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!