Friday, December 21, 2012
2:07 AM 8 comments
Well it’s that time of the year when I look back and am really grateful for all the exciting opportunities that came my way. It’s difficult to narrow it down to just 10, but here goes:
1. Floored by the living root bridges of Meghalaya
My first foray into North east India was rewarding to say the least. The living root bridges of Meghalaya are famous now – feats of bio engineering where organic bridges were inventively built by natives which would not deteriorate with time but instead grow stronger. I trekked to see these bridges which look like a set out of Avataar or the Lord of the Rings with their lattice of twisted roots and filled with rocks and stones on top to actually look like a constructed bridge! Also enjoyed the sight of Mawlynnong touted to be the cleanest village in Asia!
2. On a high in Bordeaux
When I landed in Bordeaux, France to attend the Bordeaux Fete du Vin, a biennial event, I felt totally unprepared to handle the aristocratic French, who sniff and swirl wine from birth. But in the next few weeks I not only managed to learn a little about wine, but also travelled through the fascinating Basque country with pretty seaside towns like St Jean de Luz and Biarritz. I visited Chateaus, small medieval towns like Saint Emilion famous for its macaroons, stayed in boutique hotels, and drove through some really spectacular landscapes. France, I am not done with you yet!
3. Bonding in Greece
My usual summer mom and daughter trip was to Greece this year filled with many memorable highlights but the most defining moment was my first glimpse of Meteora- Greek orthodox monasteries situated precariously on rock pinnacles. Icons and paintings, a life of isolation and contemplation, this was a place that I felt truly blessed to be able to visit. This was followed by an experience of Greek island life in Santorini and Mykonos as well walking through history in Athens. We faced an unusually cold April, cancelled ferries and flights, but nothing could spoil the magic of Greece for us. Firmly on my list of places to re-visit.
4. Architectural high in Segovia, Spain
My first trip to Spain had many memorable experiences but the first sight of an ancient Roman aqueduct standing tall in the middle of Segovia was pure magic. Segovia flanked by two rivers, with its distinctive Moorish architecture in honey coloured stone, the Rapunzel Alcazar castle, the bizarre suckling pig dishes, amazing pottery and art was a trip into fantasy land. The trip to the countryside around Segovia, a rafting trip on the Duraton River and spotting colonies of vultures was also a fascinating experience.
5. Humbled by the Victoria Falls, Zambia
Africa is the new Europe for me. Full of amazing experiences...The largest sheet of falling water, one of the seven natural wonders of the earth, twice the size of the Niagara Falls, 546 million cubic metres of water per minute- all the superlatives don’t do justice to the magnificent phenomenon that the Victoria Falls is. Walking through a rain cloud, drowning in the torrential downpour with the surround sound of the thundering roar of the waters and walking on the rim of the falls is something that was unforgettable. The stay at the plush Royal Livingstone on the very edge of the falls was another great experience by itself. The crowning glory was my micro light flight over the falls with my heart in my mouth, but yes glorious!
6. Adventure in Animal Kingdom
Australia remains on my list of favourite countries. This year one of my top experiences was my sojourn in Kangaroo Island, South Australia, a pristine stretch of beaches, prolific wild life, and some great fresh food. I loved the remarkable Rocks- great rock formations, the Seal Bay with Australian sea lions and spotting goannas, kangaroos and echidnas. Visiting a honey farm, discovering local artists, feeding pelicans and enjoying the stunning location of Southern Ocean Lodge on cliff top location were some highlights of this trip.
7. Bewitched by Baden Baden
My travels took me to a string of Spa towns with ancient Roman Baths and a spa culture in South West Germany. The winner of the lot was quaint Baden Baden, filled with parks, a historic casino, a Faberge Museum and even a Vintage Car rally. We walked through the town studded with some stunning architecture, took a funicular to the steepest mountain here, soaked for hours in a Spa and made some amazing friends.
8. In the shadow of the largest monolith- Ayers Rock
This was a visit I dreamt of for a long time, and when I was finally in the shadow of the great Uluru, it was nothing short of pure magic. Walking around the rock, I saw myriad life forms, rock paintings and listened to various myths and legends. My hotel Longitude 131 had an amazing front seat location to the Rock. I trekked in Walpa Gorge, enjoyed dot art galleries and soaked in the tranquillity and remoteness of this location. This for me was truly the spiritual heart of the Australian continent.
9. Fifty shades of Blue
My visit to the lowest, flattest country in the world, Maldives was spectacular. Being pampered at Ultra luxe properties like the Dusit Thani and Anantara as well as a peek into life beyond the resorts, a shot at snorkelling, catching sight of amoebic blue blips of ring shaped coral atolls called faroes, from a seaplane, were all unforgettable experiences. Dolphin watching, a cocktail party knee deep in water, fabulous food, what’s not to love? The only disaster of the year happened towards the end of my trip- dropped my brand new SLR camera into the ocean and learnt a very costly lesson!
10. Pursuing happiness in Bhutan
I finished the year with a bang. In Bhutan- the Land of the thunder Dragon, with a glorious view of the highest mountains in the world. Chortens, prayer wheels, fluttering prayer flags, mist shrouded mountains and plunging valleys, spicy food, maroon robed monks and a riot of colour and artistry this was truly a great finish to the year. The pristine landscape, the warmth of the people and the spiritual vibes of this country totally enchanted me. On my next wish list for Bhutan is Bumthang touted to be the Switzerland of the country.
I re-visited Tallinn, one of my favourite cities in Europe again and also took a peek into Lithuania and was suitably rewarded by beautiful Vilnius filled with steeples and spires, culture and fabulous cuisine. I re-visited Italy and visited fascinating Naples for the first time. Would love to go back there someday along with Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast! That’s what next times are for right?
For everyone reading, I have to say that it’s powerful to write a list like this for yourself and reflect back on everything you’ve done in the past year (not confined to travel) that’s brought you great happiness. Happy travels in 2013!
Thursday, November 29, 2012
I am generally not a fan of man- made wonders. But I was in South Africa recently and was overwhelmed by the incredible Palace of the Lost City in Sun City. This over-the-top creation is nothing but grandiose. You can stay busy in this man- made extravaganza for days.
I opened my windows to tribal- style cabanas and a swimming pool with a giant sun mosaic, water spouting out of seashells and waterfalls roaring from every corner.
The rotunda ceiling in the lobby with a jungle motif alive with animals and birds was created by five artists ‘in the same way as Michelangelo painted the Sistine chapel!
Stone lions and cheetahs stare from the rooftops, there are colonnades, gigantic chandeliers and soaring arches, wherever you look. The theme is based on a legend of a North African tribe which built its city here and which was destroyed in a volcanic explosion- a lost empire which was re-created out of the dry bush veldt.
The details astounded me: 6500 light fittings, 50,000 square metres of carpets, a table made from eight different kinds of wood costing 3. 5 million rand, tapestries woven by two women from Swaziland over two years and 3400 square metres of murals all creating a fantasy land of gargantuan proportions!
This is the most famous resident celebrity- a life- sized bronze model of Shawu, one of Africa’s most famous tuskers of the Kruger National Park re-created by the South African sculptor Danie de Jager. Shawu with his leathery skin and cracked feet had the most massive ivory tusks in Africa and died of old bullet wounds in 1982.
Mounds of cereals, luscious piles of fruits, quails eggs, cheeses that could feed a continent, a waffle station-the breakfast spread in the massive over-the-top Crystal Court, is fit for a king.
Looking down from the King’s Tower at the panoramic views of the resort, with its lush vegetation and water bodies, I find it hard to believe that it was a rocky near-desert plain twenty years ago.
We learnt to Segway around the property, trying to balance and enjoy the views of the Gary Player- designed golf courses, one with leathery crocodiles sunning themselves in a pit at the 13th hole.
To taste raw Africa outside the resort we took a trip to the 550 square kilometre Pilanesberg Game Reserve just outside the resort, set in the crater of an extinct volcano and even spotted the Big 5!
Is the Palace brash and commercial? Yes..but it must be seen to be believed! Great for families with kids, as there are lots of activities that can keep them occupied.
Saturday, November 3, 2012
One of the most atmospheric hotels that I have been to is the Ahilya Fort Hotel in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh.
Ahilya Fort was built in the simple Wada style of Maratha architecture- with wooden pillars and supporting beams made of lime and bricks. Today, part of it has been converted into an atmospheric and intimate heritage hotel with fourteen tastefully decorated rooms by Prince Richard Holkar, her descendent and the son of the last Maharajah of Indore.
The hotel is a splendid maze of low, white washed buildings, hidden terraces and turrets, corridors and lush gardens.
Rattan furniture painted black and white, wooden ceilings, piles of books almost everywhere-on eclectic subjects from history and art to philosophy and fiction, an internet room with an antique door, two adorable pugs called Yoda and Alhambra...the ambience created is warm and cosy.
Gods and goddesses smeared with vermillion, urns and planters filled with flower petals, paintings of local scenes and sepia photographs of the Holkar family all create a back-in-time feel…
Each room is unique and is named after the tree that it overlooks-I am in the Gulmohar Room with a lounger and antique desk, soft Chanderi quilts on my bed, marigolds in brass vessels and old style fans. The bathroom has modern plumbing but the endearing details continue- a brass bucket and lota with rough stone floors.
Delicious meals are served alfresco in different places- in the terrace overlooking the Narmada or the courtyard garden of the erstwhile cow shed or the lush Poshakwada filled with greenery.
Come night, Ahilya Fort takes on a bewitching look. Oil lamps are lit everywhere, casting small, warm pools of orange light and creating a dramatic stage for aperitifs.
There is the Lingarchan courtyard where Ahilya Bai used to conduct prayer services and had hundreds of Shiva lingams...today it has two quaint rooms called Neem and Imli with window seats that have panoramic views of the Narmada.
I took a boat ride on the Narmada at sunset and was bewitched.
Sunday, September 30, 2012
When I was in Madrid a couple of months back, I took a tour of the iconic Bernabeu Stadium, the home of Real Madrid, for an insight into the heady world of football. Though I am not a great football fan, I knew that I was on hallowed ground.
The Santiago Bernabeu Stadium owned by the Real Madrid Company is an amazing stadium seating over 80,000 spectators and the backdrop of some iconic victories.
I first took a glass elevator to the stadium’s upper concourse which is 50 metres above the pitch and got a a bird’s eye view of the stadium. I imagined the roars of the screaming fans as a crucial goal is shot...
The tour took us through the players locker rooms and the the player’s tunnel.
We walked around the pitch...Seeing the turf at ground level was an incredible experience!
You could even sit in the ‘ bench’ and imagine you were a Real Madrid Player...
This is the press room where players are interviewed after a match.
We visited the museum and trophy packed with lavish trophies, shoes and jerseys showcasing the team’s long history.
And ended up in the store for some retail therapy!
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