at 3,048 metres, Japfu is Nagaland’s second highest peak with breathtaking views across swathes of the Dzukou Valley.

BANJAAR TOLA LODGE, KANHA NATIONAL PARK, MADHYA PRADESH

Sprawling over a 90-acre private concession and overlooking the core zone of Kanha National Park, Banjaar Tola lodge hotel, a part of Taj Safaris, boasts two elegant camps of nine suites each, as well as a lavish tented guest area. Built in a chic, glamorous camping style, each tented suite features glass doors leading out onto a floating verandah overlooking a tranquil river. All tents have baths/ showers and a small library and interpretive space. Apart from a swimming pool, the lodges have dining decks with dramatic views of a waterbody. Naturalists fill you in on the region’s rich biodiversity, its exotic flora and fauna, especially barasinghas which are unique to Kanha. Experience the thrill of spotting tigers, great gaurs and the star birds of Kanha.

Adventurous souls can opt for elephant-back safaris. Open 4×4 jungle safaris are organised twice a day. Visit the nearby Pachdhaar village and experience local pottery-making. Bush dinners can be organized in the sal forest upon request. Pool deck dining, in-room or private deck dinners are the other options .

AMAN-I-KHAS, RANTHAMBORE NATIONAL PARK, RAJASTHAN

Perched on the edge of prime tigerspotting territory in the Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, Aman-i-Khas showcases the opulent history of the Maharajas’ hunting parties with 10 luxe tents, butler service and the exciting chance to spot a Bengal tiger in its natural habitat.

With soaring six-metre-high canopies, elegant interiors, sunken marble bathtubs and custom-made teak furniture, the tents are seriously luxe. Creamy cotton curtains divide the spacious rooms and a private entrance area where tea is served every morning. All guests have their own ‘batman’ or private butler to take care of their every need. At the heart of the camp, the fireplace can also be the setting for informal meals or simply a place to bask in the serenity of nature and a starspangled sky.

Open-top jeep safaris transport one to the heart of Ranthambore National Park, home to over 50 tigers, crocodilefilled lakes, leopards, jungle cats, sloth bears, wild boar, sambar and more. Immerse yourself in local culture, history and legend by visiting local sights. Climb to the top of the 1000-year-old Ranthambore Fort, one of the oldest and most majestic fortifications in India. The fort still houses the remains of barracks used by defending garrisons, and there’s even a small armoury complete with swords, rifles and gunpowder.

The mighty Banas River flows near the campsite. Fringed by water grass and lilies, it is an excellent feeding ground for wading birds and waterfowl and is a bird lover’s paradise. Strolling along the banks of the river with a naturalist or enjoying a riverside camel ride is highly recommended. Get a picnic lunch packed for yourself. Brush up on your flora and fauna with a guided walk through the low hills, or bring out your binoculars on a trip to Surwal Lake where indigenous and migratory birds fill the skies. The lake side along Aman-i-Khas comes alive during evenings with chefs rustling up local authentic delicacies cooked on wood fire from the kitchens of farmers, shepherds, hunters and royals

DERA AMER, KUKAS, RAJASTHAN

Tucked away near the Pink City of Jaipur in Rajasthan, lies a unique glamping experience at Dera Amer, Kukas. Involving `luxury camping with elephants’, it is indeed one of the world’s most amazing glamping sites in the finest traditions of the bush. Situated behind the hills of the famous Amer Fort, it offers outdoor recreational and adventure activities. The elegant tent suites are located at the foothills of the Aravali Range surrounded by the wilderness of a reserved forest with just a few hamlets housing the local villagers, their fields bordering a pretty lake.

Dera Amer is an organisation run by a local Rajput family who have converted their 160-acre land into a wilderness camp, surrounded by the Nahargarh National Park. The forests are home to the leopard, caracal, jungle cat, jackal, fox and birds like the Siberian Ruby Throat, Paradise Flycatchers and Marshal’s Iora. The family’s love for nature, wildlife and animals, has led them to resist real estate developments in the region and instead protect the wilderness and their adopted animals. The Rajput family once brought some elephants out for a picnic to a particularly picturesque spot on the family estate. The grand experiment never ended; today the quietly elegant ‘Dera Amer’ has become synonymous with the great pachyderm.

From Living with the Elephants – True Glamping, Elephant Rides to Elephant Trails to Elephant Safaris, Elephant Bathing to Drinking Champagne-On-Elephant Back and Jeep Safari to Horse Safari and Camel Safari, the camp provides the most spectacular setting for vacationers to get to know; and indeed, to learn, from the gentle beast. Spend quality time with one of the adopted elephants, feed them, scrub them and camp with them in the bush jungles of Amer.

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