I am often asked: what is the most under-rated destination that you have been to. My reply would be Sri Lanka with its stellar combination of World Heritage sites, wildlife, history, rich culture, terrific hotels, friendly people and a friendlier currency.


I was in Queensland, Australia after many, many years and it was truly a wonderful experience filled with new friends, good wine and food and exciting travel.


Everyone’s talking about China...There is great interest in China as a travel destination .


I am often asked: what is the most under-rated destination that you have been to. My reply would be Sri Lanka with its stellar combination of World Heritage sites, wildlife, history, rich culture, terrific hotels, friendly people and a friendlier currency.


I was in Queensland, Australia after many, many years and it was truly a wonderful experience filled with new friends, good wine and food and exciting travel.

Of Flash mobs and Antwerp...

There’s so much talk about flash mobs and viral videos now- the best flash mob to date was the one I saw on 'You tube' some time ago, set in Antwerp Station.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I have always loved bridges: I even have a wish-list of bridges to visit! What attracts me?... Maybe building bridges seems to have a metaphorical significance, denoting hope and overcoming obstacles. My pick of the best bridges that I have visited so far and the bridges that I still have to cross off my wish list...
1. Ponte Vecchio, Florence. This is the oldest of Florence’s six bridges and was built in 1345 from a unique design where there are shops and arcades under porticos on the bridge.  The shops used to be occupied by the butchers until the Medici rulers replaced them with goldsmiths and silversmiths! The Bridge’s fame saved it from being bombed during the Second World War... Take an evening ‘passegiata’ or stroll along the bridge when the shutters of the artisan shops come down.

2. Charles Bridge, Prague. My most favourite bridge in the world. This medieval pedestrian-only bridge is a carnival of souvenir stalls, caricaturists, and musicians of all kinds — we watched entranced as a wine-glass artist played some enchanting Beethoven scores. The setting is ethereal — the city of a hundred spires, with its spectacular Gothic towers, under the watchful eyes of about 30 baroque saints lining the Bridge.

3. Bridge of Sighs, Venice: The iconic Bridge of sighs so called because it connected the interrogation rooms with the old prison in the famous Doge’s Palace. It is said that the prisoners would look at the outside world for the last time from there and ‘sigh’! It’s a simple looking bridge but you are assured of eternal love if you kiss under the bridge at sunsetJ

4. The Kappelbrucke, Lucerne. This was originally built in 1333, and this bridge has been immortalized by the Indian film industry! This covered wooden bridge has 120 triangular paintings chronicling the city’s history.  Large portions of this bridge were destroyed in a fire and what you see now is a faithful reproduction. On all sides are views of snow-covered mountains, window boxes bursting with geraniums and slender steeples.
5. The Magere Brug, Amsterdam. This famous ‘skinny’ white painted wooden bridge across the river Amstel is built in an Old Dutch design. It is supposed to have been built in 1672 by two sisters living on opposite sides of the river wanting to share the Dutch tradition of ’gezellig’- a mid-morning coffee-break! It has featured in several films including James Bond’s ‘Diamonds are forever’.  
6. Roseman Covered Bridge, Madison County
  Covered bridges symbolize small-town America. They are sentimental and picturesque and perfect ‘kissing bridges’! This is the bridge Robert Kincaid seeks when he stops and asks Francesca for directions in the all time classic “The bridges of Madison County” and also the place where she leaves her note inviting him for dinner! Anonymous notes filled with romantic sentiments are often pinned at the bridge’s entrance!
7. Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana: built in 1901, is a concrete and iron structure that crosses the river Ljubljanica in Ljubljana. The bridge is decorated with green copper dragons, the symbol of the city. According to lore, the founder of this city was the Greek prince Jason with his companions, the Argonauts. Here Jason encountered a fearsome monster which he slew. This dragon is represented on the city’s coat of arms and is a local symbol. Local legend has it that if a virgin walks on the bridge, then the dragons will wag their tails!
8. Old Bridge, Heidelberg: The old bridge is actually relatively 'young' as it was rebuilt many times. The first wooden bridge at this site was built in 1284 but later a stone bridge was built to withstand the floods, ice and rain. Goethe was enthralled by the ambience here as also many poets and painters. There are many baroque statues lining this sandstone bridge with elegant arches.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


FOOTPRINTS ON THE SANDS OF TIME: UNDER-RATED DESTINATION: SRI LANKA: "I am often asked: what is the most under-rated destination that you have been to. My reply would be Sri Lanka with its stellar combination o..."


I am often asked: what is the most under-rated destination that you have been to. My reply would be Sri Lanka with its stellar combination of World Heritage sites, wildlife, history, rich culture, terrific hotels, friendly people and a friendlier currency. Over the last two years I have made several trips to this neighbouring country and would love to go back to explore the rest. My top SL experiences have been:
1. Pachyderm time at the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage: There are more than 60 elephants at the orphanage. There are volunteers here who learn the nuances of elephant care over two, three months like feeding, giving them a wash in the river and grooming them. Watch the elephants trundle down the dusty road in disciplined rows to the Maha Oya River led by their mahouts for some spa time or buy some eco friendly elephant- poo paper!
2. Climbing the Sigiriya Rock
Walkways and staircases winding their way through natural arches, this climb to the top of King Kashyapa’s pleasure palace in ruins today, is one of the top experiences of this country. The view from the top is well worth all the hard work. It’s surrounded by water pavilions and gardens like the Taj. At one point there is a spiral staircase to see the nubile beauties painted on the wall. Top tip: Start climbing early in the morning to avoid the heat and carry some water/snacks.
3. Going back in time at the ancient caves at Dambulla
Originally a place for a dethroned king to hide, this cave monastery has an enormous number of Buddhas in all sizes and some exquisite interiors with Buddhist murals. The climb to the caves gives you a wonderful view of the countryside too.
4. Staying at the iconic Kandalamma Hotel.
This is one of the most unique hotels that I have stayed in: An eco- friendly hotel built into a rock and surrounded by thick forest, it is the brain child of the famed Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Open corridors, natural light, bats and insects weaving their way past you, and a pristine lake to spot some wonderful bird life, this should be on everyone’s list of places to visit. It's location is very convenient to visit the Cultural triangle.
5. Visiting the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
One of the ancient worlds’ largest monastic cities, Anuradhapura has bubble shaped stapes called Dagobas, a sprawl of shrines, ancient tanks and ponds and atmospheric ruins.
Polonnaruwa is the Sri Lankan Machu Pichu: it has rambling palaces, stupas, monastic libraries inhabited only by troupes of monkeys. It is one of the most beautiful places that I have visited (just imagine a neglected off- the- tourist circuit Fathepur Sikhri). There’s a stone book, a circular shrine with a riot of friezes...you have to visit this one!
6. Spending some tranquil days in Hill Country- Nuwara Eliya.
Surrounded by lush tea plantations, myriad waterfalls, this mist- kissed part of Sri Lanka is my personal favourite. There are walks, drives, treks and gardens to see. You can opt to do a Ramayana trail if you wish...We saw the Sita Eliya temple which has a footprint supposedly of Hanuman! You can visit the vista point called the' World’s End' in the Horton’s National Park here.
7. Spiritual high at the holy town Kandy.
This temple hill town is crowded, with monks, tuk- tuks, around a lovely centrepiece lake with monitor lizards basking in the sun- a true slice of Sri Lankan life. There is the sprawling Botanical Gardens, the Temple of the Tooth Relic and cultural shows with Kandyan drummers and dancers.
8. White water rafting in Kitulgala:
I have never been too fond of adventure. No roller coasters or fast cars for me. I am not much of a swimmer either: just manage to keep afloat and do a few light strokes. But, white water rafting on the Kelani River has banished my fear of adventure for life! Approximately eighty km from Colombo, on the road to Nuwara Eliya is Kitulgala, a small town whose name is derived from the ‘kitul’ tree which abounds here. Try white water rafting here...  close by  is a spot where a bridge was blown up for the movie 'The Bridge on the river Kwai'.
There are many other experiences on this island that are still on my wish-list: seeing the stilt fishermen at Negombo, the Hikkaduwa beach for some reef spotting, visiting the Yala Sanctuary and doing some whale watching off the coast. Looking forward to thatJ

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


When you travel, you always are tempted to buy some souvenirs, as gifts or as reminders of your wonderful time. Memories after all stay with you forever, and sometimes the tinkle of a wind-chime or a glance at a small keepsake unlocks a flood of delicious memories. Of course the ideal way to travel would be to take nothing but photographs and leave only footprintsJ but, we are human and want some tangible reminders of wondrous moments… Here’s my pick of  ideas for souvenirs!

Postcards are inexpensive, easy to carry and make great memories. You can frame them make a collage or insert them into albums. If you are visiting museums, pick up postcards of your favourite paintings or art and have them framed.

Fridge magnets
These are colourful travel remainders which can be conversation pieces and liven up any home. Easy to carry and inexpensive, they make perfect souvenirs or gifts!

Subway/metro maps
This is a really novel idea. Any large city with transportation will have these maps. Frame one and remember the good times!

Local music
I have gamelan recordings from Bali, and J pop music from my trip to Japan. Pick out folk music from India and Africa or jazz music recordings or any other ethnic music for a great souvenir to take back home and re-live the holiday.

Local Art
I have paintings of the Venetian lagoon picked up for a few euros as well as some great watercolours of the astronomical clock in Prague. Get them framed for your living room and you have some everlasting memories. You can also pick up posters and graphics that have a local feel-like festivals or events and get them framed.

Look out for books written by local authors or a specialist book about local cuisine or the places. An old book of maps or some other non-fiction can make a good souvenir.

Supermarket buys
Locally made jams, pickles, herbs, pastas, chocolates and candies all come under this category. They are usually inexpensive and very representative of a place and therefore great souvenirs and gifts. One can also pick up local soaps, bath salts, potpourri, etc.

Local handmade paper (I once bought paper in Sri Lanka made from elephant dung), souvenir pens with objects floating in liquid which are delightfully tacky!

Souvenir Cups/Wall plates
Typical, I know but a cup with the destination’s name emblazoned and a picture transports you to the place and brings back great memories.

Local Crafts
Pottery, fabrics, multi-hued masks, figurines, baskets, bags and a myriad other items made by local people is always a great buy besides helping the local economy. Marionettes from Prague and bright kites from Bali have livened up my living room and act as great remainders of my holidays.

Would love to know what are your ideas for souvenirs?

Monday, March 14, 2011


 When we were in Poland some months back, we had the opportunity to visit a wonderful Skansen just outside Krakow. ‘Skansen’ is a Scandinavian word for an open air ethnographic museum, something like the superb Dakshinachitra in Chennai. (If you haven’t seen this one, do put it on your list of things to see in Chennai!) Simply speaking, a Skansen is an open air museum which offers a look into traditional folk culture and architecture and puts together a selection of typical rural buildings with barns, churches, houses and homesteads.
 These are re-assembled to look like a natural village and they are furnished and decorated in their original style. So there are natural crafts of the region, artefacts, etc which offer an insight into the life, work and the history of the place. There could also be craftsmen in traditional dress like glass bowers or silver smiths to create that perfect ambience. There are more than 35 Skansens scattered all over Poland; each region has one. What a wonderful concept! Imagine if we had one in each region in India: our Rajasthani havelis, old Chettinad mansions, Kerala tharawads all preserved for posterity!
The Skansen that we visited is in the Malopolska region just outside Krakow on the way to Auschwitz, called the Vistula Ethnographic Park. The park itself is scenic set amidst green rolling hills, gardens and orchards and at the foot of an ancient castle. There are thematic sectors that the park is divided into- small town, village, manor house and then the church. We see old bee-hives shaped like men and women. There are old homesteads consisting of many buildings, a potter’s residence with his tools-of-trade and a museum store selling souvenirs in a re-constructed 1825 house! We also see a weaver’s home where scenes have been re- constructed. Strangely, weaving here used to be the man’s traditional occupation and not the woman’s and there is a tableau showing the process of flax. One cottage has under its roof both the residential part and the livestock area- talk about man and beast living in peaceful co-existence.
The show stopper is the 17th Century church, a wooden structure with gorgeous paintings inside. Our guide is a young college going girl from the area who seems to love her job.
The manor house is the typical ‘Zamindar’s house’ and today houses the museum administration. It re-enacts the life of a wealthy noble family of that era with rich furnishings, paintings and furniture. What I particularly enjoy is the ceramic tile stoves of that era! We see troupes of red-cheeked school-kids with their teachers spending a day looking at the architecture and enjoying a picnic here...Now I have put the ‘original’ Skansen in Stockholm, Sweden on my wish listJ

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Life is a multitude of experiences and most of us may only experience a very small percentage of the whole gamut that is possible. How does one swing out and do many things, challenge one self and work with all parts of the brain. How does one make the journey interesting, challenging and fun-filled? 

Engage the brain with Sudoku, cross words, puzzles, quiz and brain teasers. Play games like scrabble or Cluedo. Learn some classic card-games. Doing this on a continuous basis even wards away diseases like Alzheimer’s!  Learning different languages is another great way to work the brain. Learn to say thank you for a start in about 25 languages. Learn a different script like Chinese or Japanese for a totally different experience.


Learn to use your body and muscles as a medium of expression. Learn various dance forms- the salsa, the cha-cha –cha, ballroom dancing or the traditional dance forms like Bharathnatyam! Afraid to speak in front of a crowd? Take theatre classes and personality development sessions. You can kiss goodbye to your fears. Hand –eye co ordination can be improved dramatically by learning a ball game like tennis or badminton.


Personalities like Leonardo da Vinci dabbled in a wide range of activities. The trick is to expand your horizons. Learn to draw and paint. Sketch from real life.  Splash colours on a white canvas and express yourself. Do glass painting one day, learn Tanjore painting another day, there is too much available and one lifetime is never enough! Learn to crochet or dabble in macramé-you can produce works of art!


Design your clothes. Buy reams of material, some lace, team it up with some old buttons and make your dream dress or have it made as per your pattern. Give your home a make-over. Improvise. Make curtains from old sarees, paint a mural on the wall with some bright colours, frame some art-work by children and fill your home with things that mean something to you!


Read. Everyday and whatever you can lay your hands on. I very often have four books that I am reading at any point in time. One on philosophy, one on languages, maybe one action thriller to keep me on the edge and one novel on the best seller list . Read travel books and magazines and make plans for all the trips that you want to make! Read and memorize poetry. Read the greats like Shakespeare and Robert Frost. Read books by Indian authors for a different flavour. Read newspapers and understand world issues. Browse the internet- it’s truly knowledge on tap!


Write. Experience the magic of words. Start keeping a journal, write letters to the editor, write on issues that you are passionate about, keep travel journals and maybe the novel is in the making. After all, each human experience is a saga worth chronicling!


Listen to music, learn to sing or play an instrument. Listen to a wide mish mash of styles like World music, western classical, and Carnatic music to really appreciate the fact that we are world citizens! Catch a concert from a different country for that totally different experience. Music calms the brain, gets the creative juices flowing!


Watch movies of different genres and in different languages with sub titles. It’s a veritable feast.  It’s not only enjoyable but it’s also like a freeze-frame of different cultures! Musicals, thrillers, romance, historical, off-beat, there’s so much to watch that one life-time may not be enough.


Pay attention to nature. Watch birds, notice the varied hues of flowers and learn their names. Take a trip to a local horticultural society and use your green fingers. Get pleasure out of growing plants and watching them blossom and burst with life! Take a weekend trip to the countryside and take time to experience the slow life!
Visit places of worship of different religions, read and understand the richness of each faith and experience the power of prayer


Improve your emotional quotient. Reach out to loved ones, lend a helping hand to those who are depressed or sick, keep in touch with friends, laugh and enjoy the moments with family and friends. Life is too short to hold grudges. Let go, and experience bliss.


Eat healthy food and learn to cook different styles of cuisine. Cooking can be a therapeutic hobby. Enjoy the textures and the colours of fruits and vegetables.
Exercise and value your body. Walk, jog or do yoga. Learn tai-chi or kick-boxing.  Swim or play a game. Learn meditation and enjoy the stillness and calm that you experience. Learn to breathe the right way and find your energy stores unending. Read about nature cures and learn to treat small ailments at home. Learn Reiki, Pranic healing or hypnotherapy.


Break your mental barriers. Do something that scares you. Bungee jumping or base jumping off a cliff. White water rafting or trekking in the wilds. You will come back a different person. Fears have a way of dominating us- kick your fears out!
Celebrate life. All the successes, small and large. All the happy moments and the loved ones. Take every opportunity to have fun. Enjoy beauty. Go to art galleries, malls, the hills, or the local park. Look at the palette of colours and revel in life. It was meant to be multi-hued!

Friday, March 11, 2011


I was in Bangkok last week, one of my most favourite cities in the world. The traffic was horrendous, seemed even worse than before but it was great to see this city filled with culture, colour and gentle people again. The gutted malls like the Central World are back on their feet and there’s peace, at least for now. We stayed at the Amari Watergate which is slap bang in the heart of the city and has the fascinating Platinum Fashion mall across the road. The Platinum Mall offers wholesale rates when you buy at least three items in a shop. Clothes, junk jewellery, footwear, bags- this is a great place to shop!
                                                                                                                                                                       I made my usual pilgrimage to Jatuchak weekend market, one of the largest outdoor markets in the world, a totally atmospheric place sprawling over 27 acres. If you want to buy Thai Handicrafts or furniture, this is the best place. They even ship it to you! And for photographers, there are photo-ops galore: from the pet section to the food and plants. The JJ Plaza here is a better place to browse if your time is limited. And of course this is Thailand, so bargaining is the norm. 
 Another great discovery thanks to a dear friend was getting some clothes tailored by Nickermann’s located in the basement of the Landmark Hotel just close to the Nana train station. The Indian owner is friendly and has catalogues of all latest European fashions and can re- produce any of them. Men can make some dapper suits/blazers out of Italian fabric. And the best part, the measurements remain on file so you can call and make some more clothes later! 
And of course no visit to Bangkok is complete without a spa/massage experience. What you must have is the traditional Thai massage which delves deep into your muscles and relieves pain and tension. The Sivara Spa at the Amari Watergate is expensive but offers some great experiences like the wasabi wrap. Of course you can try the massage centres ranging from the cheap, open booths like at the Pratunam Mall to the really classy ones like Health Land (which has many local branches) or the Arima Onsen.
And while I was there I talked to many locals about the traffic snarls. They all advocated the use of the Sky Train as much as possible, even the motorcycle taxis( now that’s one mode I am not fond of!), or just by- pass the roads and use the ChaoPraya river as far as practicable...also the adrenalin junkies can take a tuk tuk ride..Yes they are still around!  There was one recommendation that I didn't have the time to check out but sounds interesting: Take an ABC tour- Amazing Bangkok Cycle Tours which take you to many off beat places that you would never know existed...That's what next times are for, right?
                                                                                                                                                                   I am always on the lookout for unique or quirky things to see: and I have put down two for my next visit: one is a Phallic shrine devoted to yes...of all sizes and shapes, and the other is the Maeklong Market Railway where the train goes through a tightly packed market. Check it out on You Tube! And if you want a great view of the city at night check out any of the following spots: the Red Sky @55th Floor of the Centara Grand at Central World.
Vertigo @ 61st floor of the Banyan tree, Sathorn
Sky Bar@ 63rd Floor of Lebua State Tower, Silom Road.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


An outing to the local library used to be the high point of my childhood years. I have always loved to read. Anything was fair game. I have read old issues of the National Geographic, Woman and Home, Little lulu and Mandrake comics, even the backs of cereal boxes!  My childhood was spent curled up with Enid Blytons and in my imagination I have lived in ‘The Secret Island’ which remains my favourite book of all times. Surviving on an island, building a home, making meals out of almost nothing…this was the stuff that dreams were made of! Equally absorbing were the Magic faraway series where a new land came up every week on top of this fascinating tree! Characters like Washalot and Saucepan man were three dimensional childhood friends that I knew and lived with.
Another brilliant book which captured my imagination was ‘What Katy did’ the saga of twelve year old Katy Carr, the oldest of six children. Cared for by their Doctor father and Aunt Izzie, the Carr children are impulsive and outgoing, liking rowdy play and imaginative games.
Disobeying her Aunt's order not to use the family's new swing, Katy suffers serious consequences when the swing breaks and she falls. Katy is paralyzed by her accident and forced to spend four years confined to her room. Over the course of these four years, Katy learns patience and responsibility as she works to maintain her place in the hearts of her siblings and her connection with her family and friends.
Growing up, one of my loved books was James Hilton’s ‘Lost Horizon’, which I suspect has contributed to my wanderlust today! The story of four Britishers, whisked away to remote Tibet where monks lived for two hundred years and preserved art and beauty was an inspiring tale which influenced me profoundly. James Hilton continued to be my hero with his ‘Random harvest’ - a romantic novel filled with pathos.
Mary Stewart’s brand of fantasy and magic (a forerunner of Harry Potter??) kept me enthralled for years as did Elizabeth Goudge. A. J Cronin and his ‘Hatter’s castle’ and Daphne Du maurier’s ‘My cousin Rachael’ haunted me. Was Rachael really a schemer or was she a good person?
‘To kill a mocking bird’ was also on my list of faves and I loved and revered Atticus Finch for his pithy sayings! Another book which inspired me to keep a journal was ‘Dear Kitty’- the ‘Diary of Anne Frank’. Anne’s life unfolding behind a staircase in Nazi occupied Amsterdam, her teenage crushes and dreams...this book occupied a pride of place in my book shelf.
In a totally different genre but as enjoyable was E. B white’s ‘Charlotte’s Web’, the tale of a friendship between an endearing pig called Wilbur and a spider called Charlotte which prevents him from being slaughtered. With Charlotte’s help he even wins a prize at the country fair. I still read Paul Gallico’s ‘Snow goose and the Small miracle’ with tears in my eyes! Pepino, an orphan in Assisi and his sick donkey is one of the most touching tales in the world. The Snow Goose, where a reclusive, hunchbacked artist becomes friends with a child and nurses a wounded bird against the backdrop of the war is sweet prose!
I can’t sign off without including one more book in the hall of greats. ‘Daddy longlegs’ by Jean Webster- a rich benefactor sponsors an orphan girl’s education on the condition that she writes letters to him! The entire book is a collection of the letters that she writes and never gets replies for! And naturally there is a twist at the end… Absolutely heart-warming tale!
Give me a good book any day- It scores over any television show or movie. The power of the written word pleases me like nothing else can ever can! So far neither of my two kids are great readers-they’re in front of the computer instead. I truly wish someday they find the joy in reading like I did!

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