Monday, December 6, 2010

Places to visit in India

It is a country of diverse topographical features, from the legendary Himalayas to the deserts of Rajasthan, the backwaters of Kerala, and the architectural splendours of Taj Mahal and Meenakshi temple.

For a traveller looking to quick travel options, these are two of my favorite must  India visit places for a foreign tourist.

A former Portuguese settlement, Goa has the correct blend of old world Portuguese charms blended with the Indian coastal life. Situated on the West coast of India, Goa offers the ultimate beach experience. The lists of beaches are endless. One must visit the famous yet secluded Dona Paula beach, which draws its name from an old love story, It is where the two rivers of Goa meet the Arabian Sea. Chapora beach on the northern headland is a luxurious retreat in the shadow of an old Portuguese fort, the Chapora fort. Baga beach offers terrific night life as well, with a wide range of eating options and reasonably priced stays in the fishing village alongside the river. Anjuna beach, fringed by swaying coconut palms would be the choice of the yuppie generation, more so for the full moon parties.

Goa is well known for its colourful festivals. You get to see an amalgam of various cultures and religions, in the Hindu festivals of Ganesh Chaturthi , Shigmoutsav and Diwali, as well as the local Feast of Three Kings and San Joao festivals. Christmas time in Goa is packed choc-a-bloc with visitors from all over the world come to experience its exciting and vibrant ambience.

Of course, Goa is synonymous with its famous historic Goa Carnival, a week long festival of parades, song and dance, that has been a major tourist draw for long. The five-day long food festival is an excellent venue to dip into the Goan cuisine.

Goa is well known for its sea-food cuisine too. For those who cannot make it to the food festival, the many stalls and restaurants flanking the beaches offer excellent eating choices. The perfect way to wind down the evenings, are taking the river cruise down to the Sea, to the tune of local song and dance with the backdrop of a beautiful sunset.

The city of lakes, Udaipur, has a great deal to offer. On the historical and architectural front, the palaces, havelis and forts are a must see for every tourist. Udaipur offers plenty of experience to the tourist, with its many temples and museums.

For the outdoor lovers, the four lakes of Udaipur set amidst the deserts of Rajasthan may seem almost a miracle. There are various excursions on offer, to Haldighati, a historical battle site, Chittorgarh which has the famous Chittor fort, the beautifully sculptured Jain temples of Ranakpur and Kumbhagrah fort which has a wildlife sanctuary too.

The Gangaur and Teej festivals and the Mewar festival are unique colourful festive encounters that no traveller is likely to forget. The Shilpagram fair at the craftsmen village is a must visit to take away mementos of this vibrant beautiful place in India.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Top 10 Christmas Destinations

The most popular destinations for Christmas is above all warm countries, but also snow-covered slopes are also included. The Christmas holiday is very much in vogue among the Germans.

The destinations for Christmas may be more geographically diverse. The Germans spend their Christmas holidays especially in hot countries. Especially when the temperatures colder and the days are shorter.

But there are also winter sports fans who are drawn to the mountains and the snow-covered slopes. Whether the sun and Beach or snow and ice: The free time before and after Christmas is the most popular time to visit.

In the following section, we introduce you to some destinations to Christmas before. The selection takes into account both sun lovers and winter sports fans.
Destinations for Christmas: This is how it is!

1 Dominican Republic
Christmas trips to the Dominican Republic are very popular. For the tourists expect white Beaches, Crystal-clear waters and an average temperature of 25 ° C. So you can still get through the holiday season quite well. If you book your Christmas holiday time, you get an all inclusive package.

2 Sri Lanka
If your Holidays spend Christmas in Sri Lanka, expect temperatures around 30 degrees. The fine sandy beach, crystal clear waters and palm trees can bear a summer feeling. Those who book early, a week, Sri Lanka gets discount.

3 Thailand
One of the most popular destinations for Christmas is Thailand. Many want to open their presents under the blue sky, sandy beach and at 30 ° C. Only the clear sea, offers a pleasant cooling. As the tour operator for the trend to spend the Christmas holiday in Thailand, have noticed the price for a week all inclusive vacation a little benefit.

4 Egypt
Even in the land of the pyramids you can spend a nice warm holiday for Christmas. You can sunbathe on the beach, bathe in the sea, ride on camels or explore the land of the Pharaohs.

5 Fuerteventura
With average temperatures of 20 ° C in December, Fuerteventura for Christmas is very pleasant. You can make long walks on the beach or explore the country. For the island of Fuerteventura is one of the places with the most beautiful beaches.

6 Turkey
The Christmas weather in Turkey is in contrast to other destinations rather cold. Because the average temperature is below 20 ° C and in the evening can sometimes slip into the single digits. However, it attracts many tourists in the Turkish Riviera.

7 Spain
Even a Christmas trip to Spain is rather cool, but still warmer than the cold Germany. The average temperature in December at 15 ° C. During the night, slipping the mercury in the single digits. But the tourists will be rewarded with a blue sky and a beautiful setting.

8 Germany
As a winter sports fan to pull a ski magically. And why not spend the winter holidays at home. For South and Central Germany are going on it beautiful resorts and drive optimal conditions for sledding, skiing and snowboarding.

9 Austria
For winter holidays, you can spend on the Austrian slopes. The province of Salzburg, Carinthia, Styria and Tyrol offer the best conditions for a nice winter vacation.

10 Switzerland
The ski slopes in the Switzerland in the Bernese Oberland, Grisons, Valais and Central Switzerland can be an every winter sports heart beat faster. The weather conditions in December are ideal for a ski or snowboard vacation.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Mauritius Vacation Excitement

If day and night excitement is your definition of a pleasant trip, vacations Mauritius is the perfect place for you! You will find that Mauritius is a Holidays paradise buyer, one nightclubber's Dream, with not one moment of time, worn. This is one of the most exciting ways to get to know this lovely location endless hours of enjoyment that would seem almost custom-tailored just for you.
Mauritius has something to satisfy the tastes of each client's. Not only will you find beautiful, original products for themselves, but sure to select many others to buy as gifts. You can have a souvenir that will be perfect to display and lasting reminder of your vacation packages as well as items that are practical for use. Will be happily surprised to find a wide range of clothing, all at reasonable prices.
From beach-style clothes, assorted shirts and sweaters, there is much better clothes, all with a distinctive style of this island. Imagine the delight of friends and family when you bring home as a wonderful gift to all of them and the prices are so reasonable, you can easily do just that!Duty-free factor will also make a purchase fine jewelry joy for every buyer. You'll be amazed at the lowest cost of all these exceptional items, including diamond jewelry and watches. You will be able to deal with something extra-special, and select gifts for everyone on your list.
To add to the special day in your home, you will love the art you will find during your Mauritius vacation. You sure you want several pieces of that original works of art, in terms of prices, no need to limit choices.Mauritius is truly a buyer's Haven, but a pleasure trip will be more than twice when participating in its exciting nightlife. However long you plan to stay in this lovely place, will decide that it is not long enough, almost since you started to smell of all that is fun to offer!
What are your preferences in the night activities? Your Mauritius tours spot is full of opportunities! You'll find plenty of casinos where you can try your luck at roulette, black jack and other fun-filled games, and choose between the complex and tempting cuisine daily for many fine restaurants. You can also extend your nights in different clubs and nightclubs. Every minute will be filled to the brim with excitement!
If there is a lot of time, money keep active and not allowing time to break with nothing to do, Mauritius travel will more than exceed your expectations. Your days and nights will be packed with fun, from the days of browsing and buying in many stores to actively participate in the nightlife on the island. If fun is the word you want to be associated with your holiday, Mauritius is a destination for you!

Blue Safari Adventure in Mauritius
If you've never tried Blue Safari, you're in for a treat of your life! This is one of the most extraordinary activities that awaits you on your vacation Mauritius. This is an experience that you just have to try and once you have, this is something I will never forget!
The highlight of the Blue Safari submarine is Big Blue. Launched in 1998, the submarine will take you and other passengers deep into the depths of the Indian Ocean, where you will be able to see closely monitoring through large windows, all the fascinating sea creatures of the ocean. While taking in the extraordinary sights of underwater life, you can also be treated with good food on board the submarine. It is unlikely that you will ever experience something like your trip down the Indian Ocean, one of Big Blue submarines?
Blue Safari also offers another option, it would not be surprising if you decide you want to try both! With fully trained and qualified guide diver, you can have the chance to head its own individual subscooter three meters below the Indian Ocean. Not only will you be able to see all forms of life that we will see in this amazing adventure subscooter opportunity to head into the ocean will be exhilirating experiences in themselves! Both places subscooter will give you a feeling that you never had before, it's really once-in-a-lifetime adventure!
Although Blue Safari has only been in business for less than ten years, thousands of people already enjoy the thrill and experience of submarine subscooter. Although not suitable for very young children or people who have serious medical conditions, this is an experience that almost everyone else will delight in.
When you choose Blue Safari experience, trained professionals will brief you in advance for what you can expect during their underwater adventure. Once you have the least information you need, you will feel like an expert and will be well prepared to take the ocean! Whether you choose a submarine or subscooter, or decide to enjoy and experience, you will immediately see what is exciting, fun-filled time you have when you're in deep water.
Whatever you decide to do during the holidays Mauritius, plan to fit Blue Safari adventure in their tour itinerary. Although Mauritius has so many wonderful activities to offer, this is one that simply can not afford to miss! With very reasonable prices, you can have this experience, either individually or as a family, and Blue Safari offers special packages, so there is something for the individual tastes of each user and needs. When planning your holiday Mauritius, be sure to rely on including one or more stops in the Blue Safari and will be glad you did!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Islands of Pirates

Caribbean Sea, 50 miles east of Puerto Rico. The small twin-engine has just been lying on the dusty track of Tortilla, the island of turtles. From the scenery was nothing short of spectacular: some sixty green islands, islets and reefs. The first sensation I felt on the ground is just off the warm embrace of the wind light. We look around. Across the street, to greet us, there is a tiny airport. After the formalities for entry rented a car and just outside we see to have arrived in holidays paradise. The road that runs along the sea of endless beaches seem to follow ... Stroke from time to time by the wind gently sways the palms look like elegant ladies and sinuous.

The British Virgin Islands have preserved intact for centuries throughout their shocking beauty still boast the most beautiful beaches and desert of the world, a sea warm and crystal clear with a thick barrier reef that encloses an extraordinary variety of fish and the remains of beautiful Spanish galleons lie on the bottom with great chests that are the delight of divers. For the less experienced enough to have a mask, suddenly, the sensation of swimming in an aquarium filled with coral and colorful fish. For the more fortunate can also happen to hear the calls of whales that number reaches these seas as early as can spot from a boat, and in these cases it is good to switch off the engines, or from the sky, with Fly BVI departing from Beef Island. They allow you to attend for just 150 yards to one unforgettable sight: the girls take refuge in the coves where they give birth to children with whom then swim together, boys, off, competing for mating. Some whales sighted reach 15 meters and are able to do seem very small boats that cross many of those seas.The BVI, so the habitue chiamano the British Virgin Islands, however, are primarily a vacation packages paradise for sailors around the world. Dotted with dozens of marine resorts and deserted bays, the coasts of the BVI are all a perfect harbor for the boats sailing on the sea are carried away by the constant trade winds blowing. For those who can not afford the luxury of a boat for himself, there are many rental companies that offer places for mini cruise boat to measure. The most beautiful anchorages are located in Sopers Hole Road and Harbor: the first is deep and sheltered and offers daily connections by boat to St. Thomas and St. John, the other is the largest port of the island and you can breathe atmosphere a little 'retro thanks to the many colonial buildings that skirt and the swarm of people who work in the shipyards.

Leaving the sea from where to explore Tortola. The island has 15 thousand inhabitants, its old city is Road Town, the administrative capital of the BVI. The city looks cheerful dozens of pastel houses alternate with stalls of fruit and colorful coral beaches: from Long Bay to Smuggler's Cove up to Apple Bay, the surfer's beach. Nearby is the Bombas Shack Bar sgangheratissimo a bar decorated with things picking up here and there. The owner, a former surfer, is rivers of beer and rum to the patrons, an accomplice to the Caribbean music and the roar of the surf. The local rum is now a rarity. The only distillery on the island is the old remains Call wood Distillery in Cane Garden Bay, producer of the famous Arundel. It was owned by a buccaneer, Richard Call wood, great grandfather of the owner and still the rum is produced following the old recipes handed down from generation to generation by the Afro-Caribbean population: the sugar cane is cut and pressed, the juice collected in large boilers and boiled, and after a series of steps the rum is finally ready for the aging of four years in old oak casks.

On the island, near Mount Sage, you can also go trekking. The area also contains an ancient rainforest. Along the paths, some practices, even on horseback, meet rare species of colorful birds, frangipani trees, agave plants and ginger. From Road Town, in the direction of MacNamara, take an old mule track that leads to the ruins of Fort Charlotte, an old fort built during the years when the pirates infested those seas. Strategically located on Sir Francis Drake Passage, the place is a great lookout point for the whole island. To the south, however, the gaze is lost in the vast expanses of plantations of sugar cane, bananas and pineapple.

From Tortola reach in half an hour, with a ferry boat, Virgin Gorda. Columbus named the island "Fat Virgin" because of its slender shape the sides and round the center, is long and 16 km wide just three.It has excellent docks: from North Sound, a veritable oasis for those who practice water sports in Anguilla Point famous for the spa overlooking the sea where you can enjoy huge lobsters and oysters just caught up to Calquhon Reef suitable for boats that exceed five feet of draft. Near Spanish Town, the marina, is The Baths, a beach characterized by huge granite rocks as high as ten meters that form caves and coves of exceptional beauty, unspoiled natural pools and lagoons. Just go up a bit 'inwards to enjoy a wilderness: twisted mangrove roots provide an excellent refuge for pelicans, herons and iguanas whose presence is marked by characteristic signs that read "Caution Iguana Crossing".

But you can not leave without first having BVI Anegada. The best way to achieve it to travel by sea. This can be seen just, its highest point so far only eight meters and is for this reason that Columbus called it "Anegada", or submerged. The tiny coral atoll is also accessible by small planes from Beef Island or Tortola, in just 15 minutes. From above, what you see is only a thin strip of white sand lost in a turquoise sea. Its reef over the centuries has caused the sinking of numerous sailing ships and for this motivoera formerly inhabited by the buccaneers who used it as a basis for spotting ships in distress and pillage. The island is now home to just 150 souls who live by cultivating the land and fishing.

Simple people, the courteous and quiet, dallandatura almost dancing. Their days are punctuated by the rise and the sunset. There are few tourists, no fun at night but only untouched nature and silence. At sunset, near Flamingo Pond, will be showcased dozens of pink flamingos, undisturbed, fishing in the lagoon small fish. Continuing along the road, you come across a small wooden resort run by a lovely lady who has left the English to England to settle on the island. Lives alone with a kid named Charlie and leisure that is written in the local newspaper. Facilities include exotic breakfast on the beach and dinners of lobster and crab that she fisheries. He has a gentle manner, but the view is a bit 'sad, like someone who has fled from God knows what. Even Steven, a former U.S. Navy Seals, a kind of Rambo, lives on organizing tours for tourists from sharks in search of strong emotions. He left behind a life certainly not common. With him, lives his brother, a fire-eater who suddenly shows on the beach.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Malta Cities Guide

A Guide to the Three Cities of Malta
Malta is a southern European country which is located centrally in the Mediterranean Sea just to the south of Italy. It is a small country which is only 300 square kilometers in size although its location made it strategically important in history and it has been a prized possession over the years. A number of the powerful nations in European history have ruled the country including the Greeks, Romans, French and British although it gained its independence in 1964 and is now a Republic. Another of the powers that ruled the country was known as the Knights of St. John which was a religious/military order that prospered in the Middle Ages. They were responsible for many of the fortifications constructed on Malta, the most famous of which is the three cities of Malta. The three cities comprise Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea and these are surrounded by a line of fortifications which is known as the Cottonera Line. Some information about the cities includes the following.

Cospicua is the largest of the three cities and is centrally located between the other two. All three are in the area surrounding the Great Harbor of Malta which is a natural harbor that has been in use for thousands of years. The history of Cospicua as a maritime location dates back to Phoenician times around 600BC and the area of the city has been in use since this time. However the development of the city itself did not really take off until the 18th century when the Knights of St. John constructed a dockyard. This has been extensively used into the modern day although its use as a working dockyard has declined in recent years and plans are now in place to transform it into a tourist attraction and commercial centre. The patron of the city is the Virgin Mary and there is a church dedicated to her in the city.Other tour packages attractions to see include the fortifications surrounding the city, St Helen’s Gate and Bir Mula Heritage which is a museum documenting much of the history of the city. The city also stages a famous feast on the 8th of December each year which is held to commemorate the Immaculate Conception.

Vittoriosa is a small, ancient city on the south side of the Great Harbor of Malta. It also goes by the name of Birgu and its locality is perfect for safe anchorage which made the area of the city well used from the earliest of times. Many of the powers that have ruled Malta contributed to the development of Vittoriosa. However the city really came to prominence when the Knights of St. John were the rulers of the country as they made it their base and also the capital city of the country. The carried out much work on Fort St. Angelo which lies at the head of the city and also the other fortifications which surround the city. Vittoriosa played a vital part of the defense of the country during the 1565 Siege of Malta when the Ottoman Empire attacked. The city was never captured and its defenses held out to help the Knights of St. John gain a decisive victory. However not long after this the Grand Master of the Knights began construction of a new city which was to be known as Valetta and in 1571 this became the new capital of Malta. Vittoriosa lost much of its influence following this. Today the city is home to around 3,000 residents and is a popular vacation package destination in Malta. There are many attractions to see and some of these include Fort St. Angelo, the Malta Maritime Museum, the Vittoriosa 1565 Museum and St Lawrence’s Church. The many holidays attractions make it an interesting city visit and its beautiful location adds to the appeal.

Senglea is the third of the three cities and this was constructed by Claude De La Sengle from whom it gets its name. It also played a pivotal part in the 1565 Siege of Malta and as it resisted the attempts of the invading Ottoman Empire it was given the name Civitas Invicta meaning undefeated citizens. The area of the city was originally used as hunting grounds by the Knights of St. John although was eventually developed by Claude De La Sengle into the city it is today. It currently has a population of around 3,500 people although this is greatly reduced from earlier times. It suffered much damage during the Second World War as it was bombarded by German aircraft and much of the population left at this time never to return. The city has a few famous travel attractions apart from the fortifications which surround it. The statue of Jesus Christ the Redeemer is the most well known of these and this is located in the Basilica which is a beautiful building to see. Other tour attractions include the Gardjola Garden and the local band club which plays at the festivals staged in the city.

The three cities of Malta are an interesting place to visit and see some of the history of the country. The fortifications which surround them are an impressive sight and a trip to see the three cities is sure to be an enjoyable and fascinating experience.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Eco tourism in India

Eco-tourism is more than a catch phrase for nature loving travel and recreation. Eco-tourism is consecrated for preserving and sustaining the diversity of the world's natural and cultural environments. It accommodates and entertains visitors in a way that is minimally intrusive or destructive to the environment and sustains & supports the native cultures in the locations it is operating in. Responsibility of both travelers and service providers is the genuine meaning for Eco-tourism.
Eco-tourism also endeavours to encourage and support the diversity of local economies for which the India tourism related income is important. With support from tourists, local services and producers can compete with larger, foreign companies and local families can support themselves. Besides all these, the revenue produced from tourism helps and encourages governments to fund conservation projects and training programs.
Saving the environment around you and preserving the natural luxuries and forest life, that's what eco-tourism is all about. Whether it's about a nature camp or organizing trekking trips towards the unspoilt and inaccessible regions, one should always keep in mind not to create any mishap or disturbance in the life cycle of nature.
Eco-tourism focuses on local cultures, wilderness adventures, volunteering, personal growth and learning new ways to live on our vulnerable planet. It is typically defined as travel to vacation package destinations where the flora, fauna, and cultural heritage are the primary attractions. Responsible Eco-tourism includes programs that minimize the adverse effects of traditional tourism on the natural environment, and enhance the cultural integrity of local people. Therefore, in addition to evaluating environmental and cultural factors, initiatives by hospitality providers to promote recycling, energy efficiency, water reuse, and the creation of economic opportunities for local communities are an integral part of Eco-tourism.
Historical, biological and cultural conservation, preservation, sustainable development etc. are some of the fields closely related to Eco-Tourism. Many professionals have been involved in formulating and developing eco-tourism policies. They come from the fields of Geographic Information Systems, Wildlife Management, Wildlife Photography, Marine Biology and Oceanography, National and State Park Management, Environmental Sciences, Women in Development, Historians and Archaeologists, etc.
Eco-tourism is considered the fastest growing market in the tourism industry, according to the World Tourism Organization with an annual growth rate of 5% worldwide and representing 6% of the world gross domestic product, 11.4% of all consumer spending - not a market to be taken lightly.

What is Eco-tourism?

Fundamentally, eco-tourism means making as little environmental impact as possible and helping to sustain the indigenous populace, thereby encouraging the preservation of wildlife and habitats when visiting a place. This is responsible form of India tours and tourism development, which encourages going back to natural products in every aspect of life. It is also the key to sustainable ecological development.
The International Eco-tourism Society defines eco-tourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." This means that those who implement and participate in Eco-tourism activities should follow the following principles:
Minimize impact

Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
Provide direct financial benefits for conservation
Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate
Support international human rights and labour agreements
Aware of the Environment - Today the "Green Laws" of conservation are making people aware of how man and the environment can live symbiotically for more time to come and eco-tourism is the only way to maximize the economic, environmental and social benefits of tourism. Everyone is a stakeholder in the process and we clearly need to avoid our past shortcomings and negative impact that they have had.

In India too the movement is gathering momentum with more and more travel and travel related organisation's are addressing the needs of the eco-tourists and promoting tour itineraries through eco-tourism in the country. Some basic do's and don'ts of eco-tourism are listed below:
Carry back all non-degradable litter such as empty bottles, tins, plastic bags etc. These must not
litter the environment or be buried. They must be disposed in municipal dustbins only.
Observe the sanctity of holy sites, temples and local cultures.
Cut noise pollution. Do not blare aloud radios, tape recorders or other electronic entertainment
equipment in nature resorts, sanctuaries and wildlife parks.
In case temporary toilets are set-up near campsites, after defecation, cover with mud or sand. Make
sure that the spot is at least 30 meters away from the water source.
Respect people's privacy while taking photographs. Ask for prior permission before taking a

Do not take away flora and fauna in the forms of cuttings, seeds or roots. It is illegal, especially in
the Himalayas. The environment is really delicate in this region and the bio-diversity of the region
has to be protected at all costs.

Do not use pollutants such as detergent, in streams or springs while washing and bathing.
Do not use wood as fuel to cook food at the campsite.
Do not leave cigarettes butts or make open fires in the forests.
Do not consume aerated drinks, alcohol, drugs or any other intoxicant and throw bottles in the wild.
Do not tempt the locals, especially children by offering them foodstuff or sweets. Respect local
Polythene and plastics are non biodegradable and unhealthy for the environment and must not be
used and littered.
As a traveller, you will have an impact on the environment and culture of the place you are visiting. Here are some rules of thumb to make this impact positive!

Golden Rules When You Travel
Learn about your destination before you get there. Read guidebooks, travel articles, histories,
and/or novels by local authors and pay particular attention to customs such as greetings,
appropriate dress, eating behaviours, etc. Being sensitive to these customs will increase local
acceptance of you as a tourist and enrich your trip.

Follow established guidelines. Ask your eco-tour operator, guide and/or the local authorities what
their guidelines are for limiting tourism's impact on the environment and local culture. Staying on
trails, packing up your trash, and remaining set distances away from wildlife are a few ways to
minimize your impact in sensitive areas.

Seek out and support locally owned businesses. Support local businesses during your eco-travels to
ensure maximum community and conservation benefit from your spending.
Eco-Tourism in India is still at a very nascent stage, but there are for sure conscious efforts to save the fragile Himalayan Eco System and culture and heritage of the indigenous people, which is probably the largest concentration in the world.
Holiday Camping vis a vis Hotels accommodation are gathering momentum amongst the metropolis traveller. A plethora of holiday camping options are available in the Himalayan belt, where soft adventure tourism is packaged with holiday camping to create an acceptable eco-tourism product. Resorts tucked deep inside jungles of Karnataka, House-boats of Kerala, Tree Houses at Vythiri combine to make India one of the most diverse eco-tourism destinations on the planet.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Jammu kashmir Ladakh

Set like a jewelled crown on the map of India, Kashmir is a multi-faceted diamond, changing its hues with the seasons - always extravagantly beautiful. Two major Himalayan ranges, the Great Himalayan Range and the Pir Panchal, surround the landscape from the north and south respectively. They are the source of great rivers, which flow down into the valleys, forested with orchards and decorated by lily-laden lakes.The Mughals aptly called Kashmir ‘Paradise on Earth’ where they journeyed across the hot plains of India, to the valley’s cool environs in summer. Here they laid, with great love and care, Srinagar’s many formal, waterfront gardens, now collectively known as the Mughal Gardens. Anecdotes of four and five centuries ago describe their love for these gardens, and the rivalries that centred around their ownership. They also patronized the development of art & craft among the people of Kashmir, leaving behind a heritage of exquisite artisanship among thes people and making the handicrafts of the land prized gifts all over the world.Kashmir is a land where myriad holiday ideas are realised. In winter, when snow carpets the mountains, there is skiing, tobogganing, sledge-riding, etc. along the gentle slopes. In spring and summer, the honey-dewed orchards, rippling lakes and blue skies beckon every soul to sample the many delights the mountains and valleys have to offer. Golfing at 2,700 m above the sea, water-skiing in the lakes and angling for prized rainbow trout, or simply drifting down the willow fringed alleys of lakes in shikaras and living in gorgeous houseboats are some of the most favoured ones.

Where To Stay In Paradise - Houseboats
Many tourists who book tour packages are attracted to Srinagar by the charm of staying on a houseboat, which provides the unique experience of living on the water in a cedar-panelled elegant bedroom, with all the conveniences of a luxury hotel. Srinagar's thousand or so houseboats are moored along sections of the Dal and Nagin Lakes and river Jhelum, each decorated fancifully and named romantically and even whimsically. Like hotels, houseboats vary in degree of luxury and have been accordingly graded by the Department of Tourism. A luxury houseboat, like a luxury hotel has fine furniture, good carpets and modern bathroom fittings, while the ‘D category’ (the lowest category) of houseboats, like low-budget hotels, is spartanly furnished. Like hotels too, houseboats vary widely in their locations. Some overlook the main road, others look out onto lotus gardens and yet others face tiny local markets and villages, all right in the middle of the lake! All houseboats, regardless of category, have highly personalized service. Not only is there always a "houseboy" for every boat, but the owner and his family are never far away. The cost per day of hiring a houseboat includes all meals and free rides from the houseboat to the nearest jetty and back, as no houseboat on the lakes is directly accessible from the banks.

How To Reach Paradise
Indian, Jet Airways, Kingfihser Airlines, Jet Lite, Deccan, Spice Jet, Go Airl operate regular daily flights to Srinagar from Delhi, Mumbai and Jammu. They leave from Delhi directly, from Delhi via Jammu, and from Bombay via New Delhi and Jammu.
Ladakh - Land Of Endless Discoveries
Ladakh is a land abounding in awesome physical features, set in an enormous and spectacular environment. Bounded by two of the world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Karakoram in the north and the Great Himalaya in the south, it is traversed by two other parallel chains, the Ladakh Range and the Zanskar Range.For nearly 900 years, from the middle of the 10th century, Ladakh was an independent kingdom, its ruling dynasties descending from the kings of old Tibet. The kingdom attained its greatest geographical extent and glory in the early 17th century under the famous king Singge Namgyal, whose domain extended across Spiti and western Tibet right up to the Mayum-la, beyond the sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.
Gradually, perhaps partly due to the fact that it was politically stable, Ladakh became recognized as the best trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia. For centuries it was traversed by caravans carrying textiles, spices, raw silk, carpets, dyestuffs, narcotics, etc. Heedless of the land’s rugged terrain and apparent remoteness, merchants entrusted their goods to relays of pony transporters who took about two months to carry them from Amritsar to the Central Asian towns of Yarkand and Khotan. On this long route, Leh was the midway stop, and developed into a bustling entrepot, its bazars thronged with merchants from distant countries.

The famous pashmina (better known as cashmere) also came down from the high-altitude plateau of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet, through Leh, to Srinagar, where skilled artisans transformed it into shawls known the world over for their softness and warmth. Ironically, it was this lucrative trade that finally spelt the doom of the independent kingdom. It attracted the covetous attention of Gulab Singh, the ruler of Jammu in the early 19th century, who sent his general Zorawar Singh to invade Ladakh in 1834 AD. There followed a decade of war and turmoil, which ended with the emergence of the British as the paramount power in north India. Ladakh, together with the neighbouring province of Baltistan, was incorporated into the newly created state of Jammu & Kashmir. Just over a century later, this union was disturbed by the partition of India, as a result of which Baltistan became part of Pakistan, while Ladakh remained in India as part of the State of Jammu & Kashmir.

Where To Stay In Ladakh
Leh offers many kinds of accommodation to suit almost every one to stay for vacations. Most of the hotels are family-run establishments and, therefore, service is more personalized than professional. Hotels are classified into A, B,C and D/economy categories while guest houses are divided into upper, medium and economy class. Tariff for A category hotels generally include all meals, offering a choice or combination of Continental, Chinese and Indian cuisine, with one or two local fares thrown in for variety.The guest house is a less formal accommodation, offering rooms in a part of the residential house or its annexe, where the guests can share the host family’s kitchen and living room for meals. Apart from the reasonably low tariff offered for accommodation ranging from very good to merely basic, the guest house system also provides an opportunity for the tourists to see and experience Ladakhi life from the inside.

How To Reach Ladakh
Indian, Jet Airways, Deccan operate regular daily flights to Leh from Delhi, Weekly flights do operate from Srinagar to Leh.
Jammu - The City of Temples
Jammu region is home to several ethnic communities which follow traditional life-styles with distinctive cultures of their own. Among these communities, the Dogras constitute the dominant group. They are mainly concentrated in the outer hill and outer plain zones covering Kathua, Udhampur and Jammu districts and the lower parts of Rajouri district. A martial community by tradition, their folklore centres on eulogies for war heroes, both legendary and historical. Even the region’s architectural heritage, comprising elaborate castles and hilltop fortifications that are visible everywhere, bespeak the community' s long-drawn preoccupation with battles and ruling of distant lands. Yet the region’s history is not completely bereft of traditions of art and culture. Thus, while the troops fought battles in distant areas, the royalty and the nobility nurtured art and culture. The Pahari miniature paintings that have justly become famous throughout India, are the finest examples of their artistic achievements.
Nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas, with the river Tawi flowing alongside, is the place that Raja Jambu Lochan discovered one day while he was on a hunting trip. Legend has it that he came upon a clearing where he saw a sight that left him wonderstruck. A tiger and a goat stood side-by-side, drinking water from the same place in the Tawi River. He was so struck by this unusual sight that he decided to build a city on this land where no living creature seemed to bear enmity towards each other. Little is known of Jammu’s subsequent history until, in 1730 AD, it came under the rule of the Dogra king, Raja Dhruv Deva. The Dogra rulers moved their capital to the present site and Jammu became an important centre of art and culture, especially the Pahari school of paintings.
Today, as if in testimony to Raja Jambu Lochan’s vision, the city of Jammu has come to be known as the ‘City Of Temples’. Innumerable temples and shrines, with glittering ‘shikhars’ soaring into the sky, dot the city’s skyline, creating the ambience of a holy and peaceful city

Where To Stay Jammu - The City Of Temples
Jammu City offers a variety of accommodation options for the visitors, ranging from luxury hotels to humble lodges.
How To Reach Jammu - The City Of Templess
Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Kingfisher, Deccan, Jet Lite, Spic Jet, Go Air operates scheduled services between Jammu & Delhi and Jammu & Srinagar/Leh. Rail Jammu Tawi is an important railhead of the Northern India. The main trains operating to/ from Jammu are:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Poonch Valley Travel Guide

Poonch district has a distinct historical background, rich cultural heritage and charming natural vacation spots. This track is located exactly on the foot hills of Pir Panchal range, therefore there is a series of mountain ranges, snow covered lofty peaks, thick belts of fir and cheer forests on the slopes, a number of beautiful valleys, gushing streams, lush green pastures with multi colored flowers, milky water falls and crystal clear lakes. This natural atmosphere and unique type of life style of Poonch district can easily attract Indian and foreign tourists if the government takes up these tourists spots under tourism development programme.
A number of forts, sarais and ruins of historical values are available in this area. The caravans of Mughal emperors were traveling towards Kashmir in the beginning of 17th century AD through Mughal road which passes through Poonch district. There are various memorable places and monuments on this road including renowned Noor Chamb milky water fall. With the construction of 84 kilometers Mughal road from Bufliaz to Shoopian, the Mughal monuments and scenic spots along side the road shall come in the lime light and past glory of Mughal road shall be restored. The attractive Dhera Ki Gali, Bufliaz, Behram Gala, Noor Chamb, Dugran, Poshiana, Ratta Chamb and Chandimarh are expected to be the charming tourist resorts along side the Mughal road in Poonch district. Proper publicity of these hill stations at National level can certainly prove this area as the destination of tourists.
Some important shrines with deep religious backgrounds are also existing in Poonch district. These shrines includes Swami Budha Amarnath, Lohar Devta, Nangali Sahib, Asthan Chote Shah Sahib, Ram Kund, Asthan Sain Miran Sahib, Asthan Sain Ellahi Bakash and Asthan Sain Faqar Din. Thousands of devotees from outside the districts are visiting these places with great devotion, but the accommodational facilities are not sufficient on these sites. These places can also be exploited for religious tourism purposes.
Apart from the above, a number of foot routes, passes and peaks in Pir Panchal range are important from trekkers, climbers and hikers point of view. There is a renowned Girjan Dhok, Panjtari Marg, Pir Merg, Chooti Merg, Valley of Seven Lakes like Nandan Sar, Chandar Sar, Bhag Sar, Sukh Sar, Neel Sar etc Peaks like Tatta Kutti (15560 ft), Ganga Choti (10013 ft), Rattan Pir Choti (8500ft) and passes like Panchal Pass (11400 ft), Chooti Gali Pass (13500 ft) and Noor Pur Pass (13486 ft) and trekking routes like Sawajian-Chor Panchal-Gulmarg, Loran-Noor Pur-Tang Marg, Chandimarh, Peer Gali-Shopian. But due to lack of infrastructural facilities and accommodational problems at base camps and non availability of effective publicity, these areas remain out of site for outsiders. There is the need of development of takeoff points and bridle paths leading towards the valley of seven lakes and huts and fast food centers at Girgan, Panjtari and Tatta Kutti Marg. The details of some places of tourists interest located in Poonch area is given here.
Noor Chambh:- This beautiful water fall is located on the north east of Behram Gala village. Mughal Emperor Jahangir visited this place 13 times when he was on the way to Kashmir or Lahore. He was such a lover of this water fall that he named this place as Noor Chamb after the name of his beloved wife Noor Jahan. Later on the name changed from Noor Chamb to Noori Chamb. In the past the water of Hussan Thumb stream was falling from 90 meters elevated mound and the whole stream was converting itself into milky vapours. At present the fall has gone inside the mound after cutting the rock. Even then the milky vapours of this beautiful water fall scatter around the area which gives pleasure to visitor. There is the need of fast food centre, public convenience and a viewing deck for visitors. A chair lift from main road to Noor Chamb mound will also attract tourists.
Behram Gala:- It is 45 kms on the east of Poonch city and connected with motorable road. This place is surrounded by mountains and forests and situated on the foot hills of Peer Panchal pass on Mughal road. Power and water supply are available at the site. The climate is very pleasant and cool. There are two important shrines (one of Hindus and other of Muslims) located in the village. The village is just 500 meters away from the famous water fall Noor Chamb. This spot is also important from trekker's point of view because the main bridal path leads towards the valley of Girgan and the valley of seven lakes starts from this very place. There is a need of conversion of Behram Gala into a tourist resort by constructing tourist huts and trekkers sarais.
Surankote:- Surankote is the most beautiful valley on the south-western side of Panchal range. It situated in between snow bounded peaks. This place resembles with Pehalgam. Power, water supply, road communication are available at site. The climate is very cool and pleasant. The maximum temperature goes to 32 degree C. This place can easily be converted into a tourist resort.
Gagrian Sawjian:- This considerable village is lying at the extreme of Mandi valley of north-western side at the foot of Chor Panchal Pass. This place is 43 kms away from Poonch. The village is surrounded by forest belt of devdar and fir trees. Road communication, power and water supply is available at site. This part can be developed as a base camp for trekkers/climbers because from this very place bridal path leads towards Chor Panchal Pass and then to Khilanmarg, Gulmarg, and Tangmarg. There is a need of tourist huts at Gali Maidan and Rangwar.
Budha Amar Nath/Rajpura Mandi:- Budha Amarnath temple is situated about 25 kms north-east of Poonch on the left bank of Pulsta stream. The village lies on the foot of a step hill. This place has great religious importance due to the temple of Swami Budha Amarnath. It is said that this temple is older than Swami Amarnath of Kashmir. Legend goes that Lord Shiva had visited this place. There is a natural Shivlinga of white stone inside the temple. Thousands of pilgrims with great devotion come to this place from different parts of the country. The main religious function is held on the occasion of Rakasha Bandhan festival. A tourist bunglow and a sarai is existing at the site. There is a need of more such buglows in the periphery of Swami Budha Amarnath because this place is also a scenic resort and this place can also be converted into the nature lovers tourist resort.
Ziarat Sain Miran Sahib:- This is a Ziarat of great Saint Sain Miran Sahib who died recently. This shrine is situated in Guntrian village which is 10 kms away from Poonch city on northern side. This Ziarat is very important from religious point of view because hundreds of devotees come to this Ziarat every day. There is a need of tourist bunglow near Ziarat Sain Miran Sahib.
Nangali Sahib:- Nangali Sahib Gurudwara is situated on the left bank of Drungli Nallah, which is four kilometers away from Poonch city. This Gurudwara was established by Sant Bhai Mela Singh Ji. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had paid a visit to this shrine in 1819AD, when he was on his way to conquer Kashmir. This place is of great religious importance. Thousands of pilgrims of all religions throughout the country travel to this place every year. A tourist banglow is existing at site but there is a need of more accommodation for the convenience of pilgrims.
Ramkund:- Ramkund is 68 kilometers away from Poonch city. This ancient temple is situated in the village Narol which is 11 kilometers on the south of Mendhar town. As per Raj Tringani, this temple was constructed by Raja Lalita Ditya. This old monument is having great religious importance. Legend goes that it was constructed for the first time by Lord Rama when he was on his way to Kashmir. Later on it was renovated by Raja Lalita Ditya. It is proposed that a tourist hut be constructed near Ramkund temple for the convenience of pilgrims.
Ziarat Chotay Shah:- This Ziarat is 58 kilometers from Poonch and is situated in the village Sakhi Maidan which is at four kms. distance from Mendhar town. Hundreds of pilgrims come to this place every day. It is proposed that at least two tourist bunglows and a tourist sarai may be constructed near the Ziarat for the convenience of the pilgrims.
Ziarat Hazrat Sayed Pir Habib Shah Pamrote:- Ziarat Hazrat Sayed Pir Habib Shah Pamrote is one of the famous religious shrine of Poonch district. The Ziarat is located about 12 kilometer in the north of Surankote town across nallah Suran in the village Pamrote which falls on the slopes of Ranjati range of mountains. Thousands of pilgrims from Poonch, Rajouri, Kashmir and POK visit this shrine every year. There is the need of upgradation of motorable road upto Ziarat Sharief. At least three tourist huts and a tourist sarai is urgently need at this religious shrine for the convenience of the pilgrims.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Madhya Pradesh Tourism Travel Guide

Several cities in Madhya Pradesh are extraordinary for their architecture and or scenic beauty. Three sites in Madhya Pradesh have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO: the Khajuraho Group of Monuments (1986) including Devi Jagadambi temple, Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi (1989) and the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka (2003). Other architecturally significant or scenic sites include Ajaigarh, Amarkantak, Asirgarh, Bandhavgarh,Bawangaja, Bhopal, Chanderi, Chitrakuta, Dhar, Gwalior, Indore, Maheshwar, Mandleshwar, Mandu, Omkareshwar, Orchha, Pachmarhi, Shivpuri,Sonagiri and Ujjain. MP being very large geographically, and the history being spread over several millennia, a developing a comprehensive picture of heritage and architecture is a monumental task.
Surrounded by the northern fringe of the Vindhyan ranges, Bhimbetka lies 46 km South of Bhopal. In this rocky terrain of dense forest and craggy cliffs, over 600 rock shelters belonging to the Neolithic age were recently discovered. Here, in vivid panoramic detail, paintings in over 500 caves depict the life of the pre-historic cave-dwellers making the Bhimbetka group an archaeological treasure, an invaluable chronicle in the history of man.
Did you know ?
Executed mainly in red and white with the occasional use of green and yellow, with themes taken from everyday events of eons ago, the scenes usually depict hunting, dancing, music, horse and elephant riders, animals fighting, honey collection, decoration of bodies, disguises, masking and household scenes.Animals such as bisons, tigers, lions, wild boar, elephants, antelopes, dogs, lizards, crocodiles, etc. have been depicted in some caves. Popular religious and ritual symbols also occur frequently.
Believe it or not
The colours used by the cave dwellers were prepared combining manganese, hematite, soft red stone and wooden coal. Sometimes the fat of animals and extracts of leaves were also used in the mixture. The colours have remained intact for many centuries due to the chemical reaction resulting from the oxide present on the surface of the rocks.

Must see
The superimposition of paintings shows that the same canvas was used by different people at different times. The drawings and paintings can be classified under seven different periods:
Period I - (Upper Paleolithic)
These are linear representations, in green and dark red, of huge figures of animals such as bisons, tigers and rhinoceros.
Period II - (Mesolithic)
Comparatively small in size, the stylized figures show linear decoration of the body. In addition to animals, there are human figures and hunting scenes, giving a clear picture of the weapons they used - barbed spears, pointed sticks, bow and arrows. The depiction of communal dances, birds, musical instruments, mother and child, pregnant women, men carrying dead animals, drinking and burials appear in rhythmic movement.
Period III - (Chaleolithic)
Similar to the paintings of Chaleolithic pottery, these drawings reveal that during the period, the cave dwellers of this area had come in contact with the agricultural communities of the Malwa plains and started an exchange of their requirements with each other.
Period IV & V - (Early History)
The figures of this group have a schematic and decorative style, and are painted mainly in red, white and yellow. The association is of riders, depiction of religious symbols, tunic-like dresses and the existence of scripts of different periods. The religious beliefs are represented by figures of yakshas, tree gods and magical sky chariots.
Period VI & VII - (Medieval)
These paintings are geometric, linear and more schematic, but show degeneration and crudeness in their artistic style.
Sanchi is known for its Stupas, monasteries, temples and pillars dating from the 3rd century B.C. to the 12th century A.D. The most famous of these monuments, the Sanchi Stupa 1, was originally built by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, the then governor of Ujjayini, whose wife Devi was the daughter of a merchant from adjacent Vidisha. Their son Mahindra and daughter Sanghamitra were born in Ujjayini and sent to Sri Lanka, where they converted the King, the Queen and their people to Buddhism.
Did you know ?
A Chunar sandstone pillar fragment, shining with the proverbial Mauryan polish, lies near Stupa I and carries the famous edict of Ashoka warning against schism in the Buddhist community. Stupa 1 was found empty, while relics of the two disciples of Buddha enshrined in the adjacent Stupa 3 were carried away to England. The nearby modern temple has a reliquary containing the remains of a Buddhist teacher from another Stupa outside Sanchi.
The four gateways
Early Buddhist art has no finer expression than these toranas that surround the Great Stupa. The Buddha according to the tenets of early Buddhist art, is portrayed in symbols; the lotus representing his birth, the tree his enlightenment, the wheel derived from the title of his first sermon, the footprints and throne symbolizing his presence. These have been carved with such inspired intensity and imagery that, taken together with the surrounding figures, they are considered the finest of all Buddhist toranas and counter - balance the massive solidity of the stupa they encircle.Carved with stories of the Buddha's past and present lives and with incidents from the subsequent history of Buddhism, the gateways are the finest specimens of early classical art, which formed the seedbed for the entire vocabulary of later Indian art.
Two of the moving stories told on these portals are those of Prince Vessantara, who gave away his wealth, his wife and children out of charity and compassion, and of Buddha who, as the monkey king, sacrificed his life to save his companions.The inscriptions on the gateways mention donors from all over northern India and special mention is made of the ivory workers of Vidisha who sculpted the stone with the precision of jewellers.

Must see
The Sanchi hill goes up in shelves with Stupa 2 situated on a lower shelf, Stupa 1, Stupa 3, the 5th century Gupta Temple No.17 and the 7th century temple No. 18 are on the intermediate shelf and a later monastery is on the crowning shelf. The balustrade surrounding Stupa 2, carved with aniconic representations of the Buddha, was added in the late 2nd century BC under the Satavahanas.The adjacent Gupta temple no.17 was hailed by Sir John Marshall as one of the most rationally organized structures in Indian architecture. Though small, it was a herald of all the principles which went into the engineering of an Indian temple in the early medieval period. The Buddhas in the perambulatory surrounding Stupa 1 are not contemporary with the Stupa but belong to the Gupta period in the mid 5th century AD. The monastery and the temple with the tall pillars adjacent to Stupa 1 and the temple near the monastery on the crowning shelf illustrate the evolution of the architectural form after the 5th century Gupta temple.Below the hill, the Archaeological Survey of India Museum houses some of the earliest known stone sculptures in Indian art from the 3rd to the 1st century BC.
Great Stupa No. 1
The oldest stone structure in India. 36.5 mt in diameter and 16.4 mt high, with a massive hemispherical dome, the stupa stands in eternal majesty, the paved procession path around it worn smooth by centuries of pilgrims.
The Eastern Gateway
Depicts the young prince, Gautama leaving his father's palace on his journey towards enlightenment and the dream his mother had before his birth.
The Western Gateway
Depicts the seven incarnations of the Buddha.
The Northern Gateway
Crowned by a wheel-of-law, this depicts the miracles associated with the Buddha as told in the jatakas.
The Southern Gateway
The birth of Gautama is revealed in a series of dramatically rich carvings.
Stupa No. 2
The stupa stands at the very edge of the hill and its most striking feature is the stone balustrade that rings it.
Stupa No. 3
Situated close to the great stupa. The hemispherical dome is crowned, as a mark of its special religious significance, with an umbrella of polished stone. The relics of Sariputta and Mahamogallena, two of the Buddha's earliest disciples, were found in its inmost chamber.
The Ashoka Pillar
Lies close to the Southern gateway of the Great Stupa, and is one of the finest examples of the Ashokan pillar and is known for its aesthetic proportions and exquisite structural balance.
The Buddhist Vihara
The sacred relics of the Satdhara Stupa, a few km away from Sanchi, have been enshrined in a glass casket on a platform in the inner sanctum of his modern monastery.
The Great Bowl
Carved out of one block of stone, this mammoth bowl contained the food that was distributed among the monks of Sanchi.
The Gupta Temple
In ruins now, this 5th century AD temple is one of the earliest known examples of temple architecture in India.
The Museum
The Archaeological Survey of India maintains a site museum at Sanchi. Noteworthy antiquities on display include the lion capital of the Ashokan pillar and metal objects used by the monks, discovered during excavations at Sanchi.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Carnival Time in Goa

February is Carnival time in Goa. For three days (from February 13-16), the streets will be awash with colour, noise, parades and floats. King Momo will take over the state and there will be music, rejoicing and much revelry.

Called 'Carnaval' in Portuguese, this festival occurs immediately before Lent, the 40 days of prayer and fasting before Easter. While the starting day of Carnival varies across the world, the festival in Goa starts three days before Lent and ends on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday (February 17 this year) which marks the beginning of Lent.

The origin of the name 'carnival' is disputed. One popular theory is that it comes from the Italian 'carne levare' or similar, meaning "to remove meat", since meat is generally disallowed during Lent. So the festival became an opportunity to enjoy oneself before the austere period began.

Following the King's orders...
for the next three days and allows his people to have fun and enjoyment during this time. Traditionally, in the years gone, this would be the signal for revellers to go around the main Carnival areas singing and dancing, dressed in colourful costumes. Mock fights would take place between local 'gangs', where rotten eggs and tomatoes were the weapons of choice. 'Cocotes' or bombs made with paper and filled with clay were used during mock-battles between various groups of local boys.

In more modern ways
These days, the boys on foot are replaced by groups of entertainers on spectacularly decorated floats, most with larger-than-life images of flora, fauna, issues of local interest and other newsworthy items. In 2009, floats depicted the Mumbai terror attacks and global warming. The floats carry massive speakers, the likes of which most of us will not see (or hear, thankfully) normally. These echo live and recorded music for the entertainment of the thousands who gather to watch the spectacle. Keep your earplugs handy if you are close to the action.

While the quiet village fun and games may be long gone, the masked men selling colourful wares are still around. The 'khells' or street plays that were performed in villages during the Carnival have died out. The talcum and indigo powders used to 'colour' the hair of women have been replaced with hair-braids, caps and of course, more masks, all targeted towards the hordes of tourists, both domestic and international, who'll come visiting.

While you're there
Goa's big carnival parades are held in four cities -- Panjim, Margao, Mapusa and Vasco. Local papers will have the listings for start times and other events that will be held. Besides the carnival parades, also look out for the various dances organised at local 'clubs' in most cities and villages. The 'Red and Black' dance at Clube Nacional in Panjim is one of the more famous ones.

For once, ignore the masala-dosa-chole-bhature fare that has cropped up in every nook and cranny in Goa and head, instead, head to one of the little Goan restaurants for a bite of local 'chourico-pao' (pronounced show-rees-pav), which is a spice-infused Goan sausage cooked with onions and stuffed in loaves of local bread. If you are a vegetarian, try sukhi bhaji -- finely diced potatoes cooked in thick gravy, seasoned with mustard seeds and chillies and served with local bread.

A whole big world of fun
The Goa Carnival, much like carnivals celebrated around the world, calls into being a whole different universe. Much like the Rio carnival in Brazil, you'll find revellers dressed to the nines dancing their way into the wee hours of the morning. The tradition of wearing masks probably comes from the Carnival of Venice in Italy that has been around since the 13th century. The famous hand-painted leather or papier-mache masks of that carnival turn into the feathery half masks on Goan lanes. So go make your tour packages or shack bookings immediately, and don't miss it for the world.

Getting there
From Mumbai, you can take a flight to Goa and then hire a pre-paid cab from the airport counter to head into town. Else, if you're feeling adventurous, you could drive down to Goa taking the NH 17 (also called the Mumbai-Goa highway). A/C and non-A/C buses to Goa leave from Dadar and Bandra every night.

Getting around
A cheaper alternative to taxis are bikes and scooties that can be rented for as little as Rs 300 a day. (A litre of petrol costs Rs 60 and you'll have to pay extra for that. You won't need more than 2 litres a day.)

Were to eat
For authentic chouriço, try the new Ernesto's (0832 3256213) or George Bar near the Panjim church. ato or Café Bhosle, both in Panjim, serve delicious sukhi bhaji.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Valentines Day Vacation

One can never outgrow the charm of Valentine's Day. No matter what people say, it is a occasion to celebrate love. Add to it the fact that this year, it happens to fall on a long weekend with Friday, February 12 being Shivratri and a holiday for many. So pack your bags this Valentine's Day and take a weekend break to one of these magical places in India, perfect for a romantic getaway.Valentine's Day (February 14) is a great excuse to take a break from the daily grind and spend some quality time with that special someone. And with V-Day falling on a Sunday this year, it's the perfect opportunity to skip town and head out. So we asked readers to send in their most romantic vacation spots that would make great V-Day getaways.

The Misty Hills of Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

How much ever people try to dissuade you, do not listen. Shimla, about 370 km from Delhi, is the eternal favourite honeymoon spot in North India and for good reason too. The nip in the air, the misty skies, the breathtaking views and evening walks on the Mall road make it the perfect romantic location.Must-do: Walk hand in hand with your beloved while devouring a softy ice cream from the famous stall near the church. The toy train from Kalka to Shimla is also a must do.

Where to stay: Unless you want to go the luxury way and stay at the Oberoi, be adventurous and walk down the mall towards a campsite called Potters Hill. The Swiss Tents are comfortable and the location in the middle of the pine forest perfect.

Marvelous Matheran, Maharashtra

Leave the hustle bustle of city life behind and lose yourself in this tiny hillock called Matheran, about 108 km away from Mumbai.The only hill station where there is no vehicular traffic allowed, spend leisurely afternoons taking pony rides or treks along the unused railway track.Matheran is delightfully accessible from Mumbai and Pune by local trains that don't need prior booking.

Must-do: Take a walk along the lanes that wind their way through the forests, buy a guava from the stall on the way and hear the birds twitter.

Where to stay: Maharashtra Tourism has excellent cottages at throwaway prices.

Gopalpur-on-Sea, Orissa

It may sound like a description but Gopalpur-on-Sea is actually the name of this sleepy town located about 180 km from Bhubaneshwar in Orissa.Once a busy sea port, it is now a quaint and quiet beach side town. There is a lighthouse for some sightseeing but besides that, there is just the sand, the sea and you. Perfect for a quiet romantic weekend vacation packages .The waters of the sea here are a pleasurable deep blue which is rare to find in the ever crowded Goa.

Must-do: Walk barefoot in the sand and watch the sun go down on the sea.

Where to stay: Swosti Palm Resort is a nice and clean but affordable stay option here.

The Spice Route through Kerala

One would never think of Kerala as a weekend vacation. But if you happen to be in that part of the country, this is the perfect answer to your Valentine's Day plans.What could be more romantic than a cruise in a houseboat down the backwaters at Alleppey and fresh prawns for dinner!Plan a 2-day trip to Cochin and go down to Alleppey (2 hours away) for a day's cruise.Must-do: Visit the Mattancherry Antique market in Cochin and pick up a 200 year old souvenir to remember your trip.

Where to stay: Book the houseboat for the night and return to Cochin the next day.

The epitome of Love - Taj Mahal, Agra

It would be sacrilege to talk of romance and not mention the monument of Eternal Love, the Taj Mahal in Agra, about 203 km away from Delhi.As hyped that the monument may be, a visit to the Taj will convince you that it still remains magical in its power to amaze.Club a visit to the Taj with a tour of the magnificent Agra fort and you are in for a treat. Immerse yourself in the romance of years gone by and rediscover each other.

Must-do: When you visit the monuments, do make sure you hire a guide. They may charge an extra Rs.50 but they will help you appreciate the beauty much more than you otherwise would.

Where to stay: There are plenty of 5 star options in Agra, the best of which is the Jaypee Palace.

Seeped in history - Orchha, Madhya Pradesh

This may not be an obvious choice but it is merely a lack of marketing and not of potential. Madhya Pradesh remains one of our most unexplored jewels and Orchha may just be the crowning gem.A town seeped in history and culture, Orchha, about 170 km away from Khajuraho, is a historian's dream.You don't necessarily need to appreciate architecture to pay this town a visit though. The quiet little town on the banks of the Betwa river is as romantic as it gets. Orchha is best reached by taking a train to Jhansi (16 km away).

Must-do: Watch the sunset over the river.

Where to stay: Book the Orchha Resort and stay in the Swiss Tents instead of the rooms. You will have your morning tea literally in the lap of the ruins.

Coorg (Kodagu), Karnataka

Referred to as the Scotland of India, nestled between teakwood and sandalwood forests, Coorg is beauty that must be experienced.A popular destination yet so abundant in natural beauty that it seems untouched. The region is known for its stunning scenic beauty and undulating coffee plantations.A comfortable drive from Bangalore (252 km)/ Mangalore (135 km), Coorg is the perfect Valentine's Day weekend if you live in these cities.

Must-do: The Abbey Falls, near the main town of Madikeri can be reached by hiking through the cardamom and coffee plantations.

Where to stay: The best part about Coorg is to stay in the midst of the plantations. For a luxury option, the best recommended is Orange County. But if you want to save the dough, experience Coorg by staying in one of the homestays like Ashraya Homestay or the Palace Estate Homestay.

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Though Udaipur is rumoured to be the romantic capital of India, take a cue, bypass the city and plan a trip to Jaisalmer instead.There are few things more romantic than endless sand dunes till the eye can see, villagers dressed in the colours of the rainbow and a camel ride watching the sun go down.All this and more, only at Jaisalmer the desert capital of India Tours.

Must-do: Take a guided tour through the ancient fort of Jaisalmer, once an important stop on the trade route between India and Persia and Egypt.

Where to stay: Fort Pokaran has fabulous location and completes the Rajasthani experience. For a more budget option, stay at the lovely Hotl Fifu. Despite the strange sounding name, the hotel is well located and has tasteful rooms.

Getaway: Lansdowne, Uttarakhand

If there is heaven on Earth, it is here. Lansdowne offers majestic beauty, serene surroundings and lovely atmosphere, perfect for a couple to share their best moments with each other. It truly is one of the most romantic getaways for special occasions.

Sights: St Mary's Church and Tip-n-Top are two of the most reknowned tourist attractions. Though Lansdowne also boasts of a quiet lake where you can find swans and ducks swimming around.

Eats: There isn't much to offer as regards Lansdowne in terms of eateries. Almost all the hotels provide good food included in the package of your stay there. Though the ultimate fun is cooking your own food on a fireplace.

Shopping: Lansdowne has shops operated by the Garhwal Rifles from where you can buy cheap leather goods and other winter accessories like bags and boots.

How to get there: Lansdowne is about 250 km from Delhi. It is roughly a six-hour drive. The highway till Kotdwar is good. After that, for the last 40 km, the hilly terrain is really enjoyable with pines and cedars on both sides of the road.

Amid mountain mists
Getaway: Amboli, Maharastra

A great weekend destination worth visting.

Sights: If you like silence, if you like nature, Amboli is for you. The best thing about this place is that unlike other hill stations, this one is not yet commercialised, hence Amboli offers you natural beauty. Amboli is highly recommended if you like to spend some time in peace and would like to relax in nature. Amboli has not much to offer in terms of entertainment, but it's a real paradise for nature lovers. Some facts about Amboli: receives the highest rainfall in Maharastra; has the largest green cover; is home to around 30 species of animals, around 129 species of birds and over 350 species of medicinal plants; is a great location for adventure tourism; has cool and pleasant pollutuion-free climate round the year.

Eats: Vegetarian food at Vithal Kamat. We were there for lunch and the only option available was Veg Thali. We asked for some other options but they had none so we had to go for the thali. They charge around Rs 35 per thali. The food was simple and good with great dessert. It is on the main road, near Sunset Point.

Green Valley Resort: This resort has an in-house restaurant. The menu offers a wide choice of veg and non-veg food(including Chinese). This restaurant has no bar. Though I tried only the veg food here, I am sure they serve good non-veg food also. Prices seemed to be on the higher side. Service was good.

Shopping: The small Amboli market has nothing much to offer except for some local masalas at Narvekar (opposite Sailee Hotel).

Sights: If you are not travelling by your own vehicle, you can hire an auto (Rs 400) or a taxi (Rs 700). It takes around 4- 41/2 hours to cover the 5-6 spots. The siteseeing locations are Hiranyakeshi Temple (a small temple where the river Hiranyakeshi originates, a beautiful location but the approach road to the location is pathetic, it is around 4 km from the Green Valley Resort); Kavalesaad Point (beautiful location with awesome views; if fogs allow, you can see the beauty of the Sahyadri range from this location; it is around 9 km form the Green Valley Resort on the highway towards Belgaum; here too the approach road is quite bad); other locations to be covered are Madhav Ghad, Raghaweshwar (Maruti Mandir) and Nagarthas Falls. The last one is the waterfall ahead of Sunset Point. Make sure you are ready to get yourself totally drenched in this beautiful waterfall. It is located 3 km away, at the Sawantwadi-Belgaum road. Thirty minutes in this fall will make you feel awesome. Have a cutting chai with some hot pakoras while you are wet, I bet you will love it.From Belgaum, Amboli is about 68 km which is covered in two hours. You can either take the NWKRTC or the MSRTC bus heading towards Sawantwadi at the main bus station. Fare is about Rs 45.Please make sure to make advance reservations if going on a weekend.

Tucked away in peaceful hills

Getaway: Writers Hill, Himachal Pradesh

Description: Romantic and peaceful

Sights: Renuka lake, zoo, campfire

Shopping: Local antiques, small carvings

Activities: Visit to Renuka Lake and Zoo, picnic by the river, fishing, trek to Churdhar.

How to get there: Writers Hill is 220 km from Delhi. Take a right turn from Ambala flyover and go upto Nahan. Writers Hill is 20 km drive from Nahan.

Accommodation: There are three cottages with a central kitchen. Two of the cottages have a study attached and each of the cottage looks into the Jalal river valley. The mountain in front gives you a breathtaking view. With all the cottages having bay windows, it's an unrestricted view.The cottages are large, airy and offer a simple yet very comfortable stay.Each study has a collection of books both fiction and non-fiction and in the days to come the collection will only increase and improve.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Alappuzha Venice of the East

Alappuzha, the Venice of the East welcomes you to the backwaters of kerala. The Palm fringed canals and shores bustling with glimpses from the day to day life in the country side, the mirror still lagoons, picture book lakesides and its long sandy beach has blessed Alappuzha, the water locked district, to become one of the best Backwater tourism destinations in God's Own Country.

Alleppey Backwaters

With the Arabian sea on the west and a vast network of lakes, lagoons and fresh water rivers crisscrossing it, Alappuzha is a district of immense natural beauty.Referred to as the Venice of the East by travelers from across the world, this backwater country is also home ot diverse animal and bird life. By virtue of its proximity to the sea, the town has always enjoyed a unique place in the maritime history of Kerala.Today, Alappauzha has grown in importance as a backwater tourist centre, attracting several thousands of foreign tourists each year. Alappuzha is also famous for its boat races, houseboat holidays, beaches, marine products and coir industry. A singular characteristic of this land is the region called Kuttanad.

History of Allepy:

Before the Dutch took over this place, the Portuguese were the predominant rulers of this place. Later Maharaja Marthandavarma came into power and he gave ample importance to the developmental works of the place. Slowly it became a very busy commercial place attracting merchants from all over.

This resulted in the establishment of a number of coir factories producing coir-related goods of quality. The first coir factory was developed by an English sea captain and soon others followed suit. The first Anglican Church was built in 1816 by the Christian missionaries whose headquarter was in Alleppey.

Major tourist attractions in Allepy:

The most important tourist vacation packages attraction in Alleppey is the leisurely boatcruise through the stretch of backwaters fringed by coconut palms. Alleppey, one of the exotic sites of backwater tourism in the state of Kerala is better known as the "Venice of the East" for its labyrinth of lakes, lagoons and freshwater rivers crisscrossing it. This tiny town in Kerala attracts tourists especially during the time of the annual boat race.

For tourists Alleppey is the pivotal point for boat cruises into Kerala's famed backwaters and the state's lush rice bowl, Kuttanad. The boat cruise along the backwaters of Alleppey give one a first hand experience of the simple life style of the people which is a far cry form the bustle and ratrace of people in the cities in India.

One of the most popular cruise routes are from Alleppey south to Kollam (Quilon) for about 8 hours including stops for lunch, chai (tea), a temple visit and a kathakali (dance drama) apart from enjoying the most entrancing scenery of palm-lined banks, quiet water-bound villages, Chinese fishing nets, prawn farming and coir manufacture.

There are several places and tour packages of tourist interest in and around Alleppey.

Punnamada Kayal, the must-visit place of Alleppey where the annual Nehru Trophy boat race takes place. During the month of August-September, the backwaters become crowded with thousands of spectators and a large number of competitors who come to participate in the famous Nehru Trophy boat race.

Krishnapuram Temple, the two-storied building of Alleppey, displays the typical Keralan style of architecture. The largest mural painting, Gajendra Miksham, is displayed in a museum here.

Ambalapuzha Temple, where Lord Krishna is worshipped, is also an important place to visit in Alleppey. Here one can see the typical temple architecture and culture of Kerala along with the chance to taste the Keralan delicacy, payasam, which is served to the visitors in Alleppey during the festival times of March/April.

St. Andrew's Church, established by the Portuguese missionaries in Alleppey, celebrates the feast of St. Sebastian in a fun-filled, festive way.

Situated in the heart of Alleppey, Mullackal Temple, dedicated to goddess Rajarajeswari, is also a place worth visiting.

Surrounded by thick-green forests, Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja Temple of Alleppey is a holy place where the king of serpents is worshiped. Number of devotees from all over India and abroad visit this place every year.

The Chettikulangara Bhagavathy Temple of Alleppey is believed to have miraculous powers and hence visited by number of pilgrims every year.

Kottamkulangara Mahavishnu Temple and Devi Temple are the oldest temples of Alleppey and are sites worth visiting, especially during the time of festivals.

Hotels in Allepy:

Allepy Prince Hotel: At Prince Hotel, you will experience the royal grandeur and resplendence of the regal life-style of ancient Indian princes and princesses. Each and every room is crafted in luxurious manner and are rich with their elegant interiors. Their unique designs and relaxed ambience create the ideal atmosphere for you to enjoy holiday.......

Kayaloram Lake Resort: Amid this scenic setting lies Kayaloram (meaning lake side), the exclusive lake resort. Kayaloram is a harmonious blend of the ambience of rustic Alleppey and the amenities of a modern resort. Situated on an exclusive stretch of prime water front, fringed by coconut palms and caressed by a gentle breeze.

Marari Beach Resort:Mararikulam is a sleepy fishing village located between the port city of Cochin and Alleppey. And here, amidst the coconut groves is the Marari Resort. Like the other resorts in this hotel chain viz Spice Village, Coconut Lagoon etc, Marari Beach Resort is also constructed with a strong ethnic flavour......

Shopping in Alleppey

Among the locally available products of Alleppey are the coir products and carpets. The fine quality, variety and reasonable price tag make these products stay high in the demand list of tourists. Besides Alleppey is also famous for its pepper, coconut oil, areca nut, cardamom, sugar, etc. There are several markets are available in Alleppey.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Kerala Backwater Bliss

Many assume, that Kerala is a vacation destination which one can only take with ample leave at hand. A week at least must be cordoned off for this state people call God's Own will discover to pleasant surprise, this is not necessarily true. Kerala can be experienced in short bursts too.Cochin is a welcome respite from the freezing Delhi winters. The coastal town is tropical in climate and the breeze blows through the palm trees in the evening making for excellent evening walks. we would recommend a two day trip to Cochin as a quick getaway to get rejuvenated and refreshed.

Cochin airport is well connected with all major cities in India. Start first day with a half-day trip to Alappuzha (Alleppey), the famous backwaters of Kerala. The two-hour drive from Cochin is along a winding road with lush green trees lined on the sides. As you get off at Alappuzha, you will find a line of boats vying to get you on board.

Ideally, you should book the cruise in advance. The 3-hour long cruise winds its way through the backwaters like a lazy reptile. The pace is languid. There is no rushing here. It is a slow crawl as the water snakes through palm groves.The cruise is aboard a boat, which usually has a covered lower deck with benches that offer a welcome respite from the sun that beats down. The top open deck offers great photographic moments. You will cross thatched houseboats on the way. If one has more time at hand, an overnight stay in a houseboat can make for a great romantic escape. The hourly cruise costs around Rs 700 for a boat that can easily take 10 to 12 people. A houseboat with 2 AC rooms costs around Rs 20,000 per night.

Take Lunch at a lovely resort The resort is on the banks of the backwaters and offers the ultimate combination of kicking off your shoes, sipping on beer and munching prawns while gazing at the houseboats pass by. Meal for two: Rs 1,000.

End the day with the famous Kerala Ayurvedic massage. There are plenty of options for getting the same. you can chose to go to the Sahayadri Spa conveniently located on the top floor of a store called Little Kingdom on MG Road. The 45-minute massage is perfect end to a gorgeous day. The staff is skilled and knew the correct technique of how to apply pressure. we highly recommend getting one -- 45 minutes of pure bliss. And priced at Rs 600, it is a must do.

The next day, you can make a tour towards Fort Kochi. The first stop was the Jewish Synagogue built in 1568.Located at the centre of the aptly named Jew Town, the structure may not be impressive, but is a paradise for shoppers. The area is called Mattancherry and is home to an entire lane of shops selling antiques. It is a collector's dream come true and the perfect place to pick up a souvenir.The shops are overflowing with brass and wooden antiques, many of which date back 200 years. Remember to haggle hard as they often cut their prices almost 30-40 percent with cheerful bantering.Though the market has cute cafes on the upper levels that remind one of Portuguese Goa, it is not a bad idea to head off to The Attic, Cochin's own steakhouse. Located on Marine Drive, it is a small cozy place that serves some great food.

The day of travel around Jew Town can exhaust you so better to take off a nap. If you still have some stamina left, you could visit the Chinese Fishing nets in Fort Kochi which are these giant structures that preserve the age old tradition of Chinese fishing. The vendors on the roadside actually offer you the option of catching your own fish and then frying it for you!

The perfect holiday needs the perfect ending. So, for dinner, go to Taj Malabar, the fantastic property situated on Willingdon Island with a magnificent view of Cochin harbour. Their restaurant, Rice Boat is designed like a Kerala snake boat and one gets the impression of being seated in a backwater houseboat.Their sea food is to die for and yuo can personally vouch for the Crab Masala. Eaten with a serving of boiled rice, the crab is absolutely can also try the tiger prawns as well as the lobster, both of which are well flavoured and very tasty. A word of caution here do specify the level of chilly you want. To say that Kerala food is spicy would be an understatement.The food at the Taj, as expected, is priced extremely high, so this can be skipped in case you're on a budget. Meal for two including sea food can go upto Rs 4,500.Two days, a perfect tan, a relaxed mind and a content smile! Kerala -- truly, God's Own Country!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Next Great World Travel Destinations

Looking for a charming European hideaway, an undiscovered beach resort, or the latest food mecca? Online Travel spanned the globe in search of destinations that fuse style, authenticity and affordability. The results: 15 amazing places where the dollar still goes far.

Travel and Leisure

You are kicking back in a landscape of rolling vineyards and castle topped towns. The days are filled with beautiful drives and visits to local vintners, where you sample the fruit of their labors. You might swing by a rustic wine bar for a tasting. Nights you bed down at a small hotels with cabin like rooms and a blue walled restaurant that blends harmoniously with the hotel’s collection of glass aquariums.

Is this Tuscany? Burgundy, perhaps? No, this is the Moravia region of the Czech Republic, home to 94 percent of the country’s fast growing wine production. The surprising regional capital, Brno, is dotted with Modernist houses designed by Adolf Loos and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. And that stylish lodging? It’s the Noem Arch Hotel, and doubles start at a very reasonable $141 a night.

An under the radar province like Moravia is a real find, because it offers similar attractions to better-known vacation packages destinations, but tends to be much easier on the wallet. Whether it’s a charming European Holiday hideaway, an undiscovered beach resort, or the latest food mecca, Tours spanned the globe in search of destinations like these that offer style and local flavor—and won’t cost a fortune.

Take Langkawi, a cluster of islands off Malaysia’s northwestern coast. Most of the main island is swathed in mangrove and tropical rainforests, and it was recently designated a UNESCO Geopark—the first in Southeast Asia. On the southwestern coast of the main isle you’ll find Pantai Cenang beach, lined with guesthouses and bars under coconut palms. The nearby Bon Ton Resort, is a small village of formerly dilapidated Malay wooden houses transformed into sleek lodgings by hotelier Narelle McMurtrie. The cost: just $150 a night.

For a more urban—but also exotic—experience, head south to the capital of Colombia, Bogota, which some say is poised to become the next Buenos Aires. The culinary and nightlife scenes are flourishing, and in the historic city center, the recently reopened Museo del Oro showcases a 6,500-piece collection of pre-Columbian gold coins and other works of art. Another formerly gritty city that’s newly dressed up is Marseilles, France, which has spruced up its waterfront and is attracting a more sophisticated crowd from Paris. Open-air cafes line the Vieux Port, and in the newly posh district of St.-Victor, travelers can stay at the artsy Casa Honore, which has a tapas bar and a shop that sells furniture designed by owner Annick Lestrohan. It’s a slice of real France that most tourists haven’t seen.


Moravia, Czech Republic

Why Go Now: This under-the-radar province is emerging as Eastern Europe’s newest wine region. Ninety-four percent of the Czech Republic’s burgeoning wine production (Gruner Veltliner and Cabernet Moravia) comes from its rolling vineyards and castle-topped towns. The regional capital, Brno, in the center of Moravia, is dotted with Modernist houses designed by Adolf Loos and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (the creator of the famous Brno chair) and is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the area.

The Details: Stay at the new nautical-themed Noem Arch Hotel (doubles from $141), with 18 cabin-like rooms and a blue-walled restaurant that blends harmoniously with the glass aquariums. Farther south, in the village of Mikulov, swing by the rustic Templ Wine Bar (drinks for two $4) for a tasting. Mikulov’s Jewish heritage is the inspiration for artist Sylva Chludilova’s paintings at Galerie Efram. In neighboring Valtice, sample an extensive wine selection at Narodni Salon Vin, in the town château.

Travel Tip: Exploring Moravia by train has never been easier, thanks to the recently launched website, where you can access all schedules.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Why Go Now: The collapse of Iceland’s financial system last year has made Reykjavik’s cafes, industrial-chic nightspots, and restaurants more affordable than ever.

The Details: At the new Center Hotel Arnarhvoll (doubles from $142, including breakfast), in downtown’s 101 district, the modern rooms (slate palette accented with red and chestnut brown) come with views of Mount Esja. Browsing the boutiques on Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main shopping street, could take days; stop by Gust for funky Icelandic wares such as knit wool wraps, or Steinunn for local, cutting-edge clothing. Segurmo at Boston (dinner for two $20) is a restaurant opened last year by Bjork’s personal chef, Nuni Thomasson. His menu of regional comfort food might include dishes like foal steak with couscous and cabbage.

Travel Tip: At the 200,000-square-foot Laugar Spa (entry $36 per person), six tubs and an outdoor pool are filled with the Laugardalur Valley’s healing thermal waters.

Marseilles, France

Why Go Now: Once known as a gritty seaport, this coastal city has recently spruced up its waterfront and is attracting a more sophisticated crowd from Paris.

The Details: Open-air cafes edge the Vieux Port, where street vendors sell ice cream cones and fish sandwiches. Just behind the Quai de Rive Neuve, in the newly posh district of St.-Victor, the artsy Casa Honore (doubles from $213) has four simple guest rooms, a tapas bar, and a shop that sells furniture designed by owner Annick Lestrohan. For lunch head to Chez Michel (lunch for two $170) and order traditional bouillabaisse, then browse for artisanal olive oils at Place aux Huiles.

Travel Tip: Locals gather at Chez Jeannot (dinner for two $45) for crusty pizza and bottle of Chateau Plonk.


Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

Why Go Now: Affordable inns and restaurants, plus world-class diving, snorkeling, and windsurfing are making this 112-square-mile island one of the Caribbean’s best spots.

The Details: On a hill overlooking the small town of Kralendijk, the new La Pura Vista (doubles from $195) is like staying at your fabulous wealthy uncle’s villa—except he’s out of town. Four of the five breezy rooms face the brick-lined pool; breakfast is from 8 to 10 a.m., and the front desk is staffed until noon; after that, it’s all yours. In Kralendijk, the main drag runs along the water and is peppered with restaurants and bars. Stop by It Rains Fishes (lunch for two $20), where stylish, blond Dutch waiters serve bowls of spicy curry soup and open-faced ham-and-Gouda sandwiches. And at Cactus Blue (dinner for two $60), British expat Hagen Wegerer, a dive instructor turned chef, makes a stellar lime-and-ginger Caribbean shrimp. He’ll tell you where the best snorkeling spots on the island are (take his advice and go to 1,000 Steps).

Travel Tip: The drive to the northern town of Rincon takes you along the western coast of the island, then inland to a lake full of flamingos.

Martinique, French West Indies

Why Go Now: One of the largest islands in the French West Indies, Martinique attracts Francophiles looking for an affordable alternative to St. Bart’s.

The Details: Fort-de-France is a thriving colonial-era port of colorful coral town houses and boutiques that sell everything from Gallic perfumes to brightly patterned madras. On the island’s south side, Marin Bay is a protected harbor filled with charter yachts and traditional wooden sailing boats. Nearby are the best beaches—Anse Caritan; Macabou—and the fishing village of Ste.-Anne, where on market days you can buy a paper bag filled with crispy codfish and shrimp balls from street vendors who fry them on the spot. On a hillside along the rugged northern Atlantic coast, Le Domaine Saint Aubin (doubles from $275) has 30 charming cottages set among 200-year-old mango trees. The 50 suites at Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa (doubles from $500), on the eastern part of the island, are decorated in hot island colors. Stop by the hotel’s restaurant, Le Belem, for grilled lobster.

Travel Tip: Don’t miss Carole Michel’s Creole-style crab farci or fried red snapper at Chez Carole, in the middle of the fruit-and-vegetable covered market.

Asia Travel

Langkawi, Malaysia

Why Go Now: This cluster of 99 islands off Malaysia’s northwestern coast is a relative neophyte when it comes to tourism. Most of the main island remains a nature-lover’s paradise, swathed in mangrove and tropical rain forests, and it was recently designated a unesco Geopark—the first in Southeast Asia.

The Details: The name Langkawi refers to the archipelago in general and to its largest island specifically. On the southwestern coast of the main isle you’ll find Pantai Cenang beach, lined with guesthouses and bars under coconut palms. Locals flock to a beachside food truck called Tsunami Laksa for asam laksa (hot-and-sour fish soup with rice noodles). At the northern tip of the island, Tanjung Rhu is a tranquil oasis: two miles of silver sand and calm water. Back in the early 1990’s, it was the Datai (doubles from $488), a luxury resort fronting a pristine cove, that first put this area on the map. Other developments have followed since, including the Four Seasons Resort Langkawi (doubles from $410), on a 40-acre wetland, where naturalists lead boat tours of the mangrove forests. But much of Langkawi retains its traditional charm, on view in Pantai Cenang at the Bon Ton Resort (doubles from $150), a small village of formerly dilapidated Malay wooden houses transformed into stylish lodgings by hotelier Narelle McMurtrie.

Travel Tip: The Langkawi Cable Car runs gondolas to the top of Mat Cincang, the island’s second-highest peak.

Nanjing, China

Why Go Now: While this ancient capital of China is slowly modernizing, it remains staunchly loyal to its past. Witness new restaurants, hotels, and the Nanjing Museum of Art & Architecture—set to open next summer—all juxtaposed with centuries-old monuments and traditions.

The Details: Make Sofitel Galaxy Nanjing (doubles from $125), in the heart of downtown, your base. The 278-room property overlooks Xuanwu Lake. For authentic local food, try the 20-course small-bite tasting menu, including duck sesame buns, at the Galaxy Restaurant (dinner for two $40) in the Mandarin Garden Hotel. The Nanjing 1912 neighborhood has classic early-20th-century Chinese architecture and a vibrant club scene at night. Stop by Soho, a low-lit bar with dark wood furnishings and live music.

Travel Tip: Take a day trip to the Purple Mountain, on the eastern outskirts of the city. Here, you’ll find the mausoleums of leaders such as Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of modern China.


Bogota, Colombia

Why Go Now: With its flourishing culinary and nightlife scenes, plus new flights from the United States on JetBlue, Delta, and Continental, Colombia’s capital is set to become the next Buenos Aires.

The Details: Bogota’s historic center is La Candelaria, where the recently reopened Museo del Oro now houses a 6,500-piece collection of pre-Columbian gold coins and other works of art. And at the nearby Fernando Botero Museum, you’ll find more than a hundred sculptures and paintings by the artist. Just down the street, the 43-room Hotel de la opera (doubles from $215, including breakfast) occupies a pair of elegantly restored Republican-era town houses. In the Zona Rosa district, the Sofitel Bogota Victoria Regia (doubles from $340) is a 102-room property near the city’s art galleries. Bogota’s restaurant scene is booming—try Italian Gigi Trattoria (lunch for two $25) for house-made pastas and Club Colombia for regional classics such as corn empanadas and ajiaco, a hearty chicken-and-potato stew.

Travel Tip: On the edge of town, the restaurant Andres Carnes de Res (dinner for two $90) puts on all-afternoon feasts of grilled steak.

San Blas, Panama

Why Go Now: This archipelago in northern Panama is experiencing a mini boom in lodges, where travelers can escape the crowds of the more popular Bocas del Toro.

The Details: After a short flight from Panama City to Playon Chico (which the hotel will help arrange), guests of one of the five overwater casitas at Yandup Island Lodge (doubles from $160, all-inclusive) are picked up by boat and taken to the property’s private island. Snorkelers can spot more than 75 species of coral, hundreds of varieties of tropical fish, and the occasional dolphin. On a nearby island, the Hotel Uaguinega (doubles from $300, all-inclusive) has 10 thatched-roof cabins and a beachfront restaurant that serves fresh fish. Book one of the hotel’s guided tours of neighboring villages, where you can buy crafts made by the local Kuna tribe.

Travel Tip: Bring your own sunscreen and toiletries: the area has no shops.

Quito, Ecuador

Why Go Now: The city’s Old Town—a restored unesco World Heritage site is a window into the country’s colonial past, full of painstakingly renovated mansions and churches, new restaurants and hotels, and recently opened museums. This year, the city celebrates 200 years of independence from Spain with hundreds of cultural performances.

The Details: The five-year-old Hotel Patio Andaluz (doubles from $204) was largely responsible for the area’s renaissance. Inside, 32 rooms are set within a preserved colonial mansion. For dinner, book a table at Zazu (dinner for two $60), which serves a sole ceviche in tomato juice. In the heart of Old Town, Villa Colonna (doubles from $250) is a six-suite boutique property with private patios, high ceilings, and antique furnishings. The Nu House Hotel (doubles from $129), in the Mariscal Sucre neighborhood, feels like a Scandinavian import, with granite tile floors and minimalist decor.

Travel Tip: Don’t miss the Museo Guayasamin and the Capilla del Hombre, shrines to Ecuador’s most famous artist, Oswaldo Guayasamin.

El Calafate, Argentina

Why Go Now: A formerly rough-and-tumble wool-trading outpost in southern Patagonia, tiny El Calafate has now been discovered by adventure junkies and celebrities such as Francis Ford Coppola, who scouted the area for an upcoming film.

The Details: This is a place where you can have grilled steak and Mendoza wine for just $25 a person after a day spent exploring the region’s natural beauty: towering glaciers, deep fjords, and grassy steppes. Dine on sirloin wrapped in boar with a Malbec wine sauce at the brick-walled Pascasio M (dinner for two $49) or head to the boisterous La Tablita (dinner for two $48), known for grilled meats and fish. Brace yourself against El Calafate’s clear and chilly nights in a sweater from Vellon Negro, woven from local wool. The best places to stay are beyond the town’s center. The 12-room Patagonia Rebelde, Posada & Historia (doubles from $110, including breakfast) is modeled after a historic railway station. Much more space age, Design Suites Hotel (doubles from $140, including breakfast) has soaring glass walls and views of neon-blue Lago Argentino.

Travel Tip: Hielo y Adventuras (tours from $118) runs two daily excursions to Perito Moreno Glacier that include a trek across the ice.


Cook Islands, South Pacific

Why Go Now: With a handful of low-key resorts, this island group is an affordable alternative to its affluent neighbors Tahiti and Bora-Bora.

The Details: In the capital, Rarotonga, stay at Little Polynesian (doubles from $370), where handwoven cream-on-white bedspreads brighten the 10 bungalows. Restaurants on the island range from Vaima (dinner for two $56), a fish spot with tables set on a dock, to Windjammer (dinner for two $87), which serves innovative dishes such as slow cooked local octopus in a curry sauce. For the best beaches, catch an Air Rarotonga flight (four each day) from Rarotonga to Aitutaki. Check in to the Tamanu Beach Resort (doubles from $245). As Mike Henry, the Tamanu’s owner, says, “The Cook Islands are like Hawaii fifty years ago.”

Travel Tip: Explore Aitutaki’s lagoon with Wet & Wild Adventure Tours (tours $50). Daylong cruises include stops at an island bird sanctuary.

Auckland, New Zealand

Why Go Now: This yachting-obsessed city has more than its share of sophisticated food and art. Best of all, the exchange rate turns the city’s hotels, restaurants, and boutiques into affordable indulgences.

The Details: The downtown marina is the site of the new Westin Auckland Lighter Quay (doubles from $216), an understated 172-room hotel. In midtown, the vintage Modernist furnishings at the renovated Hotel DeBrett (doubles from $195) create a pied-à-terre feel. At Merediths (dinner for two $110), chef-owner Michael Meredith turns out modern New Zealand dishes such as smoked salmon with candied fennel. To see artwork by N.Z. artists, browse the galleries (or websites of) Sue Crockford or Michael Lett.

Travel Tip: Don’t miss a day trip to the island of Waiheke, an up-and-coming wine region.


Rusinga Island, Kenya

Why Go Now: Just off the eastern shore of Lake Victoria, Rusinga Island is blissfully laid-back. The arrival of a new Micato Safaris lodge probably won’t change that, but is giving travelers a stylish place to unplug.

The Details: Stay in one of the six thatched cottages (net-draped beds, ceiling fans, large baths) at Rusinga Island Lodge (doubles from $440). Each bungalow faces an open-air restaurant where the spicy fish curry pairs well with a Tusker Ale.

Travel Tip: Micato Safari guide Mark Ross, who flies guests here in his Cessna airplane from Nairobi, will arrange an expedition to the mainland town of Sindo for a lunch of fried tilapia at Subaland Hotel (no address) or a sunset cocktail cruise to watch thousands of white egrets nesting on uninhabited islands.

Dakar, Senegal

Why Go Now: This city has one of the world’s most exciting music scenes—from reggae, rap, and hip-hop to traditional tribal drum, string, flute, and xylophone. Indeed, Dakar is a nonstop concert, as CD’s blare in the streets and markets and live musicians and bands hold forth in any number of cool clubs, cafes, and dance boites.

The Details: Overlooking the Atlantic, the Hotel Sokhamon (doubles from $147), has a funky vibe, with brightly colored walls and a conch-shaped staircase. Try the grilled lemon chicken in the garden at Chez Loutcha (lunch for two $20). After dark, head to world-music superstar Youssou N’Dour’s club Thiossane, or the ultracool Just 4 U.

Travel Tip: Check out one of the world’s most important bird sanctuaries, the 40,000-acre Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj, on a guided tour itinerary aboard a traditional dugout pirogue.