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.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bhigwan Bird Watching Tourist Destination

There are certain places that will always score when it comes to birding and bird photography. And when it comes to seeing migratory birds, the wetlands of the north have very little competition.Or so I thought. A chance visit to Bhigwan, 95 km from Pune had convinced me that this is really a birder's vacations paradise. The visit two years back was a fleeting one and I had not had the opportunity to explore the area in greater detail.

The opportunity arrived on Christmas eve and I couldn't have asked for a better Christmas gift. For starters, Bhigwan, as mentioned, is about 95 km from Pune along the Pune-Solapur highway (NH 9). It is the catchment area of the mighty Ujani dam. A drive to Bhiwan from Mumbai will take about 4-5 hours, it is about 251 km away. There are some rudimentary accommodation options in Bhigwan. The other option is to stay in Pune.

The moment you step out of the hotel and start driving towards Bhigwan Lake, bird sightings start gracing you. Rollers, bee-eaters, coppersmith babblers, crow pheasants, gray hornbills are sighted on the way.This time, thanks to the advanced Garmin GPS that we were carrying, we were recording all the spots where birds had nests and were flocking in numbers. Every location was geotagged. From the Pune-Solapur highway, take a left towards Bhigwan Lake towards one of the biggest hotspots in that area -- Diksal.

You encounter one small bridge with water bodies on both sides and you immediately see migratory water birds in large numbers -- ducks, terns, twany eagles, cotton pigmy goose, lesser whistling teal, ruff, clamorous warblers, marsh harriers, comb ducks, ruddy shelducks, common kestrels, Eurasian wigeons, gadwalls and shovellers.You can stand on the bridge and take flight shots at eye level of terns, harriers, egrets, herons. You will also get good pictures with a basic zoom lens of coots, shovelers, ruddy shelducks etc.

Beyond the bridge is a long pathway with water bodies on either side. The path is wide enough for just one vehicle to pass, and there are bird sightings on either side.At a distance of about 10-15 feet, we sighted bee-eaters aplenty, kingfishers, common ioras, pippits, drongos and many water birds like purple herons, purple swamphens, purple moorhens, painted storks, wooly necked storks, pheasant tailed jacanas, black winged stints, pond herons, grey herons and egrets of all types.You can easily take photographs as the models are not camera shy if you stay inside the car. We got plenty of pictures and saw at least 50-60 species.

We also saw birds of prey like harriers, eagles and kites. A little further up is a village where the villagers offer to take you on a ride in the smaller boats to take you closer to the ducks. Flamingoes also grace this gifted place and one can reach them only through a boat ride that costs about Rs 150-200 per person. It is a treat to watch the birds at eye level in the water. The flight patterns, the fishing styles and feeding sights of waders are a delight to watch.I came back completely impressed with this place, which can easily be called the Bharatpur of Maharashtra. After having geo-tagged all the birding hotspots, the true potential of this place hit me hard. No wonder this place is being proposed as a bird sanctuary. India Tours

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mauritius The Adventure Island

Mauritius promises a unique holiday for nature lovers. The contrast of a multitude of colours and tastes, the island, set in its turquoise sea, is an oasis of peace and tranquillity. Mauritius, a melting pot where past and present are smoothly blended together, offers an essential beauty that will compel to return to its shores time and time again.

About Mauritius: Mauritius is a tiny island country off the coast of Madagascar, politically and geographically a part of Africa. However, ethnically and culturally it is much more Indian and French, than African. Mauritius is situated in the Indian Ocean, approximately 2400 kilometres off the South East Coast of Africa. The island, which is of volcanic origin, covers an area of 1,865 square kilometres or 720 square miles. Coral reefs surround most of the coast except the south.

History of Mauritius:

After a brief Dutch settlement, French immigrants who came in 1715 named the island Île de France and established the first road and harbor infrastructure, as well as the sugar industry, under the leadership of Gov. Mahe de Labourdonnais. Blacks from Africa and Madagascar came as slaves to work in the sugarcane fields. In 1810, the British captured the island and in 1814, by the Treaty of Paris, it was ceded to Great Britain along with its dependencies.

Indian immigration, which followed the abolition of slavery in 1835, rapidly changed the fabric of Mauritian society, and the country flourished with the increased cultivation of sugarcane. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 heralded the decline of Mauritius as a port of call for ships rounding the southern tip of Africa, bound for South and East Asia. The economic instability of the price of sugar, the main crop, in the first half of the 20th century brought civil unrest, then economic, administrative, and political reforms. Mauritius became independent on March 12, 1968.

Major tourist attractions in Mauritius:

Grand Bay: Grand Bay was the first area of the island to fully experience the tourist boom. A shopping and leisure paradise, Grand Bay also happens to be the area where Mauritians head for when they want a fun-filled night out (restaurants, bars and discos). Recently renovated, La Cuvette beach is well worth a visit.

Pereybère: The wonderful Pereybere public beach is popular vacation packages destination because of its shopping facilities, restaurants and pubs.

Balaclava Ruins:

A few metres away from Baie aux Tortues, which 17th century sailors named after the many tortoises in the area, can be found the ruins of the old Balaclava estate. Visitors will be able to see the sea walls, whose initial foundations were laid down by Mahé de Labourdonnais.

The Triolet Shivala:

The longest village on the island, Triolet offers an opportunity to visit the biggest Hindu temple, the Maheswarnath, first built in 1819 in honour of the Gods Shiva, Krishna, Vishnu, Muruga, Brahma and Ganesha.

The Labourdonnais Orchards:

Discover a large variety of tropical fruit trees, colourful and perfumed exotic flowers. Trips on mountain bikes or hiking are possible.

What to do in Mauritius:

Deep Sea Fishing: Mauritius is a paradise for deep sea fishing. Species include the blue or black marlin, all types of sharks, yellow tuna, the Bonitos, the ‘emperor’, the ‘pélerin’, the ‘bécune’ or the barracuda.

Huge fishes like the Blue Marlin roam our seas and hunt around the island from November to April, and very often until May. The ocean is 70 metres deep one kilometre away from the coast. Mauritius holds several world fishing records (IGFA), including that of the mako shark of 1115 pounds, the blue shark of 400 pounds, a bonito of 41.5 pounds, a white tuna of 224 pounds and a ‘bécune’ of 125 pounds. African records (GFUA) mention a yellow tuna of 212 pounds and a white tuna of 224 pounds. Other specimens recently caught include blue marlins of 1430 and 1355 pounds. Fishing boats can be hired from almost all hotels. The most prestigious deep sea fishing competition is the Marlin World Cup which is hosted in December by La Pirogue Hotel

Spas: Those seeking well-being during their holidays should be sure to visit the spas, new oases of peace where time stands still. Mauritius offers several world-class items. If the seemingly endless miles of beaches, the natural hospitality of the Mauritian people and the huge range of different types of food are not enough , why not set off on a very special journey !

Pay a visit to some of the spas, where you can put yourself into the capable hands of experts and allow yourself to be carried away by your senses. These spas are now regarded as a must, on the tourist itinerary.

The islands most famous spas include One&Only Le Saint Géran, the Royal Palm, Hilton, Prince Maurice, Beau Rivage, Oberoi, The Residence, Sofitel Imperial and Dinarobin hotels where holidays also mean fitness and enlightened senses.

Honeymooner's paradise:

If you are looking for a very special place to spend your honeymoon, Mauritius is definitely the place for you. Every hotel on the island offers extensive wedding and honeymoon tour packages. They can also help you in organising every single detail of the ceremony.Everything is possible. You can choose to have an intimate, private occasion or a more adventurous way of exchanging vows.On a sunny beachside, under the sea or in the sky, Mauritius will transform your wedding or your honeymoon into an unforgettable moment.

Hotels in Mauritius:

Apavou Group of Hotels:

Indian Resort Hotel and Spa: The Indian Resort Hotel and Spa in Mauritius, a Hotel complex of 349 rooms is a true idyllic place for tourists which travel .Conceived in a way that all the rooms have a sight on the Indian Ocean.. Its white sandy beach stretches on one kilometer and is in the vicinity of the must of the Island, "One Eye", which is the ideal spot for water sports lovers practicing windsurfing, sailing or even kite surf.

Hotel Ambre, Mauritius: Coming out of a dream décor, Ambre Hotel stands on one of the nicest beach of the island. All 298 rooms are air conditioned and situated on 2 floors and divided in 4 categories. Its Immaculate sand stretches out over more than one kilometer, facing a turquoise lagoon which swimmers and water sports lovers can enjoy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fairs Festivals India in 2010

It’s no secret: Indians don’t need a reason to celebrate. Whether it is taking a holy dip in the Ganges or dancing in the Himalayas, we simply love to let our hair down. And the fact that we have so many cultures and religions co-existing makes India an even merrier place to live in.Below is the lists out some of the best-known festivals and fairs that are to be held through 2010 in India.

The Kumbh Mela (Haridwar, Uttarakhand)
January 14 to April 28
Perhaps the largest religious (or otherwise) gathering in the world, the Kumbh Mela is a festival that is most revered of all festivities in India. Sages and pilgrims from across the country gather at Haridwar and take a holy dip in the Ganges to wash away their sins. The Mela consists of many ’snans’ or holy dips, the first of which happened on January 14 and the fair is currently underway.Even as it is one of the most pious of all the festivals, the concept of the Kumbh Mela has become something of a joke in pop culture thanks to Bollywood movie characters who often refer to it (with tongues firmly in their cheek) as the place where they lost their sibling.

Republic Day (New Delhi)
January 26

A colourful, military parade and floats from each state move down Rajpath, New Delhi, and daredevil fly past, attended by the President and prime minister marks the celebration of India’s statehood every year on January 26. Officially, the festivity ends on January 29, with the Beating of the Retreat.
Art, culture and desert festival 
Jaipur Literary Festival (Jaipur, Rajasthan)
January 21-January 25
It’s where the best-known minds of contemporary literature meet and debate. Sure you may argue that the debates don’t lead anywhere but hey imagine bumping into Salman Rushdie over lunch or VS Naipaul over tea! Not such a bad way to start the year, is it?

Hampi Festival (Hampi, Karnataka)
January 27-January 29
Built on the banks of the river Tungabhadra, Hampi was the capital city of the Vijayanagar Empire and is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.The festival of Hampi with dance, music, fireworks and processions hopes to recreate the splendour of city against its ruins. Usually the festival is held in November but this year is the 500th anniversary of the coronation of the much-revered king of the Vijaynagar Empire, Krishna Devaraya (1509 to 1529), and hence the January festivities.

Desert Festival (Jaisalmer)
January 28-January 30
Colourful bazaars, camel races, traditional puppet shows, fire dance and folk music and dance programmes, the desert definitely doesn’t get more interesting in India than this.Some of the highlights of this competition include turban tying contests, the sound and light show and folk artists performing against the sand dunes in Sam.

FEBRUARY: Surajkund Mela, Khajuraho fest and more
Surajkund Crafts Mela (Haryana)
February 1-February 15
The popular mela or fair is a platform for folk artistes and artisans from across the country to display their talent. A shopper’s paradise, the Surajkund Crafts Mela has a state for a theme each year. This year will be Rajasthan’s turn. With the growing the number of states in India, the mela sure won’t run out of states to feature.

Khajuraho Dance Festival (Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh)
1 February - February 7
Home to India’s most erotic sculptures, the Khajuraho temple grounds play host to an exhilarating Festival of Dances each year.The festival is hosted by the Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation and showcases the most prominent exponents of various Indian classical dances.

Mahashivratri (Across India)
February 12, 2010
It is supposed to be the night Lord Shiva danced his frenzied tandava or celestial dance of destruction. On this day Shiva temples across the country are crowded as devotees flock for the blessings of the deity. If you’re in Mumbai and are adventurous enough you could try and visit the Babulnath Temple in South Mumbai. The Mahakaleswar Temple at Ujjain also sees a special celebration as does Mandi in Himachal Pradesh.
A carnival and cultural festival
Goa Carnival (Panaji, Goa)
February 13-February 16
It’s officially the last day of festivity and celebrations before Lent. The Goa Carnival is held in Panaji, the capital of Goa. Fancy dress balls, floats, parades and a frenetic round of dancing, drinking and feasting mark the celebrations as highlight of the festivities ‘King Momo’ the officially appointed festival ruler parades through the city streets.

Taj Mahotsav (Agra, Uttar Pradesh)
February 18-February 27
The festival is organised at Shilpigram, which is close to the Taj Mahal. It’s where some 400-odd artisans display their art. Taj Mahotsav also has a lot of cultural festivities where performers from across the country display their folk and classical art forms. With the Taj Mahal as the backdrop, surely nothing could be better, could it?
MARCH: Welcoming spring
Holi (Across India)

March 1
Holi the festival of colours is celebrated across the India with a few variations here and there. But if there is a place to be in India during Holi it is the village of Barsana near Mathura in Uttar Pradesh.Barsana hosts something called the Lath mar Holi where women beat up men with sticks. Of course the men protect themselves with shields. But it’s a sight to watch sari-clad women having the time of their lives in this rather amusing ritual. After all no one’s going to sue you if you miss a stroke.

Nauchandi Mela (Meerut, Uttar Pradesh)
A classic example of religious tolerance is the Nauchandi Mela, a festival that is held near the Hindu Nauchandi temple and the Muslim shrine of Bala Mian.Legend has it that the month-long fair that starts soon after Holi, first started as a one-day trade fair for cattle traders back in 1627. Since then it has been each year growing in stature except in 1858 when the city saw the revolt against the East India Company.

Gudi Padwa (All over Maharashtra)
March 16
The New Year’s Day in the Marathi calendar, Gudi Padwa is supposed to mark the beginning of spring. Maharashtrians consider this day as one of the three and a half most auspicious days when every moment is favourable to start a new activity.It is celebrated throughout Maharashtra with families decorating a stick with a bright coloured cloth and a pot turned upside down resting on the top of the stick. The traditional Gudi Padwa meal is shrikand (a sweet dish made of yogurt) and puri.

Royal splendour
Gangaur Festival (Rajasthan)

March 18 to March 19
Celebrated in the honour of the goddess of abundance, the Gangaur festival is when young girls pray for a spouse of their choice. The festivities include a procession being taken to the closest water body with the women carrying images of the goddess on their heads.The places to be (and to see pretty Indian girls dressed in their traditional best) include Bikaner, Jodhpur, Nathdwara and Jaisalmer. And just in case you’re wondering what happens to these girls when they get married, well they simply pray for their husbands!

Elephant Festival (Jaipur)
March 24
Should pretty much tell you what it is and where, shouldn’t it? Processions of elephants decorated and groomed before a stunned audience displaying the splendour of the royal state of Rajasthan. Not to be missed also are the elephant polo matches and the elephant races.

APRIL: Celebrating new beginnings
Easter (Across India)

April 4
Although Easter is celebrated all over the country, Goa is considered to be one of the most popular Easter holiday destinations in India. Expect lots of celebrations in this former Portuguese colony with song, dance and carnivals.

Baisakhi (Punjab)
April 14
It is a festival that marks the solar new year and the sowing of the new crop for most communities in India. The date varies from state to state. Baishakhi falls on April 14 in Punjab and is the Punjabi New Year and the start of the harvest of wheat in the state. The traditional Punjabi dance, Bhangra that is performed on this day all over Punjab is the harvest dance of the state.

Nobo Borsho / Boishakh (West Bengal)
 April 14
Nobo Borsho or the New Year is the beginning of the New Year for Bengalis. The month that follows is called Boishakh, an auspicious time for marriages.It is also perhaps the best time to visit Kolkata because there are tons of fairs being held in and around the city. Of these, the most popular is the Bangla Sangit Mela a music festival that is conducted by the state government.The thing to do is to get yourself invited to a wedding. That shouldn’t be much of a hassle since we Indians are so warm to begin with. Or else you could simply gatecrash into one of them.

Vishu (Kerala)
 April 14
This is supposed to mark the first day of the Malayalam year and is also the harvest festival of Kerala. North Kerala traditionally has seen more fireworks and celebrations than the rest of the state. However it’s always great to be in a place of festivities in any part of the world, isn’t it?
Bohag or Rangoli Bihu (Assam)
This festival marks the new year, beginning of Spring and is also an agricultural festival of Assam. Cattle is worshipped and festivities include paying homage to elders and having meals consisting of Chira, curds and sweets.Bohag Bihu is one of the three Bihus that celebrate the three seasons — spring, summer and winter.

Chitra Festival (Madurai Temple, Tamil Nadu)
 From April 14
Chitra Festival at the Madurai Temple commences on April 14. A showy festival that lasts for nearly a fortnight, it begins on the Tamil New Year. Chitra celebrates the marriage of Meenakshi to Shiv and brims with pomp. Festivities include a spate of dramas depicting Meenakshi’s life history.On the eighth day a procession of elephants and chariots transport the nuptial pair through the town streets and to the banks of the Vagai River to meet Meenakshi’s brother Lord Kallalagar (an avatar of Vishnu) who is transported there from his hilltop abode at Algarkovil, outside Madurai. This ceremonious meeting — the logistics of which are mind-boggling — has more than its usual quotient of Indian-style pandemonium.

MAY: Festival of flowers
Sikkim Flower Festival (Sikkim)

Held near White Hall, the governor’s residence in Gangtok, the flower show displays some of Sikkim’s famous orchids, gladioli, roses, alpine plants, ferns, rhododendrons etc. A food festival, river rafting and Yak safaris are other attractions at the festival.

Moatsu Mong (Nagaland)
First week of May
North-East India Tours is arguably the most untouched part of the country. Rituals of the seven sister states are unknown to most Indians.Moatsu Mong provides a great opportunity to give you a glimpse into an aspect of the culture — that of Nagaland. The Sping festival usually falls in May and goes on for over six days. Folk dances, songs, tribal chants and indigenous games are all part of this festival — a must-see for all city-bred folks who think their city limits are the end of the world.

Ooty Summer Festival (Ooty, Tamil Nadu)
Pretty much like most other summer festivals, the Ooty version has the regular cultural programmes that include fashion shows, flower arrangement exhibitions, boat races and the works. Visit the Botanical Gardens for the spectacular flower show.Critics of the hill station will probably tell you that the place is getting to be crazily crowded. But hey, tell us a city that isn’t!

Buddha Purnima (Bodh Gaya, Bihar)
May 27
Bodha Gaya is the place where Buddha attained Nirvana. It is a prominent Buddhist tourist spot and is the most sacred of the four Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the country — the other three include Sarnath (Uttar Pradesh), Sanchi (Madhya Pradesh) and Ajanta (Maharashtra).

JUNE: Celebrating the Ganga
 Badrinath-Kedar Festival

This is an important music festival. The location of the festival in the snowy Himalayan towns of Badrinath and Kedarnath makes the event quite memorable.

Ganga Dusshera (Varanasi and Haridwar)
June 11
Glenn Beck might’ve called Ganga a disease. Sure the river’s been polluted quite a bit but the Ganges will always remain India’s most favourite river. Celebrating it’s descent and presence on earth, folks in Varanasi, Haridwar, Prayag, Rishikesh etc celebrate the Ganga Dusshera along the river’s banks. For ten days there are celebrations, pujas and aartis performed as a mark of respect for the holy river. How’s that for a disease, Beck?

Shimla Summer Festival (Shimla, Himachal Pradesh)
Early June
A time for celebrations and cheer in what used to be the summer capital of India during the days of the Raj. The Shimla festival has something to offer for everyone. Popular  singers and local artistes rub shoulders here and fashion shows, flower display and film festivals are organised for entertainment.

Sindhu Darshan Festival (Leh-Ladakh, Jammu)
Early June
The festival celebrates one of the world’s longest rivers — the Sindhu. Expect some breathtaking cultural festivities that aim to promote peace, harmony and are a celebration of the country called India. As a symbolic gesture performing troupes from across the country carry waters from the other rivers in pots and immerse them in the Sindhu.

Hemis Festival, (Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir)
June 20
Held in the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh, the Festival is celebrated to commemorate the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava, founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Expect dances, plays and music from drums, cymbals and long horns. For the compulsive shoppers there some exquisite handicraft from the region for sale.
JULY: Puri’s Chariot Festival and more
Mango Festival (New Delhi)

It’s a dream come true most kids (and many adults too). With over 500 varieties of mangoes on display New Delhi is a paradise for mango lovers. Expect some lip-smacking competitions and some killer mango products at this festival that is held in the capital in July every year since 1987 and is jointly organised by the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, the National Horticultural Board and the NDMC.

Splash 2010 (Wayanad, Kerala)
First week of July
The Wayanad Tourism Organisation or WTO as they like to call themselves organise a carnival in the Wayanad district of Kerala to promote the area as a tourist destination around the time when the heavens open up.Apart from the usual song-n-dance festivities by local artistes, you could also try out their adventure sports that include ‘mud football’, a marathon, a slow cycle race and tons of other fun stuff.

Jagannath Yatra (Puri, Orissa)
July 13 onwards
This is the famous chariot festival of Puri, Orissa. A procession of chariots bearing the presiding deities of the main temple — Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are pulled by hordes of devotees to their ’summer cottage’ the Gundicha temple, one mile away over a period of 24 hours.The word juggernaut in the English language gets its meaning from this festival. Music, elephants, royalty, plenty of colour and organised anarchy are a sideshow to this unmissable event which is repeated nine days later when the Jagannath family returns home from their vacation.Legend has it that the journey of the Jagannath trio symbolises or mimics Krishna’s journey — Jagannath is an avatar or reincarnation of Vishnu, as is Krishna — from Gokul to Mathura to kill his wickedly powerful uncle, King Kans. Areas of Bengal and Bihar also celebrate their own home grown version of the festival.

India Fair Festivals in 2010

AUGUST: The battle of the snakeboats and more
Teej (Jaipur, Rajasthan)
August 12-August 13
One of the many colourful festivals of Rajasthan, Teej is celebrated in honour of the reunion of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati after a penance of a hundred years. On this day, women dress up and pray for their husband’s health and longevity. It also celebrates the rains, which are always welcome in this dry state.The markets of Jaipur are where you should be heading on this day, to buy clothes and sweets specially made for the occasion as also to witness the processions across the city.

Independence Day (Delhi)
August 15
The day when India awoke to ‘life and freedom’ in 1947 is celebrated throughout the nation with flag-hoisting ceremonies being held all over. On this day the Prime Minister addresses the nation through a televised speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi.

Onam and Nehru Trophy Boat Race (Alleppey, Kerala)
August 14 August 23
Onam is the harvest festival of Kerala that celebrates the homecoming of the legendary King Mahabali. Celebrated over 10 days the festivities include folk dance performances, elephant procession and snake boat race.The Nehru Trophy Boat Race on the Punnamda Lake, near Alappuzha, held on the second Saturday of August every year, is the most competitive and popular of the boat races. On the day of this fiercely-fought boat race, the tranquil lake front is transformed into a sea of humanity with an estimated 200,000 people, many of them tourists, who come to watch the event. For the people of each village in Kuttanad, a victory at this race for their village boat is something to be celebrated for months to come.

Parsi New Year (Mumbai)
August 19
Although the Parsi New Year is celebrated in various pockets across the country, it is mainly in Mumbai that you can truly experience the celebrations since a good part of the community has made the city their home.On this day Parsis visit the Fire Temple to offer prayers, which is followed by bhonu or lunch. Traditionally, families also go to watch a Gujarati play in the evening that is put up only for this one day. Usually farcical comedies with tonnes of innuendos the plays are surprisingly watched by almost the entire family.Entry to Fire Temples in India is restricted only to Parsis though you could watch the play if you really want to be part of the celebrations or simply head to a Parsi eatery in South Mumbai.

Raksha Bandhan
August 24
This is the day when a sister ties a decorated thread on the wrist of her brother who promises to protect her in return. A fairly private ceremony, celebrated in homes rather than in public, it provides a good excuse for all cousins and their parents to get together.

SEPTEMBER: Holy month of fasting and feasting
Janmashtami (Across India)
September 2
Janmashtami is celebrated across the country to mark the birth of Lord Krishna. While in the cities of Mathura and Vrindavan see some enchanting performances of the Ras Leela or the Dance of Divine Love, Maharashtra celebrates it by breaking the dahi handi or the earthen pot filled with curd and butter. The pot is tied several feet above the ground and young boys (sometimes girls too) form a human pyramid and reach up to it to claim the prize money.

Id-ul-Fitr or Ramzan (Across India)
August 11 to September 9
The holy month of Ramzan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It is when the followers of Islam refrain from eating or drinking anything from dawn till sunset. After the sun goes down though, the festivities begin with some lip smacking delicacies being made at traditional Islamic eateries. The most delicious food, however, is served on the streets lining the local mosques and shrines like Chandni Chowk-Jama Masjid area in Delhi and Mohammed Ali road in Mumbai.

Ladakh Festival (Leh Ladakh)
September 1-15
Various performing troupes from across Ladakh come together for an annual performance and celebrations. The procession passes through the Leh market and finishes at the polo ground. What follows are 15 days of festivities, mask dances and archery and polo competitions.

Ganpati Bappa Morya!
Ganesh Chaturthi (Across Maharashtra)

September 11
Celebrated in honour of Lord Ganesha, the festival gained importance during India’s freedom struggle when the Bal Gangadhar Tilak used it as a cover for rebels’ meeting. The festival, which begins with the bringing of clay images of the deity ends with the immersion on the tenth day. However certain households and public Ganesha idols are immersed on the second, fifth and the seventh days too. Pune and Mumbai are considered to be the hubs of this festival and you can expect a lot of traffic jams during this period.

Tarnetar Mela (Tarnetar near Rajkot, Gujarat)
September 11 to September 13
It might be a quiet hamlet for most part of the year. But come September and Tarnetar in Gujarat turns busy as a beehive. The mela is held in honour of Lord Shiva at the Trineteshwar Mahadev temple.
According to the Mahabharat, Arjuna performed the Matsyavedha (an archery feat) during Draupadi’s swayamvara at this temple. Ever since, Tarnetar has been known for its swayamvara, where a girl has the right to choose her life partner. This tradition continues in the Bharwad community. Folk music and dances, a large number of stalls selling local handicrafts, magic shows, joy rides and camel rides are the other attractions at the fair.

OCTOBER: Urs, Commonwealth Games and Durga Puja
Urs Ajmer Sharif (Ajmer, Rajasthan)
October 1-October 6
Celebrated in honour of the Sufi saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, the Ajmer Sharif shrine sees a lot of celebrations where devotees of different faiths come here from far and wide to pay their respects and listen to divine quwwalis and sufi songs sans the techno beats in the night. Shoppers keep an eye open for local woven and block printed fabrics!

Gandhi Jayanti (Across India)
October 2
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2 in Porbunder, Gujarat on this day. Gandhi Jayanti is celebrated with commemorative events in the memory of the Father of the Nation.

Commonwealth Games (New Delhi)
October 3 to October 14
The 19th Commonwealth Games will be held in the nation’s capital and will be the largest multi-sport event to be held in the country. The ceremony will take place at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

Durga Puja  (West Bengal and parts of Bihar)
October 8-October 16
In Bengal and parts of Bihar, the nine days leading upto Dasshera are devoted to the worship of Durga, an avatar of Parvati, Shiva’s consort. The festival rejoices her victory over the buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura, after a nine-day battle.Every street corner or tiny village puts up its own clay image of Durga riding a tiger. It is the most important festival of Bengal with much feasting and merriment. The beautiful pandals put up in every neighbourhood of Kolkata are famous. The festival reaches its high point in Kolkata on the tenth day when the images are taken to the Hooghly River for immersion.

The festival of nine nights!
Navratri (Gujarat and Mumbai)
October 8-October 16
In Gujarat and among Gujaratis in Mumbai, this is the festival of nights.It is celebrated during the nine days preceding Dasshera and is the occasion for folk dances or dandiya raas or garba dances.There are many variations of these dances, and today many are done in accompaniment to Hindi film music and laser images. Navratri honours the goddess of strength, Amba among other goddesses. This festival is celebrated in south India, as well, with puja and fasting and night vigil. It lasts for nine days during which pujas devoted to the goddesses of strength, wealth and knowledge are conducted.

Dusshera (Across India, especially Delhi and Mysore)
October 17
Vijay Dashmi or the 10th day of Dusshera is a day of rejoicing the victory of good over evil, when Rama, hero of the mythological epic Ramayana, defeated and killed the demon king Ravana with the aid of the monkey king, Hanuman. It is celebrated by burning paper and wood statues of Ravan. Don’t miss the Ram Leela performances — plays depicting the life of Rama, in Delhi and Varanasi.The Mysore Dusshera is held in the Mysore Palace Grounds. Musicians perform on the grounds and the palace is thrown open to the public. A special fireworks extravaganza, also the highlight of the evening, follows.At the one-week Kullu Dusshera fair, celebrations include a rath yatra and folk music and dance performances.

Bharat Milap (Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh)
It is supposed to be the day when Lord Rama was reunited with his brother Bharata after 14 years of exile in the Hindu epic Ramayana.The festivities attract a lot of devotees from all over India with the star attraction being the local maharaja participating in full costume riding an elephant!

NOVEMBER: Festival of lights and more

November 3
In North India, two days before Diwali, it is obligatory to buy gold. Bazaars everywhere are crammed with exotic jewellery even as the prices of gold hit an all-time high.

November 5
Diwali or Deepavali signifies deepa or lights and avali or row and hence a ‘row of lights’.It is an extravagant and lavish pageant of lights and firecrackers, worth fitting into a travel itinerary, especially if one is in Rajasthan, Delhi or Gujarat. Every home is lit up with oil lamps, in the manner that Ayodhya was lit up for the return of Lord Ram.Lakshmi puja (worship of goddess of wealth and consort of Lord Vishnu), feasting, gambling and decorating the home with rangoli, is the order of the day.In South India Diwali is a celebration of the death of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna. Mythological demon-king Narakasura had managed to wangle out of Brahma and Shiva because of the boons he received and had grown powerfully evil. The devas or the gods requested Lord Krishna to annihilate him, which he did at Dwarka.
New Year
November 7
For the business community in northern and western India, the Hindu new year starts the day after Diwali. A special puja is performed in offices across the country and financial records begin anew on this day.

November 7
It is another festival for brothers and sisters marked by exchange of sweets and gifts.

Maha Kanda Shasti Utsavam (Across Tamil Nadu)
This festival is celebrated in the six temples or abodes of Lord Murugan — Tiruchendur (temple near Thirunelveli), Thirupparankunram (temple near Madurai), Palani hill temple (Dindigal district), Swami Malai (near Kumbakonam), Thiruthanigai (near Chennai) and Pazhamudhir Solai (near Madurai). Lengthy bouts of bursting fire-crackers, feasting, dances make this one of the largest festivals in this southern state.

Chhat Puja (Across Bihar)
November 11
This holiday is one of the biggest in the state of Bihar, and is a festival for married women. It entails worship of the sun and is also called Surya Puja. Women gather before dawn and wade waist deep in rivers across Bihar, with sweets, grain, fruit and puja paraphernalia like incense and holy water, to fete the sun. The process is repeated again in the evening. Over the years, the Chhat festivities have extended to pockets of the country, which have strong Bihari population such as Mumbai.

A cultural extravaganza!
Pushkar Camel Fair (Pushkar, Rajasthan)

November 13 to November 21
Held in Rajasthan, Pushkar is India’s most famous camel fair and coincides with Kartik Purnima or a special full moon. Thousands congregate for this colourful mela, traders and tourists alike. It is an occasion for much singing and dancing, folk style. Camel races, handicraft bazaars, fireworks are the order of the day. Special tent facilities are provided for tourists.

Children’s Day
November 14
The birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru and India’s first prime minister is celebrated across the country’s schools because of his love for children. In New Delhi, there is a special fair for children at the India Gate and programmes are organised at the Dolls Museum, Bal Bhavan and at Teen Murti Bhavan, Nehru’s home.

Garhwal Festival (Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand)
It is a cultural affair that toasts the culture of the Garhwal hill people, held at Uttarkashi. Celebrate with these simple people living in the lap of the Himalayas as they sing and dance their blues away.

Lucknow Festival (Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh)
Late November
A fortnight of cultural events, food festivals and handicraft bazaars that highlight the splendour of Lucknow, this festival is organised by Uttar Pradesh Tourism. Also witness and participate in traditional village games, kite flying, cock-fighting matches through the fortnight.

Ganga Mahotsav, Guru Nanak Jayanti and more
Ganga Mahotsav (Benaras, Uttar Pradesh)

November 17-November 21
This is a time for festivity along the banks of the Ganga in Banaras or Varanasi, the city said to be ‘perched on the edge of time’. While it continues to be an auspicious festival, the Ganga Mahotsav is a great symbol of cultural melting pot with people from various classes, castes, religions and nationalities come together to worship the Ganges.The high point of the festival are the evenings when earthen lamps on lotus leaves are set afloat on the river.

Guru Nanak Jayanti
November 21
This is the biggest day for the Sikh community in India. On this day saint Guru Nanak was born. The festival is celebrated by taking out processions and prayer readings from the sacred granth or holy book. Amritsar is a special place to be on this day.

Sikkimese New Year (Sikkim)
Late November-Early December
Celebrating end of the harvest season, the Sikkimese New Year or Losoong begins each year in the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar. Religious festivities, exuberant celebrations and dances with people dressed as gods are part of the celebrations.Places to be in Sikkim during this time of the year include the monasteries at Tsuklakhang Palace, Phodong and Rumtek Monastery.

Sonepur Mela (Sonepur, Bihar)
This is the world’s largest cattle fair. Sonepur, a town located at the confluence of the Gandak and Ganga rivers in Bihar comes alive during this festival, which is timed to coincide with Kartik Purnima or a special full moon. Thousands — pilgrims, traders and tourists — converge for the trade of cattle and grain and to witness the drama, music, contests, shows and to shop.Mythology has it that Sonepur was the historical location of a war between the king of the jungle and the king of the waters — the elephant and the crocodile. Elephants too are still traded at the fair. For the devout and the non-materialistic, bathing on Kartik Purnima in the river and puja at Hariharnath temple is routine.

Cultural fest at Qutub Minar…
Chandrabhaga Fair (Jhalawar, Rajasthan)

Late November
This fair is a special event in the town of Jhalawar in Rajasthan. Celebrations involve bathing by the devout at full moon or Kartika Purnima in the Chandrabhaga River and puja at the many beautiful ancient temples that line the river.

Guru Tegh Bahadur’s Martyrdom Day (Amritsar, Punjab)
November 24
On this day in 1675, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb killed the Sikh leader in Chandni Chowk after he refused to convert to Islam. A religious procession is taken out in Amritsar, the city of Golden Temple along with the Guru Granth Sahib (the holy scripture of the Sikhs) in a golden palanquin.

Annual Winter Sports (Kufri, Himachal Pradesh)
Despite its largely tropical climate, India has much to offer thanks to its geographical diversity. Head to Kufri in Himachal Pradesh this November to get a taste of winter adventure sports in India. Kufri, which is quite close to Shimla, has a wide range of slopes for beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers.

Qutab festival (Delhi)
The three-day Qutab Festival is organised by Delhi Tourism in order to ‘preserve and present the rich tradition of Indian music, contemporary as well as classical’. Some of the best names from the Indian dance and music fraternity gather here to perform with the Qutub Minar as the backdrop.

DECEMBER: Dancing and feasting
Konark Festival (Konark, Orissa)

December 1-December 5
This is the place to be if you’re a fan of Indian performing arts. Artistes from across the world practicing Odissi, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak and a host of other classical and folk dances perform at the Sun Temple at Konark each year. This year happens to be the 25th anniversary of the festival. So you can sure expect some fireworks.

Hanukkah (Cochin, Kerala)
December 1-December 9
India’s meagre population of Jews celebrates this festival of lights, which commemorates the purification of the Temple in 165 BC. The tiny declining locality of Jew Town in Cochin, Kerala has perhaps the most atmospheric celebrations of this feast in India.

Feast of St Francis Xavier (Old Goa)
December 3
The feast commemorates the death of St. Francis Xavier, patron saint of Goa. According to legend, after he died the body of this Spanish Jesuit missionary was brought back to India and was found as fresh as the day he was buried. It was then kept in a silver casket in the Basilica of Bom Jesus Church in Old Goa. The feast attracts thousands of Christians across the country and the otherwise quiet old town springs to life.

Camels on ramp, Xmas and New Year celebrations
Bikaner Festival (Bikaner, Rajasthan)
Late December/Early January
A stunning procession of camels walks past the imposing Junagarh Fort. This is followed by camel races and various other competitions involving the ship of the desert. The town also houses the Karni Mata Temple where holy rats are worshipped and on the outskirts is a camel breeding farm. The dates of the festival vary each year. So even though the last festival was held on December 30 and 31, the next one will be held sometime in January 2011.

Kagyat Dance Festival
This is a Sikkimese festival where the major players are the monks who perform dances. Each dance is a skit from Buddhist mythology accompanied by ritual chanting and music. On this day evil spirits are exorcised by burning effigies made from wood, flour or paper.

December 25
Churches are decked and nativity scenes are set up at street corners in some cities. While Midnight Mass services are rare because of court orders, Goa, Kerala, Chennai and parts Mumbai and Kolkata as well as the Christian areas of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagalandare places where major festivity takes place.

New Year’s Eve
December 31
The big cities of India celebrate New Year’s Eve with verve. The Gateway of India in Mumbai, Park Street in Kolkata, and many parts of Goa are the scene of much merriment.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mandu a Honeymoon Paradise

For all those who head straight for the hills for that elusive whiff of romance, let me say that Mandu is the perfect honeymoon destination. It is the city of love and delight; after all one of its most famous legends is the love story of Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati.Mandu is situated about 90 kms. from Indore. Mandu is also known as Shadibad, which means the city of joy. Mandu was fortified as early as the 6th century, but gained prominence in the 10th century as the fort capital of the Parmar rulers of Malwa. Mandu is perched along the Vindhyan ranges at 592 m. Later, towards the end of the 13th century it came under the sway of the Sultans of Malwa, under whom it was named Shadiabad. It is now a romantic ghost city remarkably intact over an area of 12 square km.
Mandu is situated on an isolated hill top which is separated from the tableland to the north by a deep and wide valley over which a natural causeway runs to the main city gate. Mandu is the largest standing fortified town in the world. The walls of Mandu have a circumference of 75 km. The walls look the same as they did some 300 years ago. There is an abundance of mango, tamarind and banyan trees. The city is particularly beautiful immediately after the monsoons, a emerald green landscape full of waterfalls. There are lakes, groves, gardens and palaces. The best season to visit Mandu is from June to September, when the tanks are full and the rain turns the entire countryside into a verdant green.

Best time to visit: Mandu enjoys an extreme climate. The best season to visit this place is during the monsoon, that is, from July to September. While other places in Madhya Pradesh and most of the north and peninsular India are closed for tourism during monsoon, Mandu is more of a monsoon resort than anything else. The natural surroundings are in full bloom during this time.
Major tourist Attractions in Mandu: Perched in the rugged terrains of the Vindhyas, Mandu is a fort hilltop located in Madhya Pradesh. Its enchanting landscape, embedded with architectural gems, is cuddled by mountains at a height of 2000 ft. The place still echoes with the elegance and beauty of the regal era and abounds in historical monuments that have gracefully aged with time. These architectural relics scattered throughout the beautifully rutted backcloth of the mountains form its major tourist attractions. Based on their location, these edifices are segregated into three distinct groups. Explore the numerous places in Mandu that interest tourists.
Royal Enclave Group

Jahaz Mahal (Ship Palace)

This ship-like structure was the brainchild of Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji. The palace served as his harem and was home to 15,000 maidens. Two lakes bound the palace on the eastern and western sides and underpin the illusion of a ship.
Taveli Mahal

Located on the south of Jahaz Mahal, this ancient monument was used as a guardhouse and a stable during the Mughal regime. It now acts as a gallery of Archaeological Survey of India and houses various archaeological findings.
Hindola Mahal (Swing Palace)

It is located near the Jahaz Mahal and is a large hall that is supported by sloping buttresses. It served as a pleasure palace of the Mughals, who organized their evening parties here during the monsoon season.
Champa Baoli

An elaborately constructed step-well, the place was so named as its waters were believed to smell like the 'Champa' flower. A summer retreat of the emperor,; it houses cool wells, underground rooms (Taikhanas) & subterranean bathrooms.
Village Group
Jami Masjid

This huge edifice, built in 1454, was one of the finest achievements of the Ghauri dynasty. Faced with red sandstone, the monument dominates the village of Mandu and is structured on the 'Omayyed Mosque' in Damascus, Syria.
Tomb of Hoshang Shah

It lies on the south-west of the Jami Masjid and is believed to be the oldest marble building of India. Sheathed completely in white marble, its design and workmanship greatly influenced Shah Jahan, who sent his architects to study it before building the Taj Mahal.
Ashrafi Mahal

It was built by Mahmud Shah Khilji. Originally constructed as a Muslim religious school (Madrasa), the place was later extended to become his own mausoleum. The building collapsed due to faulty architecture and now stands amidst ruins.
Jain Temple

It is a modern temple complex that enshrines images of various Jain 'Tirthankars'. All the temples are richly festooned with marble, silver and golden statues of the Jain saints. The place also houses a Jain museum inside it.
Rewa Kund Group
Baz Bahadur's Palace

Located near Rewa Kund, this place was erected in 1509 by Baz Bahadur, the last king of Malwa. It exhibits a skillful blend of Mughal and Rajasthani architectural style, with high terraces, ornate halls and spacious patios.
Rupmati's Pavilion

This fort was originally built as an army observation post and offers some enchanting views of the Narmada gurgling through the Nimar plains below. With its striking pavilions, the fort was used as a summer retreat by the queen.
Other Attractions

There are also some other forts and monuments in Mandu, which are not categorized into any groups, but deserve special mention. Nilkanth temple, located at the very edge of a steep gorge, is a renowned Shiva shrine. Nilkanth Mahal, constructed by the Mughal Governor, Shah Badgah Khan for Emperor Akbar's Hindu wife, is also a notable architectural specimen of Mandu. Hathi Mahal, Darya Khan's Tomb, Dai ka Mahal, Dai ki Chhotti Behan Ka Mahal, Malik Mughit's Mosque and Jali Mahal are some other fascinating monuments that still reverberate with the glorious past of Mandu.
PLACES AROUND MANDU: Bagh Caves is around 50 km off Mandu on the road between Indore and Vadodra in Gujarat. These Buddhist caves date from AD 400 to 700 and were in a poor condition until few years back when the restoration work began. There are some government guesthouses and dak bungalows nearby.
FAIRS & FESTIVALS: Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated all over the Malwa region with much fun and gaiety. The festival is celebrated during September/October. The celebrations provide a window to the rich and colorful cultural heritage of the region.
The Malwa Festival is organized in Mandu by Madhya Pradesh Tourism Department. The traditional art and cultural heritage of the region are displayed during this festival.

Hotels in Mandu:

Jhira Bagh Palace Hotel, Mandu : Jhira Bagh Palace is located in Mandu Road Dhar is easily accessible from Indore and Ratlam. The palace hotel provides a total accommodation of 16 luxurious rooms. All the rooms are sufficed with most modern amenities needed for a royal stay. A multi-cuisine restaurant takes care of the dining needs of the guests. There is a fully equipped conference center for the business visitors. Other facilities include a myriad of sightseeing options and indoor/outdoor games.
Malwa Resort Tourist Cottages, Mandu: The Malwa Resort is one of the two hotels run by the MP tourism hotels in Mandu. While the other is located in the Mandu town, Malwa Resort Tourist Cottages lies outside of the town, near the forest area. The hotel has well-appointed cottages facing a small water body with ample space for a family of 3. The water body is the central space when one drives into the hotel, and forms a place to chit chat, eat & relax when in the hotel. The food is quite good for the location (as nothing much is available in the town), with a variety of traditional & Punjabi cuisine. The bar is also well stocked. The only down side is that one can stay at the resort only if one has a way to drive around Mandu, else the place is too far & location too unsafe to walk around.