Page 1

MARCH 2016 • `150 • VOL. 4

ISSUE 9

SUMMER SPECIAL

SNAPSHOTS from

SOUTHEAST ASIA PHILIPPINES NATURE CALLS

MALAYSIA MAGIC KINGDOM

THAILAND NORTH TO SOUTH

SOUTH KOREA ART OF ZEN

SINGAPORE WILD WAYS

MACAU BEYOND CASINOS

BOTSWANA THE LAST SANCTUARY • SANCHI CENTRE OF THE EARTH


n a t i o n a l g e o g r a p h i c t r av e l l e r i n d i a

MARCH 2016

CONTENTS Vol 4 Issue 9

SUMMER SPECIAL

A chance encounter with Malaysian royalty leads to the neon-coloured sultanate of Johor, the southernmost tip of Asia’s mainland By John Krich Photographs by Justin Guariglia

100 Koh Khai Nok, Thailand

6

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

90

IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD

Sunny, laid-back Bohol has lovable creatures, serene beaches, and magical hills: Four ways to navigate this cluster of Filipino islands By Kamakshi Ayyar

100

YOUR OWN PRIVATE THAILAND

Gorgeous stupas, lip-smacking street food, and dreamy, white sand beaches. Thailand has never been this alluring, or accessible By Margot Bigg

ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES

78

JEWEL OF MALAYSIA


126

112

CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL

From meeting shy pandas to frisky squirrel monkeys and endangered tapirs, a visit to Singapore Zoo alters perceptions and triggers joy By Rumela Basu

8

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

118

JOURNEYS

A temple stay in South Korea dips into the country’s Buddhist heritage and questions the desires of normal life By Anjana

BOTSWANA: THE LAST SANCTUARY

IN A MONK’S SHOES

126

When it comes to protecting Africa’s endangered species, this southern landlocked country leads the conservation pack By Costas Christ Photographs by Aaron Huey

PAUL SOUDERS/LATITUDE/CORBIS/IMAGELIBRARY

Chobe River, Botswana


22

58

MARCH 2016 • `150 • VOL. 4

ISSUE 9

SUMMER SPECIAL

18 Clan Rules

What takes an agnostic to places of the pious?

N AV I G AT E

22 Culture

Cash in the casino chips and explore another side of Macau

Detour

30

Off Sikkim’s tourist route, living like a local in Kewzing 36 Sea-weathered yet well preserved, Lunenburg is Canada’s coastal gem

Cinemascape

38 Tracing spies, lovers, and rendezvous in the towering Swiss Alps

Tigers and other stars of the jungle in Madhya Pradesh’s Bandhavgarh National Park

64 The Souvenir

Do holiday pictures ever match up to the destination’s memories?

20 Crew Cut

58 National Park

Six things for your pantry from a Kolkata trip SNAPSHOTS from

SOUTHEAST ASIA PHILIPPINES NATURE CALLS

MALAYSIA MAGIC KINGDOM

THAILAND NORTH TO SOUTH

SOUTH KOREA ART OF ZEN

SINGAPORE WILD WAYS

MACAU BEYOND CASINOS

BOTSWANA THE LAST SANCTUARY • SANCHI CENTRE OF THE EARTH

On The COver In this image, photographer Felix Hug captures the limpid waters at Maya Bay in Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands. The islands are part of a national park, and have excellent snorkelling and water sport opportunities. Decorated long-tail boats or reua hang yao are often used to travel between the various islands of this small archipelago.

66 Heritage

Inside Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

68 The Insider

Breathing easy in the magical, hopeful city of Los Angeles

74 Ecotourism

Conservation success stories that benefit the planet—and us travellers

GET GOING

138 Adventure

On a tramping trail through New Zealand’s backcountry

143 Active Holiday

Four ways to feel the thunder of Niagara Falls

44 Stunning locales where the latest Star Wars film

came alive

SHORT BREAKS

46 Sporting Spirit

From Bhopal

Finding Pataudi, Austen, and undiluted tradition of cricket in Winchester

50 Book Extract

A new book celebrates the joy of road-tripping around the world

54 Local Flavour

Following an olive’s journey from farm to table in Italy

10

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

146 Science, love, and Sanchi’s reputation as the centre of the world

REGULARS 14 Editor’s Note 16 Notebook 154 Inspire 160 Strange Planet

Stay

152

Restored frescoes at a heritage haveli evoke Shekhawati’s past

153 Solitude and other small joys at a resort in Bhopal

MANFRED GOTTSCHALK/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE (CHURCH), DHRITIMAN MUKHERJEE (TIGER), FELIX HUG/TERRA/CORBIS/IMAGELIBRARY (COVER)

VOICES


NATIONAL HEAD AD SALES Senior Vice President ERIC D’SOUZA (+91 98200 56421) M um ba i Assistant Account Director (Print & Online) RAHUL SINGHANIA (rahul.singhania@ack-media.com) Key Account Manager PRANUTHI KURMA (pranuthi.kurma@ack-media.com ) Consultant-Account Director CHITRA BHAGWAT (chitra.bhagwat@ack-media.com)

Editor-in-Chief NILOUFER VENKATRAMAN Deputy Editor NEHA DARA Associate Editor KAREENA GIANANI Associate Editor-Special Projects DIYA KOHLI Features Writer RUMELA BASU Art Director DIVIYA MEHRA Photo Editor CHIRODEEP CHAUDHURI Associate Art Director DEVANG H. MAKWANA Senior Graphic Designer CHITTARANJAN MODHAVE Editor, Web NEHA SUMITRAN Assistant Editor, Web SAUMYA ANCHERI Features Writer FABIOLA MONTEIRO Features Writer KAMAKSHI AYYAR

De lhi Deputy General Manager (Print & Online) RAJ MANI PATEL (rajmani.patel@ack-media.com) Key Account Manager AAKANSHA DEOPA (aakansha.deopa@ack-media.com) Consultant JASWINDER GILL (jaswinder.gill@ack-media.com) Be nga luru Account Director (South) S.M. MEENAKSHI (sm.meenakshi@ack-media.com) Che nna i Consultant SHANKAR JAYARAMAN (shankar.j@ack-media.com) Ea ste rn Re g io n Authorized Representative JAIN ENTERPRISES (033 22488257; bcjain@vsnl.com) Sc he d uling Assistant Manager SANDEEP PALANDE (sandeep.palande@ack-media.com)

CORPORATE SOLUTIONS GROUP President SANJAY DHAR (sanjay.dhar@ack-media.com) Manager P.M. ARUN (arun.pm@ack-media.com) ACK MEDIA Chief Executive Officer VIJAY SAMPATH CEO - Publishing MANAS MOHAN Chief Financial Officer DEEPAK RATHI Senior Vice President (Operations) M. KRISHNA KIRAN Business Head RITIKA BASU Senior Executive Subscriptions KASHISH KOCHHAR Dy. General Manager (Legal & Licensing) LALIT SHARMA Production Head SAGAR SAWANT Assistant Manager Production PRASAD JADE

ADVERTISING ENQUIRIES TEL: +91 22 49188811, advertise@natgeotraveller.in SUBSCRIPTION ENQUIRIES TEL: +91 22 40497435/37, subscribe@natgeotraveller.in EDITORIAL ENQUIRIES NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA Unit No. 201 & 202, Sumer Plaza, 2nd Floor, Marol Maroshi Road, Andheri (East), Mumbai – 400 059, India. mail@natgeotraveller.in RNI NO. MAHENG/2012/51060 Printed and published by Mr. Vijay Sampath on behalf of Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd. Printed at Manipal Technologies Ltd., Plot no 2/a, Shivalli Village, Industrial Area, Manipal-576104 and Published at Amar Chitra Katha Private Ltd., Unit No. 201 & 202, Sumer Plaza, 2nd Floor, Marol Maroshi Road, Andheri (East), Mumbai – 400 059. Editor: Ms. Niloufer Venkatraman. Processed at Commercial Art Engravers Pvt. Ltd., 386, Vir Savarkar Marg, Prabhadevi, Mumbai-400 025.

Not saving this issue? Then please recycle.

FORM IV

IBH BOOKS & MAGAZINES DISTRIBUTORS Director ABIZAR SHAIKH (abizar@ibhworld.com) Senior Manager HEMANT BIRWADKAR (hemant@ibhworld.com)

(SEE RULE 8) STATEMENT ABOUT OWNERSHIP AND OTHER PARTICULARS ABOUT NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA (ENGLISH) 1

NATIONAL GEOGRA PHI C TRAV EL ER U.S. Chief Content Officer CHRIS JOHNS Editor In Chief, Travel Media MAGGIE ZACKOWITZ Design Director MARIANNE SEREGI Director of Photography ANNE FARRAR Deputy Art Director LEIGH V. BORGHESANI Senior Photo Editor CAROL ENQUIST Production Director KATHIE GARTRELL Editors At Large COSTAS CHRIST, DON GEORGE, ANDREW McCARTHY, NORIE QUINTOS, JERRY SEALY, GEORGE W. STONE Contributing Editors ANNIE FITZSIMMONS, KATIE KNOROVSKY, MARGARET LOFTUS, ANDREW NELSON, ROBERT REID IN T ERN AT I O N AL M AGA Z I N E PU B LI SH I N G Senior Vice President, International Media YULIA P. BOYLE Director, International Magazine Publishing & Business Development ARIEL DEIACO-LOHR

2

Periodicity of its Publication

MONTHLY

Printer and Publisher’s Name

MR. VIJAY SAMPATH

Nationality

INDIAN

(a) Whether a citizen of India?

YES

(b) If a foreigner, the country of origin

N.A.

Address

UNIT NO. 201 & 202, SUMER PLAZA, 2ND FLOOR, MAROL MAROSHI ROAD, ANDHERI (EAST), MUMBAI 400 059

Editor's Name

MS. NILOUFER VENKATRAMAN

Nationality

INDIAN

(a) Whether a citizen of India?

YES

(b) If a foreigner, the country of origin

N.A.

Address

401, ORION, 20TH ROAD, KHAR WEST, MUMBAI 400 052.

Names and addresses of individuals who own the newspaper and partners or shareholders holding more than one per cent of the total capital

1) Future Consumer Enterprise Limited: Knowledge House, Shyam Nagar, Off Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road, Jogeshwari (East), Mumbai 400 060

4

President & CEO GARY E. KNELL Chief Legal Officer TERRENCE B. ADAMSON Chief Media Officer DECLAN MOORE Executive Vice President Global Corporate Partnerships CLAUDIA MALLEY Explorers-in-Residence ROBERT BALLARD, LEE BERGER, JAMES CAMERON, WADE DAVIS, JARED DIAMOND, SYLVIA EARLE, J. MICHAEL FAY, BEVERLY JOUBERT, DERECK JOUBERT, LOUISE LEAKEY, MEAVE LEAKEY, JOHAN REINHARD, ENRIC SALA, SPENCER WELLS

Disclaimer All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is strictly prohibited. We do our best to research and fact-check all articles but errors may creep in inadvertently. All prices, phone numbers, and addresses are correct at the time of going to press but are subject to change. All opinions expressed by columnists and freelance writers are their ownand not necessarily those of National Geographic Traveller India. We do not allow advertising to influence our editorial choices. All maps used in the magazine, including those of India, are for illustrative purposes only. About us National Geographic Traveller India is about immersive travel and authentic storytelling that inspires travel. It is about family travel, about travel experiences, about discoveries, and insights. Our tagline is “Nobody Knows This World Better” and every story attempts to capture the essence of a place in a way that will urge readers to create their own memorable trips, and come back with their own amazing stories. COPYRIGHT © 2016 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER: REGISTERED TRADEMARK ® MARCA REGISTRADA.

UNIT NO. 201 & 202, SUMER PLAZA, 2ND FLOOR, MAROL MAROSHI ROAD, ANDHERI (EAST), MUMBAI 400 059

3

NATIONAL GEOGRA PHI C SOCI ETY

This issue of National Geographic Traveller India comes with a complimentary copy of the Switzerland Special, created in association with Switzerland Tourism. The Switzerland Special edition is free with the February 2016 issue and cannot be sold separately.

Place of Publication

5

2) Tusk Investments 1 Limited: 5th Floor, Ebene Esplanade, 24 Cybercity, Ebene, Mauritius 3) Elephant India Finance Private Limited: C-60, 1st Floor, South Extension, Part-I New Delhi 110 049 4) Windy Investments Private Limited: 4th Floor, Punjabi Bhawan, 10, Rouse Avenue, New Delhi 110 002

I, Vijay Sampath, hereby declare that the particulars given above are true to the best of my knowledge and belief. Date: February 22nd, 2016

Signature of publisher


Editor’s Note |

N I LOU F E R V EN KATRA M A N

I

don’t know Urdu. I don’t know much about ghazals. I wish I did. Many years ago, I heard an acquaintance recite two lines from a Mirza Ghalib ghazal which immediately struck me as very beautiful. I had made him repeat it, and quickly scribbled down (in English) what I thought it said. Since then, I’ve sought out a more reliable version of that verse and translations of it. The words run: hasad se dil agar afsurda hai, garm-e-tamasha ho, ki chashm-e-tang shayad kasrat-e-nazzara se va ho

Sometimes it takes a journey to gain new perspective, to remind ourselves that plenty of awesomeness still exists

If you’re feeling oppressed by negative thoughts, go see the world, The spectacle you encounter will perhaps open up your narrow vision. While Mirza Ghalib’s poetry may have many nuances, layers, and much subtext, I find plenty of depth in the simplest translations of this ghazal. I’ve been thinking of this verse lately, as friends and colleagues have been assailed by confusing times and a variety of not so pleasant thoughts and feelings. Sometimes it takes a journey to gain new perspective, to remind ourselves that there is plenty of awesomeness still around us. Ghalib’s advice has stood me in good stead so often, I recommend it to others. Years ago when I was at university, I was at a crossroads, terribly conflicted about the choices I had to make. Did I want to pursue another degree? Where did I want to live? What career path did I want to follow? That’s when I took a week-long solo trip to British Columbia in Canada. While I can’t say I enjoyed the

solo travel experience as much as many others I’ve met, I learned a lot about myself. Exploring a world I knew nothing of opened up my mind to possibilities I hadn’t considered. My confusion cleared. I was able to think straight and make a decision I’ve never regretted. Over the years, I’ve seen this happen again and again. When I am at a challenging moment in my life, going away from the familiar, taking a break to somewhere new and different, often provides the clarity needed. Looking at the world with fresh eyes makes me look afresh at myself. On a trip to Ladakh a few years ago, I was bogged down by a few narrow, negative thoughts. Sitting on the banks of Pangong Tso Lake, I watched a group of Changpa nomads walking with heavy loads, patched-up shoes on their feet, and a smile for me as they passed by. At that instant I thought of how incredibly hard their life must be in the bitter cold of the high altitude they live in. In my notebook, that night, I wrote that what struck me most was their adaptability. To live in that harsh environment requires a level of physical and spiritual flexibility and adjustment that most of us city folks would find difficult. For me that unlocked a hidden window to myself. It helped me come to the realisation that if I adapted and found the strength to change my way of thinking, I could quickly get past my negative thoughts. Just realising how lucky I was to be in that wondrous land changed my outlook that day. Maybe I didn’t learn adaptability from the Changpa people, but a chance encounter with them in their surreal landscape certainly made me examine my own shortcomings. A few weeks ago I was in Egypt. It was a muchneeded trip after a particularly rough few weeks at work. On the fourth day, I awoke at 6.30 a.m. and stepped out onto the balcony of my hotel room in Luxor, just as the faintest light was appearing in the sky. As dawn broke over the Nile and the sun lit up the Valley of the Kings in a misty orange and brown, the worries crowding my brain fell away. As I watched numerous hot-air balloons gliding through the sky, I concluded that I just hadn’t given myself the chance to take a breath. At that moment, that’s all I really needed to do. So every once in a while, when things aren’t all that hunky-dory, I try to listen to Ghalib’s advice and my extension of what he may have meant. I open myself to embracing a new environment, to finding new perspectives on the road, or just letting old ones disappear. When the going gets tough, travelling can perhaps offer up a way to get going.

OUR MISSION

Luxor, Egypt

14

National Geographic Traveller India is about immersive travel and authentic storytelling, inspiring readers to create their own journeys and return with amazing stories. Our distinctive yellow rectangle is a window into a world of unparalleled discovery.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

JOERI DE ROCKER/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

SUNRISE ALWAYS LISTENS


Notebook |

CONNECT

@natgeotravellerindia

@NGTIndia

facebook.com/natgeotraveller.india

2,65,025

BEST OF THE WEB

Learning Holiday Love food? Love travel? Learn how to make authentic guacamole in Mexico or prepare a traditional Vietnamese dinner in Ho Chi Minh City with our pick of delectable cooking holidays from around the world. See Web Exclusives>Experiences

Holiday Planning At our February Meetup in Mumbai, travel junkie Yogi Shah, entrepreneur Munni Hannant, and multigenerational holiday planner Lisa Sadanah chatted with NGT India’s Deputy Editor Neha Dara about how to plan a getaway. Some tips from the experts and the audience. ■ Websites like Skyscanner offer good deals on airfares and hotels. Use apps like Splittr to divide accounts on the go for large groups. love on the road

inside wieliczka mine

An amateur climber in the Italian Alps, embarks on the quest for the home of the legendary (and infamous) mountaineer Walter Bonatti. See Web Exclusives> Experiences

Sidin Vadukut shares his ribtickling take on the pleasures of romantic travel and how romance on the road can be the ultimate turn-on. See Web Exclusives> Travel Humour

Discover chambers with manytiered chandeliers, breathtaking artworks, and chapels—all carved out of rock salt—at the Wieliczka mine in Poland. See Web Exclusives> Experiences

GO TO NATGEOTRAVELLER.IN FOR MORE WEB EXCLUSIVE STORIES AND TRAVEL IDEAS

LETTER OF THE MONTH

On a High My love for trekking started when I scaled the Kumara Parvatha peak in the Western Ghats. That feeling of being on top of a mountain left a mark on my soul. My second trek was to Nag Tibba in Uttarakhand. It began my love affair with the Himalayas. I undertook 15 treks there in 2015, and planned my work to include them in my schedule. On 28 December 2015 I stood 13,500 feet above sea level at the Darwa Peak, my 15th summit of the year. Every journey was challenging, but filled with beauty and the grace of wonderful people of the mountains. —Nitish Waila

16

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

En route to Hamta Pass, Himachal Pradesh

■ If you skip accommodations in the heart of the city as they are usually expensive, factor in transport getting in and out of the city centre. ■ Choose co-travellers on the basis of compatibility. ■ Give your travel group deadlines to get back to you with information, and keep some wiggle room. For large groups create Excel sheets to track and update all plans. NEXT MEETUP: Mumbai: 11 March 2016, 7.30-9 p.m. Venue: Title Waves bookstore, Bandra (West), Mumbai. Delhi: 19 March 2016, 6-7 p.m. Venue: Bandstand, 214-216 Aurobindo Market, Hauz Khas, New Delhi.

MYTHJA/SHUTTERSTOCK (FOOD), NITISH WAILA (MOUNTAINS)

mountain legend


Notebook |

CONNECT

NGT INDIA@WORK

Catch of the Day Recently, I was in the town of Seppa in western Arunachal Pradesh for the Kameng River Festival. The river originates in the Himalayas and weaves its way through the state before reaching the Brahmaputra. It is a calm river, but also bustling with various types of fishing activity. At the festival, Mara Kocho (in picture), a local, showed me a range of innovative fishing traps used. The most ingenious was definitely the one pictured. The Nyishis, a community in the East Kameng District, set up this elaborate, bridge-like bamboo trap. It creates a dam-like mini reservoir that lets out only a trickle at a time. The water is thus filtered through and the fish caught. Residents from communities on both sides of the river unite to set up the traps, taking turns each night to watch it, and in the end, divvy up the catch. —Online Features Writer, Fabiola Monteiro

INSTAGRAM OF THE MONTH

THE FIND

Key of the Nile

Photographer Sanjay Austa captured this image of two teens jumping off the bridge in Thun into the clear, blue waters of the River Aare, near Interlaken in Switzerland. The river cuts through the centre of Thun, and almost everybody gravitates to it during summer. Locals don swimsuits and somersault, or swim, and surf on the waters gushing under the covered wooden bridge called Untere Schleuse, or the upper floodgate. Catch the photo story and experience the Swiss city’s easy, relaxed vibe at www.natgeotraveller.in FOLLOW @NATGEOTRAVELLERINDIA ON INSTAGRAM

I was intrigued to notice that so many of the figures of pharaohs and Egyptian gods in the paintings and bas reliefs around Egypt hold in their hand the key of life, or ankh. A hieroglyphic character, it is believed to be a symbol of eternal life and is found literally everywhere you go in Egypt. In a little store in Luxor, I asked the owner to show me a silver pendant with this symbol and he gave me six options, each lovelier than the next. I finally chose this one for two reasons: its delicate shiftishi or filigree work, and hidden at the back, a silver eye of Horus, the Egyptian symbol of protection and health. —Editor-in-Chief, Niloufer Venkatraman MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

17

PHOTO COURTESY: FABIOLA MONTEIRO (FISHING), SANJAY AUSTA (BOYS), CHIRODEEP CHOUDHURI (PENDANT)

High Dive


CLA N RU L ES

Midnight Memories

Aditya Daftary is a Mumbai-based radiologist who likes to wander. While in the city, he spends more time on his bicycle than in his car, and hopes that soon family vacations will also be the same.

DO THE PICTURES WE TAKE ON HOLIDAY EVER MATCH UP TO THE RECOLLECTIONS OF THE MIND’S EYE?

I

n this era of digital cameras and unending retakes, I hope I don’t sound too old when I say that sometimes I miss the days of a 24- or 36-exposure roll of film. It limited the amount of time we spent taking pictures on a vacation, and also taught us to save each snapshot for something truly spectacular or eye-catching. One February, 15 years ago, as young, recently married resident doctors studying in the U.S., my wife and I desperately needed a holiday. We looked up the cheapest tickets to Europe and landed up in Spain. We’d decided to spend a week with nothing more than a backpack, duffle, and our brand-new digital camera. Almost a decade and a half after that trip, my daughter recently came upon an album of 250 photographs of that trip on the computer. It gave me a few moments to drift back in time. As I looked through what seemed like an endless stream of pictures, I found Seville’s La Giralda tower, the glorious Alhambra in Granada, along with the train that took us there. There were pictures of La Sagrada Familia church, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, and La Pedrera, his phenomenally constructed building with images of the superb design in the sample apartment. We had pictures from the Fundació Joan Miró and of the Guernica, Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece. Finally, we had pictures of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid and the Reina Sofia, Del Prado, and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums. All wonderful images that allowed me to relive a wonderful vacation I’d taken with my best friend and companion. Over the years, we have discussed this trip many times and never once looked at the photos. In those conversations we never alluded to any of these wonderful and famous things we saw. Our conversations are always about the night in Seville when we stepped out at midnight looking for some “authentic” flamenco, only to land up in an empty bar called La Carbonara. And we went back the next night, even later, only to find “Sabrina” from an American school, visiting and performing Bharatanatyam. Everyone was having a blast at that hour and so did we. To this day, I can taste the food from the small Mediterranean dive at the bottom of the Alhambra where we had the most divine hummus with “picante” harissa. I recall how we’d rushed back down from the Alhambra just to make sure we’d get a second round before catching our train back to Barcelona. I still yearn for that almost gelatinously thick, hot chocolate from Carrer Petritxol, the hot chocolate street behind the Cathedral in Barcelona. It was a ritual for us to dunk pieces of a pale yellow sponge cake into it and savour the sweetness. We’d follow that up with freshly squeezed orange juice and café con leche (milky coffee) at Central Café, before beginning our day in Barcelona. Few nights out have been as much fun as we had sitting at

18

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

a bar in Mikel Etxea off Las Ramblas, chatting with Isabella, a waitress who spoke no English, and we no Spanish. We downed litres of sangria, ate platefuls of the Spanish tapas dish of chilli peppers, pimientos del Padrón, while we helped her sell heaps of rather bland bottled mushrooms to customers as “tipico Espana” (typical Spanish). No wine has ever really matched up to the cheap Rioja we bought from the local market and consumed with some locally produced blue cheese as we sat in our “hostal” room, which allegedly was once a brothel frequented by Picasso. I think I’d like to do that trip again, maybe ten years from now when we celebrate our 25th anniversary. But this time around, I know I won’t bother with a camera. You’ll find us at Carrer Petritxol drinking hot chocolate, and at a bar off the Rambla, chomping pimientos del Padrón, chatting up people with whom we share no common language.

La Sagrada Familia, Spain

QUIQUE GARCIA/GETTY IMAGES

Voices |


Chalo South Africa is a free platform that helps tourist find those holiday deals and packages that make for the perfect South African Adventure. If you have exciting deals to offer, we’ll get your deals to the right people at the right time. All you need to do is meet the *minimum requirements and upload your deals. Go to http://deals.southafrica.net/in/en

* Minimum requirements 1. You have to be an SA Specialist. IF not become one! 2. Your package is for minimum nine nights, with two provinces for leisure and four nights for MICE 3. You’re using a SATSA operator

JHB/E 10018770JB/

Want to expand your reach? Then visit our Chalo South Africa deals platform.


CR EW CU T

In Good Spirits WHAT TAKES AN AGNOSTIC TO PLACES OF THE PIOUS?

A

decade ago, at a temple complex in Mayapur, a village north of Kolkata in West Bengal, a friend and I scuttled across a lawn barefoot, our salwars ballooning and dupattas billowing in the wind. The sky was doggedly black—it was almost 4 a.m. and we were late, too late. But we still hoped to catch the first aarti of the day in the temple town. It is imperative that we get there and await the god, not he us, admonished Rukmini akka, a 50-something woman of unshakeable faith, who was sharing our dormitory room. To her, my agnostic philosophy was unacceptable, but that didn’t stop her from thrusting toothpaste and soap in my hand at 3.30 a.m. I had simply tagged along with my friend who wanted to visit Mayapur, but Rukmini akka’s fervour made me curious enough to attend the mangal aarti. As we approached the ISKCON temple, we joined a stream of men and women; all late, all moving with hurried steps and anxious faces. The prayer hall was filled with devotees standing before a curtained-off room. Some stood on their toes for a better view. Eventually, the priest put a conch to his mouth and its booming sound permeated deep into my belly. The curtain parted to reveal the ebony deity of Narsimha, half-lion half-man, and the room erupted in a clang of cymbals. Sonorous voices sang as if they were being orchestrated by some hidden conductor. The toll of what felt like a hundred metal bells washed over me like waves. My pulse throbbed in sync with the drumbeats. Eventually the sounds ebbed, and I felt like I had been enveloped by something compelling, something larger than myself. For a change I didn’t feel oppressed by a large crowd, nor was I mentally dissing organised religion. In that hall, all I felt was the warmth of a shared experience with people I didn’t know, and would never meet again. That 10-minute experience made me a compulsive aarti-seeker. I don’t practice any formal religion, and am cautious when I use the word “spiritual.” I have rarely sought either of these to find inner calm. Yet, often I find myself gravitating towards the ritual of aartis on my travels through India. Sometimes, it allows me to discover the essence of a place. On a recent trip to West Bengal, I visited Belur Math, headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission founded by Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the 19thcentury mystic and yogi. An hour-long drive from Kolkata took us to the 40-acre campus on the banks of the Hooghly River. At sundown, I sat on the steps by the river bank and watched the Hooghly’s surface stippled with clay diyas. For the evening aarti I walked into the colonnaded prayer hall with a few hundred others. Monks too trickled in and took their

20

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

Kareena Gianani Kareena Gianani is Associate Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves stumbling upon hole-in-the-wall bookshops, old towns, and owl souvenirs in all shapes and sizes.

designated places near the statue of Sri Ramakrishna. Then the aarti began and the hall was filled with the monks’ low, mellifluous tones. My eyes followed the circular movements made by the hand of the priest wielding a large oil lamp. I traced that ball of fire as if hypnotised by an elaborate light show. My surroundings, that sprawling hall teeming with people, dissipated like the smoke from the diya. And that, I realised, was the very ethos of Belur Math: losing oneself in something beyond the physical and detaching from petty, earthly bonds, however momentarily. I felt I understood what the place stood for. It became all the more significant that its temples have architectural motifs from different religions of the world, signifying spiritual oneness. Two years ago, on a trip to Munnar in Kerala, I spent the evening of my birthday cleaning and lighting lamps at a small, roadside shrine that was gearing up for the last aarti of the day. It was so dark that I could barely see the flickering oil lamp being waved around the deity, and the psychedelic fairy lights festooned outside didn’t help. But sharing that space, and later the prasad, with the locals gave me one of my warmest birthday memories. When I land up at an aarti in a distant location, I don’t really know what I am looking for. Perhaps I seek something as enigmatic as transcendence. Or something more fundamental like the need to unwrap childhood memories I’m afraid are getting dusty with time. Like a recollection of my grandfather humming verses as he sat bent over a tattered Bhagavad Gita, or my grandmother singing hymns on full moon nights, as she applied vermilion to a faucet, thanking god for the bountiful supply of water for the family. What I’m pursuing isn’t very clear, but I like what I discover. Maybe all travel is a means to find a way back home.

PACIFIC PRESS/GETTY IMAGES

Voices |


A dream destination

Tel: 011-26236525 | Email: mauritius@omtourism.com www.tourism-mauritius.mu


NAVIGATE 44

cinemascape Visit locations where Star Wars was filmed

46

sporting spirit Finding Pataudi, Austen, and undiluted tradition in Winchester

54

local flavour Following an olive’s journey from farm to table in Italy

The five colonial-style houses of Taipa Houses-Museum provide an alternative view of Macau by showcasing its Portuguese and Macanese heritage.

Gold Behind the Glitter

A

t first glance, Macau is a city of gold. Towering hotels are stacked with casinos and brimming with fortune seekers attempting to out-gleam each other. But there’s another side to Macau, and it’s far from the slot machines and card tables. Once a Portuguese colony, a hideout for pirates, and a Jesuit stronghold, Macau is a hodgepodge of European, Chinese, and local Macanese influences. Macau city is a peninsular region in southern China and was the last European colony in Asia, governed by the Portuguese until the late 1990s.

22

The peninsula, neighbouring islands of Coloane and Taipa, and the reclaimed Cotai Strip, are dotted with historical gems and cultural treasures, including niche museums and an opera. AROUND MACAU Taipa Houses-Museum The waterfront

at Taipa Praia was prime property for colonial administrators and civil servants, who built bungalows here instead of living in apartments or townhouses in Macau’s Lilau Square. They built family homes in the Portuguese style, with sweeping patios,

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

parlours, kitchens downstairs, and bedrooms upstairs. Five of these pretty mint-and-white painted houses from the early 1920s have been restored and THE VITALS Getting There There are no direct flights from India, and Macau can be reached via a layover at a hub like Bangkok or Beijing. A convenient option is to fly to Hong Kong, from where it is possible to get to Macau by ferry (65 km to the east). Visa Indians are eligible for a visa on arrival in Macau as well as Hong Kong.

MANFRED GOTTSCHALK/AGE FOTOSTOCK/DINODIA

CASH IN THE CASINO CHIPS AND EXPLORE ANOTHER SIDE OF MACAU BY MITALI PAREKH


Navigate |

CU LTU R E

turned into the Taipa Houses-Museum. Each house is its own mini museum, and together they demonstrate how the Macanese of mixed Portuguese descent lived in the past, and continue to live now. The first house is preserved as a residence, its rooms crowded with restored teak furniture, fourposter beds with gauzy mosquito nets, cold boxes for storing dairy, musical instruments, reading and writing tables, and carved room dividers. Catholicism was the dominant religion of the time, and the master bedrooms have elegantly carved and embellished altars, with kneelers to pray on before tucking in for the night. The adjoining houses hold memorabilia from the Coloane and Taipa islands, in the form of maps, and artefacts from important historical

events. The focus of another house is Portuguese cultural history, by way of costumes, instruments, and photographs. Outside the museum, newly betrothed couples pout and primp for photographs. Pre-wedding photography is a major ritual in Macau, and couples are shot in traditional Chinese as well as Christian wedding outfits. On any given day, you will see a team of photographers, make-up artists, and a couple posing: he in a sleek tuxedo with spiked hair and she in a fluffy gown. (+853-288271053; www.icm.gov.mo; open 10 a.m.-6 p.m, no admission after 4.30 p.m.; entry Macanese Pataca or MOP5/`42; TueSun, free for adults over 65 and children under 12; entry free on Sunday). St. Francis Xavier’s Chapel in Coloane

holds a surprising connection between Macau and India. This yellow-and-white chapel once held a bone relic of Saint Francis Xavier, whose body now rests

at the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa. As a Jesuit missionary, Xavier spent some time in this region before he died on Shangchuan Island, about 80 kilometres away. He was buried there for some time before his body was excavated and taken to Portuguese India. The chapel here, built in 1928, also has relics of other Catholic martyrs. Unlike the grand, sombre Basilica of Bom Jesus, this chapel is sunny and homely. The alcove behind the pulpit is painted blue with silhouettes of seagulls on top, giving the illusion that the sermons are held underwater. This chapel is meant to honour the humble Jesuit shepherd who loved his community (Ruo do Caetano, Largo Eduardo Marques; open 10 a.m.-6 p.m.). A short walk from the chapel in Coloane, stop at Lord Stow’s bakery for the original Portuguese egg tart. There are other outlets of Lord Stow’s but this one at 1 Rua Do Tassara is where owner Andrew Stow claims to have given the egg tart a Portuguese twist in the

GODONG/ROBERTHARDING/DINODIA (MAN), MITALI PAREKH (CATHEDRAL), OLIVER STREWE/LONELY PLANET IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES (FOOD)

T’ai Chi experts exhibit their skills at the Lou Lim Ieoc Garden (left); Newly betrothed couples (right) posing for pre-wedding photographs are frequently spotted at scenic locations across Macau; Filled with a sweet custard, Portuguese egg tarts (bottom) are an iconic Macau treat. The ones from Lord Stow’s bakery have a worldwide fan following.


CU LTU R E

An underwater fantasy installation (left) provides the perfect photo-op for guests at the City of Dreams resort; The lobby of MGM Macau is a walk-through art gallery with all manner of works on display (top right); The Hac-sa beach at Coloane has plenty of water sports as well as gentle waves, perfect for young children (bottom right).

1990s. The little tart contains wobbly, caramelised custard held within a flaky pastry shell. Stow’s is slightly eggier than versions found at other stalls and bakeries. Eat it warm, fresh out of the oven (+853-28882534; lordstow.com; MOP10/`84). Explore the Terrain For active travellers,

there is some good hiking and beach bumming in the region. The Coloane trails start near the A-Ma goddess statue on Coloane Hill. Tourist shops, kiosks, and newspaper stands stock maps for visitors, and the trails are well marked. The longest one is about eight kilometres and meanders all over the mountain. Shorter trails branch off it, such as the Northeast Coloane Walking Trail or the Long Chao Kok Coastal Trail, which has stone outcrops with views of the beach below. There are rest stops, barbecue pits (families carry coal and marinated meats with them), and

26

picnic areas. Sturdy sandals or sports shoes should suffice. It’s a gentle walk in and out of shaded woods and sunny promontories that are perfect for sitting and sipping iced tea. On the beach, there are picnic tables, food stalls, and convenience stores. All along the waterfront are shops renting kayaks, swimming gear, or offering kite-surfing lessons. If you’ve emptied your pockets at the casinos, there is also beach-side dormitorystyle accommodation to be found here (government buses from Macau city to the A-Ma statue MOP5/`42 and Hac-sa beach for MOP6.40/`54). IN MACAU Speed and Swig The Grand Prix Museum and the Wine Museum are housed in the

same building, the Tourism Activities Centre, and these niche institutions are more fun than the casual visitor might expect.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

Macau’s Guia circuit is considered one of the toughest Grand Prix racing street circuits in the world, and the Grand Prix Museum displays the mean machines that raced and conquered this track. One of its most popular exhibits is the F3 car that Ayrton Senna drove during the circuit’s inaugural race in 1983. Meanwhile, the Wine Museum, organized by Portugal’s wine-growing regions, with mannequins wearing traditional regional costumes, has wine samplings of various commercially produced bottles. But it also stocks a collection of port wine, the oldest of which dates to 1815. (+853-87984108; en.macautourism.gov.mo; Wed-Mon; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.). Chinese Landscape The Lou Lim Ieoc Garden is created in the style of the

classical gardens of Suzhou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in China. It’s a good place to enjoy a calm afternoon

VH/ORIENTAL TOUCH/DINODIA (ART), TIBOR BOGNAR/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE (HOTEL), HOLGER LEUE/LOOK/DINODIA (CHILDREN)

Navigate |


Navigate |

CU LTU R E

among foliage. In gazebos located amidst bamboo groves and sweeping trees, cellists, flautists, violinists, and retired members of the Chinese opera practise their art. Lotuses bloom in a pond and koi fish swim underneath while people practice t’ai chi. Look up, look around, and don’t forget to look down—the cobblestones are shaped like swans in flight (No. 10 Estrada de Adolfo Loureiro; entry free; open 6 a.m.-9 p.m.).

1,000 rippled, lotus leaf-like pieces suspended in mid-air. The MGM’s Art Space gallery has Chihuly’s “Drawing

INTO THE HOTELS Art in Macau Beyond their jade-studded

floors and gold-flecked ceilings, hotels in the NAPE neighbourhood use their art collections to distinguish themselves, and entice guests to stay. Foremost is the MGM Macau, where surrealist Salvadore Dali’s “Alice in Wonderland” statue stands outside. His “Dalilian Dancer” twirls in the lobby underneath glass sculptor Dale Chihuly’s “Fiori di Paradiso Ceiling.” Chihuly’s handblown installation has

28

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

Wall,” and other temporary exhibitions (www.mgmmacau.com; entry free). Dancing Water The City of Dreams

resort on the Cotai strip hosts the 1.5 hour show, House of Dancing Water. Developed by Belgium’s Franco Dragone Company, the show takes place in a stage pool that holds 3.7 million gallons of water, in an auditorium with 270° seating. Weaving many elements of Macau’s maritime culture together, the performers enact the story of a Chinese fisherman who is transported to another time, where he befriends a soldier and rescues a princess. This simple tale is told through a mind-boggling range of performing arts—ballet, mild burlesque trapeze acts, martial arts, water ballet, acrobatics, high diving, and even stunt biking—all in the water. (www.cityofdreamsmacau.com; adults from MOP598/`5,070, children from MOP419/`3,552; two shows daily at 5 and 8 p.m.)

SAN HOYANO/ORIENTAL TOUCH/DINODIA (CHURCH), LONELY PLANET IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES (TEMPLE)

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier (top) used to house a relic of the saint; A-Ma Cultural Village (bottom) on Coloane Island has a temple, palace, and hiking trails nearby.


SUMMER ISLAND MALDIVES WHERE DREAMS BECOME REALITY AND SUMMER NEVER ENDS

RESERVATIONS@SUMMERISLANDMALDIVES.COM WWW.SUMMERISLANDMALDIVES.COM


Navigate |

D E TOU R

Arcadian Interlude LIVE LIKE A LOCAL OFF SIKKIM’S TOURIST ROUTE BY SARITA SANTOSHINI

A

narrow, slippery trail cuts through a forest of chestnut, birch, and alder trees. There’s no sign of civilisation, but I continue on it, trusting the directions of a young monk. He’d guided me to a small clearing and told me to keep going until I reach the village of Kewzing in southern Sikkim. Fifteen minutes later, I am convinced that I am lost in the deep woods, until I begin to hear faint voices. The trail leads me to the backyard of a family that is busy chopping firewood. They are clearly surprised to see an uninvited visitor. Kewzing is about 75 kilometres southwest of Gangtok, and exists in the shadow of its more popular neighbour, the town of Ravangla. Besides a monastery and single house that stand by the road, the village is scattered across the forest, and the homes of its 200-odd residents can only be accessed on foot. Bright green or red tin roofs peek out

30

from the foliage, against the backdrop of the Kanchenjunga range. The peaks of Mount Karbu and Mount Narsing are visible on clear days. It is the dreamiest setting for a life of quiet, I think. In spite of my surprise visit, I am ushered inside and offered a cup of hot tea. Soon, I am introduced to Tshering Topgay. This young man coordinates the Kewzing Tourism Development Committee, a collective effort by its citizens to practice responsible tourism by opening their simple but comfortable homes to travellers, and introducing them to local culture. I have spent the previous four days in Gangtok, following the orchestrated routine of most tourists. During my walk through the village with Topgay, I witness Sikkim just the way I’d imagined it before my trip. Here, in Kewzing, there is no urgency, no checklist, and I am allowed a glimpse of the self-contained yet welcoming

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

society. I learn that the residents mostly belong to the Bhutia community and practice Buddhism. Every home has an elaborate prayer room, and in kitchen gardens I spot ripening tomatoes and chillies. I also notice that many homes have lawns. There is one with old wooden logs used as seats under flowering trees. We pause at another to enjoy a bite of zhero, a deep-fried snack made of wheat. At yet another, we listen to a woman strumming the dramyin, a traditional

PHOTO COURTESY: CHEWANG BONPO

An hour-long trek from Kewzing through a forest filled with Buddhist stupas and little bridges across gushing streams (top) ends at the serene Doling Monastery; Consider yourself lucky if you see the gorgeous fire-tailed myzorni (bottom).


Navigate |

D E TOU R

There are a number of Buddhist monasteries (top left) around Kewzing; Many regional folk songs are dedicated to the great barbet (top right), a popular bird in this area; Bon Farmhouse (bottom) is spread over six acres and offers guests insights into local practices like organic farming.

32

it my profession,” he says. Even today, Bonpo says he feels childlike glee every time he spots a gorgeous fire-tailed myzorni, green magpie, red-tailed minla, or a brown wood owl during

his walks through the area. Although I can’t stay long enough to try and spot some of these birds, I leave with their song. And the thrum of the dramyin lingering in my mind.

THE VITALS Getting There Located in the southern district of Sikkim, Kewzing is about 135 km/4 hr from Bagdogra Airport and about 130 km/4 hr from New Jalpaiguri railway station. It is about 10 km/15 min from Ravangla. Drive past Kewzing Monastery to Bon Farmhouse, after which a single house marks the start of the village. Stay Bon Farmhouse, run by ornithologist and birding guide, Chewang Bonpo, is a lovely place to

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

stay, with well-furnished rooms, some of which have private verandas. Some face the Kanchenjunga range (www. sikkimbonfarmhouse.com; doubles from `3,200 including breakfast). Visitors can enquire locally about homestays run by Kewzing Tourism Development Committee (ktdc@sikkimfoundation.org). Birding Tour Chewang Bonpo organises birding trips that cost `1,500 for a morning session and `3,000 for a full day trip for a group of four.

PHOTO COURTESY: CHEWANG BONPO

Himalayan folk instrument. No one speaks fluent English or Hindi, but their hospitality and friendliness effortlessly bridges the language barrier. Kewzing is located only about eight kilometres away from the Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary. The wildlife park extends all the way to the Rangit River and has about 200 species of birds. I meet Chewang Rinchen Bonpo, the owner of Bon Farmhouse and a wellknown ornithologist in the region, who leads birding tours. Though he studied outside the village, Bonpo’s childhood vacations in his family home here involved long hours in the forest collecting fodder and firewood. “I spent so much time surrounded by nature, spotting and observing birds that I decided to move back here and make


THE TREES

CHANGING THE FACE OF CENTRAL MUMBAI

Vikhroli is slowly emerging as the most sought after and greenest locations in Mumbai today, thanks to Godrej’s pioneering new project WHAT WAS THE COMMUNICATION OBJECTIVE FOR THIS CAMPAIGN? WHAT WAS THE PRIMARY OBJECTIVE? The launch of our landmark project “The Trees” in Vikhroli. WHAT WAS THE SECONDARY OBJECTIVE? To make the launch of The Trees –the biggest and most successful launch ever witnessed in GPL through rigorous marketing activities across mediums which would help generate buzz in the market leading to an impact which would sustain over the lifecycle of the project. WHAT TYPE OF COMMUNICATION MEDIUMS WERE USED FOR THE CAMPAIGN? An integrated 360 degree campaign which communicates a fine blend of history, art and modernism which are the core of this project. Another highlight is the location. Vikhroli is an integral part of the Godrej Group’s growth story and we needed a campaign that will not only highlight the location but also the historic significance of Vikhroli and how it is emerging as one of the finest addresses in Mumbai today. Aspects like the green cover around Vikhroli, connectivity with all parts of Mumbai, and last but not the least a well-conceived project which will change the way homes are perceived

in Mumbai is what we set to achieve with this campaign. WHAT WERE YOUR KEY MARKETING OBJECTIVES THAT YOU SET TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS CAMPAIGN? COULD YOU LET US KNOW THE PRIMARY AND THE SECONDARY OBJECTIVES OF THIS CAMPAIGN? Primary: Increase awareness about the project and generate quality walk-ins on site Secondary: Creating a buzz around how the face of central Mumbai is changing and how Vikhroli is slowly emerging to be the most sought after and greenest locations in Mumbai today. COULD YOU THROW SOME LIGHT ON THE CAMPAIGN THOUGHT AND HOW YOU WISHED TO POSITION THE PROJECT ACROSS MEDIA? The campaign thought to weave the story taking three key elements about the project and creating compelling reasons for customers to consider living in the Trees. Through our research we figured that the three most important aspects which customers consider when buying a home are location, the project and amenities and what changes it would bring about in their lifestyles. Given this premise, we concentrated on three important aspects about the development. One aspect was to con-


centrate on how Vikhroli is centrally located in Mumbai and easily accessible from every part of the city. Vikhroli currently is also the greenest part of the city with a wide expanse of Mangroves- a rarity in this concrete city of Mumbai. The second aspect of the communication would dwell on the Trees being a mixed use development having residences, luxury hospitality, high street retail and two commercial complexes creating a lively environment. The third aspect focused on the life in the trees on how life would be if you lived as a part of the trees where the neighborhood had been very well planned considering the aspect of convenience and luxury. WHO IS YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE FOR THIS PROJECT? Clearly people looking for a high quality eco-friendly life. Social Profile : a. Businessmen, Industrialists, High Power Professionals b. Dual income couples (earning upwards of `75 Lakhs/ annum) c. Buyers upgrading to bigger and more premium apartments d. NRI’s for investments e. Major Corporates for Office Space f. Brand conscious and aspiring for a premium lifestyle. g. The new aspirational Indian in short.

Area-wise : Predominantly from Mumbai but would include the rich all over India including NRI’s looking to invest. We have projects across Mumbai and there are chances that we spread across the country. The Mind game: a. The connect here has to be with their lifestyle needs b. People looking for homes that fulfil their needs and are willing to pay a premium to find such homes c. Should be of the international class and state of the art d. Status symbol to some extent HOW HAS THE CAMPAIGN PERFORMED FOR YOU? Area Sold: 4.55 Lakh Sq.ft. Booking Value: 861 Cr. Apartment Sold: 355 Apartments WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE WAY FORWARD NOW? Since most of our inventory has been sold in phase I, we will now concentrate on the launch of Phase II of the project. We will continue with the current positioning and look forward to create more buzz about the next Phase. And we will look for to the same response as we received in the Phase I of the Trees.


Navigate |

D E TOU R

A Stitch in Time SEA-WEATHERED BUT WELL-PRESERVED, LUNENBURG IS A COASTAL GEM BY SONIA NAZARETH

E

ven without its UNESCO World Heritage Site tag, Lunenburg, a small coastal town in Nova Scotia, Canada, is a seductive destination. Less than two hours from Halifax, this 18th-century town’s colourfully painted wooden buildings are truly spectacular. A guided walk around the wellpreserved historic centre reveals painted churches and stately Georgian and Victorian homes. Look out for architectural quirks like the “Lunenburg bump”—an enlarged window that projects, vertically from the sloping roofs of many homes. There’s also the “widow’s watch,” a raised rooftop platform used by women to keep a look out for vessels at sea. At the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, old vessels are on display. Detailed, interactive panels tell stories of the area’s fisherfolk and seafarers. Visitors to the town can also book the Bluenose II, the replica of a 1920s schooner, for tours ( fisheriesmuseum.

36

novascotia.ca; open 9.30 a.m.–5 p.m.; entry adults CAD7/`345, children CAD2/`99; closed until May 2016). Lunenburg’s culinary history is connected to its residents’ German roots and its proximity to the ocean. Dishes like Dutch Mess (boiled salt cod, pork scraps, potatoes, and onions), Solomon Gundy (pickled herring), and sauerkraut are served everywhere, as is a variety of outstandingly fresh seafood. Try Salt Shaker Deli for local favourites (www. saltshakerdeli.com; open 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; meal for two from `2,000). Ironworks Distillery capitalises on the berries abundantly available in the area, and distils blueberry, raspberry, and cranberry liqueurs. Lunenburg was once a stop-off point for rum runners, and the rum from this micro-distillery, made from imported Caribbean molasses, is a tipple worth trying. So is their vodka made with local apples. Visit the store to stock up on their products or take a tour (The Blacksmith’s Shop, 2 Kempt Street;

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

entry free; open 4 Jan-30 Apr, 12-5 p.m.) A ten-minute drive away is the tiny village of Blue Rocks. Punctuated by fish shacks and awash in a salty breeze, it is best experienced at sunset. I unexpectedly gained some local knowledge here when I encountered an “old salt,” or sailor. From him I learned about sailors’ superstitions including putting a broomstick across your door at night, and spitting when you see a single crow to ward off evil. In the idiosyncrasies of this town and its culture lie the essence of its charm. THE VITALS Lunenburg lies 92 km/1.5 hr southwest of Halifax, capital of Canada’s Nova Scotia province. The Essential Lunenburg tour is an hour-long introduction to the town’s history and architecture (lunenburgwalkingtours. com; daily 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. from 15 May-15 Oct; adults CAD20/`990, children CAD10/`495).

ROLF HICKER/ALL CANADA PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES

With its well-preserved wooden houses, Lunenburg in Novo Scotia is good example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America.


Navigate |

C I N E M ASCA PE

Mountain Movies he first time I travelled to Switzerland, I expected a cliché—the somewhat underwhelming version of what I had already seen on screen a hundred times. I didn’t expect that the lakes, mountains, historic towns, and picture-postcard Alpine villages would astonish me. Everywhere I turned, I saw mountains, yet the scene changed each time, dramatically rendered in different technicolour shades, depending on the time of day or night. As I walked my solitary way along various paths, occasionally looking for a phantom hand to hold on to, to share the romance of the moment, memories of the movies came flooding back. Switzerland has always been much more than a mere prop to cinema. A dynamic canvas that has been adapted to romance, drama, and tragedy,

its landscape has been rendered forbidding, benevolent, and thrilling by turns. Dastardly murders, chiffonclad romances, and edgy, high-speed car chases have all happened here. Generations of filmmakers used the dramatic peaks and blue lakes as a perfect foil to the adventures of spies, detectives, divas, and villains. From 007’s cat-and-mouse games to Bollywood’s young lovers cavorting on the snowy ridges of the Jungfraujoch col, the world of motion pictures would not be the same without these magnificent locales. Big budget commercial cinema permanently catapulted Switzerland into every movie buff ’s imagination. BOLLYWOOD BACKDROP

In the world of Bollywood, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman

Ranbir Kapoor romances Minissha Lamba against the backdrop of the Swiss Alps in the 2008 romantic comedy Bachna Ae Haseeno.

38

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

in love must wear bright chiffon saris and dance with gay abandon against the backdrop of the snowy Alps, accompanied by a hero in colourcoordinated outfits. The scenes are often framed with musical cows and country churches, and nearly always feature cathartic slo-mo sequences at a train station. This type of glossy love story popularised by the late film-maker Yash Chopra has, over the years, become a template for Hindi cinema. In the Yash Raj formula (named for Chopra and his son’s studio), Switzerland is an essential ingredient for romance. From the tiny lanes of Gstaad to the train station at Saanen, from the meadows of Interlaken to the streets of Bern, and from the mighty Junfraujoch to the awe-inspiring Rhine Falls, there was a Swiss dimension to nearly every Bollywood love story in the 1980s and ’90s.

PHOTO COURTESY: YASH RAJ FILMS PVT. LTD.

T

SPIES, LOVERS, AND RENDEZVOUS IN THE TOWERING SWISS ALPS BY DIYA KOHLI


C I N E M ASCA PE

In Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol sang and danced amid mountains, meadows, and Alpine towns (left) and forever twinned Switzerland with love in the Indian filmgoer’s imagination; As a result, towns like Saanen (right) and Gstaad became familiar stops on the tourist itinerary.

As Yash Chopra romances brought Switzerland into a billion living rooms, Indian travel agents were inundated with requests for holiday itineraries featuring places like Gstaad, Saanen, and La Chaux-de-Fonds. Romance for these travellers was a sum of images culled from films like Silsila (1981), Chandni (1989), Lamhe (1991), Darr (1993), Dil to Pagal Hai (1997), and above all Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge or DDLJ (1995). On late night walks, my mind wandered to all the candyfloss Bollywood romances set in this utterly beautiful landscape. Despite my disdain for ludicrous plots and absurd choreography, I couldn’t help but feel a surge of pride when Swiss, German, and Russian people chatted with me about Raj Kapoor or Shah Rukh Khan. These actors were the dots connecting me and the subcontinent to which I belonged with the country I was visiting. The characters they played became wraith-like companions on my trip. Sometimes, I heard the strains of half-remembered songs

40

or Sridevi’s eerie cackle from the film Chandni (1989) as she rolled among the buttercups, resonating in my dreams. SPIES AND VILLAINS

The Swiss Alps also became a place of secret hideouts, highly classified facilities, and an apt setting for daredevil highspeed car chases. In particular, this stark white scenery, in which super villains and their henchmen plotted world domination, became forever associated with the exploits of the greatest spy that ever lived, the unflagging British secret agent James Bond. As Bond battled his enemies, rescued damsels in distress, and seduced his assassins all in a day’s work, his adventures made for some absolutely unforgettable scenes. The one that immediately comes to mind is Goldfinger (1964), in which the inimitable Sean Connery as 007 is chased by Tilly Masterson across the stunning Furka Pass. The glamorous sequence through this breathtaking 7,969-foot-high paved pass features Bond’s iconic Aston

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

Martin, and is counted among the best in the history of cinema. Fans can relive this moment—albeit within speed limits—on the driving route along the Grand Tour of Switzerland. While there might not be an Aston Martin on offer, the other cars available on this tour are posh, and will make you feel quite sophisticated. Another sequence that is as bold in its conception as in its choice of setting is from GoldenEye (1995). The film features Pierce Brosnan as Bond jumping off the edge of Contra Dam near Lugano. This 720-foot jump is regarded by some as the best movie stunt of all time, and the site has become a famed bungee point for those intrepid enough to take on the challenge. Besides the action sequences, some less dangerous locations have also become intrinsically associated with Bond films. One example is the legendary revolving restaurant of Piz Gloria on the Schilthorn, the headquarters of Bond’s nemesis Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). Here, fans can

OLEG_MIT/SHUTTERSTOCK (DAM), DONALDSON COLLECTION/MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/MOVIEPIX/GETTY IMAGES (SEAN CONNERY), ALBUM ONLINE/INDIAPICTURE (BON APPETIT & STAR WARS: EPISODE III- REVENGE OF THE SITH), THE HOLLYWOOD ARCHIVE/DINODIA (ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE)

Navigate |


Navigate |

C I N E M ASCA PE

enjoy a James Bond 007 breakfast buffet to relive the on-screen excitement. BEYOND BOND

Switzerland’s film heritage extends beyond spy films and romances too. Looking up at the purple mountains of Grindelwald, I imagined they looked as other-worldly as they did when they featured as the peaks of the planet Alderaan in Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith (2005). On the shores of Lake Geneva on a rainy evening, I almost saw a young Mary Shelley sitting on the promenade in Montreux, staring across the lake on a stormy night in Rowing with the Wind (1988), a film about the author and the monster she created in her novel Frankenstein. In my last few hours in the country, I recalled the burgeoning romance between a young chef and a sommelier in Bon Appetit (2010) while warming myself with a midnight cup of coffee in an industrial suburb of Zurich. The brilliant colours of fall were

42

rendered even more vivid with my celluloid memories of this landscape and all the magnificent dramas, romances, spy thrillers, and edgy action films set against this painter’s backdrop. And when I returned home, changed by the things I had seen and people I had met, I felt a desire to go back, to see the mountains and yellow-red trees one more time. Back in Mumbai, I watched Paolo Sorrentino’s brilliant film Youth (2015) in an old art deco theatre, and

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

was unexpectedly transported back to the land I had just left. Sitting back in my chair during the closing sequences of Youth, I felt close to these towering mountains. The film’s surreal, artistic portrayal of the binary of youth and old age unfolded through a collage of startling images under the cold, starkly beautiful Alps. Right then, I decided I would have to return to Switzerland to find the very valley where this film was shot.

PHOTO COURTESY: YASH RAJ FILMS PVT. LTD. (DILWALE DULHANIA LE JAYENGE), ROBERT HARDING/INDIAPICTURE (TOWN)

James Bond had a penchant for the Alps and certain locations have become synonymous with his antics. For instance, there is Contra Dam (top left) in Ticino, from where 007 makes a daring jump in the opening scene of GoldenEye (1995); Sean Connery (top right) cuts a dashing figure during the hair-raising Furka Pass chase in Goldfinger (1964); Posters of films shot in different spots in this picturesque country (bottom).


Navigate |

C I N E M ASCA PE

Rub al Khali’s other-worldly 1,000-foot-high sand dunes pass for the planet of Jakku in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

The Force is Strong AT THESE LOCATIONS WHERE THE LATEST STAR WARS MOVIE WAS SHOT BY KAMAKSHI AYYAR

44

of the monks’ cells, the graveyard, and St. Michael’s church. There are over a hundred crosses in various shapes and forms scattered across the island. U.A.E. The sand dunes of Abu Dhabi’s Rub al Khali feature prominently in the film, standing in for the planet of Jakku. The Middle-Eastern hub is no stranger to tourists, with its beautiful beaches, desert safaris, souks, and family-friendly attractions making it a great holiday choice for every kind of traveller. U.K. In the UK, Gloucestershire’s Puzzlewood forest is the backdrop to the thrilling confrontation between Rey and Kylo Ren. Its knotted trees and lush green are said to have also inspired parts of The Lord of the Rings. The forest has also made an appearance in popular television shows like Doctor Who. ICELAND Iceland’s Myvatn-Krafla

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

volcanic region has long been a favourite of filming crews from around the world, including the Game of Thrones. Its blue-green lakes, steaming craters, and mudpools give parts of Star Wars its other-worldly feel. POWER OF PLACE The first UNESCO World Heritage Site to feature in a Star Wars film was the Royal Palace of Caserta in southern Italy. The magnificent, large royal residence, built in the 18th century, includes a palace with gardens, woods and hunting lodges, and even a silk factory. It has served as the location for Queen Amidala’s Palace on Naboo in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace as well as Queen Jamillia’s palace in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

JULIEN GRACIA/AGE FOTOSTOCK/DINODIA

S

urprisingly, for a movie about fictional galaxies, much of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was shot at real locations instead of worlds imagined in computer graphics. The seventh edition in the popular movie franchise sees the return of classic characters like Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia travelling to fantastical planets. The spectacular locations where it was filmed have captured the imagination of sci-fi fans and travellers across the world. IRELAND The island of Skellig Michael, just southwest of Ireland’s County Kerry, doubles as the place where Luke Skywalker has been biding his time. In real life, the island is the location of a centuries-old Christian monastery that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can explore the rocky remains


Navigate |

S PO RTI N G S PI R I T

Winchester city has a number of cricketing clubs. On a weekend, it’s common to find local teams playing a match in their cricket whites.

Cricketing Country FINDING PATAUDI, AUSTEN, AND UNDILUTED TRADITION IN WINCHESTER BY TITHIPARNA SENGUPTA

46

off. A bird—unfortunately I can’t tell a lark from a thrush or a chaffinch—sings to its heart’s content. A short distance ahead, we come across a beautiful cricket ground set in this bucolic background. It is part of the 14th-century Winchester College, the oldest running public school in England, belonging to the same elite league as Eton and Harrow. There’s a school match going on complete with all the paraphernalia of the game: white flannels, V-neck sweaters, gloves and pads, a scoreboard, and a pavilion where I am sure the ritual of afternoon tea is scrupulously followed. Cricket has a long relationship with Winchester. Some people claim that it was here that the game matured from a schoolboy pastime to an adult sport. There is even a 17th-century Latin poem

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

that mentions boys playing cricket in Winchester. The area’s inns and public houses have names like The Bat & Ball and The Thomas Lord, the latter for the founder of Lord’s Cricket Ground, who ATLAS

SLOVAKIA IA

BANGLADE ADESH

COLOMBIA

LESOTHO

Winchester, United Kingdom Besides Jane Austen, 19th century Romantic poet John Keats lived in Winchester briefly. He wrote several poems here, including his famous ode “To Autumn.”

DAVID LYONS/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

A

s I walk through water meadows, I feel the strength of a friend’s observation that an English summer’s day is the most beautiful thing on earth. I have just set out from Winchester, the quaint county town of Hampshire, 100 kilometres southwest of London. Behind me are its ancient cathedral, castle ruins, cavernous bookshops, and cobbled roads. Spread out in front is a glorious English scene, straight out of the books of nursery rhymes I grew up with. To my right are meadows dotted with cows and dappled with sunlight. Buttercups roll towards wooded hills, and a sparkling river meanders through them. To the left gurgles a slender stream, with trout darting in its cool shallows, ducks snacking on the water weeds, and a bull terrier chasing them


Navigate |

S PO RTI N G S PI R I T

The 12th-century Hospital of St. Cross stands tall over meadows with tufty grass and a swirl of yellow buttercups (top); The ninth-century St. Swithun’s bridge across the Itchen River (bottom) is right in the centre of Winchester.

48

yet another stately ground. I flop down amidst the buttercups and primroses, fish out my sandwiches, and follow the action. There is something sublime about the humble school match—the eagerness of the boys and the sound of the cherry hitting the bat—that warms my Indian heart. Cynics may cry out about the death of cricket at the hands of commercially lucrative forms like T20, but at least in Winchester, the sport is alive and kicking.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

THE VITALS Winchester is 110 km/1.5 hr southwest of London and there are many train and bus connections. Games are played at the Winchester College grounds every Saturday throughout the summer term. Saturday afternoons are a good bet for catching other local cricket clubs like Hambledon and Chawton in action. The Winchester Cathedral, its crypt and treasury are open 9.30 a.m.-5 p.m, Mon-Sat and 12.30-3 p.m. on Sunday.

AYON MANDAL

retired to West Meon in the Winchester area. But the most interesting of Winchester’s cricketing connections has to be this one: Jane Austen, who spent most of her life in this part of England and died in Winchester, is believed to have been a great devotee of the sport. Before setting out, we visited the writer’s grave inside Winchester Cathedral, and passed by the Georgian double-storeyed building where she lived. At the school, cricket has always been serious business. The best of Winchester College’s several cricket teams is called the “Lords.” Amongst the famous players who have captained the Lords are bowler Douglas Jardine (infamous for his “Bodyline” action), and our very own Tiger Pataudi, albeit 40 years apart. In fact, Pataudi broke Jardine’s record of the highest number of runs and season average in 1959. This accomplishment was sweetened by the fact that Jardine had unfairly thrown Tiger’s father out of the England cricket team when the senior Pataudi protested against bodyline bowling. Incidentally, Tiger Pataudi’s record still stands to this day. Strolling further down the meadow, we see another match being played on


Navigate |

BO O K EXTRACT

Lure of the Open Road THE JOY OF BEING BEHIND THE WHEEL OF A CAR, THE THRILL OF ROAD-TRIPPING, AND MAKING FRIENDS ON THE GO, FROM RISHAD SAAM MEHTA’S NEW BOOK

F

ifteen years ago, Rishad Saam Mehta was chasing the corporate dream when his true calling came wrapped around a sandwich. The newspaper holding his lunch carried a classified by an automobile magazine, calling for new writers. He switched careers, fell in love with fast cars and the open road, and turned travel writer. In his second book Fast Cars & Fidgety Feet he writes about riding a ski-mobile in the Arctic, cycling through Tuscan villages, discovering hidden legends, and wishing the adventure never ends.

Schloss Neuschwanstein— the most evocative symbol of nineteenth century Bavaria— towered over the village of Hohenschwangau. Unfortunately we’d left behind the good weather in the north, and as we approached the castle, the Ferrari growling like a horse champing

50

at the bit at being restrained after such a wanton gallop, the weather was a mess of rain and heavy cloud, but this only added to the castle’s charm. Rising like the strongholds found in stories penned by the Brothers’ Grimm that begin with, ‘A long time ago in a kingdom far away...’, it

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

Fast Cars & Fidgety Feet (Tranquebar, February 2016, `350)

is Neuschwanstein’s tapering steeples that inspired the castle in the Walt Disney Pictures’ logo. King Ludwig II of Bavaria (often called Mad King Ludwig for his eccentricities) commissioned it as a personal refuge and also as homage to Richard Wagner, the German composer, who wrote very tempestuous music. His orchestral work, called ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’, is a stormy piece of classical music full of trumpets, trombones, cymbals and kettledrums, and is about mythical creatures from Norse mythology. That rainy day, with thunder providing a constant

WALTER BIBIKOW/AGE FOTOSOTCK/DINODIA

Neuschwanstein Castle dominates the landscape around the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, close to Germany’s border with Austria. It gets about 6,000 visitors a day and was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle and Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World.


Navigate |

BO O K EXTRACT

drum roll, looking up at the castle towering above the village, I almost expect Wagner’s Valkyries to launch themselves from the tall turrets of Neuschwanstein and come riding down the ramparts. As the story goes, Ludwig II had more than just an admiration for Wagner’s music. He was fifteen years old when he saw the composer’s opera Lohengrin. What started off as appreciation of his music soon developed into love for the composer himself. We stopped in the village below for a cup of coffee and got talking to a cherubic local coach driver who ferried tourists up to the castle in a horse carriage. He was practically offended when I referred to Ludwig as the ‘Mad King’. While the world sees Ludwig as the king who squandered money on fairy tale castles, Bavarians remember him fondly. They call him Unser Kini, which means ‘our

cherished king’ in the Bavarian dialect. The carriage driver was quick to tell me that Ludwig built Neuschwanstein from his personal fortune. Since the castle was built around the 1880s, many senior citizens from the region still remember stories that their grandparents told them about the king and the construction of the castle. History may ignorantly dismiss Ludwig as nutty, but here in south Bavaria, where his beautiful castles enhance the landscape, he is still regarded with a lot of affection and admiration. The town of Füssen, 4km from Neuschwanstein, and the castle itself, are at the southern end of the famed German Romantic Road that is 350km of highway between Würzburg and Füssen, and is studded with quaint old

52

Driving through Tyrol, Austria, the writer chanced upon medieval Kitzbühel (top), a popular ski resort. Buskers at Zellberg (bottom), a hiking destination with trails that wind through forests and meadows.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

towns and castles. It earned its nickname in the 1950s when travel agents started promoting it as a romantic drive, and today it is one of Germany’s most popular touring routes. I was looking forward to driving through Füssen: Steve McQueen’s motorcycle stunts from the epic Hollywood movie The Great Escape were shot there. Depicting the true events of an

escape attempt made by Allied airmen from a German POW camp in Poland during WWII, The Great Escape is one of my all-time favourite movies and always makes it to any list of great war films. Once there, I was thrilled when a local pointed out the exact meadows around Füssen where the movie’s closing sequences were shot.

RISHAD SAAM MEHTA

History may ignorantly dismiss Ludwig as nutty, but here in south Bavaria, where his beautiful castles enhance the landscape, he is still regarded with a lot of affection


Navigate |

LO CA L F L AVOU R

Liquid Gold FOLLOWING AN OLIVE’S JOURNEY FROM FARM TO BOTTLE IN ANCONA, ITALY BY PRACHI JOSHI

F

our shot glasses are lined up in front of me, each numbered and containing a thimbleful of shimmering liquid, ranging from green to gold in colour. No, I’m not at a bar and there is no alcohol involved. I am about to be schooled in blind olive oil tasting. “Olive oil is good when you like it, no rules, you see?” says Antonio Roversi with a twinkle in his eye. Roversi owns Azienda del Carmine, an olive oil company in the Le Marche region of central Italy. The Carmine farm is spread over several acres of the undulating hills of Ancona, a district flanked by the

54

Apennine Mountains on one side and the Adriatic Sea on the other. We are seated in Roversi’s office, which adjoins A3 Passi, the agriturismo or farm stay, my husband and I are visiting. Earlier that day, we explored a small part of the farm, wandering among the bushy olive trees standing in neat rows. Their silvery green leaves shone in the morning sun, and their branches were weighed down with ripening fruit, in every shade from green to deep purple. It’s autumn, olive harvest season, and my conversation with Roversi is

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

punctuated by the din of the oil mill next door. The last couple of years have been difficult for olive growers, Roversi tells me. The winter of 2013-14 was very mild, allowing parasites like the olive fruit fly to flourish. It was followed by a wet summer that caused flooding and large-scale destruction of the year’s crop. Although I can see massive crates filled with olives, Roversi tells me that the crop is much less than normal. Still the mill is working through most nights, pressing olives to extract the greenish-gold oil. At the tasting table, I pick up the first glass and breathe deeply, taking in the lightly perfumed but otherwise unremarkable scent. The second glass has no distinguishing odours at all. Glass three, however, has a sweet perfume. “Do I smell artichokes?” I ask Roversi, and he beams at me. “Italian olive oils usually have the perfume of almonds, artichokes, or mandarins, unlike the Spanish ones where banana is the predominant note,” he says. I inhale deeply from the last glass, and almost swoon at the full-bodied scents that the tasting notes tell me are grass, tomato leaves, and even some mandarin. It’s time to taste and Roversi suggests that I try two of the four oils. I pick the first and the last. Though the first oil had a mildly pleasant aroma, it tastes of nothing at all and is quite greasy. I fervently hope that the fourth sample lives up to its perfume. It doesn’t disappoint, a grassy taste underlying the sharp flavour. Its pungent bitterness THE VITALS Ancona is 303 km/3 hr north of Rome and 232 km/2.5 hr south of Bologna by road. It takes 2-4 hours to get to Ancona by train from either city (www. trenitalia.com; tickets from €9/`700). A3 Passi’s elegant, well-designed rooms come with all basic amenities (including free Wi-Fi), private patio, and swimming pool (Via del Carmine 51, 60020 Ancona; +39-71889403; aziendadelcarmine.it; doubles from €89/`6,500, including breakfast). Degustation menu €30/ `2,320. Olive oil tasting available free of charge on request.

IP CUISINES/INDIAPICTURE

Olive oil can range from pale gold to bright green in colour. In general, lighter oils tend to be mild in flavour, while the green ones can be sharp and peppery.


Navigate |

LO CA L F L AVOU R

lingers at the back of my throat long after the tasting. Roversi then reveals what each of the four oils are. The first is a mass-produced Italian olive oil, available in supermarkets. “The second is a very bad Greek oil, which has been chemically treated hence the lack of perfume,” says Roversi. The last two oils come from the Carmine farm— the milder Leccino and my favourite, the Ascolana. Our dinner that night is a fourcourse degustation menu at La Tavola del Carmine, the restaurant at the farm. Each dish showcases an oil from the Carmine arsenal. We begin with a warming lentil soup with a drizzle of blended olive oil, followed by a Parmesan risotto garnished with a red wine reduction and Frantoio olive oil, which adds a hint of bitter almond to the dish. The next course, or secondo, is juicy pork tenderloin with a splash of sharp, peppery Ascolana, which complements the meat perfectly. For dessert we indulge in a mille-feuille of chocolate and Chantilly cream, with a swirl of the Leccino. The mild, sweet oil adds an interesting depth to the dolce or dessert.

56

The Ascolana olive oil is the best I have ever tasted. Of course, just like wine, olive oil tastes are subjective too. Roversi agrees. “Ascolana olives are very big and beautiful, and very expensive. The oil is not too greasy and has robust flavours that stay in your mouth longer—the mark of a good olive oil,” he says. Once you have tasted this farm-to-table olive oil, supermarket varieties will pale in comparison. Which explains why I returned from my trip to Italy clutching two bottles of the precious stuff. TASTE TEST TASTE LIKE A PRO Use small glasses, shot glasses, or espresso cups. Fill half the glass with olive oil. Cover the glass with one hand and warm it by cupping it with the other. Give the cup a little swirl. The warmth releases the aromas in the oil. Breathe deeply and smell the oil. Sip a small quantity of the oil, while breathing in air through your mouth. This is the strippagio method of airing the oil and allowing it to coat your mouth. This will help the aroma reach your taste buds. Now swallow the oil slowly. You might feel a slight burn at the back of your throat, you may even have to cough (the oil producer usually takes this as a compliment, a reflection on the good quality of the oil). In between tastings, eat bread or apple as a palate cleanser.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

PHOTO COURTESY: LE MARCHE TOURISM (HARVEST), RUDOLPH KELLY/EYEEM/GETTY IMAGES (OIL)

In Le Marche, olives are harvested in October and November. Large nets are placed under the trees and long-handled, vibrating tongs are used to comb the branches (top); The first pressing of the olives (bottom) yields high quality extra virgin olive oil.


Navigate |

N ATI O N A L PA R K

Seeking the Stripe TIGERS AND OTHER STARS OF THE JUNGLE IN MADHYA PRADESH’S BANDHAVGARH NATIONAL PARK BY SHEEMA MOOKHERJEE | PHOTOGRAPHS BY DHRITIMAN MUKHERJEE

Bandhavgarh National Park has a high density of tigers, and travellers have the opportunity to see them at fairly close quarters.

T

here is no formula for sighting a tiger in the wild. But there is a philosophical outlook one can have when going on safari in an Indian forest: to let things take their course. If you expect to see a tiger on your very first ride, you have started on the wrong foot. Instead, trust your guides (too many people unleash the disappointment of not seeing a tiger on them) and delight in their stories. It’s best to let their experience lead you as they interpret alarm calls, pug marks, and other subtle signs of the jungle. We began our recent three-day visit to Bandhavgarh National Park with a safari in the Magdhi zone. The mahua trees were full of fruit, attracting birds and monkeys. The amaltas trees were a riot of yellow, and bauhinia creepers

58

bloomed in gaudy profusion, draped over tall trees. Chitals and langurs foraged in the shade of gigantic banyans. It was a beautiful morning, one that got even better when we saw a female tiger and three cubs with their kill. We watched them greedily, taking a break only for our own quick breakfast, and returned to photograph the frolicking cubs and their watchful mother. We had exceptionally good luck throughout the trip, spotting six tigers in all. EXPLORE

One of the most picturesque national parks in India, Bandhavgarh has a mixed deciduous forest dominated by a hill, which according to legend was given to Lakshman by Rama. In 1968, the government took over this former hunting

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

ground of the maharajas of Rewa. It has four zones. The oldest is Tala, where the vast Chakradhar meadow gives way to the rocky hill topped by Bandhavgarh ATLAS

Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh Bandhavgarh National Park was the hunting preserve of the maharajas of the erstwhile Rewa State, who are known to have bred white tigers.


Navigate |

N ATI O N A L PA R K

In addition to the rapidly multiplying wild boar population (top left), visitors to Bandhavgarh can see the Malabar pied hornbill (bottom left), superbly camouflaged nightjars (bottom right) and plenty of spotted deer (top right).

Fort. Halfway uphill, in a grove at the source of the Charanganga River, lies an enormous statue of Vishnu in a reclining pose. There is also a cluster of man-made caves, some of them pre-historic. Magdhi, Khitauli, and Panpatha zones were added later to expand the core area. Magdhi has surpassed the “star” zone of Tala for tiger sightings recently. We were told Tala’s recent dearth of tigers may be due to territorial fights between a surging population of females with cubs, and young males. Khitauli is great for spotting leopards and sloth bears, while Panpatha offers dhole (wild dog) sightings.

60

ANIMALS

Bandhavgarh has among the highest tiger densities of any Indian national park, making sightings relatively more likely. Other animals include the leopard, sloth bear, wild dog, spotted deer, and sambar. The gaur population had dwindled, but herds were reintroduced from Kanha National Park and have made a comeback. One morning in Tala, for 20 minutes we watched a sloth bear scratching at an anthill and delicately eating its residents. Smaller mammals, like the common mongoose, jackal, jungle cat, and palm civet are also visible. Civets only appear at dusk and dawn, so are

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

harder to find, but we did spot one whizzing up a tree one evening. The forests are also a birdwatcher’s delight. Keep an eye out for the spectacular black-and-white Malabar pied hornbill, with its enormous casque and raucous call. SAFARI TIMES & COSTS

Tala and Magdhi zones are open from 1 October to 15 June, while Khitauli and Panpatha are open year-round. Book safaris online ( forest.mponline.gov.in) well in advance (as soon as they open is best), or through your resort, which eliminates much of the hassle but adds to the cost.


Discover a personal version of paradise Where common place is banished and extraordinary remains. Relax amongst quintessential surroundings and accommodations. Emerge renewed from a lavish spa and sip premium drinks while watching the sunset...

Aitken Spence Hotel Managements (Pvt) Ltd Aitken Spence Tower II, 315 Vauxhall Street, Colombo 2, Sri Lanka www.heritancedestinations.com

Heritance Kandalama

Heritance Ahungalla

Heritance Tea Factor y

Heritance Ayur veda Maha Gedara


Navigate |

N ATI O N A L PA R K

There are two safaris every day, at 6.30 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. in winter (Oct-Jan), and 6 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. in summer (Feb-Jun). Mornings are pleasantly refreshing as you watch the forest come alive with the rays of the sun. Evenings offer great sightings, especially at dusk. All Madhya Pradesh national parks are closed on Wednesday afternoons. All safaris are in governmentregistered Gypsy vehicles, which carry up to six people who must be accompanied by a forest departmentapproved guide. The entry fee is `2,640 per Gypsy at Tala, and `1,320 at the other zones (foreigners pay a surcharge per head). STAY

62

Halfway up the hill to Bandhavgarh Fort lies a gigantic statue of a reclining Vishnu, called Sheshaiya (top); The fort’s ramparts (bottom) are a great backdrop to the safaris in the park.

a good budget accommodation (www. mptourism.com; doubles `5,390 for room only). Skay’s Camp is an offbeat ecolodge within Tala village, run by experienced naturalist Satyendra Tiwari, and his artist wife, Kay Hassall Tiwari. It has seven double rooms with the feel of a family home. The couple’s knowledge of Bandhavgarh’s flora and fauna, and Kay’s artistic background, add considerably to the experience (skayscamp.in; doubles `5,500 for room only). SEASONS

The days get warm in March and very hot from April to June. Early mornings are chilly from October onwards, and

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

December and January are cold and misty. March and June are the best seasons for sightings as the tall grasses wither away, and water sources inside the jungle dry up, drawing the animals out. Winter is the best time for birdwatching as the migrant visitors arrive in early December and leave in March. GETTING THERE

Two convenient airports are Jabalpur (165 km/4 hr) and Khajuraho (260 km/6 hr). Most resorts can arrange a pickup for a fee. The closest rail heads are Jabalpur, Katni (100 km/2.5 hr), and Umaria (35 km/45 min). Buses and private taxis ply between each of these towns and Tala Gate.

ANIRUDDHA MOOKERJEE (STATUE)

Bandhavgarh’s many lodges (most situated around Tala gate), have rooms to suit every budget. The better-run places have good naturalists and all lodges offer a meal plan. It is best to dine in-house but there are some tea shops and cafés around Tala village. Mahua Kothi is the chic, upscale Taj Safaris resort. Its price and amenities stand apart, but the real value additions are the well-trained naturalists, superb cuisine and natural ambience. (www. tajsafaris.com; `30,000 to `48,500 per person per night sharing, depending on season; includes all meals, some alcoholic drinks, and two safaris daily.) King’s Lodge is an old, reliable favourite. The individual cottages in minimal, ethnic style are far apart and afford a high degree of privacy. Bathrooms are well-equipped, the linens crisp, and service prompt. The food is of a high standard, and there is a small spa and pool (www.kingslodge.in; doubles `16,000, including all meals). Bandhavgarh Jungle Lodge is a good mid-level option close to the Tala Gate. Rooms are decently sized and newer structures have an urban feel, while the older cottages have mud-coated walls and tribal paintings. Food is the average Indian/multi-cuisine mix (www. bandhavgarhjunglelodge.com; 3-day package for two `17,250, including meals). White Tiger Forest Lodge is an MPTDC property, which enjoys the best location, just half a kilometre from Tala gate. It is run better than most government lodges and has been recently renovated to comfortably fulfil the expectations of


Navigate |

THE SOUV EN I R

A Bite of Bengal SIX THINGS TO BRING BACK TO YOUR PANTRY FROM A TRIP TO KOLKATA BY RUMELA BASU

KASUNDI

PANCH PHORON

JHARNA GHEE

Kasundi is more than a mustard sauce. It’s made by blitzing green chillies, mustard seeds, salt, and mustard oil, and has a steady presence in Kolkata’s grocery stores. Kasundi works best as a dip with fried fish or cutlets, or as a condiment with hot rice and veggies. Piquant aam kasundi which is blended with raw mangoes is a summer special. A bottle of the popular Shubra brand costs `50 for 300 ml and can be bought at local groceries.

Panch phoron is a five-spice mix of fenugreek seeds (methi), mustard (shorshe), fennel (mouri), cumin (jeere), and nigella (kalo jeere); the formula varies from house to house. Some substitute anise for fennel, while others use radhuni (wild celery seeds) in place of mustard or cumin. When they pop together in hot oil they bring a distinctive taste to Bengali dishes; pumpkin with black channa (kumror chakka) is a favourite. A 100-gm-pack costs `10 at local groceries.

Bengali students travelling abroad carry jars of Jharna ghee, a taste that reminds them of home and mama’s cooking. The brand that has become synonymous with quality Bengali ghee has a darker colour than regular ghee. It’s not used for cooking, but is poured over gorom bhaat bhaja (hot rice and vegetable fry) or is a dollop of indulgence over steaming khichuri. Costs `250 for 500 gm from neighbourhood grocery stores.

NOLEN GUR

GONDHORAJ LIME

BANDEL CHEESE

Say the words nolen gur and watch Bengalis get weak in the knees. It is date jaggery made from the sap of a date palm and is a winter treat that’s eaten with hot luchi (puris) for breakfast or by itself for dessert. It forms the liquid centre of a sandesh, or imparts its unique flavour to rasgullas and payesh (kheer). The best gur has a rich brown colour, restrained sweetness, and a mild caramel aftertaste. Available at most local sweet shops for about `120 per kilo.

Bengal’s fragrant gondhoraj lebu is an indigenous hybrid of orange and lime. Its name literally translates to “king of aromas.” While it tastes wonderful, it’s the heavenly scent of the lime that accounts for its claim to fame. Gondhoraj is perfect for fragrant desserts, as a marinade for poached or steamed fish, to jazz up nimbu pani, or elevate a modest meal of vegetable, fish curry, or dal. Half a dozen can be bought at a vegetable market for `20-30.

A memento of colonial times, the crumbly, salty Bandel cheese comes from a town of the same name in the Hooghly district that was once a Portuguese stronghold. Still made in the age-old way, the two-inch wide rounds need to soak overnight to soften and reduce saltiness. Or they can be crumbled as is over a fresh salad. The cheese is sold only at J. Johnsons and S. Panja in New Market, in plain and smoked varieties that cost `8 a round.

64

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

NILOUFER VENKATRAMAN (KASUNDI), IP CUISINES/INDIAPICTURE (PANCH PHORON), DIVIYA MEHRA (JHARNA GHEE), MOHAMMED ANWARUL KABIR CHOUDHURY/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE (NOLEN GUR), CHIRODEEP CHAUDHURI (GONDHORAJ LIME), UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP/GETTY IMAGES (BANDEL CHEESE)

Bengalis take great pride in their food, and culinary experiences feature on top of the must-do lists of visitors to Kolkata. The region’s cuisine delights fish-lovers, has an affinity for mustard, and offers a delectable variety of vegetarian dishes. Not surprisingly, some of the best souvenirs to bring back from Kolkata are those for the pantry.


Navigate |

HER I TAGE

Temple Primates

Pura Dalem Agung, a shrine for Shiva, is the main temple in Bali’s Monkey Forest Sanctuary (top); Monkeys and their mossy, stone avatars are found along forest paths (bottom).

W

andering through Bali’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is like walking into a mythical jungle. Moss-covered stone statues and temple ruins are scattered throughout this 27acre park in Ubud that is part nature reserve and part temple complex. Some 600 Balinese long-tailed macaques live here amidst the lush foliage. Residents of the bordering village of Padangtegal believe that a forest surrounding a shrine is the sacred abode of holy spirits, making this a protected, unspoilt preserve that is a wonderful

detour from Bali’s beaches. The three temples within, believed to date to the 14th century, illustrate traditional Balinese temple architecture. The ruins exude a mystical aura, as do the statues of native animals and Balinese figures that you see while walking along the forest path. Here a panther, boar, and monkey around a stone pool, there Komodo dragons peeping into a stream, further on dragons and humans with round eyes and fangs flank staircases. And it’s always amusing to see a family of monkey figurines surrounded by their living counterparts. History and nature come together seamlessly within this reserve. The monkeys that live here are as significant as the people of the village who guard it. Visitors, who may only enter on foot, are asked not to carry bags or food in order to avoid confrontation with the

monkeys. Over 10,000 visitors come to this sanctuary every month. While some like to watch the frisky primates from a distance, others are lured solely by the mossy stone sentinels. THE VITALS Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary or Mandala Suci Wenara Wana is in the town of Ubud, 30 km/1 hr north of Bali’s capital Denpasar. The sanctuary is just off Monkey Forest Street, one of Ubud’s main streets. Temple entry only for those who want to pray and are dressed in traditional Balinese prayer clothes. Warning Some tourists have been bitten and “robbed” by monkeys here, so don’t carry any food or bags, not even a camera bag. Don’t try to lure the monkeys or touch them. Strictly follow instructions provided at the entrance. (monkeyforestubud.com; open 8 a.m.6 p.m. daily except one holiday in March; entry IDR30,000/`141.)

R.M. NUNES/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE (TEMPLE), KONSTANTIN TRUBAVIN/EASY FOTOSTOCK/DINODIA (MONKEY)

AWAY FROM BALI’S BEACHES, AN INLAND DETOUR TO UBUD’S SACRED MONKEY FOREST SANCTUARY BY RUMELA BASU


Navigate |

THE I N S I D E R

Exotic iced lattes at G&B Coffee, in Grand Central Market; French-inspired fare and rooftop views at Perch, in the revived downtown district (left).

Lights, Camera, Los Angeles

I

came to think of Los Angeles as the magic place—a city where beautiful people from movie screens and television sets ran wild. Or at least ran errands. There was Marisa Tomei at the Echo Park Crafts Fair on a Saturday morning. There was “Sulu” from the new Star Trek films weightlifting at my neighbourhood gym. I once was introduced to Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, at a fancy Hollywood party. He told me I had a great name. “It sounds like a Jewish gangster,” he said. I dined out on that story for months. After a decade in New York City working as a journalist, I had moved west in 2013 to write movies. Los Angeles was a company town and, man,

68

was the company good. I wasn’t alone. The Style section of the New York Times chronicled a mass creative exodus from Brooklyn to L.A.’s east side. Though John Lennon, it’s said, once referred to my adopted home as “just a big parking lot,” L.A. was apparently now “irresistible to the culturally attuned.” I was so convinced of my screenwriter mission that I bought a two-bedroom house with an apricot tree in the backyard. I literally had roots in L.A., but after six months I still wasn’t sure I belonged here. My complaints were hardly original. Early dinners, nobody walks. When the novelty of a good celebrity sighting wore off, what were you left with? Strip malls and doughnut shops. I went to the artist Jenny Yurshansky’s exhibition “Blacklisted:

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

A Planted Allegory” at nearby Pitzer College, where she used 130 species of invasive plants as a way to talk about immigration. I left feeling like a nonnative plant myself. There were a million cars on the road, but nobody was in a rush to get anywhere. Where was the urgency? I have a theory about why L.A. is the No Worries capital of the world—and why that just might be a blessing for anyone as tightly wound as I am. SIGN OF THE TIMES Los Angeles’ iconic Hollywood sign actually started out as an advertisement for a real estate development called “Hollywoodland.” Now, it has its own Twitter handle, Facebook page, and even a website.

DYLAN + JENI (MAN), JESSICA SAMPLE (BAR)

BREATHING EASY IN THE MAGICAL, HOPEFUL CITY BY MICKEY RAPKIN


Navigate |

THE I N S I D E R

By the time Angelenos wake up, the rest of the world has already had a full day. Anything terrible that was going to happen probably happened while you were asleep. Namaste. New Yorkers like to believe they live in the centre of the universe. But once you leave, the world opens up in surprising ways. Slowly, Los Angeles’s secrets began to reveal themselves. This is a city that likes a good story. Nowhere more so than downtown. With some regularity I started going to The Varnish, a speakeasy hidden inside Cole’s, one of two sandwich shops that claim to be the birthplace of the French dip (the other is Philippe’s). As one legend has it, the French dip was invented to appease a customer with sore gums who found his sandwich’s French roll too crusty; dipping it in beef jus made it easier to chew. Who knows if this is true, but it sounds true. Which in Hollywood, you’ll quickly realise,

70

is the same thing. On Sunday nights, I walk clear through Cole’s toward an unmarked wooden door at the back of the eatery. It’s less a door than a time machine, opening to reveal a secret

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

windowless bar lit low and romantic. Pick your favourite spirit and let a bartender mix a serious cocktail while a bass player entertains the tiny crowd. What makes the drinks so good? It starts with hand-cut ice. Now I admit there is something twee about a world that is so curated. But I also appreciate the irony. This town famous for exporting mind-numbing action sequels around the world has a culinary movement firmly about authenticity and buying hyper-local. That’s what makes the Grand Central Market so electric. Over the past two years, its owner, Adele Yellin—a petite, 60-something firecracker—has transformed a century-old downtown food court into a culinary destination, a place where longtime pupusa vendors coexist with such upstart foodie operations as Eggslut and G&B Coffee (home of the iced almond/macadamia milk latte). In a city obsessed with the

JESSICA SAMPLE (MENSWEAR), 13 PHOTO/REDUX (CONCERT HALL)

Raan and Shea Parton (left), brothers and founders of L.A. menswear brand Apolis; downtown anchor Disney Concert Hall (right); The sunset at Santa Monica is not a sight easily forgotten (bottom).


Navigate |

THE I N S I D E R

perfect hamburger, there is no better fix for my money than Belcampo Meat Co., an organic California farm that operates a lunch counter out of the market. Belcampo’s patties, a handsome butcher told me, are made with trims from the house’s best cuts. Remember to bring a towelette to wipe the juice off your fingers. Better yet, just lick them. For a while I thought nobody in L.A. ever really worked. With no reason to rush, you can get to know the entrepreneur brave enough to open an 800-square-foot café that stakes its reputation on one thing: toast. At tiny Sqirl, wedged between beauty shops and bodegas in hip Silver Lake, the lunchtime line stretches out the door and around the corner, with people waiting for owner Jessica Koslow to slather house-made wild blackberry and Meyer lemon jam all the way to the edge of a thick slice of brioche. For $4.50/`308, it tastes like an

72

I walk clear through Cole’s toward an unmarked wooden door at the back of the eatery. It’s less a door than a time machine, opening to reveal a secret windowless bar lit low and romantic elementary-school snow day. We’re all just nuts trying to get a Sqirl. The thing is, in L.A. we crave authenticity not only in food but in our experiences. It turns out that writing movies is more stressful than I imagined. I began seeking solace in an unexpected place: a Korean bath. These oases are hidden along Wilshire Boulevard, but I am partial to Natura Spa, a budget-friendly escape in the basement of a former department store in Koreatown. Just $15/`1,029 gets you entry to a steam room, sauna, and soaking tubs. The lights are dim. The

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

conversation, if any, never rises above a hum. If you go, a tip: Move from the dry heat of the sauna to the wet heat of the steam room before plunging into an icy bath. And let the folds of your brain relax. Even as I write this, I know how L.A. it sounds. A hippie trip to a subterranean spa? Brioche toast? And I’m not ready to call myself an Angeleno. I miss New York like a phantom limb; there’s an attitude forever embedded in my DNA despite my zip code. But I breathe a little easier here despite the smog. I eat a little better. I have come to appreciate Los Angeles for a million reasons and also for one: Did I mention the light? Damn, it’s gorgeous. Sometimes that light makes you see how lonely you are. Or how successful other people are. Or even how famous they are. But on a good day, that light can also make you feel hopeful.

DYLAN + JENI (PLATES, MARKET)

Lunch at Silver Lake’s Sqirl (left), known for its jam-topped brioche toast; Multicultural culinary destination Grand Central Market (right).


Navigate |

ECOTOU R I S M

Power to the People

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve introduces visitors to the wonders of South Africa’s Western Cape. The 6,200-acre sanctuary encompasses vast stretches of milkwood forests, hillsides carpeted with blooms, and the waters of Walker Bay, inhabited by great white sharks, southern right whales, seals, penguins, and dolphins.

A

notable thing is taking place around the globe: Communities and conservation entrepreneurs are creating private nature reserves, from coral lagoons in Asia to sanctuaries in the Americas. Travellers to Africa will find private wildlife reserves near national parks. Case in point: South Africa’s Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, which manages 6,178 acres of reclaimed

74

habitat, including native fynbos shrubland harbouring sunbirds. Two hours southeast of Cape Town, Grootbos—a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World—was a mosaic of abandoned farms and degraded lands when Michael Lutzeyer laid eyes on it in 1991. “Here was one of Earth’s rarest ecosystems, what botanists call the Cape Floral Kingdom, with no protection,” says the Cape Town

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

native. “My wife and I pulled together what cash we could to conserve it ourselves.” Today Grootbos employs villagers and funds such community programs as a horticulture college offering job training for unemployed youth. It joins a worldwide trend of private reserves that are producing conservation success stories, a good thing for our natural world—and us travellers.

PHOTO COURTESY: GROOTBOS PRIVATE NATURE RESERVE

CONSERVATION STORIES THAT BENEFIT THE PLANET—AND US TRAVELLERS BY COSTAS CHRIST


Navigate |

ECOTOU R I S M

WILD CARDS

Kipling Camp, Madhya Pradesh Kipling near Kanha National Park is run by the Wrights, a family of conservationists that have dedicated their lives to protecting the tiger and the forests it inhabits. The nine-acre camp has 15 rooms, and is surrounded by 15 acres of wild forest. All cottages are made with local materials, solar energy is used as much as possible, and sewage is filtered using natural materials. But what keeps guests returning is the warm service, outrageous tiger tales, and bath time with Tara, the camp’s rescued elephant (www.kiplingcamp.com; 07649-277218; for bookings call 011-65196377; doubles from `24,000).

Elephant Valley, Tamil Nadu About 20 kilometres from the bustle of Kodaikanal, Elephant Valley sprawls over 100 acres of the Palani Hills. A nature reserve, organic farm and—most importantly— an elephant migration corridor, Elephant Valley puts the pachyderms and the region’s thriving biodiversity first. Each of the 20 bungalows has rejuvenating views: of the Shola forests, and occasionally, the elephants that continue to use this route (duneecogroup.com/our-hotels/elephant-valley; 78670 04398; for bookings call 41326 56351; doubles from `3,300).

76

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

Jilling Estate, Uttarakhand Run by ex-fighter pilot and tea planter Steve Lal and his wife Parvati, Jilling Estate is adored by hikers who frequent the Kumaon. It covers about 50 acres of oak and rhododendron (pictured) forests, and has only four cottages. Peak experiences include morning views of the snow-cloaked Nanda Devi mountain and bonfire evenings in the company of the lovely owners. Getting to Jilling is a bit of a hike: It’s a two-kilometre uphill walk from the closest roadhead, but ponies can be organised if required (jilling.net; 97587 55704, 94123 83348; doubles from `5,000, including all meals).

Wildernest, Goa Encompassing 450 acres of the Chorla Ghats, Wildernest secures a crucial wildlife corridor connecting Goa’s Mhadei and Bhimgad wildlife sanctuaries. All cottages have spectacular views, some of the roaring Dudhsagar waterfalls, others of langur families monkeying around in the trees outside. Accompany the eco-resort’s enthusiastic naturalists on walks around the property for sightings of unusual birds, colourful lizards, and if luck is with you, the gorgeous Malabar pit viper (pictured). Wildernest’s other perks include a swimming pool with serene valley views, and a kitchen that serves top-notch Goan food (08323266911; www.wildernestgoa.com; doubles from `5,900, includes food and activities).

Mojo Retreat, Karnataka Mojo’s simple, no-frills rooms are surrounded by dense jungle that resounds with bird call in the day and the drone of cicadas by night. It is home to the Malabar gliding tree frog (pictured), jewel beetles, flamboyant caterpillars, and owners Sujata and Anurag Goel. Sujata is a botanist, Anurag a microbiologist, and Mojo is their 20-acre forest farm in Coorg, where they grow cardamom, coffee, black pepper, and kokum. Their philosophy: Nurture the natural rainforest ecosystem and the produce will flourish. Their cook makes a mean Coorgi pork curry. (www.rainforestours.com; 94801 04640; doubles from `2,000, including breakfast.)

PHOTO COURTESY: KIPLING CAMP (DINING ROOM), ORIN/SHUTTERSTOCK (FLOWERS), DINODIA (BRIDGE), SUJATA GOEL (FROG), ZEESHAN MIRZA/EPHOTOCORP/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE (SNAKE)

Five Indian eco-resorts that are nestled inside vast private reserves BY GINA TANIK


SUMMER SPECIAL 100

thailand Beaches, adventure, and culinary delights served up in style

118

south korea A temple stay dips into the country’s Buddhist heritage

PAUL STEEL/CORBIS/IMAGELIBRARY

90

philippines Four ways to navigate Bohol’s dreamy islands

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

77


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

Mangroves fringe the tip of Peninsular Malaysia, in Johor, the southernmost reach of mainland Asia.

78

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

JEWEL


■ MALAYS IA

OF MALAYSIA XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

A chance encounter on a train sparks a journey into the country’s most colourful state BY J O H N K R I C H P H OTO G R A P H S BY J U ST I N G UA R I G L I A

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

79


SOU THEAST AS I A

IT ALL STARTED WITH an invitation to a palace. And now I’m on a trip to the “End of the Earth.” That’s what locals once called Tanjung Piai, a coastal nub of mangroves in Johor, Malaysia, that marks the lowest reaches of the lengthy Malay Peninsula and the southernmost point of mainland Asia. The spot is now a postage stamp–size national park with a circuit of boardwalks raised above eerily gnarled roots.

Rawa Island’s soothing blues are a sensory treat for travellers.

80

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

Here horseshoe and fiddler crabs share a mud bath, kingfishers dive into the waters to spear fish, and carved wooden signs convey maxims in English, such as “Live happily with wilderness!” and “He who conquers his own heart, conquers the world!” I conquer the equatorial heat to emerge, not quite wilted, from the forest onto the shore of the choppy, green Strait of Malacca, its horizon lined with long-distance oil tankers. A rather rusted globe symbolically marks land’s end. Yet it’s taken me only a little over an hour after exiting Singapore customs to get here. Separated from its globalized island neighbour by a mere kilometre-long causeway, Johor is the second largest and most varied of the 11 states that make up Peninsular Malaysia, a crossroads realm crammed with both ecological and ethnic diversity. Fittingly named by Arab traders after their word for “jewel,” this little-hyped destination encompasses Robinson Crusoe-like island havens, barely trampled rainforests, and aboriginal refuges. And though it does import theme parks (hello, Hello Kitty Town), Johor, seat of the ancient Johor-Riau empire, remains fiercely proud of its sweeping history and still powerful sultan: a Magic Kingdom, for real. I might never have discovered the place or its royal provenance if not for one of those serendipitous travel encounters. Eight years back, I was approached in a train compartment in India by a charming woman in a flowing gown, whose third son

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

Summer Special |


■ MALAYS IA

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

From the greens of its lush forests to the showy reds of a traditional music group, Johor is anything but monochrome.

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

81


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

mistook me for a Discovery Channel host. Her husband, with elegant military bearing, explained they had come from Malaysia to visit their eldest son, who was serving in the Indian Army. I was about to tell them I lived in Malaysia as well, when a bodyguard in the next row ordered me to address them as “Your Royal Highnesses.” Not long after, I got an invitation to visit Raja Zarith Sofiah and Tunku Ibrahim Ismail, then the princess and prince of Johor. (In 2010, the prince inherited the title of sultan.) I soon accepted and found myself being feted by the Oxfordeducated princess with servant-borne luncheons of jackfruit curries in Johor’s Palace of the Rainbow Sands. “And the people think we eat a whole goat and lamb at one sitting!” the prince joked, nonetheless offering me an exclusive peek at stables of polo ponies and a collection of customized luxury cars and vintage limos, to go with the private jet and yacht, playthings of the world’s richest royals you’ve never heard of. For two years running, I was also given a rare chance to tag along on Tunku Ibrahim’s annual kembara—a Malay word evoking any sort of journey, distant or near, spiritual or dutiful. During four ceremony-packed days each summer, this modern monarch took a motorcycle trip around his steamy kingdom. A kilometre-long

caravan of fellow Harley bikers followed, rumbling through elephant crossings and descending on rural villages like a pack of charitable Hell’s Angels. (The sultan recently switched to private bus for his annual kembara.) Now I’m attempting my own kembara—in a rented fourwheeler—to find the Johor that’s more unofficial. Like most travellers, my point of entry is the sprawling state capital of Johor Bahru. With 2,00,000 Johoreans making the daily commute to wealthier Singapore, “J.B.,” as it’s colloquially called by all its denizens, has long suffered by comparison. Yet this is where I get a first taste of Johor’s genuine flavour. Navigating downtown’s warren of malls on a muggy June night, I meet one of many renegade Singaporeans who abandon their celebrated food courts to seek out less mass-produced fare across the border. Mild-mannered, middle-aged blogger Tony Boey, who calls himself “Johorkaki,” eagerly guides me down through an area called Meldrum Walk to back alleys lined with traditional hawkers. Retired from the Singapore civil service, he has been leading food tours since 2012. Hopping between wheeled stands with undisguised glee, my guide insists I savour a Teochew oyster cake made with eggs,

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

Mist veils Johor’s typically bountiful landscape. Facing page: Roasted pig and red bean cakes (top left) displayed for a festival in the capital of Johor Bahru; young bomo (shaman) apprentices readying for the kuda kepang, a traditional Javanese dance (top right); the edible custard-like interior of a durian (bottom right); an Indian-Malaysian shopkeeper in Johor Bahru’s Old Town (bottom left).

82

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016


XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

■ MALAYS IA

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

83


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

dark soy sauce, and tapioca flour; confetti-thin noodles in anchovy broth; and hyper-fresh stingray grilled in banana leaf and slathered with fiery sambal sauce. “Can you top that?” Boey says, even as he leaps up for something else. “You haven’t been in Johor until you’ve had its not-to-miss dishes!” He presents me with a heaped pyramid of biryani gam, a lamb pilaf covered in a thin tent of omelette, then Johor laksa, a tamarind-tinged fish stew with spaghetti. “It’s said the great Sultan Abu Bakar created the dish himself, as he was always bringing back the best from Europe,” he explains. Feasts fit for a king come cheap here. As mixed as the cuisine, downtown J.B. is a hotpot of peoples—even by multi-ethnic Malaysia’s standards. Buddhist, Sikh, and Hindu temples line a main street. An Old Town of mouldering, pastel-coloured buildings finds Chinese bun makers, grandly moustachioed Indian barbers, and Malay bohemian types peacefully coexisting. Locals may identify themselves as Bugi, Javanese, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Tamil, Keralan, and Yemeni; or as Sufi, Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian, animist, Christian, or Hindu. Founded in 1855, the city burgeoned into a showplace for the Anglophile ambitions of the flamboyant Abu Bakar when he became the sultan in 1886. So an assembly of monuments more Victorian than Asian command bluffs overlooking the Johor Strait, built to impress. The gleaming white Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque affords sunset views from its minarets (which were designed to look like Victorian clock towers), and glimpses of solitary worshippers in its vast spaces below. But I find Johor’s

main palace, a gracefully colonial compound, closed for renovation (though it has since reopened). “Everything has to be perfect for the coronation,” explains a court curator, reminding me that Sultan Ibrahim’s official installation, in the works for years, promises to be one of Asia’s most resplendent. (The sultan’s coronation was held in March 2015.) Instead, he points me to a lesser known site for communing with Johor’s past. I get lost on winding roads before I come upon the royal graveyards, hidden behind one of J.B.’s forested hills. The resting places of recent rulers are marked by marble mausoleums, but the fluted headstones of the dynastic founders, etched in Arabic script, have a greater authority and beauty. To delve into more history, I drive an hour and a half northeast to Johor Lama (“old Johor”). Up a thickly forested hill, I get to an A-framed museum that enjoys a panorama of the wide, sun-dappled Johor River. Constructed in 1540, the fort that once stood here lasted until the Portuguese destroyed it in 1587. Only a moss-covered square remains, like some giant discarded Lego piece. THIS WHETS MY APPETITE for a drive up the rest of Johor’s east coast. The route along the way is brilliantly green but a kind of tropical trompe l’oeil: Palm oil plantations in endless rows of stunted, leafy trees create an unpeopled landscape both wild and ordered. I arrive at Mersing, a quiet port town—full of backpacker inns—that serves as a departure point for boats to Johor’s six

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

A confection of Western and Moorish styles, the Sultan Ibrahim mosque was built in the “Royal City” of Muar in 1930. Its riverside grounds feature an antique sundial for determining prayer times and also provide an ideal spot for quiet conversations.

84

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016


■ MALAYS IA

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

In Johor Bahru, a vendor sells bundles of rambutan, a lychee-like fruit with a hairy (“rambut” in Malay) shell, native to Southeast Asia.

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

85


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

Thick forests of palm trees cover parts of Peninsular Malaysia, including Johor. The region has a thriving palm oil industry as well.


XPACIFICA/TERRA/CORBIS/IMAGELIBRARY

■ MALAYS IA


SOU THEAST AS I A

temples, and restaurants wreathed in sea mists and brine. inhabited islands. But there are no ferries in sight. I negotiate Still, no backwater can beat Muar, Johor’s northernmost city. privately with the owner of a small speedboat I hope is seaworThough this harbour was once coveted by the British, I’m not thy. The boat bucks wildly at each wave in the South China Sea, prepared for such an overdose of past grandeur. A huge mosque, making for a breathtaking hour-long cruise to the nearest isle, half-Western and half-Moorish in style, guards the mouth of Rawa. Along the way, I ask to step onto tiny rocky islets that a wide muddy river, where boys dive for dwindling oysters and appear straight out of travel agency posters: white sand, transone creaky ferry carries tourists up and down. An antique parent waters, a single drooping palm tree placed just so. Rawa, clock tower and equally English customs house preside over a too, is one sweep of sand, where I jump from the dock with snorramshackle quay that seems the perfect setting for some kel and mask to view colourful fish in the translucent waters. Conradian tale of colonizers losing their way in the swampy But this all seems too civilized, so I ask the boatman to drop me eternity of the Orient. I gravitate toward a single city block on an isolated stretch of Pulau Besar, where there is just a long known throughout Johor as “Glutton Street” and eat my way beach and two sets of thatched chalets. Later I’m primed for from one fresh Chinese noodle joint to another. more island-hopping, and with the far-flung Pulau Aur mainly I’m hoping these dishes will power me on a hike through for serious divers, I backtrack to take a chance on Pulau Tinggi. Endau Rompin National Park, over 800 square kilometres Here I find my true Johorean idyll. The waters are robin’s-egg of hilly wilderness that straddles the state’s northern border. blue, a waterfall is right for plunging, and there’s even a fishing When your native habitat is the Upper West Side of Manhattan, hamlet where the villagers greet me from porches, then run inyou don’t enter a hundred-million-year-old rainforest lightly. side to show me their documents. “UN refugee!” they cry proudNot without repellent, anyhow. But exploring Endau Rompin ly. “Myanmar! Myanmar!” The owner of the Warung (“groNational Park turns out to cery”) Aminah shows off be an easy-going affair. three daughters at sewing I arrive early enough machines inside, but beto immediately board a moans, “They go to school longboat for a relaxed in Mersing. After that, journey over the Endau they never come back. The River’s mini-rapids to the island way is dying.” main trailhead of Kuala With nothing much to Jasin. With green hills do but watch the sunset, and heavy underbrush, locals and visitors alike the scenery here is not so perk up at the welcome much postcard-perfect as sight of a wheelbarrow beprehistoric. ing rolled down the beach, In the park, young men fully loaded with huge, from the nearby Orang spiky grenades that turn Asli (“original people”) out to be durians. (The aboriginal village of name derives from the Kampung Peta serve as enMalay word for “thorn.”) gaging guides. Mine says Based on the speed with that, next time, “you come which Johoreans beg for to my house for a true taste them to be cut open, I’d of jungle. Special leaves say this “king of fruits,” as Kota Iskandar, Johor’s administrative centre, is a great example of regional and herbs only we know to it’s called throughout Asia, Islamic architecture. find and my mom knows rivals the sultan in terms to cook!” Later, I’m not surprised when he picks up the scent and of sheer esteem. Never mind that the Singapore rail network thudding steps of an elephant herd just out of sight. bans these sulphuric stink bombs. The durian is the symbol of I’m content to spot monkeys and boar. I learn to pick leeches this realm’s fecundity, a carb-loaded caramel that literally falls from my ankles like a pro. I ford wide streams as I travel along from the trees. Unable to resist the succulent, kidney-shaped the 26-kilometre barely worn circuit of trails, which leads to pieces passed lovingly to me, and emboldened by hunger from pristine waterfalls through rainforest that becomes cathedralthe day’s swims, I finally get past the smell and get initiated into tall and all-encompassing. In just a day, this place restores my the cult. Before long, I can’t wait to break the next one open. I spirit to its pre-anything state. learn to wash them down, and wash hands, with water poured From the palace to the rainforest, sometimes life, the biggest from the empty shells. kembara of them all, takes you to unexpected places—places After returning to mainland J.B. for a change of clothes such as multicultural Johor, unpackaged and unapologetic, a and a hot shower, I head out along Johor’s more settled west crossroads grab bag where anyone can end up feeling at home. coast. Disdaining Malaysia’s main north-south highway, I stick to lovely two-laners, skirting the sea or cloaked in tall palms. I meander through fishing villages dominated by simple John Krich’s most recent travel book, A Fork in Asia’s Road, turquoise-domed mosques, past fields of pineapple. Most of the is a collection of food writing. He is based in Kuala Lumpur. village of Kukup—where tourists dine on crustaceans plucked Justin GuariGlia is celebrating his 16th year as a contributing fresh off a fleet of trawlers—sits atop long piers, its houses, photographer at National Geographic Traveler (U.S.).

88

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

NAZARUDDIN WIJEE/MOMENT /GETTY IMAGES

Summer Special |


M A L A Y S I A

Orientation

The state of Johor is located at the southernmost end of Peninsular Malaysia, and is a 335 km/3.5 hr-drive southeast of Kuala Lumpur. The Strait of Johor lies to its south and separates Johor and Singapore. Johor is still a diamond in the rough: with some spots lacking in polish, but with riches worth digging for. It’s possible to drive from the bottom to the top of the state in under three hours.

Visas

Seasons

Stay

There are no direct flights from India to Johor. Daily, direct flights connect New Delhi and Mumbai to Kuala Lumpur. There are inexpensive (about `1,300), frequent flights from Kuala Lumpur to Johor daily (1 hr).

Mersing

Pulau Besar

Mersing Marine Park Pulau Aur

Gunung Ledang National Park

Pulau Tinggi

Johor

Endau-Kota Tinggi Wildlife Reserve

Muar

SOUTH CHINA SEA

Gunung Belumut Recreational Forest

St ra it of M ala cca

Johor Lama Johor Bahru Pulau Kukup N.P.

Getting There

Pulau Rawa

Endau Rompin National Park

Kukup

Tanjung Piai National Park 20

0 mi 0 km

Indian travellers to Malaysia require a visa. The application form and list of documents required for a VTR visa (visa without reference) can be downloaded at www.vfsglobal.com. Applications can be submitted at VFS centres at Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, or Ahmedabad. The visa takes 4-6 days to process depending on the city, and costs `3,400 (inclusive of service charge). Malaysia experiences tropical weather all year, and the temperature hovers around 30°C. At one degree of latitude above the Equator, Johor receives rainfall on most days of the year, though it is the heaviest between November and January. Endau Rompin National Park is more crowded in June, July, and August, but it is also the time for the best durian and other fruits. The park is closed November to March. Johor lacks high-end hotels outside the big cities. That said, few lodgings cost more than MYR300/`4950. Some of the better ones: Thistle Johor Bahru hotel, with grand views of the Johor Strait (www.thistle.com; doubles from MYR370/`6,065; including breakfast); Puteri Pacific, in Johor Bahru’s city centre (www.puteripacific.com; doubles from MYR193/`3,160; excluding meals); Hotel Jen Puteri Harbour, the newest in the state and next to the Legoland theme park in the rising southern Johor city of Nusajaya (www.hoteljen. com; doubles from MYR288/`4,700; excluding meals); the passable Hotel Havanita, in Mersing (though there’s no Latin atmosphere or decent breakfast) (www.hotelhavanita.com.my; doubles from MYR170/`2,790; including breakfast); and Riverview Hotel in Muar (www.riverviewhotel.com.my; doubles from MYR110/`1,800; excluding meals). Rawa Island Resort off the east coast of Johor is the posh way to do the islands (www.rawaislandresort.com).

20

I

N

D

SINGAPORE trait ore S gap Sin

Johor Strait

O

Johor River

N

E

S

I

A Johor, Malaysia 2nd Proof Traveler 2/3/15

Eat In Johor Bahru’s Meldrum Walk area, Mamak stalls offer spicy mutton stew with rice. Indian joints feature flaky, grilled roti canai. Kedai Kopi Kin Wah, in the Old Town draws morning crowds for its authentic breakfast, which includes kaya toast (bread with a coconut and egg spread) (8, Jalan Trus, Bandar Johor Bahru, 80000 Johor Bahru). The menu at the Myra Bistro, in the M Suites Hotel, lists some hard-to-find Johorean specialties (16, Jalan Bertingkat Skudai, 80200 Johor Bahru). In the fishing village of Kukup, fish restaurants serve shrimp straight from the sea. Outside Kluang, Zenxin Organic Park whips up dragon fruit shakes and platters of steamed veggies from its farm (Plots 47A & 47B, Batu 9, Jalan Batu Pahat, Kluang, 80600 Johor Bahru).

Atlas VIETNAM South China Sea MALAYSIA

MALAYSIA

Kuala Lumpur Johor

SINGAPORE

l With nine hereditary rulers, Malaysia has more sultans than any other country. l Malaysia accounts for 44 per cent of international exports of palm oil. l On the outskirts of Johor Bahru, the Hindu temple Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman has an interior covered almost entirely in glass mosaics.

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

INTERNATIONAL MAPPING

THE GUIDE

89


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

It’s a

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

Wonderful World

90

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016


■ PHILIPPIN ES

Sunny, laid-back Bohol has lovable creatures, serene beaches, and magical hills: Four ways to navigate this cluster of Filipino islands

Locals and tourists alike flock to Bohol’s beaches to enjoy a dip in the warm waters or a lazy cruise on a banca, a traditional Filipino boat. Alona Beach, on Panglao Island is very popular and home to many four- and five-star resorts. MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

91

XXXXXXXXXXXX LUCA TETTONI/TERRA/CORBIS/IMAGELIBRARY (XXXXXXXXX)

By Kamakshi Ayyar


SOU THEAST AS I A

Early morning boat rides are rewarded with splendid sightings of spinner dolphins. They get their name from the twists, turns, and somersaults they love performing as they leap over the water.

92

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

Summer Special |


■ PHILIPPIN ES

The

Bohol countryside was like the landscapes I drew as a child. Skies were a soothing powder blue, with olive-green hills rolling in the background, framing swaying fields of lime-green grass. Colourful flowers and thatched rural homes lined the roads, and cattle grazed leisurely further behind. The colours were straight out of a box of crayons—uncomplicated and comforting. After the chaos of Manila, exploring Bohol was like hitting the reset button in my brain. Manila has its pros. Big city lovers will enjoy the Filipino capital’s thriving food scene and nightlife, while history buffs can spend hours walking the narrow cobbled streets of Intramuros, the city’s oldest and most historic district. The malls are big enough to log all 10,000 Fitbit steps we are said to need to maintain peak health. But a true taste of the Philippines comes from getting out of the city. And with over 7,000 islands, spread out just north of Indonesia, there’s plenty of choice. About an hour’s flight south of Manila we landed in Tagbilaran, a small city and gateway to the Bohol islands. It was a nondescript place and all I remember about it is that all the autorickshaws and tricycles had spiritual messages painted behind them. Our guide said this was in accordance with an official city directive to prevent inappropriate content on public streets. From Tagbilaran, we drove about 45 minutes further southwest to our hotel. Most resorts in Bohol province are located on the sandy beaches of Panglao, one of the smaller islands in the cluster, connected to Bohol Island by a bridge. The surrounding islands of Mahanay and Banacon are a nature lover’s dream. Visitors can hang out with Yoda-like tarsiers, dive in the clear waters, gaze at fireflies on a river cruise, and get an adrenaline rush at the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park.

“3 o’clock!” “11 o’clock!” “7 o’clock!” “Under our boat!” My head couldn’t turn fast enough to keep up with the calls. Everywhere I looked, grey spinner dolphins bounded over the waves, shining in the morning sun. They somersaulted through the air, swam by our boat, and disappeared into the incredibly blue depths only to reappear as ghostly shadows when they came up for air. “Cheer them on,” our guide Cecile said, “they love an audience.” The hour or so that we spent following dolphins in the Bohol Sea more than made up for the unearthly wake-up call we had received at 4.15 that morning. Dolphins are most active between 5.30 a.m. and 8.30 a.m., so by 5.30 we were on a boat, enjoying a beautiful sunrise and scanning the seas for hints of grey. For about two hours, we motored around from one potential sighting spot to the next, without any luck. We napped while we waited, lulled by the warm morning sun, endless blue waters, salty sea breeze, and complete lack of dolphins. Finally, Cecile got the news—that there were dolphins up ahead. Suddenly everyone was awake, cameras at the ready. Once we got closer, our boatman let us clamber out to the bow, and hang our feet along the edge to get a better view. And what a view it was. (Cecile V. Remolador, +639237272143; PHP1,895/`2,680 per person. Rides usually last 3.5 hours. Carry a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, as it can get hot, but you won’t need a swimsuit or change of clothes. The seas are gentle, but those prone to seasickness should pop a prophylactic before boarding the boat.) MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

93

RISHAD SAAM MEHTA

Following Dolphins


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

Up-Close And Personal With Tarsiers It was looking right at me. The pint-sized, furry creature, a cross between Yoda from Star Wars and E.T., stared at me with its massive, milk-chocolate eyes. The tarsier’s twig-like appendages clung to a tree trunk, guardedly moving a millimetre or so up and down, as it eyed the towering humans around it, giving us a bit of a stink eye. We’d arrived at midday, right in the middle of the nocturnal animal’s sleep cycle, which perhaps explains the less than enthusiastic welcome we got. Tarsiers are prosimians, a primitive primate group that includes lemurs and lorises. Found in only a handful of Asian countries, including Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia, tarsiers are the focus of the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary enclosure in Corella, on Bohol Island, which I was visiting. Its unique physical characteristics and spunky (some might say aggressive) personality make the tarsier one of the most interesting creatures I’ve ever seen. No bigger than the palm of an adult human male, with huge eyes and ears that resemble satellite dishes, tarsiers are fascinating animals. Cute as they look, they are not very sociable, and each tarsier requires about a hectare of forest space, which it roams at night. They detest confined spaces so much that if placed in cages, they are known to kill themselves by banging their heads against the rods. Tarsiers are threatened by depleting natural habitats and hunters, both human and animal, and are difficult to spot in the wild. Groups like the Philippine Tarsier Foundation are working to protect this animal, and the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary offers a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of these unique creatures. (www.tarsierfoundation.org; open 8.30 a.m.4.30 p.m.; entry PHP50/`71.)

Firefly-flecked trees along the Abatan River.

Fireflies are an enchanting sight at any time. But when you’re on a boat cruise, under a cloudless night sky with stars stretching as far as you can see, they’re utterly magical. We spent an evening on the Abatan River awed by the trees lit up with colonies of fireflies, and at the heavens speckled with thousands of stars. The bugs were only about the size of rice grains, but together they created a massive, glow-in-the-dark organism that took

94

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

Although tarsiers look super cute, they are fiercely territorial and can even kill other tarsiers that venture onto their turf.

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

Night With Twinkling Fireflies


SHANKAR S/FLICKR/CREATIVE COMMONS/CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-SA/2.0/LEGALCODE (FIREFLIES), PER-ANDRE HOFFMANN/LOOK/DINODIA (TARSIERS)

■ PHILIPPIN ES

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

95


SOU THEAST AS I A

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

Summer Special |

96

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016


■ PHILIPPIN ES over entire trees. The buzzing of the insects was the only sound we heard besides our boat’s motor in the otherwise quiet night. It left me feeling a great sense of calm. (Abatan River Life Tour, www.riverlife.ph; daily 7.30 p.m.; PHP1,905/`2,713 per boat, which accommodates up to five people. The ride lasts about an hour. Visitors are provided a life vest—nothing else is needed. Those wanting to get closer to the fireflies can hire kayaks and paddle down the river. Don’t bother with a camera as it’s hard to capture the fireflies unless you’ve got some professional equipment. Instead, just open your eyes and take in the glittering sights around you.)

In the dry season, the green and undulating Chocolate Hills look like a field of Hershey’s Kisses. The bicycle zip line (right) at the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park provides a great vantage point.

Before I visited the Chocolate Hills, I’d seen pictures of the brown mounds that wouldn’t look out of place in a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk ad. When I was there, however, they were lush and green. Clouds sailing across the sky cast shadows, creating patches of light and dark green as far as I could see. Roughly 1,776 limestone hills are spread out over 50 square kilometres, and interspersed with thick forests; they live up to their name only during the dry summer season. The Chocolate Hills Adventure Park has a lovely observation deck that affords great panoramas of the landscape in any season. The bike zip gives visitors stunning 360-degree views that are spectacular, after you’ve got over the initial nerves. You don’t need to know how to cycle to pedal your way along a zip line strung 150 feet above the ground. At the outset I had more than a few butterflies. It was a windy day and the line was swinging a bit. I forced myself not to look down, focussing instead on the landing bay at the other end of the line. But somewhere in the middle, I caught sight of the spectacular rolling hills stretching around me and stopped for a moment to take in the view. I could have kept staring, but the safety instructor called out to me to keep pedalling. (Chocolate Hills Adventure Park; www.chocolatehillsadventurepark.com; bike zip approximately PHP450-500/`637-707.) KamaKshi ayyar is Features Writer at National Geographic Traveller India online. She is partial to places by the sea, and enjoys desserts in all forms. When she isn’t raving about food, she rambles on about the latest cosmic mysteries. MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

97

PER-ANDRE HOFFMANN/PICTURE PRESS/GETTY IMAGES (HILLS), RISHAD SAAM MEHTA (ZIP BIKE)

The Hills Are Alive With Adventure


SOU THEAST AS I A

THE GUIDE

Orientation

Getting There

Getting Around

Seasons

Locals from nearby villages put up a cheerful show for visitors cruising along the Loboc River.

Bohol province is located in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines, southeast of Manila. The province includes Bohol Island and over 70 smaller islands around it.

To reach Bohol Island, travellers from India must first fly to Manila via a Southeast Asian hub like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. From Manila, flights are available to the city of Tagbilaran, gateway to the island cluster.

Cars and motorcycles are available on rent in Bohol and there are tricycles (local taxi-scooters) for those who don’t want to drive. Taxis can also be arranged through your accommodation.

Temperatures in the Philippines usually hover in the range of 25-32°C. June-Oct is the rainy season with frequent, heavy showers while March-May are the hotter and drier months. The weather is most pleasant between November and February, though prices are higher as it is peak season.

LUXURY Henann Resort has a prime spot on Panglao Island’s pristine Alona Beach. It’s hard to choose between spending the day soaking in one of the resort’s exquisite pools or the cerulean seas by the beach (+63-380502-9141; henann.com/bohol/ henannalonabeach; doubles from PHP5,475/`7,875). Eskaya Resort is known for its luxurious Handuraw Spa where guests can sign up for traditional Asian treatments while enjoying views of the Bohol Sea (+6325763051/82; www.eskayaresort.com; doubles from PHP16,384/`23,306).

Stay

COMFORT Harmony Hotel, a short walk from Alona Beach, has family rooms and apartments that are great for larger groups (+63 38 502 82 89; www.harmonyhotelsite.com; doubles from PHP2,637/`3,751). Alona Kew White Beach has clean rooms and suites that are a pocket-friendly base to enjoy Alona’s white sandy beaches (+63-47-252-9978; www.alona-kew. com; doubles from PHP4,495/`6,395). BUDGET Citadel Alona Inn has clean, functional rooms, some with self-catering facilities that will appeal to those on lower budgets (+63 38 502 9424; www.citadelalona. com; doubles from PHP798/`1,136).

98

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

Visas Indian passport holders with valid American, Japanese, Australian, Canadian, Schengen, Singaporean, or UK visas can gain visafree entry to the Philippines. Others must apply for a visa in person or through a representative at the Philippines Embassy in New Delhi (01126110152; newdelhipe. dfa.gov.ph) or consular centres in Chennai, Mumbai, or Kolkata. Visa application forms and a list of required paperwork is available on the website. A 14day tourist visa costs `2,840 and applications must be submitted two weeks before the date of travel though it is usually issued much sooner.

HOTOGRAPHX/EVA BENDER/IMAGEBROKER/DINODIA

Summer Special |


■ PHILIPPIN ES

JOHN W BANAGAN/LONELY PLANET IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

Tricycles are the most common way to get around Bohol. The redesigned motorbikes with enhanced sidecars seat about four.

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

99


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

YOUR OWN PRIVATE

It’s easy to get hooked on Thailand. After all, Southeast Asia’s most popular tourist destination is chock-full of gorgeous stupas, amazing street food, and see-it-to-believe-it islands with white sand beaches usually only found on postcards or screensavers. Best of all, not only is Bangkok just four hours by air from major Indian cities, it is also one of the few countries where Indian passport holders can get a visa on arrival. Whether you’re a family plotting your first visit or are returning for the nth time, this five-point planner will help in planning the best Thai experiences and creating an itinerary. BY MARGOT BIGG 100

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

THAILAND


The festival of Thai Songkran, held in April each year, features water fights and parades. The celebrations also have a more traditional element that includes families making time to pray together. MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

101

XXXXXXXXXXXX TIM GERARD BARKER/LONELY (XXXXXXXXX) PLANET IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

â– THAILAN D


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

NORTH VS SOUTH

Visitors take in a beautiful sunrise from the Yun Lai Viewpoint (top) in northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Song Province; Chiang Mai’s Saturday Night Market (bottom) is a colourful array of stalls selling souvenirs and local food.

Why go?

Travellers seeking a culturally immersive experience are more likely to find what they’re looking for in the north and northeast regions of Thailand. The north is known for hundreds of gorgeous temples and lush forested hills with excellent trekking trails. Motorcycling trips are popular, taking visitors through villages of the Karen hill tribe, nature reserves like Doi Inthanon National Park, and picturesque towns such as Mae Hong Son. It’s in the north that travellers can really slow down and learn about life in Thailand by taking a cooking course; learning the basics of traditional Thai massage in tourist hot spots such as Chiang Mai and Pai; or spending time with rescued elephants at an animal sanctuary such as the Elephant Nature Park.

Seasons Northern Thailand has three major seasons. The cooler, generally dry winter starts in November and carries on through February, with temperatures in the early or mid-20s. Things start to heat up by the time March rolls around. The weather then stays in the late 20s well into May, before the monsoon rains arrive and keep the area steadily drenched through October.

102

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

Don’t Miss If you’re headed to northern Thailand, chances are you’ll make your first stop in Chiang Mai, the country’s second-largest city and epicentre of the region’s cultural and economic life. Try to time your visit to coincide with the Saturday Night Market, when the city’s central “Walking Street” fills up with street vendors hawking everything from rice paper lanterns to fried crickets. And if you happen to be in town during April, join in the annual Songkran festivities, in which participants ring in the New Year by engaging in playful water fights.

TWENTY-TWO HOURS/SHUTTERSTOCK (SUNRISE), NUWATPHOTO/SHUTTERSTOCK (MARKET)

NORTHERN THAILAND


■ THAILAN D

The limestone outcrops around Railay Beach, Krabi, provide the perfect spot for rock climbing for beginners as well as seasoned climbers; Walking on hot coals (bottom) is among the many austerities practiced at Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival.

SOUTHERN THAILAND Why go?

Beach vacation seekers can head to southern Thailand, which is all about vast expanses of white sand, excellent water sports, and romantic sundowners. The south attracts travellers from around the world and from all walks of life, from hippie backpackers to families on a luxurious getaway at one of the country’s umpteen posh resorts. Sample fresh catch of the day in Koh Lanta, try rock climbing on Krabi’s limestone cliffs, or get pampered in Phuket’s famous spas while enjoying gorgeous views of the sea. And though beach culture reigns supreme all along the southern coast, there are plenty of opportunities to go on jungle treks, visit temples, and immerse oneself in the laid-back southern Thai culture.

Don’t Miss The veg set and those with a taste for the bizarre will enjoy Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival, held over nine days in October. While this annual celebration with its roots in the Thai Chinese community is a godsend for vegetarians thanks to the numerous stalls featuring fish-free delights, the focus is not on food. The festival name comes from the fact that participants abstain from eating meat during this period for spiritual reasons. The highlights include processions and ceremonies in which believers practice austerities ranging from fire-walking to facial piercing.

Seasons Southern Thailand has two seasons, dry and wet, but temperatures are consistently warm throughout the year, usually hovering around the mid-20s. The rainy season starts in May and continues through November. The west coast on the Andaman Sea gets most of its rainfall during this time, while the eastern Gulf of Thailand coast is at its rainiest from September through December. MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

103

BEN HORTON/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE (ROCK CLIMBING), LIM YAOHUI/DEMOTIX/CORBIS NEWS/CORBIS/IMAGE LIBRARY (FIRE WALKING)

Thailand might be a small country, but the landscape and cultural diversity between the north and south is significant. From the historical temples of Chiang Mai to the beaches along the Gulf of Thailand, there is plenty to experience. This quick primer helps to align your interests with the country’s geography.


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

THE BANGKOK NOODLE STORY

Visitors to Thailand, whether novices or die-hard foodies, cannot miss one of the country’s most ubiquitous dishes as they negotiate the country’s varied foodscape. Pad thai, that beloved local fry-up of flat noodles, veggies, tofu, and/or meat, can be found on most menus in restaurants as well as at street food carts throughout Bangkok. However, don’t think of this as the definitive Thai noodle experience for there are plenty of wonderful dishes that merit more than a taste. Here are a few noodle favourites and where to find them.

KHAO SOI Among the most popular Northern Thai dishes, the Burmeseinfluenced khao soi (from the coconut based ohn no khao swè) is a delicious departure from the fried, seafood-heavy noodle dishes popular in central and southern Thailand. This rich dish is made of fried, crisp egg noodles, mustard greens, shallots, Khao soi and condiments.

and meat, all drenched in a thin coconut-based curry. While it’s easy to find khao soi in restaurants and at street food vendors in northern cities such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, it’s more challenging to track down this northern classic in the capital. Still, the few places that do offer it tend to do it well; the Bangkok branch of Chiang Mai restaurant Lam Duan Fah Ham is among the best (Soi 58, Vibhavadi Rangsit; +66-2-5796403; THB35-45/`66-85).

PAD SEE EW

Second only to pad thai in popularity, pad see ew is a mix of wide, flat rice noodles, veggies, meat or tofu, shrimp, and eggs cooked in a mixture of dark and light soy sauce. While this beloved street food is easy to find throughout Bangkok, the meat-free pad see ew at May Kaidee Vegetarian Restaurant near the backpacker haven of Kao San Road is particularly tasty. The restaurant also offers cooking lessons for those who want to impress friends and family with their mastery over Thai vegetarian cooking (Tanao Road, behind Burger King; +66-26294413; www.maykaidee.com; open 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; dishes from THB80/`152; cooking class from THB1,000/`1,920). A lesser-known Thai noodle dish, suki haeng is a fried noodle dish consisting of glass noodles (ultra-thin vermicelli-style noodles), wok-fried with cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, water spinach, eggs, and tofu and/or meat and served with a spicy, garlicky dip. It’s similar to its soupier cousin, sukiya (a popular Japanese DIY hotpot dish reinterpreted for the Thai palette). Locals recommend the suki haeng at Elvis Suki, a street vendor meets cafeteria-style restaurant that’s been serving up tasty and inexpensive renditions of the dish for decades (No. 200/37 Soi Yotse, Plubplachai Road; +66 (0)2 223 4979; www.elvis-suki. com, THB40-50/`76-95).

A vegetarian’s guide to Bangkok Although vegetarianism is not unheard of in Thailand, many local dishes incorporate fish sauce or shrimp paste, so vegetarian diners should specify if they don’t want either. Also, note that vegetarian or “jay” dishes as they are called in Thai, often include eggs. If you don’t eat eggs remember to separately request a version of the dish without them. And while vegetarians are usually better off eating at all-vegetarian restaurants or spots popular with tourists, there are some excellent veg street food options, particularly near the temples. Vegetarian food is usually indicated with a red “jay” inside a yellow circle or flag (in picture).

104

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

SHARKPAECNX/SHUTTER (FOOD), OH STUDIO IMAGE GALLERY (SIGN)

SUKI HAENG


Pad thai, Thailand’s ubiquitous noodle, veggie, meat, and sauce fryup, is available at nearly every street corner. Vendors at Khao San Road, popular among backpackers, sell numerous variations of the dish.

STEVE VIDLER/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

■ THAILAN D


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

IF LIFE WERE A BEACH Thailand has it all covered as far as beach pursuits go from wild party weekends to a quiet place to read, tan, and indulge in massages and cocktails. Use this island decoder to determine which tropical paradise suits you best.

Koh Chang

Koh Chang is popular in part due to its proximity to Bangkok but there are plenty of reasons beyond just convenience to visit this large island. Along with white sand beaches and a vibrant backpacker and party scene, this large marine national park is full of gorgeous waterfalls, some of which spill into crystal-clear swimming holes.

Koh Pha Ngan Party lovers should try and coordinate a visit to coincide with a full moon and head to the island of Koh Pha Ngan. It’s known and loved for its monthly Full Moon Party held in the busy backpacker enclave of Hat Rin. Electronic music lovers

Koh Chang or Elephant Island is a popular spot for boat trips. Guests enjoy snorkelling and fishing in the waters off the island, and visiting its verdant jungle and white sand beaches.

and anyone with a beach party bucket list won’t want to miss this. Even travellers who’d rather sleep than dance at night are likely to find plenty of opportunities for quiet navel-gazing.

Koh Samui One of the largest islands in Thailand, Koh Samui has been a tourism hotspot for decades. What started out as a haven for hippie backpackers, is now filled with lots of large hotels and glamorous resorts. In fact, it can get quite crowded in peak season, particularly in Chaweng. It is the island’s most popular beach, lined with posh restaurants as well as casual seafood barbecues. However, once you get away from the main commercial areas, you can easily find gorgeous beaches, quiet rental bungalows, and low-key eateries.

ONNE VAN DER WAL/TERRA/CORBIS/IMAGELIBRARY

GULF OF THAILAND


■ THAILAN D

ANDAMAN COAST Popular with families and older couples, Koh Lanta attracts travellers who prefer rest and relaxation over all-night parties. Although it’s got all the requisite white sand beaches and snorkelling opportunities that tourists love, the atmosphere is low-key and less commercial than some of Thailand’s more popular holiday spots. It is a good place to while away the days swimming, getting massages, and sampling freshly caught seafood. Getting to the island requires some dedication however—travellers must first fly to Krabi and then take a ferry to the island.

Koh Lipe With no cars and only a few motorcycle taxis, romantic Koh Lipe is ideal for a quiet and intimate holiday. The waters off this little island are shallow and crystalline, making it ideal for parents with young children or non-swimmers who want to take a dip safely. For the same reasons, it’s popular with divers and snorkellers, and its nearby reefs are known for their abundance of aquatic life.

Phuket Connected by a bridge to mainland peninsular Thailand, Phuket—Thailand’s largest island—is suitable for travellers who value luxury; some of the country’s most opulent resorts are situated here. Phuket is popular with package tourists and has plenty to offer families, but certain areas can get loud and crowded during peak tourist season (November-March).

Phuket is well known for its vibrant nightlife (top) that includes everything from cabaret shows to live bands and performances by international DJs; Swimming in Koh Lipe’s shallow, crystal-clear waters (bottom) is pure joy. MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

107

STEPHEN J. BOITANO/LONELY PLANET IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES (NIGHTLIFE), YVAN COHEN/GETTY IMAGES (SWIMMERS)

Koh Lanta


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

AN OUTDOOR ADVENTURELAND Kayaking tours are a popular way to explore the mangrove forests and limestone caves in the northern part of Krabi.

One of the most iconic images of Thailand that pops up the moment anyone googles the country is James Bond Island, a large chunk of rock immortalised in the 007 caper, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). While this iconic island is among Phang Nga Bay’s best-known attractions, the area is equally known for its exceptional sea kayaking. Day-long trips for beginners and experienced kayakers are available and usually include meals, hotel transfers, and gear. Longer expeditions— some of which last up to a week and include camping gear— are also an option. While learning to paddle across the open sea and getting a good workout is a highlight for many travellers, some also use these kayaking trips to hone their photography skills. The unique vantage points offered on the kayaking routes allow for capturing unusual images of the water and the surrounding natural landscape. There are also plenty of opportunities to paddle into the mangroves for up-close views of birds, monkeys, snakes, and other jungle dwellers. Expect to get wet and be sure to bring waterproof bags to store electronics. John Gray’s Sea Canoe is by far the most popular operator who has

108

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

been providing kayak ecotours in the area since 1983 (www. johngray-seacanoe.com).

TREKKING AND MOTOR BIKING AROUND CHIANG MAI

Most of Thailand’s popular treks start out in Chiang Mai and tend to average 2-4 nights. Trekking outfitters generally provide a guide or two who double-up as cooks and translators, and porters can often be arranged. Travellers must be relatively fit to undertake some of the longer and more strenuous treks, but plenty of the shorter circuits only involve a few hours of walking a day. Bring a raincoat even when visiting outside of the rainy season, as unseasonal showers are common. Treks generally stop in villages of the Karen hill tribe, where visitors can learn more about the rural way of life and maybe even share a meal with a local family. Many packages also involve visits to the Maetaeng Elephant Park and include a break at a waterfall for a quick dip. Travellers who want to spend time in the midst of nature can look into trekking options in the abundantly forested Doi Inthanon National Park. Turtles, lizards, gibbons, civets, and hundreds of species

SERGI REBORWDO/AGE FOTOSTOCK/DINODIA

SEA KAYAKING IN PHANG NGA BAY


■ THAILAN D From climbing limestone cliffs along the Andaman coast to trekking in the hill villages in northernmost Thailand, there is plenty on offer for outdoor enthusiasts and those who thrive on adventure. Here are a few of Thailand’s top outdoor activities and the best places to experience them.

of birds are found there as is Thailand’s highest peak, the 8,415-foot-high Doi Inthanon. Another way to explore Northern Thailand without hiking or taking guided tours is by renting a motorcycle. Head out on the Mae Hong Son Loop, a 600-kilometre ring of road that traverses valleys peppered with gorgeous temples, caves, hot springs, and viewpoints. The loop passes through the quiet town of Mae Sariang and the picturesque lakeside city of Mae Hong Son before leading up to the little backpacker village of Pai. The route takes around four days.

DIVING IN KOH TAO

Clear waters and spectacular marine life on the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea make for excellent diving. The sites range from crystal-clear waters off the Similan Islands to the famous Richelieu Rock off Surin Islands in the Andaman Sea, best known for its violet-hued coral and regular manta ray and whale shark encounters. Those new to the world of diving can best get their feet wet in Koh Tao (Turtle Island) which sits just north of Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan. The 21-square-kilometre island has dozens of dive shops, and is easily the most popular beginner dive spot in Thailand, thanks to its abundance of easily accessible dive sites and affordable certification programmes. Popular operators include Asia Divers (www.asia-divers.com) and Ocean Sound Dive & Yoga (www.oceansoundkohtao.com). Many dive schools offer scuba diving programmes for people who want to learn the basics in a day or two. However, if you have a few extra days to spare you’re better off enrolling in a proper diving certification course. Once certified, you can

dive without an instructor at dive spots around the world. Certifications are generally issued under the auspices of PADI (the Professional Association of Diving Instructors) or the SSI (Scuba Schools International) and beginner courses last three to four days. Most diving courses take aspiring divers to the area’s best-known dive sites, including the anemonecovered Chumphon Pinnacle, a popular habitat for sailfish, eels, and colourful angelfish. Another not-to-be-missed site is the HTMS Sattakut, a WWII ship that was intentionally sunk in 2011 to create a dive site. It has since become a habitat for a host of aquatic species, including snappers and barracudas.

ROCK CLIMBING AT RAILAY BEACH

One of the best-known areas for rock climbing in Thailand, if not Southeast Asia, is Krabi Province’s Railay Beach. The surrounding area is covered with hundreds of routes along limestone rocks suitable for everyone from beginners to experienced climbers. Though there are plenty of climbing centres and most offer similar packages. These range from short beginner courses that cover basics such as knot-tying and belaying (controlling safety ropes) to more comprehensive programmes in sport climbing (in which climbers attach themselves to bolts fixed into the wall). Equipment—including shoes, harnesses, and helmets—is included in most packages, and children’s courses and kids’-size equipment is available. Railay also caters to the extreme sport of deep-water soloing. This activity involves climbing up sea cliffs—without the use of ropes or other protective gear—and relying on the depth of the sea waters to break your eventual (or planned) fall. MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

109

JOHN ELK/LONELY PLANET IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES (BRIDGE), SHUTTERSTOCK/INDIAPICTURE (DIVING)

Travellers who want to experience Thailand beyond its beaches, often hike through Doi Inthanon National Park (left); Koh Tao (right) is a hotspot for scuba diving.


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

TEMPLE RUN

Pattaya’s spectacular Sanctuary of Truth is carved in wood (left); Chiang Mai’s Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (right) was founded in the 14th century.

WAT RONG KHUN, CHIANG RAI

Popularly referred to as the “White Temple,” this iconic structure is the youngest of Thailand’s landmarks, and a major reason why many visit Chiang Rai. The creation of Chiang Rai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, the temple itself is covered with intricate curlicue patterns, many highlighted in silver mirror work. Visitors approach the shrine via a narrow passageway flanked by faux fountains filled with hundreds of hellish arms reaching up; some carry bowls and others hold human skulls.

WAT PHRA THAT DOI SUTHEP, CHIANG MAI

Located just outside Chiang Mai on a hilltop overlooking the city, this temple dates back to 1383 when it was first established as a Buddhist monastery. Its main attraction is an enormous golden stupa, although the entire complex is a gorgeous amalgamation of intricately detailed structures topped with multi-tiered gables. Note that accessing the temple requires a steep climb up about 300 steps; those unable to make the trudge can take a lift to the top for THB30/`57.

110

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

WAT ARUN, BANGKOK

Rising up from the west banks of the Chao Phraya River, Wat Arun is also known as the Temple of Dawn. It is celebrated for its gorgeous architecture, particularly the central prang (tower), which is decorated with intricate porcelain, glass patterns, and statuary. It is most beautiful at dusk, when the sun sets behind the structure, and at night when it is lit up—best viewed at that hour from the opposite side of the river.

THE SANCTUARY OF TRUTH, PATTAYA

Right on the beach overlooking the Gulf of Thailand, Pattaya’s Sanctuary of Truth complex is an ornate 344-foot-high structure made of teak wood. Though not a temple in the traditional sense, its interiors feature panel upon panel of intricately carved artistic interpretations of dharmic philosophies—notably Mahayana Buddhism and Vedic traditions—with a strong Khmer influence reminiscent of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. The four halls are full of beautifully carved reliefs depicting Hindu deities, bodhisattvas, and cosmological symbols.

PAUL BIRIS/MOMENT OPEN/GETTY IMAGES (TOWER), TAKE PHOTO/SHUTTERSTOCK (STATUE)

Thousands of Buddhist temples or wats can be found throughout Thailand, as nearly 95 per cent of the population is Buddhist. From simple shrines to elaborate edifices with gilded towers and giant Buddha statues, these temples are repositories of history, learning, and faith. Discover some of the most beautiful structures in the country through this guide.


■ THAILAN D

MICAH WRIGHT/DESIGN PICS/CANOPY/CORBIS/IMAGELIBRARY

Although Chiang Rai’s Wat Rong Khun has been for open less than two decades, this stunning masterpiece has already established itself as one of Northern Thailand’s most iconic structures.


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

Creatures Great and Small

By Rumela Basu

112

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

KOHIS/IMAGEBROKER/DINODIA (ORANGUTANS), PHOTO COURTESY: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE (BIRD)

From meeting Kai Kai the panda to Amigo the Amazon parrot and Woody the orangutan, a visit to Singapore Zoo alters perceptions and triggers joy


PHOTO COURTESY: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

■ S IN GAPO RE

The Squirrel Monkey Forest in the River Safari replicates an Amazonian forest where frisky squirrel monkeys hunt for fruit and flower nectar in their free-ranging habitats. Facing page: The Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s conservation efforts have seen major success with rehabilitating hornbills (top), as well as breeding orangutans (bottom). The primates have the largest open exhibit in the park without any walls, and with multi-tiered platforms. MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

113


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

Her skin is covered in smooth scales that gleam in the sun. She’s cool and silken to the touch, but I can feel strong muscles under her skin. Two years old and almost two feet long, Nala is a ball python currently coiled in the palms of my hands. I’m enthralled—I never imagined holding a snake would feel like this.

At zoos I’ve visited in the past, the animals have languished in small cages with almost no greenery. Here, watching the orangutans lounging in tree-top hammocks and a red-ruffed lemur scurrying down the length of his log-shaped platform, I feel my reservations recede. Nala’s keeper, who’s been keeping a close watch on how I handle the snake, slips in a hand to gather her up. Reluctantly letting go, I follow Natt Haniff, our vivacious guide, into the zoo’s Rainforest Zone. Looking down from an elevated walkway under a canopy of tropical trees, I spot a nimble, brown mouse deer. A little distance away, on the other side, is an enormous gharial. I didn’t know they could grow this large. In the Wild Africa Zone, two giraffes named Growie and Roni amble along gracefully. Behind them, three zebras munch on grass. None of them are in cages. Singapore Zoo is designed with

Kai Kai and Jia Jia, the giant panda pair, came to Singapore as a gift from China in 2010 and now live in the 1500-sq-metre temperature-controlled biodome in the River Safari. They have distinct personalities—while Kai Kai is mostly out and about, Jia Jia is shy and prefers the coziness of her den.

114

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

PHOTO COURTESY: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

My previous encounters with snakes, at zoos, featured a glass partition between us. I’m in a zoo now as well, but this one is unlike others I’ve visited. At the Singapore Zoo, which is skirted by a large lake in the city-state’s Mandai region, I spent the morning having breakfast in the company of a family of orangutans. They ate on a wooden platform a few feet from our table. Two-yearold Joko, the youngest of the group, reminded me of the antics of my pre-teen cousin when he was that age. Orangutans are this zoo’s flagship species, and they roam freely in their habitat here. Walking around, I spot some in the trees. Some are descendants of Ah Meng, the park’s most famous orangutan, rescued from a private home where she was being kept illegally. She eventually became a tourism icon for Singapore until she died in 2008. I’ve come to the Singapore Zoo with apprehensions—seeing animals in captivity is not a concept I’m comfortable with.


■ S IN GAPO RE

PHOTO COURTESY: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

The resident giraffe couple Roni and Growie’s baby Jubilee, named so because he was born in the country’s jubilee year 2015, is the first giraffe to be born in Singapore Zoo in almost three decades.

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

115


Summer Special |

SOU THEAST AS I A

an “open enclosure” concept. This means animals are separated from visitors and other animals by natural or naturally designed boundaries like moats and hedges. Painful memories of agitated lions pacing in tiny cages fade away when I watch a lioness nuzzling her mate as they rest on a grassy hillock. The 64-acre park has an impressive green cover. With most of Singapore’s natural forests lost to urban development, the zoo and the surrounding nature reserve are among the few green spots left in city state. While many of the trees are native, others have been introduced to create familiar habitats for the animals. Soon it’s feeding time, and the giraffes saunter closer to the viewing station. I step out on a platform, almost at eye level with them, and hold out a sweet potato from a bucket provided for visitors. Growie winds his long purple-black tongue around it and pulls it from my hand. His head alone is as big as half of me. I enjoy getting close to the giraffes, but I also wonder whether this proximity disturbs the animals. I’m told that they’re not tame, and can get agitated or attack if a stranger ventures too close to them. But they seem to be used to human presence, especially their keepers, and are not distressed by it. This familiarity with humans is most apparent in the Fragile Forest exhibit—a high-roofed enclosed area with tropical trees and plants, and comfortable balmy air. A walkway runs through the middle. Natt warns us not to look up with our mouths open in case one of the bats decides to relieve itself. As if to prove her point, a bat instantly finds a spot on a guest’s nose. Much laughter and a swipe of tissue later, we continue on. Crowned pigeons cross the walkway and a sloth makes its leisurely way up

116

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

a branch. But it’s the ring-tailed lemurs that are most intriguing, even snobbish and indifferent. One grooms itself beside the walkway, tail splayed, another stares at us with wide beady eyes from its perch. Over lunch, I get an opportunity to voice some of my concerns about zoos to Roopali Raghavan, who’s part of the park’s Conservation & Research department and looks after animal welfare. She assures me great care is taken to reduce the stress on the resident animals, and small changes are regularly introduced into their enclosures to keep them engaged. Why have zoos at all, I want to know. She explains that they serve an important purpose, enabling conservationists to study the animals closely so they can better protect populations in the wild. Zoos often house “assurance colonies”: modern-day Noah’s arks that ensure there is a healthy population of endangered animals that can be reintroduced to the wild in case the original population dwindles. The conversation reveals another important fact: The wild is not always the best place for animals, especially in Southeast Asia where trade in exotic animals is rampant. Green spots in the world are also reducing steadily, increasing animal-human conflict. As I crane my neck out of the boat during the River Safari cruise sometime later, I see a tapir snooze under a tree. I realise that this magnificent animal—one that I’ve gazed at on television time and again—is safe here. It is tangible evidence of the richness of life that needs protection. The next evening I’m back to experience the Night Safari, adjacent to the zoo. Our buggy winds through open enclosures that house striped hyena, oryx, and red river hogs. Bathed in a dull

THOMOS MARENT/MINDEN PICTURES/CORBIS/IMAGELIBRARY (MONKEYS), DESIGN PICS/CORBIS/IMAGELIBRARY (BABOONS)

While some of the zoo’s 39 primate species, like the black and white colobus monkey (left), have islands separated by moats in a zone, others, like the territorial baboons (right) have their own separate enclosure. Wild grasses, palms, and rocky structures help recreate their native habitat.


■ S IN GAPO RE

Malayan tapirs, the largest of the species, are lesser-known nocturnal animals whose native homes in the Southeast Asian jungles are under threat. During the Night Safari’s tram tours, visitors can see these monochrome herbivores at close range from within the confines of the buggy.

Rumela Basu is Features Writer at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves poetry and food, and travels to discover new destinations—and aspects of herself.

THE VITALS SINGAPORE ZOO provides a bus service from select locations in Singapore (round trip adults SGD10/`488, children SGD5/`244). The zoo’s website (www.zoo.com. sg) has detailed instructions on how to reach it using other public transport. Hours 8.30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (last entry 5.30 p.m.). Entry fee Adults SGD32/`1,560, children 3-12 years SGD21/`1,024. Discounts of up to 30 per cent possible on advance online purchases. Those with young children may like to purchase tickets for the hop-on hop-off guided tram tour (adults SGD5/`244; children SGD3/`146). Need to Know The zoo website also has discounted Park Hopper tickets offering combinations depending on the other Wildlife Reserves Singapore parks you want to visit. They are valid for seven days. Bring The weather is unpredictable; carry an umbrella or raincoat. Eat There are food outlets located throughout the zoo. NIGHT SAFARI is adjacent to the zoo. Hours 7.15 p.m.midnight (last entry 11.15 p.m.). Entry fee Adults SGD42/`2,048, children SGD28/`1,365. Discounts on advance online purchases (www.nightsafari.com.sg). RIVER SAFARI is in the same area as the Zoo and Night Safari. It has a biodome with pandas, and boat safaris (adults SGD5/`244, children SGD3/`146). Hours 10 a.m.7 p.m. (last entry 6.30 p.m.). Entry fee Adults SGD28/ `1,367, children SGD18/`880. (www.riversafari.com.sg).

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

PHOTO COURTESY: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

glow that mimics moonlight, I watch a sloth bear get up on its hind legs inside its enclosure to inspect us. We hop off to explore the walking trails, spotting slow loris, elusive golden cats, hog badgers, and porcupines in glass-panelled and open enclosures. I feel engulfed by a sense of wonder, at having encountered animals I didn’t even know existed on our planet. At Jurong Bird Park, colourful and noisy lories perched on my arms tickled my ears and made me laugh. I’ve discovered the animals as personalities: Kai Kai the panda who suddenly falls asleep and the loud slurping noises the rhinos Shova and Bora make when eating muskmelon are all very endearing. I know that Eva the manatee has seven children and two grandchildren, Amigo the yellownaped Amazon parrot can hold a (very shrill) tune, and Woody the orangutan does not like to share food. Not all my apprehensions about zoos are completely gone, but my dream of seeing an alternative, happier version of them has been fulfilled. Having experienced so much joy at meeting these creatures, I can only imagine the interest that would be sparked in a child upon seeing these animals in close proximity, in settings similar to their natural habitats. Maybe that’s why we need zoos—as a first step in fostering amazement and curiosity about the natural world. So long as zoos can take care of animals and birds, keep them safe, and engage the minds of the next generation to think actively about conserving Earth’s diversity.

117


Summer Special | SOU THE AST AS I A

In a Monk's Shoes A temple stay in Korea dips into the country’s Buddhist heritage and questions the desires of normal life

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

BY ANJANA

118

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016


KO RE A

Meditation sessions are an important part of South Korea’s temple stay programmes. Participants also get a Q&A session with the head monk, in which questions about spirituality and the benefits of meditation can be discussed. Facing page: A statue of Buddha holding a lotus.

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

119

PHOTO COURTESY: JIKJISA TEMPLE (STATUE), FACING PAGE: PHOTONONSOTOP RM/INDIAPICTURE (MEDITATION)

■ SOUTH


Summer Special | SOU THE AST AS I A

On the road toward Mount Hwangak, Hally the temple employee who has come to pick me up, slows the car beside a gushing river that swerves around large boulders. She pulls up outside the elaborately carved gate of the Jikji temple, a monastery in Gimcheon, South Korea, where I am going to spend the next two days. Jikji or Jikjisa is a temple of the Jogye Order, one of the traditional orders of Korean Buddhism, and the home of over a dozen treasured artefacts, including three spectacular pieces that are considered national treasures. 120

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

A standard feature of Korean temples is the iljumun before me—a one-pillar gate that consists of a pagoda with a gently curved base, resting atop twin pillars. When viewed from the side, the two red pillars appear to be one. This illusion symbolises the singular path of enlightenment of Buddhist philosophy, the idea with which one must enter the temple. I’m here for a twoday temple-stay programme that was recommended by a friend’s Korean business associate. Korean temples opened up to visitors upon the request of delegates of the 2002 FIFA World Cup who felt that tourists would enjoy a taste of the life of a Korean monk. I believe it is a unique cultural experience programme that will allow me to sample the country’s Buddhist cultural heritage. The road ahead of us is carpeted with amber maple leaves, and the grounds of the temple complex are painted in shades of hot orange that contrast with the winter chill of the mountain air. The four peaks of Mount Hwangak provide the backdrop to the ornate 300- and 400-year-old buildings of the temple. Twenty of the 40 original structures, dating back to A.D. 418, were rebuilt after the Japanese invasion of 1592 left Jikjisa in flames. The invaders were searching for Samyeong, a militant-turnedmonk who had sought sanctuary and was ordained here. As we walk towards the office, I gawk at the fine detailing of the carvings and the Buddhist paintings that adorn walls. “Some of the relics and artefacts have always been here, but many were brought here from other temples,” Hally tells me. “Jikjisa is like the father temple with a hundred sons.” Hally had lived in London for a few years, and her close-tofluent English makes her an asset to this organisation. Of over a hundred Korean temples that have opened their doors to visitors since 2002, only 20 extend their programmes to foreigners, mainly because of the language barrier. Communication is imperative, because there are clear rules to be followed while I am inside a working monastery. Hally shows

PHOTO COURTESY: JIKJISA TEMPLE

At the morning doryangseok ceremony, monks walk around the temple and chant, accompanied by the sound of a wooden gong called the moktak.


KO RE A

Pagodas are a typical feature of Korean temples and are used to enshrine Buddha’s relics. Monks chant as they walk around these structures in a clockwise direction to reaffirm their faith.

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

121

PHOTO COURTESY: KOREA TOURISM

■ SOUTH


Summer Special | SOU THE AST AS I A

me how to greet a monk with a half-bow, or banbae, and how to keep my hands crossed in the chasu (pronounced “ghassu”) position while within the complex. Meals must be eaten in silence, and a gong that sounds at 4.30 a.m. serves as a wake-up call. We run through the schedule of services, I receive a seung bok (“chung-pok”), the saffron uniform that I must wear: a pair of baggy pants called paji, and a short, wide-sleeved working jacket called choksam, both stitched out of a coarse heavy fabric, that’s not warm enough for this weather. Earlier that morning before I’d boarded a comfortable train in Seoul, I’d picked up some heatradiating patches. They will come in handy, I’m certain. By late afternoon all the visitors to the temple have settled in, and get a quick tour of the halls before the evening rituals. At the entrance to the daeungjong, or main hall, we take our slippers off before stepping in. We join hands and bow at the waist, eyes on the golden triad on the altar, just as we’ve been taught. The statue of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, is at the centre of the altar, flanked by the Medicine Buddha and the Infinite Buddha. Hally lifts a pillow off a stack, sets it down before her feet. She kneels, then bends forward with her arms stretched out before her until her forehead touches the floor. Her hips rest comfortably on her heels and she retracts her arms so her palms are besides her ears, and turns them up to the ceiling. As she

122

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

sits up, she brings her hands together at her chest in a Korean namaste (hapjang), which symbolises the unification of the Buddha’s mind (right hand) with hers (left hand). Then she’s on her feet again, and presses the hapjang to her forehead and to her chest to complete one prostration. Hally performs this thrice, in reverence to the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha (order of monks). Then, she pulls three large pillows off a stack and hands them to us, one by one, so she can take us through the steps. We practice our bows on the left side of the hall, leaving the rest of the space for the monks. Monks may meditate any time of day and some choose to do so in this hall. They kneel before the tiered altar, the upper three levels of which form the sumidan. The word is derived from Mt. Sumeru, the central mountain of the world according to Buddhist scriptures. The tiers that represent it are adorned with elaborately carved figures of creatures like tigers, turtles, or fish, that would reside on the mountain. The next morning, during the 5 a.m. yebul ceremony, we start our day with 108 prostrations. We then walk through the temple museum, full of amazing Buddhist art and antiques too delicate to be photographed. There are engravings on traditional hanji paper, an intricately carved stone bell with a dragon-shaped clasp, and stunning paintings of guardian spirits whose forms combine human and animal features.


■ SOUTH

KO RE A

Mealtime in the monastery is called baru-gongyang, because monks traditionally eat their meals out of a baru, or bowl. In keeping with the Buddhist principle of harmony with nature, the menu includes two kinds of kimchi, a vegetable broth, rice, seaweed, radish, and tofu seasoned with a mildly spicy sauce. Minimally seasoned, the vegetables are as close to raw as possible. The preparations contain neither onion nor garlic. The principle is not to relish food, but simply to satiate the hunger that might otherwise distract a person from meditation. This point is driven home by the prayer we’re asked to recite at the start of each meal: An apology to the powers that be for succumbing to the human need for nourishment. Once we wash our dishes we head for the nightly music ritual. Only priests are allowed inside the fenced hall where it takes place, so we line up outside and listen. Hally explains that, “The sound of the drum, made of hide, is a prayer for all animals. The bell, which represents the Vedic creator of the universe, Brahma, is a prayer for humans. The sound of the moktak, a wooden fishshaped instrument is a prayer for marine life, and the closing gongs are for all other creatures.” It’s time to retire for the night and I find my room behind a shoji screen door, a neat 8x7-foot space fitted with floor heating, and a wardrobe that holds a blanket, a quilted mat, and two slim,

hard beanbags, which I assume are meant to function as pillows. It’s luxurious in comparison to most temple-stay schemes, where visitors share rooms with at least three other participants, and use communal showers and bathrooms. Jikjisa is one of the few temples with en suite facilities. With only two other people currently on the programme, I get a room all to myself and all the peace and quiet I could possibly want. Despite the restful night, I struggle to keep from nodding off during the 6.30 a.m. chamseon, or Zen meditation, the next morning. I snap back to attention at the sound of three claps from the wooden clapper that announces the end of the service. After breakfast, Hee Pong, the head monk escorts us to a comparatively new shrine at the peak of the mountain. Along the way, we learn about cause and effect, and about hatu, the ability

FEAST DAYS On some days, the temple hosts special celebrations with music, chanting, and free meals for the poor. The Buddha’s birthday: 14 May, 2016 (the date changes every year according to the Chinese lunar calendar) Day of prayer for ancestors: 15 July New Year: 22 December

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

123

PHOTO COURTESY: JIKJISA TEMPLE (VISITORS), ANJANA (MEALS & BEADS)

As part of their temple stay regime, visitors walk along paths that wind through beautiful, forested mountains, pausing to catch their breath or for nuggets on Buddhist cosmology (left); Temple meals are a part of monastic practice and are meant to have harmony with nature. The fare is simple and no wastage is permitted (top right); The 108 yeomju (prayer beads) threading ritual is an essential part of the programme (bottom right).


Summer Special | SOU THE AST AS I A

Nestled amid pine forests, ancient hardwoods, and a pristine river, Jikjisa is one of the most picturesque of South Korea’s temples and its position affords visitors excellent trekking opportunities.

AnjAnA is a freelance journalist and author of children’s books. Passionate about world cultures and cuisines, she also enjoys hiking and diving with her daughters.

124

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

THE VITALS Getting There There are direct flights from New Delhi/Mumbai to Seoul on most days of the week. From Seoul, there are several daily trains to Gimcheon (adults from KRW16,400/`915, children from KRW8,200/`450; duration 3 hr). Frequent buses connect the two cities (adults from KRW14,100/`785, children from KRW7,050/`390; duration 4-4.5 hr). Visa The application form for tourist visas is available online (www.vfsglobal.com/korea/india). The completed form and supporting documents have to be submitted at the consulates in Mumbai or Chennai, or at VFS offices in New Delhi and Kolkata (`2,400 for a single entry tourist visa, plus `860 VFS charges.) More about Temple Stays Temple stay programmes are offered across South Korea, but each location has a different programme. Some include classes such as traditional envelope making or cloth dyeing. Programmes at different temples may run through the week, only on weekends, or on select weekends only. The 2-day/1-night stay at Jikjisa costs KRW50,000/`2,860 per person. To sign up, fill the selected temple’s form on the temple stay website, but do make sure you have a confirmation email before you pack your bags. You may have to call the listed number to follow up. Heavy make-up and outlandish clothes are not allowed at temples, and there’s a complete ban on cigarettes and alcohol (www.jikjisa.or.kr).

PHOTO COURTESY: JIKJISA TEMPLE

to control the mind. He tells us that later in the day we will be stringing 108 beads, which signify the 108 delusions that lead to human suffering; some of these are desire, wrath, contempt, and pride. Though he is older than all of us, neither his tone nor his pace waver during the rigorous half-hour trek up some sharp inclines. The icy November rain beats down on us, making the descent quite treacherous. But I feel invigorated both by the trek and the dado tea ceremony that follows. Later, we sit down to string beads. Some temples require one prostration for each bead strung, but Jikjisa takes a more casual approach. Hally directs us to focus on the things we wish for, each time we pull a bead through the string. I’m deeply conscious of the fact that I find myself with nothing to wish for, nothing that I feel is lacking in my life. Whether that’s a result of the hours of meditation, or just being surrounded by this serenity, I cannot say, but it is an incredible feeling. After two days of eating a Buddhist monk’s diet, sleeping on hard floors, meditating, hiking and prostrating, I am entirely refreshed and lighter. I’d love to stay longer, but I have a train to catch, to get back to my 108 delusions.


MINT IMAGES-FRANS LANTING/GETTY IMAGES

JOURNEYS

126 Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

125


Journeys |

I N TO THE WI L D

BOTSWANA

THE LAST SANCTUARY

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, this nation models how to save Africa’s wildlife

126

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016


Elephants big and small refuel at a watering hole in Botswana’s eastern Tuli Block area.

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

127

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

■ BOTSWAN A


Journeys |

I N TO THE WI L D

by COSTAS CHRIST photographs by AARON HUEY

The tawny sands of the Kalahari Desert envelop our 4x4 in a dusty cloud as we race along a rutted track to the Tsodilo Hills, in northern Botswana. Three rocky monoliths emerge into with more than 4,500 paintings discovered to date. The three main hills are known as Male, Female, and Child, and are revered as the spot where creation began—a San Garden of Eden. Indeed, geological evidence indicates that water covered much of the area thousands of years ago, and fish were abundant. Xuntae Xhao leads me along one of more than a dozen trails that traverse Tsodilo to the precise place where his San ancestors

A guide poles a mokoro, or traditional canoe, through wetlands of the Okavango Delta, a World Heritage Site that is home to endangered species such as the African wild dog and black rhino.

128

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

view across the otherwise flat landscape that defines most of this African nation. “This place has been occupied by humans for more than 1,00,000 years,” says my guide. “The indigenous San people believe it brings positive energy to all who come here.” Tsodilo’s stony mounds, a World Heritage Site since 2001, also contain one of the highest concentrations of ancient rock art on Earth,


■ BOTSWAN A

Ancient rock art draws visitors to Botswana’s other World Heritage Site, the Tsodilo Hills, dubbed the “Louvre of the Desert.”

believe their creator lowered all creatures from the sky. Indentations that resemble the cloven hooves of a kudu antelope and the outline of a human body mark the spot in the rockscape. “People came first, followed by the animals to help them survive. It was a time when humans and animals were all equal,” he says. Today, this venerated place is looked after by the Tsodilo Community Trust, an innovative partnership between San villagers and the Botswana government. “The San are Tsodilo’s rightful guardians and beneficiaries,” says Charles Motshubi, a community development organizer and the Tsodilo project manager. Xhao nods. “It is we who know the ancient stories of this land.” That night the wind comes up, howling along the prehistoric cliffs adorned with depictions painted in red, of rhinos, eland, and elephants. INTO THE WILD

THE OKAVANGO DELTA “Hippos and crocs patrol the deep water, so let’s keep to the shallows and give them their privacy,” Goitseone Monnaphutego says as we pole our way by mokoro, or canoe, into the Okavango Delta. What he doesn’t add is that elephants like their water both ways—shallow and deep. Now we watch two bulls emerge from the reeds ahead of us. As the bigger one turns our way and flaps his ears in warning, Monnaphutego brings the mokoro to a stop and whispers, “Whoever said the lion is king of the jungle is wrong. That title has always belonged to the elephant.” This king is in grave danger. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, more than 1,00,000 African elephants were slaughtered across the African continent, fuelled by Asia’s illegal ivory syndicates.

In the mayhem, Botswana is fast becoming their last sanctuary. This landlocked nation boasts the largest herds of free-roaming elephants in Africa and is home to one third of the continent’s threatened elephant population. “If this trend [poaching] continues unabated, it is likely that elephants will go extinct in most of their range in our lifetimes,” Botswana’s conservation-minded President Seretse Khama Ian Khama said last July. Khama’s plan: Promote community-based ecotourism, enforce strict anti-poaching regulations, and slap a ban on big-game hunting. Monnaphutego exemplifies this conservation approach. “My father was a poacher; I was destined to follow his path until I learned wildlife is something to be conserved, not feared, to improve our lives.” He and veteran local guide Kgaga Kgaga run Okavango Museum Explorations, an outfitter specializing in discovering the delta by mokoro. They represent a new generation of Africans turned ecotourism entrepreneurs. Over several days, we pole along remote waterways that “my people have used for centuries,” encountering hippos, fish eagles, goliath herons, and wattled cranes. One evening we see the flash of a sitatunga as it disappears along the water’s edge. The aquatic antelope is so rare that locals refer to it as Botswana’s unicorn. “I have seen a sitatunga only three times,” Monnaphutego murmurs to me. “As quick as they appear, they vanish.” AFRICA’S ARK

MOREMI GAME RESERVE “Wild dogs ahead!” exclaims the tracker, riding in a seat welded to the front frame of our Toyota Land Cruiser. Since dawn we’ve been hot on the trail of one of the most elusive and endangered MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

129


Journeys |

I N TO THE WI L D

mammals in the world—the African wild dog. We’re following not one but a pack of 21. A dizzying array of tracks discloses that this pack hunted an impala the previous evening. Bellies full, the family is now lounging in the shade of an acacia—pups frolicking and adults slumbering—belying the fact that their entire population has dwindled to some 5,000, which lands them on the doorstep of extinction. The good news: The Moremi Game Reserve’s ecosystem of overlapping marshes, grasslands, and woodlands of Zambe ZAMBIA z

ANGOLA

i

CHOBE N.P.

Tsodilo Hills Okavango World Heritage site Delta MOREMI GAME RES.

A

L

Francistown

B O T S W A N A

A

H

A

CENTRAL KALAHARI GAME RESERVE

R

KHUTSE GAME RES.

I E

S E

R

TROPIC OF CAPRICORN

Mo lo

po

AFRICA

T

100 mi

NORTHERN TULI GAME RES. Mashatu Game Res. po po m Li

Gaborone

D KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK

Bulawayo

Makgadikgadi Pans

Ghanzi K

ZIMBABWE

NXAI PAN N.P.

Maun

MAKGADIKGADI PANS NATIONAL PARK

NAMIBIA

Livingstone

Victoria Falls

SOUTH AFRICA

100 km

130

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

AREA ENLARGED

mopane and acacia trees has become a wild dog stronghold. The first such sanctuary created by local communities in southern Africa, it was established in the 1960s. Today, safari lodges such as &Beyond’s Sandibe Okavango Lodge offer a base camp for forays into Moremi. “Conservation is at the heart of all we do,” &Beyond’s CEO, Joss Kent, tells me. His company, in partnership with another, Great Plains Conservation, and the Botswana government, has embarked on its most ambitious project, Rhinos Without Borders, to save another iconic animal now tottering on the edge of extinction; a rhino horn can fetch more than $200,000 on the black market. (Its supposed medicinal power has been debunked by science.) Other safari outfitters, including Wilderness Safaris and Abercrombie & Kent, also are riding to the rescue in a huge effort to relocate rhinos from adjacent countries where poaching has skyrocketed in recent years. Botswana has become the continent’s safest haven, a modern-day ark for Africa’s threatened species. Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge even resembles an ark, albeit of an eco-luxury kind. Elephants feed on palm trees beside guest rooms, baboons scamper across the lodge veranda, and nearby lions call to each other in deep throaty rumbles. KALAHARI SALT FLATS

THE MAKGADIKGADI Among the most dramatic sights visible on satellite images of Africa is a cluster of huge irregular oblongs in the continent’s southern reaches. Zoom in closer and the Makgadikgadi Pans, one of the world’s largest complexes of salt flats, come into focus. Think barren, endless, empty—yet anything but lifeless. In this panscape of sometimes searing heat by day and cool, breezy nights, the footprints of zebras, giraffes, ostriches, and

NG MAPS (MAP); PARKS DATA FROM THE WORLD DATABASE ON PROTECTED AREAS (WDPA )

Horseback riders pass a group of zebras in late afternoon on the Makgadikgadi salt pans, the remains of an ancient lake.


At the tented San Camp, a staff member sets the table for dinner. MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

131

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

■ BOTSWAN A


I N TO THE WI L D

Bikers in the Mashatu Game Reserve cross paths with wildlife.

132

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

Journeys |


XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

■ BOTSWAN A

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

133


Journeys |

I N TO THE WI L D

An aerial view of a herd of wildebeest thundering across the stark Makgadikgadi salt pans.

134

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

BUSH BIKING IN MASHATU

TULI BLOCK Tuli Block, a ribbon of land in the country’s far east, is a place where people and wilderness intermingle to the benefit of both. It’s home to the Mashatu Game Reserve, one of the largest private protected areas in Africa’s south, and is serviced by locally owned tour operators and lodges, from rustic to luxury. Tuli also is the sole place in Botswana where you can go on a mountain biking safari in a designated game reserve. The master of bush cycling is Johan Rakumako, who helped map the Tour de Tuli, a five-day off-the-grid tour using elephant migration routes. Who knew that pachyderms create wellgroomed mountain bike trails? “To see a wild elephant from a mountain bike is an experience,” Rakumako enthuses as we set out for a day of riding through the remote Limpopo River Valley, where the borders of Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa intersect. This part of the country stands in stark contrast to the rest of Botswana—craggy escarpments and sandstone ridges replace the flat plains, while waterfalls tumble and massive nyala berry trees create vistas of resplendent greenery. The euphoria of a memorable journey washes over me. I know Rakumako, Monnaphutego, Kgaga, Xhao, and others I’ve met are creating a future for themselves and for some of the most endangered wildlife on Earth. As we ride along elephant highways, through dry riverbeds and across open fields, flocks of helmeted guinea fowl squawk, and browsing eland, herds of impala, and noble-looking giraffes watch us go by. National Geographic Traveler (U.S.) Editor-at-Large Costas Christ writes and speaks about sustainable tourism. aaron huey is a Seattle-based photojournalist and documentary photographer.

DAVE HAMMAN/GALIO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES (WILDEBEEST)

other desert-adapted creatures crisscross the otherworldly terrain, reminding me of astronauts’ footsteps left on the moon. While the tracks appear to wander aimlessly, in fact they weave a story: It is here that one of Africa’s epic migrations unfolds each year, as huge herds of zebras search for the mineral-rich grasses that flourish in the surrounding area. The zebras are dwarfed in number only by the hundreds of thousands of greater and lesser flamingos that come to nest in the remote pans. Pause long enough to look and listen, and a bounty of life materializes. “We want to bring simplicity back to going on safari, and for us that means being in wide, open spaces on horseback,” explains David Foot, who set up Ride Botswana with his wife, Robyn. Their mission is to offer travellers a chance to experience an African safari from the old days, before the advent of bush planes and 4x4s. From San Camp, a collection of six walk-in tents adorned with antiques and artefacts, we set out on horses, walking and then galloping toward a faraway treeline. In the 11,910 square kilometres of the Makgadikgadi that surround us, I do not see one building, cell tower, or paved road in any direction. As sunset approaches, we stop for gin-and-tonic sundowners as herds of wildebeest stare at us curiously. With no engine running and no exhaust fumes spewing, we merge with the animal kingdom. “I’ve heard there are seven-star hotels somewhere in the world,” says Robyn. Sweeping her arm toward the vast sky above us, she declares, “This is a million-star hotel.” Later that evening, I meet Super, San Camp’s senior guide, who has spent 26 years exploring the pans. We head out for a night drive and soon spot the rarest of the four hyena species, the brown hyena, as well as another rare night wanderer, the reclusive aardwolf. When a huge southern African porcupine wanders by, I know my night is complete.


â– BOTSWAN A

MARTIN MECNAROWSKI/SHUTTERCTOCK (WILD DOGS)

Frolicking pups bode well for the population of the highly endangered African wild dogs (bottom). Moremi Game Reserve is one of their last homes; A cottage at Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge (top).

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

135


Journeys |

I N TO THE WI L D

OUR PICKS

NINE GREAT BOTSWANA EXPERIENCES monumental tree used as a landmark by 19th-century travellers crossing the Kalahari Desert. It also helped move mail: Travellers tucked letters into its hollows for other explorers to find and relay to family and friends back home. 7 PEDAL POWER Want to do good while biking your way into great shape? Join the annual Tour de Tuli, a multi-day mountain biking adventure. The tour traverses terrain in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa to support Children in the Wilderness, an organization that works to inspire and educate Africa’s next generation of conservation leaders. 3 GONE FISHING When the waters of the Okavango Delta recede in September, fly fishermen rejoice. Giant catfish gather in papyrus reeds, slapping the water with their tails to stun baitfish—an action that attracts feisty tiger fish that in turn offer anglers an exciting catch-andrelease experience.

2 WOVEN WARES Traditional Botswana baskets are renowned for their tight weaving and patterns; a single basket can take weeks to complete. Some of the best, fashioned with young fronds of the mokolwane palm, can be found in the craft shops of Maun, a safari hub.

4 STARRY NIGHT Evenings in Botswana bring a cosmic show. Guests at San Camp, by the salt flats of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, are treated to the Milky Way splashed across a sky free of light pollution. Visitors to the private Mashatu Game Reserve can join night drives, which search for nocturnal animals such as caracals. 5 ART HAVEN

You’ll find artwork depicting Botswana’s cultural heritage, wildlife, and more at the Thapong Visual Arts Centre, in the capital city, Gaborone. The centre hosts workshops and provides studio space

136

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

for artists. Also in the capital: the National Museum and Art Gallery, with its own exhibits of Botswana art.

8 NATIONAL PRIDE On September 30, 2016, Botswana will mark 50 years of independence from Britain with grand festivities, including cultural events, processions, and arts performances.

6 BUSH TELEGRAPH Long before GPS there was Chapman’s Baobab, a

9

Pachyderm Party One of Africa’s largest concentrations of elephants lives in Chobe National Park, migrating seasonally between the park’s floodplains and salt pans. For prime elephant-viewing, visit the Chobe River area (above) in October. Guests at the Chobe Game Lodge gather on the lodge boardwalk for sightings of these largest of land animals, along with zebras and other wildlife.

KARIN DUTHIE/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO (BASKET), ANN AND STEVE TOON/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO (ELEPHANTS)

1 DESERT IS LAND Botswana is home to geological oddities, including an outcrop of boulders and baobabs in a sea of sand. Known as Lekhubu, or Kubu Island, it once sat in a vast lake that covered much of the Makgadikgadi salt pans. Locals watch over the site, where they also run a campground for travellers.


■ BOTSWAN A

THE GUIDE

Getting There

Visas

Seasons

Ethiopian Airlines has connecting flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Botswana’s Gaborone Airport via Addis Ababa three times a week. Other airlines require two layovers, usually one at a Middle Eastern hub and another at an African hub like Johannesburg or Nairobi. Air Botswana has daily flights from Gaborone to Maun that take just over an hour. Indian travellers to Botswana require a tourist visa. The application form is available on the website of the Botswana High Commission and must be submitted in person or by a representative along with accompanying documents like flight bookings and hotel reservations (011-46537000; visa fee `3,150; form and complete list of required documents at botswanahighcom.in). Visa processing time is 14 working days. Travellers will need to get a yellow fever vaccine as they are likely to transit through Kenya or Ethiopia. First-time visitors should consider travelling with a safari outfitter; outfitters organise travel arrangements and tailor itineraries to your specifications. The salt pans are at their most evocative, with mirage-like conditions, in the dry season (Jun-Sep). Rains begin mid-November and stay into March, flooding the pans and hydrating nutritious grasses that attract thousands of zebras from Namibia, a 480-kilometre round trip considered the longest of zebra migrations. Between April and October in the other game reserves of Botswana the foliage is scant and animals often gather around water bodies. Day temperatures at the start of this dry season hover around 25°C. They rise steadily in September, sometimes touching 40°C. Nights and early mornings are always cooler in these months. Botswana receives heavy rainfall in January and February, with daytime temperatures around 30°C.

A hippopotamus is a common sight in the Okavango delta.

Other Sights

Atlas

Botswana has ten national parks and game reserves, and the Okavango Delta World Heritage Site. Khama Rhino Sanctuary is a popular stopover for those driving to the northern reserves from Gaborone. The park is a rare haven for the endangered white and black rhinos. The jaw-dropping Tswapong Hills in eastern Botswana rise 1,300 feet, and stretch over 70 kilometres. Deep gorges carved into flat-topped hills, waterfalls, and the occasional sighting of the endangered Cape Griffon vulture adds a dramatic touch. The hills were formed 1,800 million years ago, and remain blessedly free of tourist throngs. Visit the official Botswana Tourism website botswana tourism.co.bw for more information.

l Botswana’s Jwaneng Mine is the world’s richest diamond mine in value, with up to 15 million carats dug annually. l One of Earth’s top concentrations of rock art—more than 4,500 paintings—lies in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert in Tsodilo. l Botswana’s currency is the pula, also a local word for rain, which is critical to this dry nation’s survival.

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

BUENA VISTA IMAGES/STONE/GETTY IMAGES

Orientation

The Makgadikgadi salt pans (part of which is protected as Makgadikgadi Pans National Park) are located amidst dry savannah in northeastern Botswana on the fringe of the Kalahari Desert. The water-rich Okavango Delta is about 200 kilometres to the northwest. Located in the central and eastern parts of Okavango, Moremi Game Reserve is a frontrunner in more than one way and supports the richest ecosystem in the country. Maun is the regional hub for this area, and described as Botswana’s tourism capital. It is about 570 kilometres northwest of the capital Gaborone by air. The privately owned game reserves of the Tuli Block—also in northeastern Botswana—feature diverse flora and fauna. It lies about 530 km/7 hr northeast of Gaborone.

137


GET GOING 143

active holiday Four ways to feel the thunder of Niagara Falls

ADVENTURE

138

adventure Tramping through New Zealand’s lake shores and alpine peaks

Wilderness for Heart and Soul A

ll I could hear was the rain. A torrential deluge from the heavens. I looked up from under the hood of my jacket and glimpsed stormy skies and quivering branches as raindrops stung my face. No point in stopping, I thought, as I continued hiking uphill. This was not what I had imagined my first day on the Kepler Track on New Zealand’s South Island would be like. New Zealand’s Great Walks are world renowned for their dramatic natural beauty and diverse of landscapes. Hikers and backpackers come to experience the grandeur of glacier-carved valleys, dizzying mountain ridges, and tranquil blue lakes. The most popular of the nine designated Great Walks is the Milford Track, for which huts have to be booked several months in advance.

138

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

The mountains of New Zealand’s Southern Alps frame jawdropping views of Lake Te Anau, the largest freshwater lake in Australasia.

The 60-kilometre Kepler Track loop was introduced in 1988 to ease pressure on two other walks—Milford and Routeburn—in Fiordland National Park. However, Kepler is so stunning in its own right that it is now ranked among the most picturesque Great Walks in the country. Hiking and backpacking in New Zealand is called “tramping.” I tramped the entire Kepler Track over four days and three nights, ploughing through beech rainforests, balancing on foot-wide paths atop alpine ridges, and scrambling through valleys gouged by ancient glaciers. I was looking forward to being in the wilderness, away from the modern world and its incessant need for connectivity. I craved solitude and introspection. I found this and more, along with surprising bonds of friendship on the trail.

DAVID WALL/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

A TRAMPING TRAIL THROUGH NEW ZEALAND’S BACKCOUNTRY | BY TRUPTI DEVDAS NAYAK


INTENSITY THE ALPINE CROSSING AND FREQUENTLY WINDY OR RAINY WEATHER MAKES THIS WALK SOMEWHAT ARDUOUS IN PARTS.

ATLAS

Kepler Track, Fiordland, New Zealand

Auckland

NEW ZEALAND Christchurch

ìKepler Track, Fiordland

One-third of New Zealand’s land is reserved solely to create national parks and nature reserves, and for people to enjoy the outdoors and promote ecotourism.

MODERATE

DEMANDING

Zealand’s Great Walks. They are basic but homely accommodations with heating, a common area, kitchen, bunk beds, and toilets. Backpackers have to carry their own sleeping bags and essentials like utensils, matches, and food. Drinking water and cooking gas are available, but there is nothing for purchase. At Luxmore Hut, I met Pat, a passionate and endearing resident ranger who gave us a tour of the premises while sternly reeling off the dos and don’ts. On his suggestion, I hiked 15 minutes to the nearby Luxmore Caves. They are a great place to applaud the handiwork of time while admiring fantastic stalactites and stalagmites. The next morning, a forecast of blue skies meant clear views around the lakes. The weather played an important role on the second day of the Kepler Track because the trail is entirely above the bushline and boasts unobstructed views of sweeping sierras in all directions. I was ready to be blown away and I literally was. Braving wind speeds of 60 kmph, with the snowcapped Murchison Mountains ahead, the south fiord of Lake Te Anau on my right, and grassy slopes on my left, I was on top of the world. The 14.6-kilometre scenic alpine crossing from Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut has two emergency shelters, the Forest Burn Saddle and Hanging Valley. The restrooms with jawdropping views are possibly the most panoramic

BILL HATCHER/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

The starting point for the Kepler Track is the car park on the southern end of Lake Te Anau in Fiordland National Park. But due to the downpour, I took a 15-minute water taxi ride from the town of Te Anau on the eastern shore of the lake to the western shore, where the boat dropped me off at the Brod Bay trailhead. The one thing I quickly learnt is that the weather in New Zealand is utterly unpredictable. Clouds gather and disappear with alarming capriciousness. After hiking past limestone bluffs, panoramic views opened up as I ascended above the bushline (treeline). Taking in emerald green fields of the Te Anau basin, cerulean lakes, and tussock-covered montane forest slopes, I shed my waterlogged jacket with joy, the dreary rain becoming a mere memory. The 8.2-kilometre trail from Brod Bay winds through a red and silver beech forest, climbing resolutely to Luxmore Hut at an elevation of 3,560 feet with views of the Takitimu Mountains. Intrepid hikers aspiring to finish the Kepler Track in 2-3 days often forego staying at Luxmore and continue on the alpine crossing to Iris Burn Hut. But that is not the best thing to do, especially if your goal is to enjoy New Zealand’s majestic natural beauty at a leisurely pace. The huts established by the Department of Conservation are one of the greatest things about New

EASY

The well-maintained trails have boardwalks to cross marshes, steps in steep sections, and and sometimes, more natural aids, like a fallen tree trunk.

MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

139


N EW Z EA L A N D

toilets in the world. New Zealand is a birdwatcher’s paradise. With no natural predators (bats are the only native mammals), there is a thriving bird population. On the Kepler Track, you can see bellbirds, warblers, fantails, robins, and chaffinches. The diminutive rifleman and brown creepers are often seen in the lowland beech forest. While hiking, I encountered many keas, the world’s only alpine parrot. Bright green in colour, keas are known for their intelligence and curiosity. They boldly approach humans and are often found investigating unattended backpacks and tents. At Iris Burn, the brown kiwi’s ear-piercing whistles can be heard at dusk. Back on the alpine crossing, I gazed at the horizon taking in the Jackson peaks and Kepler mountains as they stretched to eternity. Standing on an exposed ridge above the clouds, all other sounds were drowned out except for the howling wind and my own ragged breathing. The wind whipped at my exposed face but I was oblivious to its biting tenacity. All around me was surreal beauty, raw and intense. A two-foot wide trail disappeared into the mountains, criss-crossing alpine pinnacles with sheer drops on either side. Mustard green and yellow tussock grass grew densely on the slopes as patches of snow nestled amongst piles of rocky rubble. I might very well have been in a scene taken directly from the Lord of the Rings movies. After the arduous crossing, I was happy to be hiking downhill towards Iris Burn, even though my knees

140

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

Kepler Track features the highlights of Fiordland, from snowy mountains to sapphire lakes (top); Alpine parrots or keas thrive in this area (bottom).

begged for mercy. After what seemed like hours of walking, Iris Burn Hut finally made an appearance in a large tussock clearing. Seeing the hut in the distance was a welcome sight. It was even more satisfying to walk in and spot familiar faces from the previous night and exchange high-fives with shouts of “You did it!” I met many travellers from all over the world on the Kepler Track, all seeking something beyond the routine of everyday life. We would pass each other on the trail and exchange a thumbs up, a smile, or words

PHOTO COURTESY : TOURISM NEW ZEALAND (LAKE), BRADEN GUNEM/AGE FOTOSTOCK/DINODIA (PARROT)

Get Going |


Don’t forget your flashlight when exploring the cathedrallike Luxmore Caves (top left); Every hut has knowledgeable resident rangers who share insights about flora, fauna, and conservation efforts (top right);The trail is dotted with bridges spanning waterfalls and rivers (bottom).

Moturau Hut would lead me along the Waiau River to the swinging bridge at Rainbow Reach, where a waiting shuttle would transport me back to civilization. Recalling the words of naturalist John Muir, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks,” I realised I had emerged stronger and happier despite the challenges on the walk. Back on the trail one last time, I walked joyfully under towering tree ferns, as misty sunlight filtered through silver beech trees, lighting my way. All I could hear were the birds. MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

141

TRUPTI DEVDAS NAYAK (CAVE & RANGER), PICTURES COLOUR LIBRARY/TRAVEL PICTURES/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE (BRIDGE)

of encouragement. At night, sitting around dining tables, a warm glow pervaded our small community of hikers as we swapped anecdotes about fickle weather and feisty keas. By my third day on the Kepler Track, I felt like an old hand at this tramping business. The 16.2-kilometre trail from Iris Burn to Moturau gently meandered through a rainforest of beech, podocarp, and myriad ferns, framing picturesque waterfalls and lakes. Ranger Beatty at Iris Burn Hut summed it up perfectly, “Yesterday, you hiked rugged peaks and summits, braving high winds and pushing yourself beyond your physical limits. Yesterday was for your body. Today, you will hike through gentle woodland full of birdsong. Today is for your soul.” And so it was. Walking through the beautiful forests, I forgot the arduousness of backpacking and enjoyed the shaded trails, admiring ferns lit by dappled sunlight. The earthy smell of moss tickled my nostrils as I stepped lightly on spongy turf. The previous night’s rain had washed every blade of grass, leaving behind a hundred shades of green. Hiking past a large slip near Rocky Point Shelter, I continued to Moturau which would be my third and final hut on the track. Situated on the placid shores of Lake Manapouri, with stunning views of the surrounding Kepler mountains, Moturau is the perfect site to take in impossibly high peaks while marvelling at how far you’ve come. The fourth and last morning on the Kepler Track dawned bright and clear. The six-kilometre trail from


Get Going |

N EW Z EA L A N D

The Guide

Kepler Track is one of New Zealand’s most popular Great Walks, traversing 60 km in 3-4 days. The route forms a loop starting and ending at the Kepler Track Car Park on the southern shore of Lake Te Anau, making it convenient to plan your entry and exit point. The season typically lasts from late October to late April. It is possible to hike the Kepler Track in the opposite direction starting at Rainbow Reach Car Park and staying at Moturau Hut on the first night. The section of the trail from Rainbow Reach to Moturau Hut on the shores of Lake Manapouri is popular with families who want to experience a shorter part of the track. Stay Each hut on the track where a hiker intends to stay at must be booked online in advance (booking.doc.govt.nz; NZ$54/`2,451 per adult per night). Backpackers typically spend one night each at

142

Luxmore Hut, Iris Burn Hut, and Moturau Hut. There are two campsites as well, which can be booked for NZ$18/`812. Need to Know Tickets for booked huts are available for pick up two days prior to your starting date from Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre at Lakefront Drive in Te Anau. Check with the rangers at

the Visitor Centre before starting the walk to get current information on weather and track conditions. More information is available at www. doc.govt.nz/keplertrack Route Day 1 Hike 5.6 km/1.5 hr from Kepler Track Car Park to Brod Bay and continue 8.2 km/4 hr to Luxmore Hut. An alternative

At one of the huts, a rack of muddy hiking boots in all shapes and sizes, belonging to travellers from around the world.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

is to take the Kepler water taxi from the dock in Te Anau and cut across the lake to Brod Bay, shaving off 1.5 hr from your first day’s hike (www. facebook.com/keplerwatertaxi; +64-27-249 8365; NZ$25/ `1,135 per person). Day 2 Cover the 14.6 km/6 hr alpine crossing from Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut with stunning views of the fiords of Lake Te Anau and the Murchison mountains. There are two emergency shelters along the trail, one at Forest Burn Saddle and one at Hanging Valley. Day 3 Walk 16.2 km/6 hr from Iris Burn Hut to Moturau Hut along the shores of Lake Manapouri. Day 4 Hike 6 km/1.5 hr from Moturau Hut to Rainbow Reach Car Park or continue another 9.5 km/3 hr to Kepler Track Car Park. You can arrange for a pickup from Rainbow Reach Car Park via Tracknet (www. tracknet.net; +64-03-2497777; res@tracknet.net; NZ$12/`545 per person).

FRANS LEMMENES/PHOTOGRAPHER’S CHOICE/GETTY IMAGES (STREAM), TRUPTI DEVDAS NAYAK (SHOES)

From gushing waterfalls to serene lakes, the Kepler Track boasts an abundance of natural beauty. Pack your swim gear for a refreshing dip along the way.


Get Going |

CAN A DA

EASY

MODERATE

DEMANDING

ACTIVE HOLIDAY

INTENSITY WALKING ALONG THE TUNNELS BEHIND NIAGARA FALLS, SAILING IN A BOAT, OR SITTING IN A HELICOPTER FOR A RIDE ABOVE THE FALLS ARE ALL EASY ACTIVITIES.

Feeling the Thunder FOUR WAYS TO EXPERIENCE THE POWER OF NIAGARA FALLS IN CANADA | BY KAREENA GIANANI Horseshoe Falls, the most visited part of Niagara Falls and named for its distinctive shape, is split between the U.S. and Canada. About a third of it falls in the American state of New York, while a majority is in Ontario, Canada.

Niagara Falls made it to my bucket list when it almost stopped in its tracks. In early 2014, a cold wave hit parts of Canada and the U.S. and partially froze the three waterfalls. I remember seeing photograph after photograph of icicles clinging to the rocks surrounding Horseshoe Falls. The American and Bridal Veil falls looked deathly white and still, as if holding their breath. Those frozen images radiated immense power and held me in a curious thrall. BEHIND THE FALLS

Karen Mariano, my pigtailed, 50-something guide, has lived in the town of Niagara Falls all her life. I ask her whether she ever tires of this spectacle, practically in her backyard. She laughs, and says I’ll know better when we ride 150 feet below the Welcome Center in an elevator. “Journey Behind the Falls” involves donning bright yellow rain ponchos, and descending into the Cataract and Great Falls MARCH 2016 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

143

PHOTO COURTESY: NIAGARA FALLS TOURISM

I

hear them before I see them. The thunderous roar of Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada, almost mutes the babble of tourists swarming the observation deck. Mist from the falls clings to me as I move closer to the railing at the foot of the falls. There it is—glistening, emerald waters arching at least 20 storeys down a U-shaped, 2,600-foot-wide crest. This is Horseshoe Falls, the largest of the three falls that make up Niagara Falls. In the distance, just across the Niagara River, I see American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, located in New York state in the U.S. Beside the leviathan that is Horseshoe, they seem puny. We are separated by the Rainbow Bridge, an arched bridge above the river, which connects the two countries. I won’t be crossing it to reach the American side as I don’t have a U.S. visa. My eyes keep straying to the 37,470,338 gallons of water plummeting down Horseshoe’s cliff every minute. Great plumes of mist rise from it and never really clear, as if transfixed; like me.


Get Going |

CA N A DA

Portals: the two, dimly lit tunnels built right behind Horseshoe Falls. The tunnels’ walls are lined with plaques commemorating the history of Niagara Falls and the daredevil stunts attempted here over the past century. I learn that the falls are almost 12,500 years old. Millions before me must have experienced the same fascination I feel today. Some took it to newer heights. For instance, in 1901, an American schoolteacher scooped up her cat and brought her along to ride in a barrel over the falls. The unlikely pioneers emerged unscathed. The second person to attempt the feat a decade later broke his kneecaps and jaw. I have humbler aspirations, delighted just to watch a section of Horseshoe Falls from a door-like opening in the tunnel. About five feet separate me from the water, all spray and roar beyond the barricade. A toddler ahead of me stands with her mouth agape at what must seem like a mythical mist. She occasionally waves her tiny palm in the air, trying to grab hold of it. Karen nods at her and tells me she still feels like that little girl sometimes. She has known the falls before jazzy hotels and casinos sprung up in the area. Every autumn, she waits for the trees around the falls to turn yellow-orange, for the mist to turn to frost. She also remembers couples getting married on the cruise to the falls. There’s no getting enough of Niagara, she says. After emerging from the tunnels, it is time to plunge right into the heart of the falls. A 30-minute boat ride will have me sail past the two American falls and take me very, very close to Horseshoe Falls. I look around at the 200-odd tourists on the upper deck of my boat. Beneath identical red rain ponchos, everybody seems to be having their own private moment with the falls. An elderly couple beside me are holding hands and silently watching two different waterfalls. Two teenagers nearby furiously click pictures on their smartphones. We pass the moss-covered rocks piled at the base of the 100-foot-tall American and Bridal Veil Falls. I’m reminded of those surreal waterfall animations I’ve seen in films. We are rapidly heading towards Horseshoe Falls. It feels like someone has magicked time; everything is happening too fast. Selfie sticks come out in a flash and groups huddle together for photographs. I give my own drenched camera a break and watch seagulls bobbing on the Niagara River below. In seconds, Horseshoe Falls looms above us; its water seems to crash down in slow motion. I am a mere 15 feet away from the falls, soaked and barely able to keep my eyes open through the spray. Only when the boat recedes do I notice the rainbow crowning the falls. UP AND ABOVE

An hour later, I buckle myself into the seat of a helicopter. For 20 dreamy minutes, we will soar right above the falls. For the first time today, all three falls fit into one sweeping frame. Both American falls look

144

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MARCH 2016

Though pricey, the helicopter ride over Niagara Falls is a popular attraction (top); Those who want to feel the power of the falls take an elevator from the Welcome Center 150 feet down to the observation deck to stand in the mist and hear the thunderous roar of the falls (bottom).

like streaks of white painted on the vast, blue Niagara River, but Horseshoe looks like a wild, smoking sea creature. I also take in the dizzying vortex of the Whirlpool Rapids, a four-kilometre whitewater stretch on the river where waves soar to 15 feet. The pilot tells me how some scientists speculate that American Falls could dry up in 2,000 years. Niagara Falls will disappear in 50,000 years due to erosion of its bedrock, he says. Horseshoe Falls now erodes at the rate of one foot per year, and has moved back 11 kilometres in 12,500 years. Bleak as it sounds, it is difficult to imagine that the mighty Niagara Falls can come to an end. It looks indestructible from this vantage point. RAINBOW NIGHTS

Later that night I hop aboard a boat on the Niagara River for a night cruise. My heart thumps in sync with the loud music playing on the deck. I’m surrounded by boisterous groups and move to a quieter spot, beside a couple in a world of their own. Under the coal-black sky, Niagara Falls is lit up in the colours of the rainbow. Every few minutes or so, the colours change, going from pink to blazing red to mythical purple. I remember my conversation

PHOTO COURTESY: NIAGARA FALLS TOURISM (HELICOPTER RIDE), NINO H. PHOTOGRAPHY/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES (TOURISTS)

AT THE HEART OF IT

60fghjkl;  
60fghjkl;  
Advertisement