Monthly Archives: January 2017

Amazing Travel Desinations in India

When travelers think of India they could conjure up any number of images, but they most likely still think of it as a uniform destination – as if traveling to one part of India were the same as traveling to another. In reality, though, India is a vast country and its many different regions have entirely different feels when it comes to culture, cuisine and landscape.

Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Agra is the most significant city in India from a tourism perspective for a single reason: the Taj Mahal. Built in the 17th century to serve as a mausoleum for the wife of a Mughal emperor, the Taj Mahal is an exemplary piece of Islamic architecture and one of the world’s most iconic sights. It’s rare that a sight like the Taj Mahal lives up to the expectations that tourists have for it, but the Taj Mahal not only matches those expectations but blows them away. Visit just before sunrise when the crowds are at their smallest and watch the sun rise over the building for the full effect.

Most luxury India holidays tend to stick to the “Golden Triangle” region of Delhi, Agra and Jaisalmer, and while those are all great destinations – with Agra and Jaisalmer two of the best in the country – there’s no reason not to venture out a little further.

Amritsar, Punjab

Amritsar, in Punjab and only a few kilometers from the Pakistani city of Lahore, is in the heart of Sikh country. Its Golden Temple – Harimandir Sahib – is the holiest site in the Sikh religion and each year it receives even more visitors than the Taj Mahal! People of all faith are welcome to visit the temple to mingle with the worshipping Sikhs and take in the atmosphere. One cool way to experience the Golden Temple is to spend the night at its dorm accommodations. Available free of charge to pilgrims and tourists, the temple offers basic accommodations in about as serene a setting as it gets.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Andaman and the Nicobar Islands, more than 1,000 kilometers east of the Indian mainland, have a very different feel than the rest of India, as crowded, hectic cities give way to pristine tropical islands with white-sand beaches and rainforest. Travelers can either fly or sail to Port Blair, the islands’ chief settlement, and from there it’s a matter of ferries and speedboats to see the outlying islands.

Darjeeling, West Bengal

Darjeeling, of The Darjeeling Limited fame, is a hill station situated in the foothills of the Himalayas at an elevation of 6,700 feet. It was founded by the British when they colonized India to serve as a summertime escape from the stifling heat of nearby Calcutta (now Kolkata). Though the Brits are long gone, they’ve left their colonial-era architecture and a heap of tea plantations in their place. The classic Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is the best way to reach the town, as it offers some pretty excellent views of the snow-capped Himalayas in the distance.

Goa

Goa is a definite break from the traditional feel of India, as in lieu of temples and cultural charms Goa is more famous for beaches crowded with European backpackers and drug-fueled all-night raves. As one would expect, Goa is a bit of an acquired taste. But for travelers looking for a Southeast-Asian style beach holiday in an even more exotic locale, it’s a good option. Unlike many of the other destinations on this list, Goa is an entire Indian state. But it is the smallest state and it is very easy to move around within the state.

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Jaisalmer is a small outpost in the west of Rajasthan, only a few kilometers from the border with Pakistan. Its hilltop fortress welcomes visitors to explore its palaces, twisting lanes and shops. Visitors can stay in guest houses inside the fortress walls and eat their meals at rooftop restaurants, which often have spectacular views over the fort’s walls of the Thar Desert and its sand dunes which literally surround the city in all directions.

Kerala

Kerala is another entry on this list that’s a whole state, as most travelers who visit don’t confine themselves to just one city or town. Instead the real exploration takes place in the backwaters – a network of rivers and canals – that wind their way through the state. Here house boats make their way on the gentle waters and past the tea fields and spice plantations that line the green, picturesque hills, and offer tourists an altogether uniquely Kerala experience.

Mumbai, Maharashtra

Mumbai is India’s largest city –one of the world’s largest too – and is the country’s center of fashion, finance and entertainment (Bollywood). In India, Mumbai is as big as it gets and the city’s wealth and sense of unbridled excitement contrasts fascinatingly with the extreme poverty and slums that are unavoidable in a large Indian city. If this is where Indians go to make it, it’s also where dreams of Indian success stories go to die, but for tourists it’s an interesting glimpse into the making of one of the world’s next great cities.

Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir

Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, is situated in a valley surrounded by the Himalayan Mountains and has long been one of the country’s famed tourist destinations. The region’s picturesque beauty is undeniable – in Bollywood films the region regularly substitutes for the Swiss Alps – but a decade of strife over the status of Kashmir has dampened the tourism trade a bit. Those who do come, however, can spend their days lounging on houseboats on Dal Lake and taking in views of the Himalayas from the city’s famed Mughal gardens.

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Varanasi is perhaps the most fantastical city in all of India. Holy men traipse along the streets, only a few miles away from where Buddhism was born, and the ghats are teeming with life – and death. Ghats are the name given to the areas of rivers that are accessible via steps from the city. In the case of Varanasi, the river is the holy Ganges, and there are an awful lot of ghats. Each one has its own purpose; some are simple like for bathing or washing clothes, while others have more spiritual purposes like ritual bathing or cremation. The “burning ghats of Varanasi,” as they’re known, see bodies of the newly departed placed in their waters and set on fire. At times visiting the city can be an overwhelming experience, but it’s an experience nonetheless.

Cycling from Vienna to Budapest via Bratislava

Vienna and Budapest are linked by a continuous cycle route which broadly follows the curves of the Danube. The journey is around 250 kilometers (155 miles), a distance that can be navigated alone or with the help of various companies.

The route is a little different to the driving route outlined in our travel article on driving from Vienna to Budapest. From Vienna, pedal directly east to cross the border into Slovakia. Vienna and Bratislava are the closest capital cities in the world, and traffic-free cycle paths connect them throughout the 70km (43 mile) distance.

The Vienna-Bratislava route begins on Lassalstrasse (“Lassal Street”), beside Prater Metro station. Just round the corner is a friendly, independent bike shop, Pedal Power, where you can hire bikes, buy maps and ask for advice. The cycling is straightforward, following the north bank of the Danube for 45km before crossing the river at the town of Hainburg. Hainburg’s city gates are a mighty portcullis-framed slab of medieval fortification, and the city is a perfect place to wipe one’s forehead and grab something to eat. From Hainburg the rest of the route follows the Danube’s south bank. It finishes in spectacular style with a crossing of Bratislava’s bizarre “UFO Bridge” which channels you into the center of the Slovak capital.

From Bratislava, continue along ‘Eurovelo 6’, part of a Europe-wide initiative to sew together the entire continent with safe, secluded cycle routes. This passes through Győr, then reaches Komárno, a Slovak-Hungarian border town split between the two countries by the water of the Danube. Komárno has places to eat and sleep, and a complex system of fortifications, including a fifteenth century fortress that was attacked by the Ottomans and served as a temporary training camp and prison during WW2. From Komárno, Route 6 loops north to Esztergom and back south to finish in Budapest.

The World’s Five Best Places to Watch the Sunset

Watching the sun set seems like a rare treat with all the day-to-day nonsense, but it’s possible to make it a real luxury by seeing the sun melt into the horizon from a spectacular location. Whether from a mountaintop, next to the ocean, on a glacier or at the top of a skyscraper, looking to the west has never been so inspiring than from these 10 incredible vantage points.

1. Taj Mahal, India

Dulcet tones of yellow, orange and pink enhance the warm glow of the Taj Mahal at sunset. With such a saturated palette against the white marble and delicate carvings, this striking sunset is a paragon of romance, and one that will whisk away any negative thoughts, along with the sun, into the night.

2. Empire State Building, New York

This one’s a must for rom-com lovers everywhere. Cemented by Sleepless in Seattle as a place of true love, the Empire State Building evokes a feeling that everything will be alright, especially when watching the sun go down over one of the most vibrant cities on Earth. And who knows, maybe certain someone will be waiting up on the viewing deck!

3. Stonehenge, England

Stonehenge may have mysterious origins, but there’s no doubting that there’s definitely a celestial element to it. On clear days, the sunset is always spectacular, but it certainly deserves extra attention on the solstices and equinoxes when modern-day Druids, Pagans and visitors pack in to witness what the ancients saw thousands of years ago.

4. Tahiti

Sunset doesn’t get any more picturesque than on the South Pacific island of Tahiti. The last bits of daylight filter through the palm fronds, before pulling back and throwing vibrant warm hues across the sky. In no time, the palm trees, hills and the occasional boat are nothing but silhouettes, turning the show into distinct parts that equal the sum of a spectacular sunset.

5. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

One of Asia’s most beautiful ancient sites, Angkor Wat is enchanting all day long, but at sunset, it’s like the whole reason for this being built suddenly becomes clear. There are more than 30 vantage points to see the sunset, from hilltops to a gondola ride. From nearly every available point, visitors can see the sky turn from searing yellows and oranges to much more mellow purples, which is pierced only by the ridged tops of the temples and the “oohs” of others standing near.

Two Weeks in Australia

Australia’s vast wilderness, relieved by a handful of vibrant modern metropolises, is one of the world’s great travel destinations, containing an immense diversity of cultures and climates, tastes and terrain for wanderers to explore. This two-week itinerary winds its way up the country’s east coast, taking in cities such as Sydney and Brisbane, sojourning in the sun-drenched Whitsunday Islands, and finishing in the great wild worlds of reef and rainforest that surround and enclose the city of Cairns. This is an unforgettable trip, encompassing almost 3000 km and some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

Begin in the southern hemisphere’s greatest colonial metropolis, Sydney

First stop, follow the example of the early colonists and drop into Sydney, built on the site of the first British settlement in Australia. It was originally established as a penal colony, but is situated in an ideal location for a city – on the hills surrounding one of the world’s largest natural harbours. This harbour is now an icon itself, framing a skyline composed of iconic structures including the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. The shoreline where the city meets the sea is defined by a string of famous beaches, such as Manly Beach, which is one of the world’s great casual surfing destinations. Younger travelers are likely to adore the Sydney SEALIFE Aquarium, with 12,000 animal inhabitants and exhibitions on the marine life in Sydney Harbour, in other areas around Australia’s coast, and across the southern oceans.

Party or stretch out in Australia’s east coast chill city, the Gold Coast

From Sydney, wind your way north up Australia’s east coast and – a short 900km later – you’ll reach the sun-dazzled city of the Gold Coast. This is one of Australia’s most alive cities, balancing the fast-paced nightlife and sky-scraping skyline, with a shoreline of white-sand beaches and a hinterland of dense and wild rainforest. Experience the town’s coastal life at Burleigh Heads, a sheltered and secluded beach with protected waters perfect for swimming, and a more turbulent headland area swarming with surfers. Inland of the Gold Coast lies a vast terrain of rolling forest-covered hills. This can be explored in Springbrook National Park, an ancient land of crashing waterfalls, huge trees, and verdant rainforest which is home to a fantastically diverse ecosystem of plants and animals.

Get to know warm, trendy, and up-and-coming Brisbane before the hipsters take over

Drive a couple more hours north of the Gold Coast and you’ll reach Brisbane, which is rapidly becoming one of Australia’s hippest and most desirable cities. It has a chilled-out, tolerant vibe and a gorgeous subtropical climate, which translates into a great café culture and a friendly, open attitude which sees life unfold on the streets instead of behind closed doors. A birdseye perspective on Australia’s up-and-coming mid-coast capital can be gained from The Wheel of Brisbane, with particularly memorable views at night. Get to know some of Australia’s unique local fauna – koalas, platypuses, kangaroos, Tasmanian Devils, that kind of thing – at the fabulous Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, one of the country’s best zoos. And drink down the open-armed ambience of this warm and cultured city in the South Bank Parklands, a precinct that encompasses much that is great about Brisbane: the outdoor gardens and beaches of the Parklands; the cosmopolitan bars and restaurants of Little Stanley; and the galleries and music venues that speckle neighboring Grey Street.

Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Fraser Island

Fraser Island, a few hours north of Brisbane, is the world’s largest sand island and a place of phenomenal natural beauty. A shoreline of soft sand beaches flanks an interior of winding creeks, freshwater lakes and rainforest growing out of island’s sandy floor. All this is guarded by stunning colored cliffs, which rise bright and jagged above the glimmering green-blue Pacific. The entire island is contained in Great Sandy National Park, and one of its most unique and representative features is Lake McKenzie, a sapphire blue lake raised above the regional water table and filled with water so pure it is unsuitable for many species. Six kilometers from Lake McKenzie is Kingfisher Bay Resort, the island’s biggest provider of accommodation which has, thankfully, been built to blend with rather than dominate the surrounding natural world. Knowledgeable tours to Fraser Island’s remoter reaches are offered by Tasman Ventures.

Drift round the pristine Whitsunday Islands

The Whitsundays are an archipelago of 74 islands off Australia’s east coast, a collection of sand-ringed green gems dotting the sun-glazed surface of the Pacific Ocean. The launching point into this pristine natural world is the small town of Airlie Beach, perched on the mainland, a fun and convenient place to base yourself for a few days exploration of the islands themselves. Among the most memorable sights in the Whitsundays is Whitehaven Beach, the quintessential Australian beach which borders a green jungle interior with vivid white silica sand that runs and curves alongside crystal-blue seawater. If you have your own boat, you can base it at Abel Point Marina and explore the rest of the islands from there; or there are plenty of charter and boat tour companies with which to roam the pristine network of islands, and discover your own hidden coves and tranquil spaces.