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.1 s no zIne ' a I Ind Maga vel Tra www.outlooktraveller.com

April 2016 • `100

Su Spemmer cia l

The hills issue

Somewhere elSe?

Jordan

annual ReadeRs’ suRvey Results

Scintillating Srinagar

Secret Kashmir

panchgani

arunachal Food

10 Himalayan Homestays we love

Shikara on the Dal Lake in Srinagar

SabyaSachi Mukherjee

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Will Self

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hotel Vagabond, Singapore

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Contents

april 2016

kashmir

by Colette Austin & Sudip Vairat

srinagar by Amit Dixit

the list: himalayan homestays panchgani by Manasi Mathkar

The dining room at Sitla Estate in Mukteshwar

arunachal pradesh by Sanjiv Valsan

48 60 70 82 90

the hills issue

volume 16 issue 4


Contents editor amit dixit CreAtiVe direCtor bishwadeep moitra deputy editor suman tarafdar Consulting editor nayantara patel AssoCiAte editor lalitha sridhar web editor bibek bhattacharya AssistAnt photo editor shruti singh stAff photogrApher puneet k. paliwal senior designer joyita banerjee designer gulshan sharma produCtion AssistAnt kuldeep kalia librAriAn alka gupta

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BUSINESS OFFICE eXeCutiVe direCtor indranil roy AdVertiseMents ViCe president swastik banerjee senior generAl MAnAger kabir khattar (corporate) Asst. generAl MAnAger megha mishra (north & west) regionAl MAnAger anthony joseph (bangalore) rekha upreti (west) brAnd & MArKeting shrutika dewan circulation nAtionAl heAd anindya banerjee Asst. generAl MAnAgers g. ramesh (south) vinod kumar (north) zonAl sAles MAnAger arun kumar jha (east) MAnAger vinod joshi MAnAger shekhar suvarna ProDuction Asst. generAl MAnAger shashank dixit senior MAnAger shekhar kumar pandey MAnAger sudha sharma deputy MAnAger ganesh sah AssistAnt MAnAger gaurav shrivas accountS CoMpAny seCretAry & lAw offiCer ankit mangal senior MAnAger diwan singh bisht

114 130 Features 24 goa carnival

by Precious Kamei

42 world sacred spirit festival by Sheetal Vyas

Sydney Opera House

114 annual readers’ survey 130 jordan

page 140

gearbox 26

by Ranee Sahaney

HEAD OFFICE ab-10, s.j. enclave, new delhi 110029 tel: 33505500; fax: 26191420 customer care helpline: 011-33505562, 33505500 e-mail: outlook@outlookindia.com for subscription helpline: yourhelpline@outlookindia.com other officeS mumbai tel: 33545000; fax: 33545100 kolkata tel: 33545400; fax: 24650145 CHENNai tel: 42615224, 42615225 fax: 42615095 bENgaluru tel: 45236100; fax: 45236105 printed and published by indranil roy on behalf of outlook publishing (india) private limited. editor: amit dixit. printed at international print-o-pac limited, c4-c11, phase ii noida, and published from ab-10 safdarjung enclave, new delhi 110029. released on 01-04-2016 total no. of pages 144 + Covers

NO .1 E ZIN IA' S IND MA GA EL TR AV www.outlooktraveller.com

Regulars

April 2016 • `100

SUM MER SPEC IAL

THE HILLS ISSUE

SOMEWHERE ELSE?

JORDAN

ANNUAL READERS’ SURVEY RESULTS

Scintillating Srinagar

Secret Kashmir

Panchgani

Arunachal Food

10 Himalayan Homestays we love

Shikara on the Dal Lake in Srinagar

SABYASACHI MUKHERJEE

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WILL SELF

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HOTEL VAGABOND, SINGAPORE

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Cover Photograph: alamy/indiapicture

8 insider 10 letters 14 ask marco 18 nsew 30 hotels 40 go now 140 back of the book


hidesign.com


ot 04/ 16 ● insider

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

So, I juSt came back from SrInagar. I last went to kashmir in 1982, as a five-year-old, and returned teeming with memories (and goodies). that was a proper vacation, with family and friends, houseboat and snow. this time, I went for just a day, a rush job really. and... returned teeming with memories (and goodies). I bought me a miniature shikara in 1982. Ditto, 2016. not that I look to social media for validation, but the one picture I posted on my profile made a decent number of people jealous. comments ranged from “this luks awsme....” to, simply, “Yummy”. and we were talking about tulips, not tabak maaz. that’s the thing about kashmir—it’s good enough to eat. but for too long it remained an absence in my mind—to me, it was a place where other people went. now that I know what I’ve been missing and have kicked myself sufficiently, I’m plotting my return. of course, there is kashmir beyond Srinagar; indeed, beyond gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg. We spill the beans on five other destinations which need to be on your next kashmir itinerary. elsewhere in the issue we, quite literally, discover the Parsi flavours of Panchagani. our food porn section showcases the multifarious delights of arunachal Pradesh. We promise you, you’ll be begging for more. and, for the practical traveller who looks to us for guidance, there’s our handpicked list of Himalayan homestays for the season (with enough variety to please everyone, I think). also, the results of our annual readers’ survey are finally in. Should you be tempted to visit any of these destinations or offerings, we’ve added some useful info to help you along. just turn to p. 114 and start planning. —AMIT DIXIT

Posing among the tulips in Srinagar

@amitdixit

CONTRIBUTORS#

Along with the written word, ManaSi MatHkaR loves to pursue anything and everything that makes her heart happy— she’s currently fancying mastering Taekwondo. In her spare time, she can be seen searching for Aladdin’s lamp—with its genie, of course.

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In the line of duty, photographer and writer Sanjiv valSan divides his bipolar existence between photographing grungy streets in Mumbai and Himalayan village life in India’s Northeast, where he’s working on a book on the food and culture of the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh and teaching photography to tribal kids.

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

Being up-close and personal with a snarling tigress from atop an elephant in Bandhavgarh, riding the waves on a hovercraft to Capri, climbing into the heart of the pyramid in Giza, wilting from overkill of painterly splendour at the Vatican—there’s no chance of a career change for Ranee SaHaney.

Colette auStin and Sudip vaiRat are avid travellers, especially drawn to unexplored nooks and corners where no one ventures. They take risks and tumbles, and they hope to travel most of India on a bike. Up next are Ladakh, Sikkim and Bhutan.

A good day for SHeetal vyaS is one in which she has time to sit and sway to a good qawwali. She recently discovered that sitting in Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort while doing this adds a certain lustre to that activity. (Note to Universe: She is very willing to go to Udaipur next, preferably in the rains.)


letters NO .1 NE A' S ZI IN DI MA GA EL www.outlooktraveller.com TR AV

LETTER OF THE MONTH

March 2016 • `100

INTERNATIONAL SPECIAL

EXPERIENTIAL HOLIDAYS Peru Tradition Farmstay Italy History in Armenia Sleepless Seattle Luxury Dubai

RAJASTHAN The Best Bike Trip Ever SOMEWHERE ELSE?

SIKKIM

Vineyards, Monti del Chianti, Tuscany

THE LIST Must-visit in 2016 PANKAJ KAPUR

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GIORGIO LOCATELLI

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JEHAN NUMA RETREAT, BHOPAL

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There is no exaggeration when I say that ‘OT made me meet god in heaven’. Every OT Reader must have similar emotions after visiting the Andaman Islands. The reason behind giving all the credit of imbibing this heavenly experience to you is that since our childhood we are taught that Andaman means ‘Kala Pani’, which sounds ferocious and scary. However, after going through many features in OT in a span of five years about this ‘God’s Own Land’, I decided to visit the place in the first week of January and got refurbished to the soul. The undying love of freedom fighters for their nation through Cellular Jail, god’s painting prowess through Radha Nagar on Havelock island, the virgin beauty of the rising and setting sun and other aspects made me love my country more and feel nearer to god.

liked the international features. I was impressed by the way you looked at how the luxury visitor experiences Dubai. I frequently visit on work, and am looking forward to more developments in Dubai as it prepares to host the 2020 World Expo. Why didn’t you include Emirates’ First Class in your article?

Congratulations on a lovely edition of Outlook Traveller. I am so happy to see so many new international destinations covered in this edition. I have been a reader of OT for many years, and have enjoyed reading about the many destinations you have covered. In this edition, I was happy to read about places like Armenia and Peru (OT, March 2016), which you have made accessible to us readers. Armenia is a place we have been considering as it is not too far, and seems not as expensive. I am interested in the history of the churches there as I read, and the article also mentions that it was the first country to have Christianity as its official religion. I would also like to explore church tours in Armenia. ViJay Kumar, dehradun

m

m

Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for inspiring me to have the experience of a lifetime.God willing, I will experience his other creations like Armenia’s round breads, Tuscan greens, Dubai’s delicacies, an NFL game in the US, Seattle’s skyline and Peru—the global spread showcased by you in experiential holidays in the March 2016 issue. B. aJit, delhi

I am an avid reader of your magazine and love each bit and byte of it. In the March issue, a reader has objected to the tonnes of advertisements coming regularly on OT pages. He wanted to scrap the ads and wants some good write-ups on the pages. In

m

ViKram motwane, pune

Many congrats for the Outlook Traveller international issue. Most

m

of the features were nice and informative. I liked the homestay options in Tuscany and the journey in Armenia. Even Seattle, which I had visited a couple of years ago, I want to go again to follow all the places mentioned here. For Peru, could I request Outlook Traveller

short, he wants the old days back. I strongly oppose the idea. I feel that advertisements do the work of oxygen for the smooth running of a magazine. A magazine without ads is just like a man without food. All the ads have some information to discover and some message to share. Sometimes, a big dose of essays and write-ups fail to attract and ads steal the show. Moreover, ads keep our favourite OT price tag balanced. Without ads, the price of OT will rise a lot, I guess. In short, I’m loving it.

to write another article about the destination, especially Macchu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca? This article does not tell me about Peru from a tourist’s point of view, and I plan to visit Peru and the rest of South America soon. prema rao, ViSaKhapatnam

OF THE LETTER WINS! MONTH

Sandeep Kumar, amritSar

As usual, the Outlook Traveller edition was a welcome relief the from most otherNortheast magazines. I

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getaways

www.outlooktraveller.com

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WE’VE NARROWED IT DOWN FOR YOU. HERE’S OUTLOOK TRAVELLER’S BUCKET LIST OF WHERE TO GO IN 2016. AND WHY

R’16

ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

■ Indulge yourself by staying in a cottage at one of the working tea estates in Sikkim or Assam ■ Explore some of the most wellknown national parks and sanctuaries in the country such as Kaziranga to relatively unknown treasures such as Namdapha and Phawngpui ■ Partake in religious fervour and tribal traditions at monasteries, temples and cultural festivals across the region ■ Find information on what to do in each destination, several hotel options, and extensive tourist and travel information to help you discover each destination

Bogotá, Colombia Poster child for rebirth

2

the

Northeast

The NorTheasT

COVER STORY THE LIST

getaways

Outlook Traveller Getaways presents an exclusive guide to the Northeast

getaways

Not so long ago, Colombia was the byword of glamour gone wrong, and Bogotá seen as the acme of a city in chaos. DeterOTHER POPULAR TRAVELLER GETAWAYS mination has seen the city transform intoTITLES one FROM withOUTLOOK a world-leading public transport system, 300km of bicycle and walking trails, and a green network of 1,200 parks and quality public spaces. Add an entire historic city, and it’s easy to see why it is referred to as the Athens of South America. The best of Bogotá is a treasure of museums, art galleries, international fairs and cultural events. ISBN 978-81-89449-58-2

` 395

978-81-89449-58-2

` 395

sponsored by

sponsored by

Cover Design Deepak Suri

The letter of the month has bagged a copy of the new Northeast guide from Outlook Traveller Getaways.

Hokkaido, Japan

Direct connection on the Shinkansen

ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

3

It’s taken a while coming (the ambitious project began in 2005) but the bullet train is finally set to speed its way into southern Hokkaido, more precisely to the port city of Hakodate, on March 26. Transportation time will not only be cut down marvellously, it will also open up the famously scenic region to eager visitors—the large northern island of Hokkaido is a wilderness paradise of pristine mountains, forests, lakes and seashore. Tourism infrastructure is already expanding. The first service, a 148km stretch via the undersea Seikan Tunnel, will connect the Shin-Aomori Station in Aomori Prefecture to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station in Hokkaido (Hakodate will be 15min away by shuttle). Eventually, by 2030, the Hokkaido Shinkansen will connect the ShinAomori Station to Sapporo 360km away. The most anticipated development is the reduction in travel time between Tokyo and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto from 5.5 hours to four hours.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Suprisingly little known

1

It’s surprising that Africa’s fourth largest city and the vast continent’s diplomatic capital is known so little to the world outside—Addis Ababa is home to the African Union, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and several other international organisations. But if the Ethiopian capital is the gateway to another world of opportunity and riches to rural Ethiopians, the sprawling megalopolis of contrasts is also at the mysterious cusp of the ancient and the contemporary for visitors from elsewhere. Named for a ‘new flower’ in Amharic, the official language of the 88 spoken in Ethiopia, the city was founded as the place from which Emperor Menelik II’s wife could enjoy mineral baths with her friends. It’s also the birthplace of coffee and—in a metro of great bazaars, historic walks, venerated churches, stately government buildings and plentiful museums—traditional coffee ceremonies honour guests in the old way. FETZE WEERSTRA/VWPICS/AGE FOTOSTOCK/DINODIA PHOTO

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OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • MARCH 2016

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• Keep wriTing To us aT: outlook Traveller, aB-10 safdarjung enclave, new Delhi 110029 letters@outlooktraveller.com Please note that Outlook Traveller will not be held responsible for the return of unsolicited material, including photographs.


O C R A M K S A

I am planning a trip to Myanmar with a friend this April. Now, I know that may be one of the worst times to visit the country given the heat of the Burmese summer. However, we decided to go during the hot low season to make the best of low crowds and costs. It’s a 7-day trip and we are trying to cover the best of the country. Here’s our plan and I would love to hear your suggestions. On Day 1, we are flying out of Bengaluru to Yangon via Bangkok and spending two days in Yangon, exploring the pagodas and lakes. Could you give us some shopping tips in the city? On Day 2, in the evening, we plan to take a bus out of Yangon to Bagan. We’re not very sure of where to stay— Nyaung U, Old Bagan or New Bagan? We plan to be in Bagan till the end of Day 5. Now, here’s the biggest dilemma. With the region promising so much, we’re not sure what’s best to cover in hardly three days. There are the temples

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OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

scattered all over the region, Mt Popa, Salay, a boat ride over the Irrawady, viewing the sunset, and exploring the lacquerware industry. Please help us plan the best of Bagan in three days. On Day 5, we plan to take an evening bus to Inle Lake and stay over till the following evening. This stay is more relaxed with perhaps a visit to the weekday market and a ride on the lake. We will take a bus back to Yangon on the evening of Day 6, and have half a day in the city till we catch our flight back home. Please suggest changes to the above plan. Note that we have a budget of `80,000 per person and constraints over the length of the vacation. John Jethi, via e-mail

I can see you have done some pretty decent groundwork so your itinerary must match your interests, which leaves me room to just suggest improvements within it. Thus, to your questions: you won’t

marco polo's troubleshooting guide The stunning shrines at Bagan

have much time for shopping in Yangon so head straight for the tourist-friendly Bogyoke Aung San Market, which is packed with over 1,600 shops selling exquisite lacquerware, superb jade jewellery, personalised silk longyis, and reliable antiques—good stuff, but not cheap. If you like the idea of picking up top clothing brands at half price while in Yangon, try Junction Square. A few more suggestions: you can do the 50km loop on the Yangon Circle Line—for a ticket price of a dollar, you can get a real sense of the city, and hop off wherever you like. Try the commonly available lahpethoke (pronounced ‘lapeto’), a pickled tea leaf salad with dried shrimps, sesame seeds and onions. Consider splurging about `1,000 per person on an elegant, sumptuous and authentic Myanmarese meal at the Monsoon Restaurant on Thein Phyu Road (where the likes of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton have been hosted). Pomelo, their

gallery above stairs, has some nice and inexpensive souvenirs. Check if your dates fit in Thingyan, the water festival in April (it’s the Myanmarese New Year), in which waterthrowing stages are set up all over the country. Only monks are spared so be prepared to be liberally hosed—it’s refreshing in the searing heat! Generally speaking, your money will travel far in Myanmar, so you’ll find yourself being able to indulge more than you anticipated. But carry easily accepted Thai baht to change everywhere—it’s painful to get highly scrutinised American dollars converted (only near-perfect, creaseless notes will pass muster). There are no ATMs and credit cards won’t work. Onward to Bagan. New Bagan has decent mid-range hotels but it’s awfully cut off from everything that matters, making its location a definite disadvantage. Old Bagan is a very atmospheric part of town with lovely hotels and a lively market, but it’s too expensive


for anyone on a budget. So I would say go with Nyaung U— plenty of transport to sites that matter, accommodation that’s easy to afford and dozens of eateries. Don’t get hassled by how much ground you have to cover in Bagan. For a short visit, focus on the most visited shrines. There’s the holiest Shwezigon, and there are three important temples—the ancient threestory Htilominlo, the Jataka frescoes at Gubyaukgyi, and the Kyansittha Umin cave shrine— that could make one (rushed) morning. Then take your pick from the Sein Nyet, Nyima, Ama and Mingalazedi pagodas, and the Manuha and Nanpaya temples over the rest of the day. Stop along the way at a lacquer workshop, and wrap up with the ethereal sunset from the Shwe San Daw pagoda. The culture trail is best experienced on rented bicycles with the help of an English-speaking guide (the commentary is useful, often socio-political too). Begin the second day with the scenic sunrise balloon tour and then take in the 12th century Dhammayangyi temple (finest brickwork in all of Bagan), Thatbyinnyu (the tallest temple), and the architecturally extraordinary Ananda shrine, leaving the Sulamani temple in Minnanthu village, and the hollow gu-style Gawdawpalin for the afternoon. Ask about a short boat trip on the Irrawaddy around sunset—most standard cruises and ferries ply the daylong Myanmar-Bagan (or vice versa) route, for which you won’t have time. And yes, Mount Popa, Taung Kalat (do make the climb) and Salay are therefore left for Day 3. Air Bagan has reasonably priced flights to Bagan from Yangon, which saves time and energy. It’s worth spending this money—the bus journey can get torturous, especially in the heat.

I want to make a weekend family trip in April, and my

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OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

daughter is three-and-a-half months old. I stay in Delhi and I don’t want to waste a lot of time travelling. Please suggest a place that’s child-friendly. I also want to travel with my family for about 4-6 days within India, sometime around October-November. Here, the budget is not a constraint. I was thinking of Kerala, the Andamans, or the Northeast. Again, please suggest a childfriendly place. Gaurav Nakra, via e-mail

I would advise you to pick from one of the many nice resorts that are a couple of hours away from Delhi by road, and check in for a purely relaxing weekend in which you can enjoy your baby without stressing over itineraries. Some options: the Mud Fort at Kuchesar, Pratapgarh Farms in Jhajjar, the Golden Turtle at Manesar, Laksh Farms in Faridabad, the Thakran property in Pataudi, the Westin Sohna and, if you are feeling more ambitious, the Neemrana Fort Palace, Bharatpur, Agra or Dehradun, in that order. Only because getting around at your destinations would be more demanding in the Northeast or the Andamans, I would suggest heading to Kerala to explore a non-mountainous region such as a village by a beach (Varkala, Mararikulam, Kovalam, Poovar, Bekal) or the backwaters (Alappuzha, Cherai, Kumarakom, Kuttanad). The latter is a longer drive from well-connected Kochi, which deserves a couple of days of leisurely exploration and heritage hoteliering by itself. I have another laidback proposition for your consideration: Pondicherry, which also has a lot of historic areas and a beautiful seashore to explore. Do not miss out on nearby Auroville.

We are two friends travelling to Leh for five days in the second week of April. We want to know

Lamayuru Monastery in Ladakh PRASHANT PANJIAR

about the travel itinerary and accommodation options there. GurviNder siNGh, via e-mail

Five days is going to leave you breathless, and I am not even referring to altitude sickness (for the acclimatisation of which you must give a day or two, if you are arriving from the plains by flight). Still, you should be able to catch some stunning highlights in and around Leh. One way to start would be a long day on the road to see the ancient monasteries at Mulbekh, Lamayuru, Likir and Alchi (Mulbekh being the farthest and Alchi the closest to Leh), the hauntingly beautiful ruins of Basgo and, finally, Nimo, where the Zanskar and Indus meet. Hemis, Thiksey, Matho and Chemerey can be covered in another day. Give a day or two to excursions—the drive up to Khardung La (you may not have enough time for an overnight stay at Nubra Valley) and a visit to scenic and now famous

Pangong Tso (5-6 hours each way via stunning moonscapes and craggy mountains). Leh itself will need a day, at least— the Leh and Shey palaces, the LAMO Centre for Arts, Shanti Stupa, terrific local food at the many cafés, shopping at the overflowing stores that dot the market. You can also go river rafting from Phey to Nimo. You don’t mention a budget so here’s a stay each across price ranges: there’s Leh’s first claim to luxury, the Grand Dragon (from `8,000; thegranddragonladakh. com, +91-99069-86782/9622997222), the reliable Kang Lha Chen (from `3,500, hotel-klcleh. com +91-19822-52144), or the basic but popular Oriental Ladakh Hotel and Guest House at Changspa (from `1,750, ladakhoriental@yahoo.co.in, +9119822-53153). Travel confusion? Email mpolo@outlook india.com. Please note that Marco will reply to selected questions only in the magazine.


E D I T E D B Y S U M A N TA R A F D A R

NORTH SOUTH EAST WEST

The exterior of St Olav’s Church reflects the rather eclectic building traditions of early 19th-century Bengal

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20 souvenir 21 jet airways launches daily flights to amsterdam 22 sabyasachi 24 goa carnival 26 gearbox

serampore

when bells toll again

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here’s a special treat this Poila Boisakh in Bengal. The 210-yearold St Olav’s Church in Serampore will be rededicated after an extensive restoration project. The church has been restored as part of the Danish government’s Serampore Initiative project. The initiative was launched by the National Museum of Denmark in conjunction with the West Bengal Heritage Commission in 2012 in keeping with the revival plans of the former Danish colony once known as Frederiksnagore. St Olav’s Church, locally known as the ‘Danish Church’, boasts of a royal monogram of Danish king Christian VII. The church bells are no longer in use, but one of them bears the inscription ‘Frederiksvaerk 1804’, indicating its origins from a Danish iron factory of yore. Parishioners and locals in the area are eagerly awaiting the rededication mass and the Wine and Cheese ceremony on April 16. The church was maintained by Serampore College, but was closed down when its roof collapsed in 2013. The two-crorerupee restoration sees the church get a state-of-the-art sound system, new cable lines and stone flooring. The wooden rafters in the ceiling have been replaced with steel beams too. SANDIPAN CHATTERJEE

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

19


souvenir

not a dal moment puneet k. paliwal

app watch

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• What the gondoLa iS to Venice, the Shikara iS to kaShmir. You can’t think of one without the other. So what better memory aid for a memorable trip to Srinagar than this royal blue, miniature shikara with papier-mâché accents? Elegant and cheerful, and ubiquitous on the Dal, shikaras are at the very core of Kashmiri commerce. They transport everything—from passengers to flowers, vegetables and more. Some are literally shops—trinket sellers, chaiwalas, kababchis, all ply their trade from shikaras. And, of course, they ferry lovelorn tourists all over the Dal. I paid a mere `70 for this specimen, after some friendly early-morning bargaining outside the Tulip Garden. I’m eyeing a houseboat next, made of walnut n amit dixit wood, no less. 

all in one Have you ever been flustered by travel bookings and itineraries being all over the place? Well, help of sorts is at hand by the way of, what else, but an app! tripcase aims to provide for us travellers some peace of mind by organising our multiple flights, hotel reservations and plans in one place. Users have to sign up for the app, and once a flight or hotel booking is done, they have to forward the confirmation to an email address. The app then loads the booking into its system. If your flight is delayed or changed, notifications are automatically shared with the user. The information is conveyed chronologically, and though it comes automatically, users can make manual changes as required. For example, if your flight is delayed, then you could alter the check-in time in the app. While travelling by air, TripCase will let you know if the flight is on time, the length of the layover, and whether there were any gate or terminal changes. Invaluable if you are changing flights in a hurry in an unfamiliar terminal, but of little use anywhere else during the journey. Also, in what may be a boon for worrying guardians, users can follow along others’ itineraries. This allows families or friends to keep tabs on someone’s travel, without anyone having to post anything. Unlike the similar TripIt, however, TripCase is not only free, it has limited access to your mailbox unlike the former. The interface is clean and the information provided succinct, doing away with a lot of the unnecessary content that comes by the way of confirmation mails. Available on iOS and Android, as well as in a web version. n suman tarafdar

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

 spottedbylocals.com

Do you finD travel guiDes, once the hardy traveller’s top companion, to be outdated now? For most users, new millennium guides are on their fingertips, or well clicks. Updated content is in demand, and sites such as Spotted by Locals have been immensely popular in the way they have gone about delivering updated and interesting content. The site was started by an Amsterdam-based couple, Sanne & Bart van Poll, who decided to have city guides written by locals they personally selected. These locals then keep updating the guides. The text is often written with the local flavour evident even in the writing, though purists may get irritated by the idiomatic style. The site has been appreciated for its reliable content and insights for off the beaten track detours in various cities. Each city further subdivides into sections such as restaurants, shopping, cinema, bars, relaxing and more—all of which review the latest developments in their cities. I discovered places not easily found on tourist itineraries, such as Zagreb’s Hrelic Flea Market or Ljubljana’s floating barge bars. For Stockholm, visiting the second hand stores or ‘Loppis’ were definitely an unusual choice. Even in major tourist hubs such as London or San Francisco, using this site yields little known treasures. On the flip side, while this is great site to discover ‘happening’ places in the main European cities, its presence elsewhere is still limited. Currently, there are 66 guides, of which just 11 are not in Europe. The site now also has apps (only partially free) and the guides are also available offline. The website also offers a hotel and apartment search. n st

siteseeing


indian railways

EATING ON THE MOVE

E

ATING OUT IN TRAINS, which has not always been as pleasurable as it could be, looks to be a far easier experience from now on. The e-catering service of Indian Railways, allowing passengers to book their meal in advance and have it delivered on the coach, has been extended to 408 stations from 45 large ones at present. Passengers can book meals under this scheme through mobile phones or email. This service will also include home food prepared by women. Initially, e-catering service was train-specific and made available on 1,350 trains. A 12 per cent commission will be levied for this service though.

cvisas

BIOMETRICS, ON DEMAND

V

FS GlObAl hAS mAde INTeRNATIONAl travelling simpler with their recently unveiled top-tier service, ‘On demand mobile biometrics’. This facility will enhance the flexibility of the visa application experience—the biometrics test can now be conducted in the personal space of individuals. The new service is designed specifically for customers who want to sit back and relax while their visa application is taken care of, in the comfort of their home, office or any location of choice. The ‘On demand mobile biometrics’ service is available to individuals and groups, such as corporate employees, or families, who prefer not to travel to the visa application centres to apply. Instead, a small team from VFS will travel to the applicant’s chosen location to complete the biometric enrolment process (capturing fingerprint scans and a photograph).

orlando

NORTH BY NORTHEAST

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T IS A RARe TRAVelleR FOR whOm the Northeast of India is not high on getaways the bucket list. The the whens and hows of getting there haveNortheast been something of a challenge though. well, Outlook Traveller Getaways: The Northeast contains answers to most common traveller queries regardthe ing these alluring, magical and still relatively pristine parts of India. This comprehensive yet affordable tome introduces the reader to the eight states in the region in individual sections. There are also separate chapters introducing separate aspects of the area, such as the cuisines, festivals, crafts, famed wildlife of the region and even the river systems. discover the best times to travel to the region, how to get around once you are there and what to keep in mind, before and during travel. detailed route maps and stunning colour images capturing the unusual panoramas make it a pleasure to browse through as well as a must-carry companion for travel to the Northeast. getaways

www.outlooktraveller.com

getaways

Outlook Traveller Getaways presents an exclusive guide to the Northeast

Indulge yourself by staying in a cottage at one of the working tea estates in Sikkim or Assam Explore some of the most wellknown national parks and sanctuaries in the country such as Kaziranga to relatively unknown treasures such as Namdapha and Phawngpui ■ Partake in religious fervour and tribal traditions at monasteries, temples and cultural festivals across the region ■ Find information on what to do in each destination, several hotel options, and extensive tourist and travel information to help you discover each destination ■

The NorTheasT

OTHER POPULAR TITLES FROM OUTLOOK TRAVELLER GETAWAYS

ISBN 978-81-89449-58-2

` 395

978-81-89449-58-2

` 395

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Cover Design Deepak Suri

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In its bid to reach a greater number of passengers globally, Jet Airways has announced Amsterdam as its new european gateway, replacing brussels and codeshare partnerships with Klm and delta Airlines. The carrier commenced operations with daily non-stop flights from delhi, mumbai and Toronto from march 27. Klm and delta Air lines will offer one-stop codeshare access to 30 destinations across europe and 11 destinations in the US and Canada to Jet passengers, all on a Jet ticket.

Northeast


NSEW ● fellow traveller books. So, for me, travel is still the most potent source of inspiration. What is your most unforgettable travel memory? When I was a child I took the toy train with my parents in Darjeeling. It was the first time I had seen the hills and I have vivid memories of the rolling hills and the steamed momos being served in Kurseong. What does a holiday mean for you? A holiday is a place where I can go and be in a meditative state. I like to go on a holiday where I don’t have to do much. Any secluded beach anywhere in the world works fine with me. Which places are on your bucket list? Peru, Africa, New Zealand, Prague and Argentina. A favourite travel fantasy for you? I want to travel in Europe by the Orient Express because I love train journeys.

SAbYASAchI fashion designer

TRAVEL, IN STYLE What are the main inspirations for your design? Have any places inspired your work? Meaningful design is always about acknowledging who you are and where you come from. Hence, for me, a reflection of Calcutta in what I do, for example, is not a necessity, it’s a natural instinct. I am inspired by our cultural past. I draw inspiration from everything around me, be it people, books, films, the forest and, often silence. In this channels obsessed generation, you are made to touch everything without absorbing anything. This is the biggest cause of burn-out. I am discovering the music of silence in my life which is currently too cluttered. Silence is my inspiration. That inspires me. Right now, space design is becoming a passion. My stores are my indulgence. I worked very hard and immersed myself in designing the Delhi store where you can browse through a world detached from reality.

What do you always carry when you travel? A t-shirt and shorts, a pair of flip-flops, my phone, my toothbrush and a moisturiser. What do you usually like to read when you travel? When I travel I don’t like to read anything because I am a very visual person. From the moment my journey begins, I like to soak in the environment around me. n

suman tarafdar

What do you like, and dislike, about travel? When travel becomes routine it is not fun any more and fatigue of repetition sets in. But travel also opens up many possibilities for inspiration which are often more tactile than reading about them in theory and in design

IT WAS THE FIRST TIME I HAD SEEN THE HILLS AND HAVE VIVID MEMORIES OF THE ROLLING HILLS AND THE STEAMED MOMOS BEING SERVED IN KURSEONG 22 OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

Top to bottom: Travelling by the Orient Express is a travel fantasy; a pair of flip flops is a must-have travel companion; and visiting Prague is on his bucket list


NSEW ● just back

ViVa la goa!

the Goa carnival is big, chaotic, colourful and extremely charming, writes Precious Kamei

F

irst, let me conFess. i don’t like beaches and think it has something to do with the uneven distribution of sand between my toes—a weird ocD of course. so when i was given the Goa assignment, i had mixed feelings. Anyway, i was on my way and hoped for good things on my first visit to Goa! carnival fever had gripped the city. All the roads to Panjim were packed with vehicles; we could hear the music; a helicopter was showering the carnival venue with flowers. i was worried about missing the carnival due to the traffic jam. thankfully, we weren’t very late, and all around me were people in masks and feathered headgear—i wondered if i’d landed up in the middle of the parade. But no, the excited people in front of me were spectators. i had to wind my way through the dancing crowd to get to the media enclosure. While the Goa carnival, from 6-9 February, is all glitzy and boisterous, it’s the people and their enthusiasm that makes it a success. the parade was gorgeous and the excitement contagious. the floats went past the podium where the judges sat. i live in Delhi, so my perception of ‘big events’ have been negative—unruly crowds and over-eager law enforcement. things are quite different in Goa. the congregation of thousands of people of all ages—foreign tourists included—took me by surprise, because all i saw was a disciplined crowd, busy singing and dancing, having fun and not bothering anyone. the floats caught my attention. Goa seemed to be all gung-ho about responsible tourism. there were floats depicting rural, self-sustaining communities, nature 24

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

conservation, forests, swachh Bharat, recycling etc. i especially liked the minions float—made entirely out of used plastic bottles—and a float depicting a typical Konkani village community. such fun! travellers have always been fascinated with the carnival and i could see why. the carnival’s star—King momo—and the history behind the festival initially registered with me as much pomp and show. When i read up on how it had been about the complex role-play between the colonial rulers and their subjects, i’d expected something like street performances depicting the olden days. But the actual carnival is anything but. Portuguese lifestyle, yes, but colonial guilt-trip, a big ‘no’. it was kind of nice to know that the shadow of colonialism has been successfully removed by the locals’ openness, generosity and tolerance towards other cultures—possibly because of the positive influence of tourism, and also the inherently liberal streak common to most Goans. But there was a downside to all this—the traffic. When you take an hour and a half to cover a few hundred yards, that isn’t that nice. coincidentally, that very day, the city was celebrating the Grape escapade, a food and lifestyle fest, as well. maybe hosting two big events on the same day isn’t a very people-friendly idea! one thing i regretted—not being able to get a carnival mask. i’d like to say that i failed to get through the sea of people to go to the shops, but the truth was that, there i was, busy gawking myself silly at the parade and getting fascinated by the minute at the kids doing back-flips. Go figure! The Goa Carnival is held in February annually (goatourism.gov.in)


NSEW ● Gearbox

Funcart luggage tag For those who like to express personal statements, Funcart has a variety of luggage tags. There’s Angry Bird, Doraemon, Superman, Snoopy and many more. The more direct ‘Hands Off’ or ‘Back Off’ or ‘Not your bag’ or the politer ‘Sorry, it’s mine’, in different colour combos, might appeal more to frequent flyers. `199, funcart.in

panaSonic toughBook

timeleSS travel SamSonite Black laBel imperia Far be it for us to suggest black luggage for air travel—that’s just an invitation for your bag to find a new home, and only sometimes temporarily. We are making an exception for this one, despite what the name may suggest. Samsonite’s Black Label, the brand’s strongest line, hitherto available in the Firelite and Cosmolite collections, now offers Imperia in a new premium range of soft-sided luggage. It comes in two variations—chocolate with beige detailing and latte with brown detailing. This recently launched range has been designed with the idea of the golden age of travel, so the looks are classic. Read that to mean luxurious details—soft leather feel, leather details, perfect stiches, all set in herringbone fabric. Refined bling comes by way of gold detailing in the logo plate and the zipper pullers. There’s a front pocket for greater ease of access. Inside, it’s spacious and has separate pouches for shoes and laundry. The range comes in four sizes of Spinner suitcasesp as well as a duffel bag with wheels. Choose your comfort size! From `19,500 onwards, samsoniteindia.com.

The semi-rugged Panasonic Toughbook CF-54 is the most versatile and lightweight PC of its kind. With military-grade ruggedness, it is ideal for fieldwork across business verticals and acts as an all-in-one utility device. And despite its looks, it weighs just 1.99 kg and is 29.8 mm in width. `1,12,000, panasonic.com

dieSel l-Breaking Fendi eyeShine Well, here’s an eyewear accessory to add oomph to your travels. Fendi’s EyeShine sunglasses have a stand-out magnetic all-over mirrored effect, especially with the enamel graphic line framing the thick lenses and matching the lens colours. The see-through outline emphasises the floating geometry of the frame. The frame within a frame shape seeks to create harmony between the perfect round lenses and the metal mirror-effect brow-bar, conveying a modern cat-eye feeling to the shape. `34,900, available at the Fendi Boutique in Delhi. 26

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

The Diesel Men’s De-Breaking Backpack is a denim and leather backpack which comes in deep blue. It’s about 12.5” long and 16.5” in height with a width of four inches. Flap pockets with pressstud fastening and a top carry handle are pluses. Padded mesh panels on the back face make it comfy. $360, diesel.com


H

ong Kong is not only one of the top tourist attractions in the world, it’s also famously the world’s leading family-friendly destination. The weather stays tropically balmy through the year, it’s safe and welcoming, and the ease of commuting, low pollution, tidiness and modern infrastructure all around, with everything within affordable reach, makes for a rather special kids-inclusive holiday. Though Hong Kong is the vibrant, busy and cosmopolitan home to seven million people in only 426 square miles (making it the world’s most vertical city with over 7,500 skyscrapers—a fantastic night view!), it’s also made up of a number of villages, a scenic coastline, with mountains looming in the distance and nature reserves adding up to 40% of all the land here. Best of all, Indian passport holders get a 14-day visa free on arrival. Make plenty of time for you have lots and lots to choose from—amusement parks, of course, but places of great natural beauty, amazingly preserved history, tons of shopping, great camping and hiking, terrific beaches and the yummiest variety of food you can possibly find anywhere on the map! It’s easy, it won’t burn your wallet, and it’s HUGE fun. Here’s a bunch of handpicked destinations for you—you may have heard about some of them, others may come as irresistible surprises. So strap those seat

Family fun at

H O NG KONG like never before

The city that never ceases to surprise makes for a trip you’ll never forget


Advt

belts and take off for HK. Here’s a sample of what’s waiting for you: Ocean Park’s Sea World exhibition, thrilling rides, performing animals, children’s special zoo and high-flying tram (great views of the ocean!) add up to an experience that’s as educative as it’s entertaining. Get into the water with dolphins, feed penguins and become an honorary panda keeper! Kids would love to learn about creation, the world, and timeless themes like love and giving at the very family-friendly Noah’s Ark that’s situated at Ma Wan Island. If you get hungry after all the fun and learning, Noah’s Ark with restaurants offering international cuisine and hotel, with great rates and value-for-money meal prices. While here, also ride the glass-bottomed Ngong Ping 360 Crystal Cabin car to a giant bronze statue of the Buddha—it’s awesome fun! The Pui O beach near here is also great for families with white sands and constant lifeguard supervision (your kids will love to try body surfing!). Plus, Lantau Island is a great place to hike and camp with a fully facilitated camping ground and well-marked hiking trails. Kids will also love the pedestrian walk at the Tsimshatsui promenade with its historical clock tower and backdrop of Victoria Harbour before skipping aboard the famous Star Ferry for a spellbinding view of the harbour and lit-up skyscrapers from the water, all of it at a very nominal cost. They will also be thrilled by the Symphony of Lights at the Tsimshatsui promenade Avenue of Stars (starts 8pm and lasts about 20 minutes). At the Hong Kong Space Museum (that’s the intriguing white dome

that rises from the ground along the Tsimshatsui promenade—the incredible Imax theatre presentations happen here), kids will love seeing what the cockpit of a space shuttle looks like, up close and personal. Naturally, no trip to Hong Kong can be complete without a trip up to The Peak. Taxis are available, yes, but may we suggest you go for the 120-year-old Peak Tram right up to Victoria Peak, where you can get a breathtaking view of the Victoria Harbour, the western sea and the faraway islands? Did you know that you can hike down easily in 45 minutes on an access road? And don’t forget to try one of the many terrific restaurants in the mall up on the peak. In fact, the Hong Kong Tramways provide a great way of getting around affordably— travel like the locals and get a true sense of the city. If you want to bring in a bit of heritage, children also enjoy the 10,000 Buddhas

Monastery in Sha Tin—and the half hour climb up steps with skinny, plump, funnyfaced golden Buddhas, some of them with different animals. The shady Central Green Trail into Hong Kong Park is also a lovely experience. Check out the Hong Kong 3D Museum and the Trick Eye Museum for their eyepopping collection of 3D artworks. Round off your trip with a ride on the high-speed lift that takes you up 100 floors in just 60 seconds to the HK Observation Deck offering views you will never forget…and they will make you want to come back again, for there is so much more to see.

Check out the best offers to HK at www.discoverhongkong.com now.


Clockwise from here: the hotel’s Art Deco façade; screening at the salon; pork belly; a cocktail called Vincent; and a plush guest room

hotels

check out 30 vagabond, singapore 34 tree of life jaagir lodge, dudhwa 38 kanha museum of life & art

[ check out ]

more is the new less A quirky new boutique property in Singapore is breaking all the rules of the game. Amit Dixit checks into the Hotel Vagabond

T

he evening was brimming with impossibilities. I had walked off my flight into a London Taxi, out of which I was now emerging into a private screening—don’t worry, I was invited—of Under the Turban, an ambi30

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

tious documentary about Sikh identity which straddled several continents and had Singapore’s swish set transfixed. Did you know, for instance, that there is a small community of Sikhs in Argentina, who first arrived there in the 19th century to work on the British railroad?

The docu’s director was Satinder Garcha, a turbanless Sikh, who, along with his wife Harpreet, was also the proprietor of Hotel Vagabond where the screening was underway. We were all here as part of the launch party, every detail of which had been carefully planned out for maxi-


mum impact. Otherwise, what were the chances that DJ Captain Planet would jockey the same evening that Joy Villa— the girl who stole the 57th Grammys by turning up in a dress made of orange construction fencing (yes, you read that right)—was belting out a signature poprock number and the photographer Julia Calfee, known for her iconic images of the Chelsea Hotel, was regaling audiences with anecdotes about the famous and notorious? Clearly, the Garchas can make the impossible happen. And they know how to party, as the heaving crowds spilling into the warm night well past the witching hour attested. And when the Garchas decide to get into the hotel business, they arrive with no bags, so to speak. None of that doneto-death minimalist nonsense for them— they’re Punjabis after all. So when they

began redeveloping a row of heritage shophouses just down the road from the venerable Mustafa Shopping Centre, they hired Jacques Garcia, the French interior designer whose middle name is ‘excess’. Or is it ‘over the top’? Garcia has designed a string of, well, designer hotels over the years. These include the Hotel Costes in Paris, Hotel Danieli in Venice, Hotel Mamounia in Marrakech and, most recently, the Nomad in New York. But Garcia’s most ambitious project is the Château du Champ-de-Bataille in Normandy which he owns and has restored. Vagabond is the only Jacques Garcia designed hotel in Asia. Every little touch he’s introduced is a possible conversation point. The moment you walk in, you’ll be in a lobby that can best be described as cosy (typical Singapore shophouseturned-hotel predicament). Even here,

they’ve managed to squeeze in a solid brass Rhino reception desk, which took eight months to create across 15 villages in Rajasthan. Golden, life-size elephants seemingly hoist up the main elevator and were made in France by the artist Franck Le Ray. Ensconced in thick red velvet curtains, just beyond is a Parisian-style salon which also doubles up as a movie theatre and restaurant. The area’s multiple functions require the furniture to be rearranged several times a day and this is done effortlessly. The pillars in the salon have been transformed into golden brass banyan trees through delicate metalwork. An arresting monkey sculpture forms the centrepiece of the Bar Vagabond—another Franck Le Ray creation. The Garchas are eclectic art collectors, with a preference for contemporary media, and the hotel seems packed to the OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

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Clockwise from here: sirloin, guanciale and beans; the bar; and the rhino reception desk

gills with interesting stuff. Art is central to the hotel’s concept too, the Vagabond being is the first hotel in Singapore to offer an ‘Artist In Residence’ programme (in essence: stay for free, amuse our guests and leave some art behind). One of the very first you’re likely to see is the video art installation by Marco Brambilla, a Milan-born NYC-based video collage and installation artist, “known for his elaborate re-contextualisation of popular and found imagery”, we were told, which amuses guests endlessly in the elevator. There’s photography by Julia Calfee, who, if I’m not mistaken, is their first artist-in-residence. The sunfilled Vagabond Suite even boasts a pencil sketch by Manjit Bawa. Mixed with this is Satinder’s own photography from his polo trips around the world. Vagabond is also positioned as a slightly naughty proposition (don’t worry, it’s all above board). These are their words, not mine: “Vagabond is a sensuous playground for the high-spirited, the mischievous and the fun lovers...If you must get into trouble, do it at the Vagabond.” The 32

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

gentleman who showed us around did say that the hotel was popular for staycations and that young couples liked to check in for ‘testing’ before tying the knot. In Singapore, that’s as naughty as it gets. The neigbourhood certainly oozes character and beautifully illustrated maps of Little India, Kampong Glam, Bugis Street, etc have been provided to encourage exploration. But forget all this. Just go there for the food. And the drinks. No, really. The Bar Vagabond has been conceptualised by drinks collective Proof & Company and offers handcrafted cocktails, artisan spirits and wines, and rare and exotic teas and coffees. The restaurant on the premises, 5th Quarter, is a collaboration between Satinder Garcha and celebrated restaurateur Loh Lik Peng (also known for creating the Unlisted Collection), and is run by award-winning executive chef Andrew Nocente. It specialises in cured meats and offal, elevating them, quite appropriately in retrospect, to little works of art. I had dishes like ‘mackerel, gin & cucumber’, ‘oyster blade,

guanciale, white beans & puffed tendon’ and desserts like ‘pineapple, coconut & pistachio’. But these cryptic names are misleading, for they are needlessly diffident. There is a stunning display of skill at every stage, in the sourcing, the curing, the consistency of the cooking and in the heavenly plating. What reaches your table is a dish that looks almost too good to eat. Hell, even the popcorn at the Salon is truffle-oil infused. When I did get back to my room, I found it to be a calming retreat. And I slept well. And, at the end of the day, that’s what really matters in a hotel.

The informaTion LOCATION 39 Syed Alwi Road, Singapore, 207630. 20min from the airport ACCOMMODATION 42 rooms in various categories: Classic, Deluxe, Classic with shared terrace, Deluxe with shared terrace, Art Suite, Junior Suite, Vagabond Suite TARIff from SGD 209 ++ (excluding breakfast) CONTACT +65-62916677, hotelvagabondsingapore.com


Happiness is in the air ... "

The place you'd rather be" Amazing Thailand

Phang Nga, Thailand

Contact us: Tourism Authority of Thailand, New Delhi Office: Contact us: E-mail: tatdel@tat.or.th | www.facebook.com/TAT.newdelhi ourism Authority of Thailand, New Delhi Office: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mumbai Office: el: 91-11-46741111 | Email: tatdel@tat.or.th | www.facebook.com/TAT.newdelhi tatmumbai@tat.or.th | www.facebook.com/TourismAuthorityofThailandMumbai ourismE-mail: Authority of Thailand, Mumbai Office: el: 91-22-22042727 | Email: tatmumbai@tat.or.th | www.facebook.com/TAT.mumbai Website: www.tourismthailand.org

acebook: www.facebook.com/TourismAuthorityofThailandIndia | Twitter: www.twitter.com/ThaiAmazesYou Website: www.tourismthailand.org


Interiors of the Luxury Suite

[ check out ]

where the wIld thIngs are The cosy Tree of Life Jaagir Lodge at the edge of Dudhwa National Park is the perfect retreat for the wildlife enthusiast. Text and photographs by Joyita Banerjee

I

t was 5.45am on a cold and foggy winter morning, and I had layered myself up one sweater at a time till I had reached a point where I could barely move my arms. Even though it was time to head out for a trip to the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, I was reluctant to leave my cosy room at the Jaagir Lodge, where I had checked in the previous evening. This haveli, built in the 1940s, was formerly a hunting lodge used by British Governors. It is now a heritage hotel, exuding a combination of rustic Indian and colonial flavours. The rooms have lovely antique furniture and four-poster beds complete with soft duvets and sheer white drapes. Add high thatched roofs, stone fireplaces, and teak wood dressers, and you could be transported to an era gone by. The wallpaper is gorgeous, and different in each room. An old library 34

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which doubles as a lounge with fireplace, is perfect for curling up with a book. It’s precisely the sort of place that makes you feel that travelling solo is overrated. Kanwaljeet, partner of the justopened Jaagir Lodge, has contributed in a large measure to the conservation of the land in this area and is doing the same in preserving this hidden gem of a property. Passionate about soft furnishings and detailing at the property, which he treats as a second home, he has sourced cutlery from Switzerland, switches from Australia and lobby chandeliers from Italy. The washrooms have been brightened up with colourful Bikaneri tiles. Leaving my charming quarters, I picked up a ‘Dudhwa Tiger Reserve’ cap and was all set for my safari. Along the way, villagers carrying bundles of sugarcane on bicycles were a recurring scene, just like the cane fields and bare

poplar trees. For about 40 minutes all I saw were sal trees on either side of the road, converging to a single vanishing point, taking me back to my perspective lessons in school. By then I was missing the four- poster bed and was about to doze off but was quickly shaken out of my reverie by two scary stray dogs who chased us almost till the entrance of the national park. A few more kilometres into the park took me closer to the one-horned rhino: rhinos were re-introduced in Dudhwa in 198485. While I was hoping to spot a tiger, the odds of running into a rhino were much higher. Dudhwa is a hop-skip-and-jump away from the Indo-Nepal border in Lakhimpur Kheri district and is surrounded by buffer forests to the north and south. The park, which is about five-and-a-half hours away from both Jim Corbett National Park and Binsar, is


Clockwise from top left: The Verandah; Library Bar; and inside Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary

one of the last remaining sites of the terai ecosystem that supports a large diversity of flora and fauna. Migratory birds, which settle here during winter, would enchant any birder. For someone like me who can only differentiate between a crow and a pigeon, I just know that I saw MANY birds. The park’s characteristic feature is that it’s not a one ‘park’ stop—it comprises of two wildlife sanctuaries, each with its own characteristic feature. Katerniaghat is known for its gharials and dolphins and Kishanpur for its elusive tigers and birds. The closest I got to the cat family, however, apart from old pugmarks, was glimpsing a wild cat. Safaris can be tiring, and we stopped in the middle of a sugarcane farm for a hot cup of instant coffee and cookies. Jaagir Lodge makes sure that their guests are comfortable at all times. Like this planned coffee break, which was a pleasant surprise. As was the hot-water bag given to me in the morning when I 36

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groggily sat back in the open jeep. The two extra blankets to wrap my sleepy self in and to protect me from the biting early morning cold of the open forest, had been very welcome too. It didn’t take long to get a sense of Dudhwa. It was easy—railway crossings, mustard fields, sugarcane fields, swamps, electric poles with many birds on them along with thatched houses. After the long safari and the short stops at the Nepal border (cross the border and get your Indian currency exchanged for some Nepali rupees for kicks) and the Tharu village, we were on our way back. I was dreaming of sinking into the fourposter bed in my charming den. I was exhausted but my hosts didn’t seem to think so. Instead, I was taken for a short walk. The sun had set a while ago, so it was pitch dark. We walked on a path paved by thin poplar trees, with just a single torch to guide us. I wasn’t carrying anything to protect myself in the wild. My eyes followed the thin tree

trunks up their bare branches to see a clear sky full of stars. It was a scene so magical that it made the walk totally worth it. We walked a while before I discovered that I was being taken to my second surprise of the day, a bonfire, an ‘illuminating’ end to the day. I returned to the lodge safe and sound and sat on the charpai at the mango grove, which seamlessly merged with the jungle. It was a perfect setting to unwind gazing at the trees after having a ‘wild’ time.

The informaTion LOCATION Bikram Ban Farms, Palia Kalan, Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh. Dudhwa is 450km, or a nine-hour drive, from Delhi. The drive from Lucknow is about five hours. ACCOMMODATION 3 Luxury Rooms, 3 Luxury Suites, 6 Luxury Villas (Jhaalas) TARIFF From `11,305 CONTACT +91-9602091000, treeofliferesorts.com


hotels

[ museum ]

wild about art

T

he forests of Central India are home to some of our richest flora and fauna. It is, therefore, not surprising that the tribal art of the Baigas, Bhils and Gonds of the region takes nature as its primary inspiration. Add to this pot the fact that Tulika Kedia, propreitor of Kanha’s Singinawa Jungle Lodge, is a 38

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gallerist and passionate art collector, and you have a striking museum of indigenous art. The justopened Kanha Museum of Life & Art features mesmerising tribal art and big-name artists like Bhajju Shyam and Ladoo Bai. Featured here is artwork by Gond artist Narmada Prasad Tekam. See singinawajunglelodge.com.


Go now Events you do not want to miss by lalitha sridhar ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

Spring iS everywhere It’s everything Goan—colour, culture, splendid cuisine—all of which are coming together as a rambunctious spring celebration called Shigmo, in continuity with the Goa Food and Cultural Festival (there’s one day of overlap in the two events). Shigmo is the near-mythic homecoming honouring warriors who left behind their homes and families at the end of Dussera to fight invaders. Mythological scenes are depicted in exuberant parades accompanied by rhythmic folk dances to traditional music by players of dhol tashas and flutes over the entire state, from Margao to Vasco, Sanguem to Cuncolim. The start of the summer vacation is bound to add surging crowds of revellers to these two annual immersions in the spirit and sunshine that’s Goa (Shigmo Utsav: 24 March-7 April; Goa Food and Cultural Festival: 6-10 April; goa-tourism.com).

roAld dAhl turnS 100! VINEET CHANDER

Anything but beAStly The Mudra Dance Festival, thematically curated by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, ranks among India’s most prestigious cultural events. This time the NCPA focusses on animal symbolism in Indian mythology, so come prepared for startlingly vivid expressions of captivating stories that are central to the seasoned performances that have been planned. There’s Manasa Charitram, a Bengali folk tale rendered in Kathakali with artwork inspired by traditional Pattachitra paintings, performed by research scholar Probal Gupta. Besides noteworthy explorations in Chau, Kathak and Manipuri, Rahul Acharya interprets the majestic Nandi, the divine bull and Shiva’s 1; vehicle, via Odissi; Bhavana Reddy explores the swan-like soul of Indian art and philosophy in Hamsoham; and Devdutt Pattnaik gives a talk simply titled ‘Pashu’ (21-24 April; ncpamumbai.com) 40

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

The world’s favourite storyteller turns 100 and 2016 will therefore be a rollickingly, wickedly irreverent period of irresistible madness all year long in the UK. Here’s a sampling of the surprises in store: Dahl, the spy, fighter pilot, inventor and historian of chocolate (yes, he was, too!) becomes a magical journey through The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl at Southbank Centre (on till 3 July). Cheshire’s Tatton Park has themed Roald Dahl trails, special shows of outdoor theatre, cinema based on his works and much more (on till 2 October). The Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival (16-24 April) pays homage to him with quirky creativity (lots more at roalddahl.com/roalddahl100).


The valley of music (and arT) The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, or simply the Coachella, sold 198,000 tickets and grossed $84.3 million in 2015, both of which are world records. So what makes this particular gathering of music lovers so wildly popular? The annual music and arts festival held in the surreally scenic Coachella Valley in California, is an encompassing sort of event featuring diverse genres of music, including rock, hip hop and indie headlining acts. Camping facilities are plentiful and live music is performed on several stages across the grounds. Emerging and reunited groups are as much a part of the schedule as new and upcoming artistes, while the stars shine too (marquee names in the past have included AC/DC, Amy Winehouse, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Kanye West and Eminem). Interactive visual art installations and critically acclaimed sculptures are another huge draw and, over the years, have only grown in both originality and outrageousness with improved funding for them (coachella.com).


festival jodhpur

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan with his sons Amaan and Ayaan

IN HIGH SPIRITS

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The stage was on fire at the latest edition of the World Sacred Spirit Festival, says SHEETAL VYAS

here was a nip in the air as we lounged on the beautiful lawns of Jaswant Thada, the gorgeous royal cenotaph in Jodhpur. I was there to attend the World Sacred Spirit Festival (26-28 February), and the beginning was most auspicious. A four-man, all-Sardar band led by Bhupinder Singh ‘Parasmoney’ stood on stage, wearing beige kurta pajamas, orange turbans and kirpans 42

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

slung across shoulders. These were Dadhis with a particular genre of Punjabi ballad singing that invokes, more often than not, the ‘veer ras’. They sang tales of valour, of brave, good men and wars past... and of the indomitable nature of the human spirit. It was an invigorating start to a festival that is now in its ninth year. It is hosted by the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, an initiative of the royal family

of Jodhpur-Marwar. The line-up that weekend included about 120 artistes from India, Spain, Afghanistan, Morocco, Greece and even French Guiana. These performers would have been scintillating even set against a drab white sheet but what made the festival experience utterly special was the backdrop against which the recitals were played out: the awe-inspiring Mehrangarh Fort... the large courtyard


jodhpur dummy

Deveshi Sehgal’s robust rendition; and (above) young Langa-Manganiyar musicians

in the evening, however, the lake and the environs displayed a more poetic frame of mind of its Zenana Deodi, the snug gardens of Chokelao and the serene lake and architecture of Jaswant Thada.I sipped my tea and looked around. Mehrangarh towered on a rocky outcrop less than a kilometre away and in the distance was the magnificent Umaid Bhawan. Nearer, scattered cenotaphs of royalty, and further below, the sprawled out, blue-tinted 44

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

city of Jodhpur. It made me sigh. The morning brought a concert by Uzbek songstress Yulduz Turdieva, and then came a qawalli group called Fanna Fi Allah, that caused quite a bit of confusion in me as a listener. The qawalli is very much a home-grown genre, an innovation by the wonderful 13th-century musician-poet Amir Khusrau, and here,

disconcertingly, was an all-white troupe albeit with Sufi hearts... some of them do have connections of the heart and of the blood with the subcontinent but it remains that they sing Khusrau—his Farsi, his Braj, his Hindvi—with a western twang and a foreign aesthetic that hasn’t grafted too well. The afternoon brought a heartwarming delight. Children from LangaManganiyar communities presented their traditional fare with much skill and greater aplomb, with the presence of Gaj Singh of Jodhpur-Marwar only adding lustre to their performance. We shifted venue as evening approached—to the scenic lakeside at Jaswant Thada. Earlier that day, I had the opportunity to take a walk around the admirable Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park. The 175-acre park adjoins the fort and is situated on an outcrop of volcanic rhyolite (this is so unusual it has been designated a National Geological Monument). The trail is a showcase of the landscape as well as the immense work put in here to restore the natural ecology. We looked at the birds but it soon became obvious that the star here was the flora. I peered down in fascination at a succulent that had put out clusters of red fleshy flowers. I had stumbled upon ‘thhor’—a plant that is emblematic of the Thar Desert, and a miniature ecological niche by itself. As I looked around, columns upon columns of igneous rock (called ‘welded tuff’) bore their history as tellingly as the fort did. In the evening, however, the lake and the environs displayed a more poetic frame of mind. As the sun sank, Deveshi Sehgal sang robustly about oneness to much appreciation and applause. The night venue was the imposing Zenana Deodi at the fort... and the dance ensembles fully lived up to the standards the aged fort walls seemed to demand of them. Day 2 began with a folk recital from Rajasthan, which, I must confess, made me go slack-jawed. A trademark of the Kamar community, the Tera Tali has an ensemble of seated women (there were four here) who wear thirteen ‘manjiras’


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Tamango, a tap dancer from French Guiana, performs with a local troupe

or cymbals about their person. A male singer leads the song, and the women join in, swirling and clanging the manjiras in an intricate, fascinating upper body dance. Just to make it edgy, they sometimes hold a sword clenched between their teeth... in a masterly demonstration of skill. They sing of Meera and Radha and of their guru, the 14th-century Pir Baba Ramdeo. That performance left me feeling so steeped in the ways of Rajasthan that the next thing on my crave-list was a Rajasthani breakfast. I made my way into town to a Mishtan Bhandhar— clearly I couldn’t leave Jodhpur without having pyaaz kachori, but why leave out the khaman dhokla? And the rabri ghevar (my very first time) was a revelation. How had I lived so long without tasting this? That afternoon, I snuck out between concerts for some sinful makhaniya lassi at Mishrilal and had a shot at the mawa kachori while I was at 46

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

it. What was I thinking when I settled so far down south? I was glad to get the food out of the way, however, before I settled down to a fabulous recital by ‘Char Yaar’—a group led by the erudite Dr Madan Gopal Singh. “I have no training in music,” he told me when I met him afterwards, “but for poetry, I’ll travel anywhere!” His love of poetry was palpable... such a rich fount of knowledge! He sang Tagore’s translation of Guru Nanak’s ‘Gagan mein thaal’, a song called ‘Shalu’ about the very tapestry of India and gave the fairly informed audience a peek into the original ‘char yaar’—the four revered Sufi saints of the subcontinent. My predominant emotion was relief when the festival’s artistic director, Alain Weber, announced an anthology of poetry edited by Dr Madan Gopal that will be out next year. I can’t wait. The evening wound up with the classical and the contemporary—Ustad Amjad

the dance ensembles fully lived up to the standards the aged fort walls seemed to demand of them Ali Khan and sons on the one hand and the funky Maati Baani on the other, who managed to convert the stately Zenana Deodi into a vibrant nightclub. Spiritual music, it would seem, was alive, and yes, it did kick! The World Sacred Spirit Festival is held annually in February and centred around Jodhpur. For more, see worldsacredspiritfestival.org.


cover story kashmir

secret kashmir Discover five Destinations beyonD the beaten track in kashmir with Colette Austin anD sudip VAirAt


YUSMARG

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45-km drive from Srinagar, paSSing apple and walnut orchardS along the way, takes us to Yusmarg or Yousmarg in the Badgam district of western kashmir. Yusmarg, which means ‘Jesus meadow’, has lush green meadows fringed with thick wooded alpine forests in every possible hue of green—mint, apple, lime, emerald, and more. Snow-capped peaks encircle and jealously guard this divine and little known slice of paradise. Still rather raw and intact, the grassy knolls teem with horses, sheep and conifers. the centre of Yusmarg is the Jktdc guest house huts, scattered cottages across acres of rolling meadows, with a lake in the distance. the views are stunning, much like an alpine valley in europe. a four-kilometre horse ride deep into the woods takes you through some incredible landscapes, while a babbling stream snakes its way through the pine trees. in the distance, the nilnag lake, cradled in the hills, shimmers.

Places to stay We stayed at the JKTDC guest house (`750 per night for two people; jktdc.co.in). The location is fabulous and surrounded by meadows on all sides. The whole area is fenced to protect guests from the wild animals. If you are lucky, you will have electricity for a few hours a day. Yusmarg is crowded from 11am to 4pm on weekends, with school picnics, local tourists and pony handlers. The place is absolutely quite and deserted otherwise. The JKTDC restaurant here serves delicious food. around yusmarg Shopian and Pulwama are the closest towns. OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016 SanDeePaCheTan.Com

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ARU VALLEY

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ru Valley is a 12-km driVe from Pahalgam in the anantnag district of Jammu & kashmir. reputed to be the smallest hill station in the state, aru is a veritable treat for nature lovers and adventurers alike. it is dotted with waterfalls, turquoise brooks, deodars, and pines. the upstream lidder river wraps around the beautiful valley like a pale blue satin ribbon. the snow-topped mountains and lush meadows vie for attention. a pony ride from the aru village is perhaps the best way to take in the breathtaking lidderwat Valley if you are pressed for time. the village is also a base point from where you can trek to kolohoi glacier or to tarsar-mansar lake. the nearby overa aru Wildlife sanctuary is home to rare species such as the hangul, the musk deer, the brown bear and the snow leopard, and is spread over 500 square kilometres.

Places to stay There are many budget inns and guesthouses, including Aru Ecoresort campsite (`2,820 onwards; aruecoresort.com). We camped at Traveller’s Inn in Pahalgam. The location is fabulous with a blue stream flowing right through the property. around aru Betaab Valley and Baisaaran are close by. OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016 SANKAR SRIDHAR

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BRENG

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OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

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ROUND 85-km sOUtheast Of sRiNagaR is the BReNg DistRict Of kashmiR, including kokernag, which is home to the largest natural spring in the kashmir valley. the name derives from the springs and their many tributaries which take the shape of the claws of a rooster or koker. known for their curative properties, these springs and botanical gardens draw hundreds of visitors to kokernag

and its neighbour, Verinag. grassy knolls, crisp clean skies, the fragrance of blooms in the air, all make kokernag a great weekend getaway option. a 30-minute drive away from kokernag is Daksum, with its enchanting waterfalls, pine-covered hills and grassy meadows and streams. Relax near a babbling brook in the woods and get carried away by the distant strains of a flute from a passing shepherd. in the distance, as


sAnDeepACheTAn.CoM

always, the snow-capped peaks stand guard. Daksum is an enchanting and peaceful stopover en route to the mighty Sinthan Top. The steep climb up to Sinthan Top is an adrenaline rush. It is one of the prettiest drives in the Kashmir Valley, made even more worthwhile by a 48-kilometre smooth, winding road. The twists and turns make you gasp, not only at the unfolding natural beauty at every bend,

but as the climb is so steep and rapid, breathing becomes laboured. Sinthan Top itself is barren, windy and bitingly cold, and at a height of 3,748m, it remains snowbound for most of the year. The views are stunning—rain clouds in the distance and snow peaks as far as the eye can see.

Places to stay For Breng, the JKTDC guest house in Kokernag (`2,000; jktdc.co.in) is a good option. There are many private guesthouses as well. around kokernag Margan Top, Achabal and Verinag are close by.

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

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PRASUN MITRA

GUREZ

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urez, 130-km from Srinagar, at the edge of north kaShmir, has been only open to tourists in the last few years due to its proximity to the LoC. remote, steeped in history, untouched and rarely visited, gurez is a gem and completely worth the seven-hour drive from Srinagar. the 58-km road from Srinagar to Bandipore passes through spectacular views of the manasbal and Wular lakes. from Bandipore it is a steep uphill drive, and the roads are narrow and very bumpy. it’s best to hire a Sumo at Bandipore for the journey. enroute, distant snow-capped peaks, an intensely azure sky, forested pine woods and, of course, the razdan Pass at 3,300m is a great spot to halt for a much needed cuppa. the

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gurez Valley takes your breath away. the mighty kishenganga river flows in from Pakistan as the neelum, and its many brooks, streams and tributaries, gush and gurgle right through the valley. the gurez Valley falls along the section of the ancient Silk route which connected the kashmir Valley with gilgit. the people of gurez are a tribe called the dards, believed to be descendants of the greek garrison that alexander’s army left behind. the place appears frozen in time with its wooden log huts, charming hamlets, shepherds and its majestic, raw backdrop. there’s no internet, and barely a signal anyway. the iconic pyramidical limestone mountain habba khatun, named after the famed kashmiri poetess, is the central attraction in the valley.

Places to stay The only place to stay in Gurez is the new JKTDC Dawar Guest House (`700; jktdc.co.in) and the neighbouring Dak Bungalow. The guest house has comfortable beds, hot water and you can get a hearty meal rustled up by the resident cook. Nearby The beautiful Tulail Valley is about 35-40 minutes away.


kashmir

COLETTE AUSTIN & SUDIP VAIRAT

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lpather lake, aka Frozen lake , is one oF the many high-altitude lakes in the kashmir Valley. Very few people visit this lake in gulmarg as it is located at an altitude of 17,500 feet and close to the loC. the lake is frozen for nine months of the year. the army has only recently allowed treks to the lake though it is a two-hour trek at 3,500 feet above

g ALPATHER LAKE g

gondola phase 2 in gulmarg. not for the faint-hearted, this is an arduous, steep climb but the views are breathtaking throughout. Barren and surrounded by majestic snow-capped mountains, you can see an army dirt road going up to the last indian post, beyond which is pakistan. the lake is pristine, with crystal clear freezing cold water, which tastes divine.

Places to stay We stayed at the Nedous (`6,000 onwards; nedoushotelgulmarg.com). The neighbouring Highland Park is also lovely. There are hundreds of stay options at Gulmarg, right from the many budget options like Hotel Affarwat to the high-end Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa (khyberhotels.com). around alPather lake The lake is located beyond Aparwath, while Gulmarg, about 35km away, is the closest town, while Srinagar is about 85 km to the east.

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cover story srinagar

The Shah Hamdan shrine; and (facing page) the first tulips of the season in Srinagar


An Earthly Paradise It may be a bIt scruffy around the edges, but srInagar can stILL take your breath away. text and photographs by Amit Dixit


srinagar

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he snowswept mountains, whiter than a pashmina goat, swung out of view, and a lattice of green fields appeared. The mustard crop was flowering and, in the midday sun, seemed to be on fire. The plane banked sharply to the right, and the tin-topped roofs of tiny hamlets winked back. We let out a collective gasp as we landed in Srinagar. But we should have saved our breath for the sights to follow. Spring had come early to the valley, and almond and cherry trees were blossoming all over town. The tulips too, in our honour, had crawled out of their buds two weeks ahead of schedule. In that tentative moment before the arrival of spring proper and the final retreat of winter, the streets seemed hushed. While everyone waited for the seasons to get on with their stuff, the city seemed monochromatic and soothing. There was a proper nip in the air. I don’t think any Dilliwala can honestly say we had a winter this time, so this counted as a treat. The incessant rain of the past few days had stopped all of a sudden (in our honour?), and the sun was out. From our commanding perch at the RK Sarovar Portico, in Srinagar’s Sonawar neighbourhood, we could see the mountains shimmering on the horizon. But it was

difficult to pay attnetion to what was outside when a veritable feast was being laid out before us. As we discovered, Chef Abbas has magic fingers and he rustled up a small but nevertheless sumptuous sample of the Wazwan, the Kashmiri feast I’d so far only heard about. At the Takht-E-Suliaman—as the restaurant is called—that afternoon, I had my first,

Spring had come early to the valley, and treeS were bloSSoming all over town

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Tulips are not the only flowers blooming in Srinagar. And these were just at the airport

proper roghan josh. And loved it. The kababs were stunning, as was the nadru yakhni. The humble haaq had pride of place as did the rajma-chawal, the best I’ve ever had. Methimas, entrails cooked in a spicy gravy, were a delicious revelation. And to round it off, a warm firni. Previously the City Forest Resort and owned by the Royal Khazir Group (hence, the RK in the name), the Portico is a comfortable mid-range option in Srinagar, just a short distance from the Dal Lake and other key attractions. It was therefore but natural that we would set out on a grand tour of Srinagar shortly, not least to work off that massive meal. And what better person to show us around than Marifan Gul, the hotel’s sales and marketing manager, who himself grew up in the Old City. Tourism in Srinagar remains comfortingly of the traditional variety, the city’s tremulous beauty revealing itself through its gardens, shrines and viewpoints. First stop, the stunning Khan Khayi Maula or Shah Hamdan shrine. Set on the banks of the Jhelum, this centuries-old shrine is a largely wooden structure and the final resting place of the Persian scholar Shah Hamdan, who preached Islam in Kashmir. It’s a truly beautiful building, its guardians friendly and welcoming (a voluntary donation helps). Worshippers throng the shrine as they have for centuries, the


srinagar Houseboats on the Dal Lake; and (left) some gorgeous woodwork at the Shah Hamdan shrine

It’s a truly beautIful buIldIng, Its guardIans frIendly and welcomIng (a voluntary donatIon helps) little fabric knots they tie outside privy to the many mannats that the Maula must have gazed benignly on. The Indo-Saracenic Jamia Masjid is equally old (although way grander) but its clean, beautiful lines make it seem almost modern. The markets around the mosque were bursting with traditional merchandise, the sort you’d pick for a wedding trousseau. And street food, which we promptly sampled: massive rounds of fried flatbread, fritters of lotus 64

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root, potato, chilli and fish in a distinctively spicy Kashmiri batter. We next paid homage to the startlingly all-white Hazratbal on the banks of the Dal, the shrine which is said to hold a hair of the Prophet. The sun was dipping closer to the horizon and we were all shrined out. So we took a stroll in Nishat Bagh, one of several terraced gardens the Mughals built in Srinagar. Tourists, all decked up in Kashmiri finery, were busy making memories

with Kashmiri photographers. Then it was time for a sunset shikara ride on the Dal. It was fun but by no means conducive to contemplation. We were accosted by merchants of every description, who plied us with everything from saffron to souvenirs, kebabs to tea, cigarettes and photographs. There was an entire town on the lake, and we slipped between shops and houses, as well as houseboats. All this hectic sightseeing had made us ravenous. Marifan said he knew a place. And that’s how we encountered Srinagar’s barbecue street, off Khayyam Chowk. We were so hungry we would have dived into the first dive but Marifan was insistent that we go only to the best. The kababs, as you can imagine, were di-


Mobile: +91 9599481133


Clockwise from here: the RK Sarovar Portico; a cosy room; Hazratbal shrine; and at the RK carpet factory

vine. They arrived steaming, still on their skewers, and we used little parcels of roti to tease them off the burnished metal. Next morning, our pursuit of paradise continued atop the forested Shankaracharya hill, where an ancient temple, which could only be approached on foot via 250 steep steps, stood. Worth every step, for here was a 360-degree view of the snow-clad peaks that encircle Srinagar. Also on view was the Jhelum river in all its majesty, winding a serpentine route through Srinagar’s giddy sprawl. 66

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We had saved the best for last: a visit to the just-opened Tulip Garden. Even with a mere 30 per cent of the 10 lakh tulip bulbs in bloom, it was a sight to behold. Later that morning, at the Chashmeshahi garden, I heard a Bengali matron admonish her bargain-obsessed brood with these words: “You’ll get the money again, but will you get this chance again?” A costumed photo-op followed. I took her advice to heart and, like any selfrespecting visitor to Srinagar, picked up a few kilos of almonds and pine nuts. This

was woefully inadequate according to a travelling companion who convinced me to pick up a few kilos of dehydrated vegetables as well. Apart from hospitality, the Royal Khazir Group also has interests in handicrafts, carpets and shawls. At their factory showroom, I nearly bought a carpet. They had just demonstrated that all Kashmiri carpets are hand-knotted, with 464 individual knots in every square inch, so bargaining would have been petulant. But at the last moment, I desisted. Next time, I told myself.


Mobile: +91 9599481131


srinagar

A view of the Kashmir valley on our descent into Srinagar

# THE INFORMATION GETTING THERE A number of domestic airlines connect Srinagar with major Indian metros and with Jammu and Leh. If you’re flying in the morning, ask for a window seat on the left side on your way in, for the best views of the snow-capped ranges. The flight from Delhi is short and pleasant.

at the moment), a superlative restaurant, swimming pool and free wi-fi. There is a small boutique on the premises. They have a nice new al fresco sheesha bar as well. An infinity pool and luxury Turkish spa are in the offing. Do stay a night or two in a houseboat (the Ajanta comes highly recommended). Sarovar can arrange this for you.

WHERE To sTay The RK Sarovar Portico (from `10,900 per night excluding taxes and fees; sarovarhotels. com) is a convenient option in the heart of Srinagar, right next to the UN Base and just 12km from the airport. It has over 50 heated rooms (although some are under renovation

WHaT To sEE & do Srinagar is noted for its many historic gardens, including Nishat Bagh, Shalimar, Chashmeshahi and the gorgeous gardenwith-a-view-to-die-for that is Pari Mahal. Modern verdure includes the Botanical Garden (which I—boohoo—couldn’t visit this

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time) and the adjacent and seasonal Tulip Garden (April is the season, so go now!). Srinagar’s hallowed shrines include the Shah Hamdan shrine and Hazratbal. Don’t miss the imposing Jamia Masjid. Take a shikara ride on the Dal or Nigeen lakes. Golfers will want to head to the Royal Springs Golf Course (royalspringsgolfcourse.in). There is so much excellent shopping in Srinagar, you might want to devote an entire trip to it. Enticements include dry fruits and saffron, carpets and pashminas, copper utensils, dried veggies, Kashmiri chillies and spice pastes. And, if you’re unhinged like me, buy a few morels at `27,000 a kilo. n amit dixit


cover story the list

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Javed shah

1O

Himalayan Homestays

we love

for those in love with the idea of a home in the hills, homestays are often the closest they come to fulfillng this dream. our picks for the season

Y

asmin Hussain’s HomestaY, srinagar Srinagar never disappoints. Not even when

you spend all your time shuttling from crowded bagh to bagh, carpet shop to dry fruit shop, coming away with little to show for your hard work, except a few selfies on the shikara, and a bag of walnuts, maybe. But to truly befriend this shy, if polite, city for a while, and see it like it ought to be seen, you must first befriend its people. And what better way to do that than by staying with them? The Hussain family lets out a lovely, tree-hugging bungalow planted in the middle of their garden, right next to their own house in the quiet, upmarket neighbourhood of Rajbagh. An arrangement that allows for plenty of privacy, and yet, encourages you to join siblings Zulfikar and Yasmin, or their parents, for tea, biscuits, and advice, if you want any. With large windows to let the mornings in, and elegant furniture, the bungalow hosted several guests until the floods hit Srinagar about two years ago. Restored again, it opens its doors this April. (The Hussains prefer to rent out the five rooms at this two-storey bungalow to families or groups, `20,000 per night with breakfast, but double rooms are also available separately, `4,000 per night with breakfast; 9906505354, yasminhussain131@gmail.com)

TRAVEL & REFERENCE, WHEREVER YOU GO


the list


The sea lashes against the shore temple at Tranquebar; and (facing

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itla eState, mukteShwar Full disclosure: This one’s a cheat. Sitla Estate, a colonial home-turnedguesthouse, which has reigned supreme in the Kumaon hills for more than a decade, is now really a refined place to stay. That’s the cheating bit. Now, the honest part: scores of visitors call this, variously, their “second home”, “home away from home”, or “home in the hills”. That’s a lot of homeyness. Yes, Sitla Estate is also a ‘homestay’. The love affair usually begins when Shifta the German Shepherd comes bounding up the paved path to welcome you noisily before the Estate’s owner, Vikram “I just work here” Maira, emerges. Then one turns the corner to the lawn, where it’s usual to stop and gasp. On a clear day, the reason will be the stunning Panchachuli range spread out ahead at eye level. Else, your gaze should drop to the breathtaking reserve forest sprawled below. After this, it’s either cosy stone-walled rooms or smart modern ones with massive windows. Food that’s an endless delight, and always a surprise (Maira never reveals what’s for dinner, even if you’re the kind of visitor who was present when Shifta arrived as a puppy a dozen years ago). Treks into the forest. Afternoons in a hammock in the fruit orchard. Kumaoni produce-shopping at the onsite shop or at the Kilmora or Panchachuli stores in the village. Evenings with a cool drink under the plum tree (summer) or by the blazing fire in the drawing room (winter). (From ` 5 , 8 0 0 doubles, with breakfast; sitlaestate.com) ·ð¤ çãUÌñçcæØæð´

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He retreat, bHimtal

However challenging life in the hills for colonial era officers may have been, there is little doubt that their erstwhile houses are now coveted by modern Indians like little else. The Retreat at Bhimtal fits right in—a family owned 19th-century colonial bungalow nestled among the Himalayan foothills of the Kumaon, in the midst of a cedar, oak, and pine forest covered estate. Once called the Jones Estate, it is now filled with old colonial furniture, cutlery, and knick-knacks. In another of its earlier avatars , it was a holiday home catering to diplomats from all over the world, and still has that

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sense of grandeur to impress the most demanding and well travelled of guests. The house is redolent in old-world charm and exudes cosiness. Two of the three bedrooms have annexes which can accommodate two additional people, while the other bedroom has its own sitting area, which can be used for a spare bed as well. Enjoy the laid-back atmosphere as you are transported back in time. There’s home cooked food, or you could always step out to explore the lakes and forests and springs, all at the doorstep of your Retreat. (`3,500 on double occupancy; theretreatbhimtal.in).

angsum Heritage Farm, sikkim If getting to

a charming destination is half the fun, the 44-acre Yangsum Heritage Farm promises heaps of it, with the drive to Rinchenpong in western Sikkim rated as one of the most scenic routes in the state. Built back in 1833, the mountain farm homestead was majorly refurbished more recently in 1966, but without losing its old-style sensibilities or respect for the vibrant local culture. Owned and managed by the hospitable and well-informed Tashi couple, Thendup and Pema, homecooked food is definitely an important reason for surrendering to Yangsum. So expect deliciously prepared pork and chicken dishes served with freshly plucked vegetables and fruits from the fully organic farm—the Tashis grow avocadoes, cardamom, oranges, bananas, pears, apricots and mangoes, apart from seasonal veggies like peas and cauliflower, and they also cultivate paddy, maize, ginger, turmeric and sweet potatoes. The chhang is just as bracing. All around are groves of bamboo, and an open mixed forest of Himalayan alder, schima, magnolia, pine, rhododendron, cherry and chestnut, which guarantees wonderfully pure air every time you breathe. Remote but not isolated (the bazaar village of Rinchenpong is just a couple of kilometres away), the countryside is nothing short of idyllic, and is framed by a backdrop of the towering Khangchendzonga peaks arrayed against the Singalila Range. Don’t be surprised if you envy the folks who call this paradise home. There are only five rustically wood-panelled rooms, each evocatively designed in the local tradition, mostly with muted wood juxtaposed alongside colourful, handwoven touches in linen and artefacts (from `5,700; yangsumheritagefarm.com).


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the list SANJIV VALSAN

t

s

unnymead estate, shimla Sunnymead is as lovely

as its name suggests. The heritage cottage, one of the older surviving residences of Shimla, is particularly distinguished by its architecture and décor, with its design adapted from a book on English architecture by R.A. Briggs (take a look at it when you visit—they’ve preserved a copy), though the construction approach relied consciously on the local Dhajji tradition. Sunnymead was opened to visitors (you can book ahead for a meal even if you aren’t staying here) and guests only in 2011, and the owners see it more as an effort at conservation. The

house is as it was originally, and the family now wants to share it with like-minded friends and family, which is the basis for their warm hospitality too. There are only two twin-bedded rooms, plus one room with an antique four-poster, and a single room, all of them steeped in quiet elegance, and decorated with period furniture and precious objet d’art. The rooms don’t have TV, or room service, but they do have real and private fireplaces, while books and movies are at hand, and al fresco dining is offered in a beautiful garden. (`4,500 for singles; `6,000 for doubles; find them on Facebook, sunnymeadshimla@gmail.com).

PUNEET K. PALIWAL

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OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

hembang, arunachal pradesh In the already off-

beat Northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, not generally known for heritage tourism as much as landscapes, the ancient fortified Buddhist village-kingdom of Thembang, West Kameng District, one of the state’s better kept secrets, is currently contending for Unesco World Heritage status. The Tibetan-origin clans here still live more or less self-sufficiently in old-style traditional stone high houses and ruins built with only locally sourced materials, practice orthodox Tibetan Buddhism, farm only organically and live in harmony with nature and each other in ways that could be considered either exemplary or charmingly antiquated. With an inviting combination of easy road access and charming homestay infrastructure to match, this is one of the most easily reachable samplers of Tibetan culture this side of the Indo-Chinese border. For longer haul visitors, there are fascinating birding options and trekking routes following trails taken by Brokpas, the nomadic yak herders of the region. The WWF facilitates a community based tourism programme here, which rotates visitors among four hospitable homestays, and arranges guides and excursions. The season lasts from September to March. The closest town is Bomdila (`700 for double stay, `500 for single; find them on Facebook. You could also contact Pema Wange on 9436635835 or Bodung at 9402948422.)


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the list

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COLIN STUMP

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HE HomEsTay Taras, ladakH How often do you

get to stay with nuns? That too, in their home. Well, the Dutch Foundation for Ladakhi Nuns has a newly built guesthouse, The Homestay Taras. This homestay, near a new convent for elderly nuns in Nyerma, is not far from the famous monastery in Thiksey in Ladakh. The homestay intends to provide an income source for the livelihood of the nuns who live in the nearby nunnery. There are six double rooms on offer, with attached bathrooms. The views

from the room engage a good part of the day for guests! There is a shower with warm water ‘sometimes’, though hot water is available on request. All meals are vegetarian. However, if the yearning for flesh overpowers, step into Leh for a meal. As with every corner of Ladakh, the location is breathtakingly beautiful, overlooking the snowy peaks of the Himalaya. The ruins of the ancient stupas stand all around the monastery, some of them dating back several centuries. (`800 per person, per day, half board; ladakhnuns.com)

ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

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OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

HE HErmiTagE, spiTi

It’s so remote that there aren’t even the sort of electric lights that may be seen in towns like the better known Tabo, which is about a couple of scenic hours of driving away. Now imagine the night sky here, with stars sparkling like scattered diamonds. The Parahio River flows past this painterly scene, its water as pure as the banks are clean. Phukchong, situated away in the remote buffer zone of the Pin Valley National Park (just walk over to the NP), is a hamlet where tranquillity resonates soul-deep. It’s not surprising that the village is the other-worldly location of a monastic retreat where monks and nuns withdraw to cottages that serve as their abode for months or even years, their spiritual master and the person who delivers them their sustenance being their only contact with the outside world. The owner of The Hermitage is also the latter. Among other things, he has a greenhouse to grow fresh fruits and vegetables, too. Spiti Ecosphere collaborated with him to create this lovely family-run guesthouse with four rooms on the ground floor, three rooms on the first, and a cosy lounge that invites visitors to put up their feet and get convivial. The locally styled aesthetic, with design inputs from Spiti Ecosphere, is charming and irresistible—the exteriors are made of a lot of strong stone but the interiors are warmly woodsy. Expect to enjoy hearty home-style north Indian food, and local specialities like piping hot thukpa and momos (`3,000 per couple, includes all meals; they aren’t on the internet either, so book via spitiecosphere.com).


s d r i B

a f o

e h t a e f ll

rs‌

h C t a k c flo

! h r a g s hatti Attention Shutterbugs! Coming Soon, The Barnawapara Wildlife and Bird Photography Competition

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Approx. distance from: Raipur - 100 km.

(Balodabazar)

Tariff: AC Room - `2500.

Nearest attractions: Sirpur,

Extra Person - `300.

Turturiya, Narayanpur (Kasdol). Conference Hall - `5000.


the list

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C

huikhim, Dooars It’s easy to underestimate the charm of knolls such as Chuikhim. Situated in the Kalimpong sub-division of Darjeeling district, Chuikhim is a recent addition to the tourism map of the region. Actually, it’s hardly on the map—you can only reach it after trekking for about six to seven hours or via a drive on a stony track! One-shop Chuikhim is a remote village spread over a few hills.

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Most of the thousand-odd residents are involved in farming. There are about 20 family homestays, most of them hosting visitors for the past couple of years. A track through unspoiled forests to Yelbong takes four to five hours, and here there are eight family homestays among the fifty houses there. No, for neither will you get pitstops or even a teashop on the way! (`1,200 per person per day on full board; helptourism.com)

iksthang, sikkim This is a beautifully maintained, warmly hospitable and genuinely heritage farmhouse that welcomes visitors to an authentic experience of a remote and stunningly beautiful part of western Sikkim. Biksthang, they say, is derived from the Lepcha word bik mon (‘the place where a tiger ate a cow’). The pristine wilderness and crystal clear air at 4,100ft (pollution isn’t known around here, of course) makes birdwatching particularly rewarding. The Sharkahlon family, which owns the homestead, has been settled here for 14 generations— ancestor Sharkahlon Tshering Thondup, who built the original house (it still stands), was an important minister in the 18th century, the period to which the property dates. Today, the main floor serves as the reception and every modern comfort is available to weary travellers. Villagers provide most of what the resort requires, and local people are employed here. There’s healthful organic food and drink to be had (do imbibe the generously offered chhang), and the farmer over at the opposite hill can be seen following the same soil revival practices for his harvests of fruits and vegetables as he has done for years. Don’t miss the traditional stone baths of Sikkim here for they are a truly relaxing experience, especially if you have been travelling over Sikkim’s roads for long hours before arriving. The upkeep is particularly admirable—the seven suites and rooms are aesthetically pleasing (though they can get a tad drafty in winter). Unforgettably, the dining area has magnificent views of the Khangchendzonga (from `7,050 for doubles; biksthang.com).


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Guests enjoy a natter at a wedding held at the Il Palazzo hotel


panchgani

I

f you were interested in meeting the much calmer, more peaceful (and younger) cousin of Mahabaleshwar, you would need to head to Panchgani, in Maharashtra’s Satara district. The name comes from its enviable location—nestled between five hills of the Sahyadri range with five surrounding villages giving it company. One of the best things about it, of course, is that you don’t have to exert yourself unduly to catch scenic views—turn any which way and there’s either a thick canopy of trees or a picturesque valley waiting to be photographed. History has it that British superintendent John Chesson discovered and developed Panchgani into a summer getaway in the 1860s with the help of the Zoroastrian community. Residential educational institutions and sanatoriums supported by them had the hill station flourishing in no time. But migration to big cities and other countries over the years has left behind just a handful of Parsi families in Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar. Still, even now, a weekend spent sampling Parsi hospitality and cuisine in Panchgani is a weekend well-spent. I’m usually quite uncaring about what’s served on the dining table but the homestays I visited made me sit up and take notice of every dish that was laid out. Mind you, there was no fancy plating: just simple, authentic fare. The Javanmardis are the family that runs one of the most popular homestays in Panchgani—Hotel Prospect is, in fact, the very first hotel built in Panchgani, back in 1912 by a gentleman named Satarawala. It’s set at one of the highest points in Panchgani, just below the famed Table Land (a pathway still connects the hotel with Asia’s second longest mountain plateau, but has now been closed to the public for security reasons). Later, in the early 1960s, Merwan Javanmardi took it over and his family has cared for ol’ Prospect ever since. Though the Javanmardis opted for the Baha’i faith at some point in time, Prospect is every bit as Parsi in its heritage as we can imagine. The décor, food and just about everything is so warm and welcoming! What caught my attention most was the abundance of rich flora over their four acres—there’s silver oak (not a native plant but introduced by the British), jackfruit, avocado, mulberry, grapefruit, jamun and even a rubber tree. Now imagine waking up to an exuberant choir by the feathered population living atop them—and every cottage opens up to such greenery. Most of Prospect remains as it was when it was first built, except for the addition of facilities like a swimming pool. I was particularly taken by the handle of the door to the games room—a metal leaf. So appropriate for the setting. And if you ever wish to grab a classic and relax on the swing with a cup of hot tea, the gracious staff will gladly oblige—just pick up a book from any of the collections placed at different locations in the hotel. Carefully displayed memorabilia in the cottage that serves as the reception includes a kerosene-run iron box and a tiffin carrier that was used to deliver food. Then there’s the copy of a magazine called Tit Bits, dated 21 May, 1960, and a lodging bill from 12 November, 1958. Prospect was the first to get a

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telephone in Panchgani and its then telephone number, just ‘9’, is proudly exhibited on another bill. The adjoining dining area was previously a ballroom where snacks were served. As with all the Parsi homestays of Panchgani, a package here is inclusive of pre-set vegetarian or non-vegetarian meals— breakfast, lunch, high tea and dinner. Food is strictly prepared fresh at all times, right from the appetisers to the dessert. Oh, the food! Be it the chicken farcha or the fish croquettes, or the wildly popular dhansak, just tuck in blindly for the most

il palazzo is an interesting mix of the old and the new: parthotel, part-homestay


Clockwise from this image: lovely views nearly everywhere; a Parsi wedding at Il Palazzo; and at a store in town

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

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panchgani

a weekend spent sampling parsi hospitality in panchgani is a weekend well-spent authentic flavours. Sum it up with generous helpings of caramel custard and there you have it—a meal worth every relished spoonful. In comparison, Hotel Mount View presents a rather modest appearance. The rooms here are simply done, and kept neat. It too has retained its old-world charm and, pleasantly, it works. The hotel’s charming woody surrounds offer views of the Krishna river valley below, nestled between mighty mountains. Dhanjishah Khambata took this hotel on lease in 1923 and the fourth generation cares for it now. The family supervises the kitchen keenly and there’s no compromise on taste. Even the ice cream is homemade. Do give their Parsi pulao a go with the sali boti. Parsi food tends to the sweetish side, with just a hint of sourness. So every dish can be savoured without having to rush for a glass of water. For a first-timer like me, a fusion preparation of the ivy gourd with boiled pieces of chicken turned out to be a delight. It was like two eclectic ingredients making complete sense when put together. These old hotels of Panchgani offer tons of solitude and Mount View Heritage is no exception. Once again, I could see throwbacks to a long-gone era—the prayer room that’s now converted into a family room, the old flooring, and a grandfather clock going tick-tock as the only reminder of time in this beautiful setting.

T

ranquillity acquires an entirely new level of meaning at Il Palazzo, just round the corner from Prospect. This property dates to 1925 and has been run by the Davierwalla family since 1933. The neatly manicured lawns are carefully interrupted with roses, carnations and hibiscuses. Silver oaks and eucalyptus trees mark their presence here as well. A meditative Buddha statue under a large banyan tree set the tone for my evening. I found Il Palazzo an interesting mix of the old and the new, part-hotel and part-homestay. There’s colonial architecture (teak wood bed frames and almirahs) and there’s a basketball court, a swimming pool, a gym and a play area for kids (safe enough to require only minimal supervision). The high ceilings make the rooms feel very spacious, and the bathrooms with walk-in wardrobes are impressive in their size and layout. What I found most exceptional about these homestays is the personal attention lavished on guests by the owners, who make every effort to forge a bond of comfort.

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Ecomnimus, similiuis At virmis EgilicA; cAtrAE EgilicA; cAtrAE Agtrq movEnic Ecomnimus,

Clockwise from this picture: tourists enjoy views of the Krishna river from Parsi Point; chicken curry and rice at Hotel Mount View; and a cosy nook at Hotel Prospect

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • OCTOBER 2015

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Old-world charm in a guest room at Hotel Mount View

Il Palazzo has had its share of high-profile guests—from the British Deputy High Commissioner who visited them sometime in the 1980s to Aamir Khan’s wedding reception a couple of years ago. There’s live Hindi music on Saturday nights (English ditties, sometimes, on Fridays), which sets the mood for the meal that follows. Home-style cooking takes the centrestage here as well. The

distinct yet consistently good flavours have earned Il Palazzo a considerable name over the years. Along with Parsi cuisine, they have a repertoire of Continental and Oriental dishes as well. Personally, I couldn’t have enough of their sali (potato) and eeda (egg) dishes. Don’t miss the kheema pav and the patra ni macchi. Finally, end the meal with the creamy, indulgent lagan nu custard. It is bliss.

# THE INFORMATION GETTING THERE Pune’s airport is 100km away (`3,000 by cab, good roads); Mumbai is farther off at 270km (`5,500). There are buses to Panchgani from all major cities in Maharashtra, and to Mahabaleshwar (just 17km away). Chiplun (26km) is the nearest railway station; an excellent reason to use this as your hub is that it’s on the scenic Konkan Railway route. WHERE To sTay Unlike Mahabaleshwar, which receives torrential rains, Panchgani has a manageable monsoon, so hotels here are open throughout the year. The corollary to this: it’s best to reserve accommodation well in advance, especially for weekend trips. Rates can change over public holidays, weekends and during the peak seasons. 88

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

The tranquil outdoors of Hotel Prospect (from `4,250 plus taxes per person for double occupancy, inclusive of bed tea, breakfast, lunch, high tea and dinner; prospect-hotel.com) will not distract you from the delectable food and warm service. Hotel Il Palazzo (from `3,500 per person for double occupancy, inclusive of taxes and all meals; ilpalazzo.com) has lovely rooms and plenty of activities to try out. Hotel Mount View (from `1,900 per couple inclusive of breakfast and taxes, plus all meals during mid and peak season; hotelmountview.co.in) has soothing river views and greenery all around.

WHERE To EaT Eateries around the hill town turn Panchgani’s luscious harvest of berries (raspberries, mulberries, strawberries) into ice creams and

milkshakes, or just serve them up as pieces of sweetish-tangy fruit topped with fresh cream (Hilltop Ice Cream is a local legend for its fine quality). The Gujarati thalis of Purohit Lunch Home are well-known. Lucky Restaurant has yummy Irani fare and baked goodies. Most of these places are found easily at the Main Market, near the Shivaji Maharaj statue.

WHaT To sEE & do Ride a horse on the Table Land to catch stunning views of the Sahyadri range, and see ancient caves. Shop for jelly candy, fresh berries and honey at the market. Paraglide (from January to March), trek, or cycle a rented bike. Walk to build up an appetite for all the delicious food waiting back at your hotel, and slip in an appetising strawberry with cream along the way.


moveable feast arunachal

This page: Khao-puk, fried sticky rice-cakes are crisp outside and melt-in-the-mouth within. These are a favourite snack of the Khamti tribe, whose cuisine shares much with Thai and Burmese food. Unlike most other Arunachali tribes, the Khamtis use oil in their cooking Facing: Puhee, spicy blood sausages of the Idu Mishmi tribe, firecooked in bamboo hollows. Organ sausage variants are made all across the Northeast


Magic

Faraway Food Fresh and subtle, simple and highly varied, arunachali Food is a surprise waiting to be savoured. text and photographs by sanjiv valsan

OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

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here else in India can you order a plate of porcupine?” It was that time of the night again. In our food stall, apong, the Arunachali grain wine, was flowing in scandalous quantities. A serving of boiled porcupine had just arrived at our table. All around us, people were losing the plot. At the table next to ours, the dude in a puffy blue Doraemon suit with an oversized head was getting leapt upon by diners under the happy influence. In a spontaneous free-for-all, some girls dived right into his mouth hole, to find his ‘real’ face and reason with it. “Don’t take it personally—we’re kissing Doraemon, not you, so what’s the problem?” they cackled, presumably living out some dark childhood fantasies. They kept dragging him back by his white belly each time he tried to escape, so that he ended up moonwalking on the smooth bamboo flooring with padded paws, intensifying the already outrageous cartoon-world surrealism of the scene. This was too hilarious to be happening. Doraemon’s job description at the Panyor River Festival at Yazali was absurd, and enviable: he was to appear randomly on stage during concerts and fashion shows, and break into free-style dance, hidden under the anonymity of his blue Manga cat suit. Then he’d play with kids, hang out at the bar, and generally socialise and circulate. And now he was getting smooched by pretty Arunachali Doraemon fans. He could

arunachali food depends on fresh ingredients, the availability of forest produce and the flavour of wood fires 92

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very well be high through all this, and nobody would be able to tell. At that moment, I knew what I wanted: I wanted to be Doraemon. Soon we were all taking turns manhandling the hapless Doraemon, bouncing him about from corner to corner for cheap thrills, force-feeding him our boiled porcupine with bamboo shoot, erupting into near-transcendental hysterical glee, gagging on our own laughter and eventually blacking out, only to dissolve back into consciousness the following morning in a tent, still giggling uncontrollably.

Unable to keep a straight face, I thought I should share my Doraemon fantasies with my host, Mamma, a native of Yazali, and the subtle ringmaster behind the night. When he isn’t teaching at a college in Itanagar, Mamma organises this festival to promote tourism in this charming-but-swiftly-urbanising Nyishi tribal village in Arunachal Pradesh. Like many of my Arunachali friends, I had first met him at another such festival in Mechuka, near the Tibetan border, and we eventually became travel buddies. “You know, I was Doraemon last year!” Mamma twinkled, triggering the next


Facing: The little-known Tagin chilli is a relative of the Ghost chilli, or Bhoot Jholakia, notorious for being the hottest chilli in the world. The Tagins claim it is stronger than even the famed Naga chilli; unusually, it is also used as a digestive remedy Above: Sinkhyo—Mithun meat, boiled, skewered and then roasted—is a dish common to the Adis, Tagins, Galos and Idu Mishmi

session of senseless laughter, and we launched into yet another round of gastronomic exploration with our newly forming epicurean-cum-alcoholic gang. Roasted meats, spicy chutneys, wild leafy greens, a trip to an orange orchard, late-night drunken volleyball

scenes on a sandy riverbank after extended wine-tasting sessions, drives into the countryside… I had found my tribe! And so it went, on this Arunachal trip, which I still can’t get enough of... Wholesome organic food, endless humour, friendly uncomplicated people and happy villages set amid a backdrop of spectacular Himalayan landscapes, serendipity unfolding every day… What’s not to lerve? Before I hit my stride as a solo traveller in these parts—and it did take a while—I must confess to having immersed myself in a festival-hopping phase. These ‘festivals’ are, by and large, organised

events meant to bring in tourists from afar. But, apart from the odd traditional song or dance, they all mostly offer largely the same fare, the usual suspects being rafting, paragliding, zip-lining, weird Bollywood-style performances, VIP seating for politicians and, at times, cute-to-notorious levels of drunkenness by night-end. Also, typically, they end up attracting mainly locals, who approach them as they would any other tribal festival— an occasion to dress up in traditional attire, eat, drink, socialise and make merry. Food is served to local taste, and so is the apong, a tradition here with every tribe, household and event. It’s perfectly normal to make conversation with just about anybody (there is no concept of ‘strangers’ in villages and small towns), and the apong certainly helps. As a result, these festivals are, at least for the time being, the immersive solo traveller’s dream come true, simply because they are so local and have failed to attract the number of ‘tourists’ they were meant to. Real travellers want to meet locals, not tourists—truly, a happy accident! On my first trip, the food stalls at these festivals started out as a regular epicurean prowl, in a state that has very few ‘local’ restaurants, but soon became my chance backdoor entry into the social milieu. At the Adventure Festival in Mechuka, a quaint little town nestled in a valley surrounded by a spectacular backdrop of snow-peaked mountains near the Indo-Tibetan border, the real adventure is to be found at the food stalls, a melting pot of tribal people, cultures and cuisines from the region. Forget about the ‘activities’. To understand Arunachali food, it helps to know that, in a very broad sense, this sprawling state comprises three distinct cultures. The first set could include Galos, Apatanis, Nyishis and a diverse set of ‘sub-tribes,’ generically known as the ‘Adis’. All of these tribes are nature worshippers and have more similarities than differences. They believe in forest spirits, practise shamanic rituals and OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

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these festivals usually attract locals and are occasions to dress up, eat, drink, socialise and make merry animal sacrifice, and believe in a common ancestry with Abo Tani, a mystical being they believe to be the father of all mankind. These Tani tribes, as they are also sometimes called, generally use a lot of fermented bamboo shoot in their cooking. This is something of an acquired taste, though I instantly loved the flavour. Tani food is either stewed, steamed in wild leaves or fire-roasted, and uses a lot of local chilli. Like most tribal food, this kind of cooking depends heavily on the freshness of ingredients, the availability of forest produce and the flavour of wood fire. Luckily, Arunachal is still 80 per cent forest, so all is well in 94

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paradise so far. A second distinct group includes Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tribes such as the Monpas, Membas and Sherdukpen from near the Bhutanese and Tibetan border areas. These communities have characteristics of the Trans-Himalayan Tantric Buddhist culture, extending all the way from Tibet through northwestern Arunachal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh, and Lahaul and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. Their cuisine too has a lot of Tibetan influence. They eat varieties of pasta (like thenthuk, thukpa and momos), drink salty butter tea, use ghee and a strongly aromatic fermented cheese called ‘churpee’ in their stews. Because

Above, left: Churpee, dehydrated, unsalted yak’s milk cheese, comes in several variants—from rock-hard to creamy and Roquefort-like Above, right: Siteka pickle, bitter brinjal preserved in mustard oil, is a masterpiece from the kitchen of my Idu Mishmi host, Poonam Mihu in Anini


Swimming Pool Coming Soon…

Tiger Camp – Corbett National Park (A Unit of Habitat Hotels Ltd.)

Official

1/5, First Floor, Garage Block, Regal Bldg., Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110001 INDIA Phone: +91 11 4329 0022, +91 11 4329 0033, Mobile: +91 9911792327, 9891852004, 9910295370 E-mail: info@habitathotels.com, www.habitathotels.com


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Above: At Nyishi weddings, a mithun (a semidomesticated bison-like beast) is sacrificed as part of the ‘bride price’, and the meat served to guests. Any extra meat is smoke-dried, using bamboo skewers, and distributed to faraway relatives Left: Chutney-making and merry-making at the friendly market in Bomdila, a great place to pick up Monpa ingredients such as yak’s milk butter, yak’s milk cheese, corn, pickles and dry wild foods

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arunachal

Clockwise from top: Green chilli chutney with churpee, from the Buddhist Sherdukpen tribe, is pungent with a delicious blue-cheesey aftertaste; river fish, cooked with salt, chilli flakes and ginger and wrapped in subtly aromatic wild leaves, is a commonly available snack at Roing’s local market (featured here is the Idu Mishmi version); and corn thukpa, considered a delicacy among the Monpas and Membas, is a slow-cooked (eight hours!) stew of dry cornmeal, beans and flavoursome dry yak bone-meat

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khamti sticky rice is so astonishingly delicious, it’s a dish all by itself. my favourite is khaolam Mechuka has a large Memba population, it’s a bit like a Hindi-speaking version of Tibet, both in terms of culture and landscape. A third broad branch of tribes from Eastern Arunachal, like the Tai Khamtis and Tangsas, is more related culturally and gastronomically to Nagaland, Burma and Thailand. This is a cuisine I am yet to explore fully, but it is considered

by many to be the best of all. Khamti sticky rice is so astonishingly delicious, it’s a dish all by itself. My favourite is khaolam—sticky rice filled in a bamboo hollow, slowly char-cooked on a fire and then pulled out to form a gooey rice tube, encased in a crisp skin by the bamboo’s inner membrane, and finally sliced into coin-shaped biscuits. Yum! Apong is, fortunately, common to


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all the tribes. Many smaller tribes, of course, do not fit into these general categories, such as the Idu Mishmis of Dibang Valley, easily one of the densest high-altitude jungles in the world. My introduction to homemade tribal food was the Idu asumbi— a starchy, cornmeal-based stew made either with meat or wild leaves, bamboo shoot, schezwan pepper and local chilli, at my friend Poonam Mihu’s place in Anini. This was simple comfort food, and just thinking about it makes me nostalgic. I can’t recall the exact moment that I came up with the idea of a book documenting tribal cuisine in Arunachal Pradesh, but it so happened that one morning, I found myself chewing on crunchy beetles that a stranger had just handed me, trying to determine whether they tasted nutty. But it’s possible that this was when I concluded that I was 100

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already in the deep end of things, and so decided to go all the way. For the record, the verdict did eventually swing to an odd kind of nutty. Gandipuk beetles, a delicacy in these parts, are found under rocks by the riverside, and their fans just can’t get enough of them—raw or toasted and crushed into a chutney with ginger, garlic, chillies and salt. And, oh yes, on rare occasions they can also be psychotropic (probably the reason why their fans are so crazy about them), in a scary sort of way; something I was told about after having eaten them. There are plenty of stories going around about Gandipuk trippers who start believing that they’ve turned into beetles themselves, and then try and crawl under rocks for safety. There was also something in the local papers about a bunch of Gandipuk freaks mobbing a bamboo hanging bridge, after

An Adi woman prepares apong, the ubiquitous Arunachali grain wine, from fermented rice, in Karko village in Upper Siang

having spotted a swarm flying over it, dropping the bridge with their collective weight and falling into the river together. Typical with Gandipuk tripper stories, the impression is split between funny and disastrous. Fortunately, none of the above happened in my case. Lately, I’ve begun to look beyond the weird, freaky or exotic. In my travels, I score as many invitations as I can to lunches, dinners, parties, weddings, shamanic rituals and animist festivals. I don’t just eat; I also try to understand what’s going on. Food for the book has now become an excuse to keep returning to my favourite part of the country. And yes, I get to be Doraemon next year!


TRAVEL PROMOTION

Oh the lazy hazy

days of summer

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ummer time is truly special…Diets are ditched to gorge on all our summer favouites— mangoes and litchis, watermelons and peaches—plucked from the bough and fighting for space with cooling sherbets, yummy ice creams and melting-in-the mouth sorbets. Stretching out in a hammock leisurely reducing the tottering pile of summer reads…plotting where to picnic and where to swim…uff…so much hard work… For families and singletons, romancing couples and honeymooners, senior citizens and favourite buddies …going on a sum-

Here comes the sun in all its glory, searing the plains and making everyone want to run for cover to the cool glades of the hills, to lake side retreats, to soothing spas and wooded resorts

mer holiday is all about fun and frolic, and spending plenty of quality time together. Today’s hotels and resorts, highly sensitized to the modern Indian’s vacation needs, have become co-conspirators in ensuring that the best laid plans are, as far as humanly possible, glitch-free and that guests can go back home, feeling good about themselves…their fellow creatures — and, with heaps of joyful memories to reflect upon, when the routine of everyday life begins to take its toll, testing the patience of on even the most cheerful individuals.


@shervanihospitality


TRAVEL PROMOTION

CORBETT

Riverside Resort A much loved wilderness retreat in one of the world’s best game parks, Corbett Riverside Retreat is a delightful base for safaris in one of one of India’s most exciting wildlife havens. Little wonder it has attracted guests from around the world since it was set up in 1989. Nestling by Kosi River it offers prospects for wildlife sightings from the resort itself, especially in the hot weather, when the animals and avifaunal creatures come searching for water. Guests have a choice of 4 categories of luxurious rooms in the best wilderness resort traditions. The Tigers Den villa with 6 deluxe suites has a private swimming pool and patios, bar and dining. The Riverfront Super Deluxe rooms are for those who want grandstand views of the Kosi and The Super Deluxe Garden Suites are great for families. Gourmet journeys can be enjoyed at its River’s Edge Restaurant and The Wild Side Alfresco Restaurant.

NORBULINGKA Institute

Norbulingka is a unique institution dedicated to keeping alive centuries old Tibetan traditions in content, form, and process by providing apprenticeships in traditional Tibetan art forms and making Tibetan experience accessible for contemporary lifestyle. We are a community with a sustainable business model and a strong social mission.

Norbulingka creates a unique collection of products ranging from thangkas and statues to home furnishings to clothing and accessories. Our products are crafted with love by the artists who are trained and employed here, using traditional methods and the finest materials. All proceeds generated from sales go directly back into the institute to help us provide benefits for our employees and sustain our mission of preserving Tibetan culture. We focus on design, mean-


Follow us on

ALMOND VILLA Srinagar www.almondvilla.in | vivchauhan@gmail.com


TRAVEL PROMOTION ing, and quality. Every product has a story to tell through its materials, processes and themes. From raw material to finished product, Norbulingka is about care and tradition.

SHERVANI Hilltop

The popular hill station of Nainital attracts huge throngs of visitors, year in and year out. Catering to the modern travelling Indian family can be quite a challenge for even the most experienced hotels. The Shervani Hilltop Garden Resort has for long been renowned for its warm hospitality and excellent service. The superb views of the Himalyan panoramas from the resort are a great bonus for harried urbanites travelling to the hills for clean air, pristine environments and fun things to do. Guests have a choice of 47 beautifully appointed Deluxe, Premium, Hill View, Garden View rooms and suites. The Presidential Suite is tended by a 24-hr butler service. A day of boating on the lake, walks in the hills and a jaunt down the Mall can build up quite an appetite—duck into the Garden Barbeque restaurant for awesome kebabs and live entertainment in the evening. The bar too is well stocked with the best spirits and beers, mocktails and cocktails.

ALMOND Villa

The gorgeous vistas of the legendary vale of Kashmir have down the centuries played streams of visitors—kings and commoners alike…all fleeing the


TRAVEL PROMOTION punishing heat of the Indian summer. From Kolkata to Kanyakumari, from Delhi to Dhaka— memories of leisurely summer holidays in Kashmir are now part of family nostalgia for many. Start your journey from Srinagar, with the charming nuances of Dal Lake and its boat people. Savour the splendour of blooming tulips and almond blossoms, as you visit its legendary gardens and hidden mountain trails. One such trail from the Boulevard takes you up to the eastern slope of Shankarcharya Hill, where you will find the stunningly located Almond Villa and Estates—or Takht-e-Suleiman. Sequestered in a lavish fruit orchard, with its views of the legendary Dal and the slopes of the Zabarwan range, its balmy breezes and tranquility make it the perfect choice for a stay in the 6 guestrooms.

This high adventure firm has over the last 20 years gathered together a firm fan following because the standards that it has set, for the camps and retreats it has established in India’s some of best hill towns, have been the bedrock of its success. The Banjara experience holds the promise

BANJARA Camps & Retreats

VAYDANTAA It has played host to both—jovial family gatherings—and romancing honeymooners looking for the solitude of their own private world. That says a lot for the setting and ambiance of Vaydantaa, a luxurious homestay sequestered in a quiet lane just a kilometer from the busyness of Mussoorie’s famous Mall. Spending time in the garden, gazing at the lazy sprawl of the Doon valley and above it the wide canvas of sky— painted in different hues through the day, is a wonderful way of finding your inner self. Turn a bit and you will encounter the views of the Himalayan peaks near Dhanaulty,

of wholesome, addictive holiday experiences of discovery and delight through: BANJARA TRAVEL EXPERIENCES— from Kashmir/Ladakh in the west to the eastern reaches of Arunachal Pradesh— and the trans-Himalayan plateau of Tibet, backed by a solid services network of handpicked properties and travel service providers. BANJARA STAY EXPERIENCES are enjoyed in the firm’s own camps and retreats, located in the lesser-travelled, pristine inner reaches of the Eastern Himachal Himalaya. Banjara Camp & Retreat — Sangla (Kinnaur District), Banjara Retreat & Cottage – Sojha (Kullu District), Banjara Orchard Retreat – Thanedar, (Shimla District)—each is imbued with the traditional warmth of Banjara hospitality—clean and comfortable environs, good food and a lot of fun.


Kasmanda Palace A Welcome Heritage Hotel A Hidden Jewel of Mussoorie

The Mall Road, Libray, Mussoorie - 248179. Uttarakhand. Tel: 8057855723, 0135 2632424 & 2633949 Email: reservations@kasmandapalace.com For more details Visit: www.kasmandapalace.com & www.facebook.com / kasmanda


TRAVEL PROMOTION

a popular picnic spot, surrounded by scented pines and walking trails. On a clear night look for the twinkling lights of Haridwar.The guestrooms too are a lovely retreat with spring mattresses and quality linens, LCD with HD Satellite Channels and free WiFi—and room service from the Terrace and Machaan restaurants

KASMANDA Palace

With untrammeled views of the beautiful Doon Valley and the thrilling profile of Himalayan Peaks, the gracious Kasmanda Palace is your private retreat high up above the buzz of The Mall in Library, Mussoorie’s popular promenade from the times of the Raj. A perfect retreat for those who seek the joys of a more gracious era the Kasmanda’s old world charm is a balm for the frantic urban traveller. Guests have a choice of 24 rooms in the 180-year old palatial residence, spread over 3 acres—the surrounds punctuated by soothing verdant spaces. Great steps have been taken to preserve the ambiance of yesteryears, but there is no lack in modern luxury and hospitality here—the best of both worlds for those looking for a slow-paced holiday. And for those who enjoy that little buzz as a foil to the solitude and quiet, The Mall, with its restaurants and shops is minutes away.


The jungle retreat for holidays you never want to end‌‌

THE CORBETT RIVERSIDE RESORT

Corbett riverside resort Contact details: Reservations (H.O.): tel: 9811168841; 9811180463; 9811109596 Landline: 011-29551191; 29551205 RIVERSIDE RESORT resort email: info@corbettriverside.com Corbett riverside Website: www.corbettriverside.com Contact details: Reservations (H.O.): tel: 9811168841; 9811180463; 9811109596 Landline: 011-29551191; 011-29551205, email: info@corbettriverside.com ,Website: www.corbettriverside.com

THE CORBETT


Advt

The UlTimaTe UTTarakhand himalayan mTB Challenge 6th -14th May 2015 & Second Edition 8th -16th April 2016

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ttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB) organized inaugural edition of ‘The Ultimate Uttarakhand Himalayan MTB Challenge’ (6th -14th May 2015) with ADB assisted Infrastructure Development Investment Program for Tourism (IDIPT) of Department of Tourism, Govt. of Uttarakhand & under the technical support of Cycling Federation of India (CFI) with an objective of promoting adventure tourism & mountain biking in Uttarakhand. The inaugural edition of the race was participated by 66 elite national cyclists from 13 different states of India and Indian Army. The participation in the race was through on line registration which was free of cost. Complimentary accommodation and food was provided to all participants during the event by UTDB. Formal inauguration of the event was done by Shrimati Indira Hridyesh, Hon’ble Finance Minister, Govt. of Uttarakhand at Nainital on 06th May 2015. Starting from Nainital on 7th May 2015, the race covered a total distance of 625 kms in six biking days passing through Almora, Gwaldam, Rudraprayag, New Tehri, Chinyalisaur with finish at Mussoorie on 13th May 2015. Prize distribution and closing ceremony was held at Hotel Solitaire, Dehradun on 14th May 2015 which was graced by Hon’ble Chief Minister, Govt. of Uttarakhand Shri Harish Rawat in august presence of Hon’ble Sports Minister Shri Dinesh Agarwal, Vice Chairman-GMVN Prof. Vishal Dobhal, Vice

Chairman- Uttarakhand Ecotourism Shri S.P.Singh and Secretary General-CFI Shri Onkar Singh. Overall race prize of Rs. 100,000.00, Rs. 75,000.00 and Rs. 50,000.00 was awarded with trophies to first, second and third position winners respectively. Prize money of Rs. 30,000.00, Rs. 20,000.00 and Rs. 10,000.00 was also awarded to first, second and third position winners of each of the six different stages of the race. Apart from this Rs. 3000.00 was awarded to all riders who successfully completed the race. A total prize money of Rs. 7, 49,000.00 was distributed among the winners. Local people and youths welcomed and cheered the participants along the route in all eight districts with great enthusiasm and fervor. More than 500 volunteers were mobilized during the event. The event was successfully completed with full support of District administration, Police Department, Health Department, Transport Department, Sports Department, Education Department, Prantiya Raksha Dal, Scout & Guide, Nagar Palika – Nainital, Almora, Mussoorie and Hotel Association Mussoorie & Nainital. Hon’ble Chief Minister, Hon’ble Sports Minister and Secretary General-CFI appreciated the efforts of the tourism department for inaugural edition of the event. The 2nd edition of the race will be held from (8th – 16th April 2016) covering a distance of 628 kms across eight districts of Nainital, Almora, Bageshwar, Chamoli, Rudraprayag, Tehri-Garhwal, Uttarkashi and

Dehradun. The second edition of the race will be an international event which is expected to have participation of 100 elite cyclists (85 national plus 15 international). The total prize money for 2nd Edition of the event is Rs. 10 Lakhs. The efforts are on to make this event a regular feature annually with endorsements of national & international cycling bodies thereby making the event a most sought after race in the world, in days to come. Interested riders/cyclists can participate in the event by registering themselves online at Cycling Federation of India web site – www.cyclingfederationofindia.org Participation in the event is free of cost. The boarding and lodging to participants during the event will be provided by Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board The event is widely covered in print & electronic media with grand opening and closing. More details for the event can be obtained at official website – www.mtbuttarakhand. co.in

For more information visit www.mtbuttarakhand.co.in, Email: uktourism.events@gmail.com


readers’ survey

The

Bestof Travel

presenting the results of our ninth annual readers’ survey

I

t’s that time of the year again, when we at Outlook Traveller honour and showcase the very best of travel and hospitality experiences in India and overseas as determined by you, our dear readers. This is the ninth successive year that we conducted the Outlook Traveller Readers’ Survey, which takes in a comprehensive list of categories, from hill destinations and national parks to hotels in several categories and inter-

national destinations, covering a broad spectrum of travel and hospitality experiences and service providers. Readers voted to choose the best of the best in each category via an online poll on our website. This year there are also three special Editor’s Choice Awards: for Best Outbound Tour Operator, for Best New Hotel Opening, and for Outstanding Contribution to Travel.

best Upcoming hill destination

Lansdowne, Uttarakhand

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here is little to match the charm of a little town nestling in a quiet Himalayan valley. Sparkling little lakes, vales prettily scored by deserted winding lanes, grassy hillocks, blazing summer flowers—and, yes, white winter snow… Lansdowne in Pauri Garhwal, developed as a cantonment town by the British about 140 years ago, has it all. Prime attractions include historic monuments, military museums, Victorian- and Edwardian-era houses with lawns teeming with primroses and hydrangeas—all with the grand backdrop of towering peaks. Stay at the finde-siecle Fairydale Resort for an immersive nostalgic Raj experience ( from `4,500; fairydalelansdowne.in).

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gireesh g.v.


WINNERS

RAFTING DESTINATION

Shivpuri, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand

INTERNATIONAL WEDDING DESTINATION

Seychelles

UPCOMING HILL DESTINATION

PARAGLIDING DESTINATION

INTERNATIONAL ISLAND DESTINATION

Lansdowne, Uttarakhand

Bir, Himachal Pradesh

Maldives

CLEANEST BEACH

ROCK CLIMBING DESTINATION

BEST FESTIVAL

Radhanagar Beach, Havelock Island, A&N Islands

Shey, Ladakh, J&K

Khajuraho Dance Festival DRIVING ROUTE

Srinagar to Leh, J&K

RESTORATION OF A HERITAGE SITE

ADVENTURE TOUR OPERATOR

Mehrangarh Fort, Rajasthan

Snow Leopard Adventures

LUXURY HILL RESORT

INTERNATIONAL ADVENTURE DESTINATION

Ananda in the Himalayas

BEST-CONSERVED NATIONAL PARK

Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand BIRDING DESTINATION

Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttarakhand RESPONSIBLE TOURISM PRACTITIONER

The Blue Yonder

New Zealand INTERNATIONAL HERITAGE DESTINATION

Italy INTERNATIONAL WILDLIFE DESTINATION

Kruger National Park, South Africa

LUXURY BEACH RESORT

The Leela, Kovalam HERITAGE HOTEL

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur ECO-FRIENDLY RESORT

Spice Village, Thekkady, Kerala

BOUTIQUE HOTEL

The Manor, Delhi LUXURY WILDLIFE LODGE

Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore PREMIUM WILDLIFE LODGE

Aahana—The Corbett Wilderness Resort

EDITOR’S CHOICE OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO TRAVEL

Aman Nath, Chairman, Neemrana Hotels OUTBOUND TOUR OPERATOR

Abercrombie & Kent NEW HOTEL

InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort

cleanest beach

Radhanagar Beach, Havelock Island, Andaman & Nicobar Islands

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ver since its global recognition as Asia’s best beach about a decade ago, Beach No. 7 on Havelock Island in the Andamans, a.k.a. Radhanagar Beach, has become a domestic star. Its claim to fame is its super-long, dazzling white sands. Fringed by tropical palms and vivid flowers, the beach seems like a frame out of a sentimental movie, perfect for snoggy couples. But really, romance shouldn’t get in the way of the fabulous snorkelling, scuba diving and undersea walks. Accommodation and/or diving are offered by Barefoot at Havelock (barefoot-andaman.com) and Dive India (diveindia.com). OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016 ATUL LOKE

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There is little to match the sheer visual splendour of Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort

best restoration of a heritage site

Mehrangarh Fort, Rajasthan

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olden-hued and majestic, this fort in Jodhpur is one of India’s most imposing. Situated on a 150m-high hillock, it was founded by Rao Jodha in 1459. Still largely intact, its thick outer walls are interspersed by seven gates that enclose several palaces, famous for their intricate carvings and expansive courtyards. The fort also houses the Mehrangarh Museum, and its Trust is at the forefront of conservation, displaying an important collection of Mughal art. For the poshest stay, Umaid Bhawan Palace ( from `23,500; tajhotels.com); but Ratan Vilas ( from `3,450; ratanvilas. com) or Raas ( from `15,700; raasjodhpur. com) are chic options. AKASH DAS

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best -conserved national park

best birding destination

best responsible tourism practitioner

Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand

Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttarakhand

The Blue Yonder

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ndia’s oldest national park set the benchmark for wildlife sanctuaries. Located in the Himalayan foothills, its 520 sq km are a dense network of forests and rivers and hills, marshy depressions and grasslands. Its diversity of flora and fauna includes hundreds of varieties of birds and reptiles, besides large mammals. The Dhikala or Bijrani zones offer the best wildlife spotting. Proactive steps by the management after the 2013 flash floods have seen the park regain its former glory (tarnished, too, for over-construction and other saddening activities). Vanghat offers a low-carbon footprint stay (`7,000; vanghat.com).

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ocated atop the Jhandi Dhar hills in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon, this sanctuary was established in 1988 for the protection of the shrinking broad leaf oak forests of the central Himalaya. The sanctuary is spread over 45.59 sq km, at altitudes as high as 2,500m. Located about 33km north of Almora, the sanctuary is known for its wide variety of flora and has over 200 bird species. Look out for forktails, nuthatches, blackbirds, parakeets, laughing thrush, magpies and many, many more winged attractions. Stay at the Binsar Forest Retreat ( from `7,000; binsarforestretreat.com).

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ourism as good works. Pondicherry-based The Blue Yonder brings together unique experiences that are intimately connected to the local communities it engages with. The initiative began in 2004 with a small project on river conservation in Kerala. From then on, it’s been knitting together inspirational holidays that take tourism closer to the ground. For a customised holiday that takes the headache out of holidayplanning—without the heartburn that can afflict a conscientious tourist—The Blue Yonder offers tours across India and elsewhere in the subcontinent. Look yonder, at theblueyonder.com.

Blue Yonder has created many meaningful travel experiences for its guests over the years OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • OCTOBER 2015

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best destination for rafting

best destination for rock climbing

Shivpuri, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand

Shey, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir

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s watersports gain popularity in the country, especially with young Indians, the top waterways of the country have been getting new attention to gauge their potential for rafting. Shivpuri near Rishikesh in Uttarakhand is rafting central—a magnet for those who come to experience the challenges of whitewater rafting. Its 16km rafting stretch has developed some of the best rafting facilities in the country, to complement the excellent Grade 1 rapids.

ome to the old summer palace of the kings of Ladakh, Shey is today on the tourist map for a very different reason. The hilly terrain today draws a new set of tourists, the kind who ask nothing more than to climb the 20-odd rock climbing bolted sport routes. The rock climbing area is on the main road on the north side of Shey village, about 20 minutes outside Leh. It has a few routes marked with white numbers, usually by the army. Top ropes and lots of multi-pitch trad lines are also visible.

best destination for paragliding

best adventure tour operator

Bir, Himachal Pradesh

Snow Leopard Adventures

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aragliding in India = Bir. This little hamlet in Joginder Nagar valley in the Dhauladhar range of Himachal Pradesh has a long history and a more contemporary Tibetan link. But after the monsoon, winged humans take over. Billing, a meadow about 14km north of Bir, is the main paragliding venue and the village hosts international competitions and events periodically. This perfect launch pad has become legendary on the international paragliding circuit and a destination for world champion pilots.

n adventure tourism, the skill of the operator is tested more perhaps than in any other category of tourism. Snow Leopard Adventures has a combination of 4 ‘S’ elements that shape the experiences: safety, skilled team, sustainability and service. Be it river rafting on the Ganga, trekking in the Himalaya, mountain biking in Garhwal, sea kayaking tours in Kerala or Trans-Himalayan jeep safaris, careful planning, emphasis on safety, ecological sensitivity and personalised service form the foundation of the trips. See snowleopardadventures.com.

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readers’ survey best international adventure destination

Top to bottom: adventures in New Zealand; Italy’s fascinating heritage; and abundant widlife at Kruger National Park

New Zealand

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ungee-jumping, skydiving, caving, canyoning, heliskiing, off-roading, horse riding, rafting and more, New Zealand has every adventure activity and extreme sport you can think of— and plenty that you’ve never heard of. This is now the unofficial home of adventure tourism. Activities to suit all levels of confidence and ages are on offer. There’s also a reason that the epic LOTR was shot here—this is a spectacular country of jaw-dropping beauty, believable on celluloid perhaps and thrillingly unbelievable when experienced for real. For trip-planning help, see newzealand.com/in.

best international heritage destination

Italy

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taly has lured the sophisticated traveller for centuries. The birthplace of the Renaissance was, naturally, the chief attraction for Europeans on the ‘Grand Tour’. Not much has changed, apart from folks around the world flocking to this country, which boasts staggering cultural riches (51 Unesco World Heritage Sites). From Roman ruins, to fabulous palaces to incomparable art in galleries and churches to cities that act as open-air museums, few destinations can satiate the high-minded as Italy. And the food’s not bad either. Holiday planning at italia.it or italylogue.com/tourism.

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best international wildlife destination

Kruger National Park, South Africa

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ne of Africa’s largest game reserves, Kruger National Park in South Africa is known for its high density of the ‘Big 5’: lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and Cape buffaloes. Hundreds of other mammals are also on show here, including the giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and many others, along with diverse bird species. The park is nearly 20,000 sq km large, encloses a spectacular landscape—mountain ranges, bush plains, tropical forests—and is a UN- designated biodiversity hotspot. See krugerpark.co.za.


best international wedding destination

best international island destination

best outbound tour operator

Seychelles

Maldives

Abercrombie & Kent

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his is the archetype of island paradise: sunny beaches, balmy weather, starry skies, magical seas, white sands… This island nation in the Indian Ocean offers the perfect setting for fairytale weddings. And they make it easy too: all that couples marrying in Seychelles need are a valid passport and birth certificate. With scores of hotels and resorts offering locales for varying budgets, the Seychelles presents a veritable embarrassment of riches. But there’s help at hand: the Seychelles wedding team is on tap to sort out any challenges. Check out seychelles.travel.

ust a hop, skip and jump across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has become a favourite with discerning Indian travellers. An archipelago of 1,192 coral islands grouped into 26 coral atolls, just about 200 are inhabited, while another 80 islands have tourist resorts. Known globally for its pristine beaches—many would claim the best in the world—deep blue lagoons and extensive reefs, it is a favourite getaway for those in search of a relaxing or romantic getaway. As for fans of marine tourism, the clear waters of the Maldives offer some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling experiences. See visitmaldives.com.

Kichwa Tembo, an A&K lodge in Masai Mara

Advt

Shanti Maurice is a lifestyle resort nestled on the remote south side of Mauritius near St Felix, making it an ideal destination for families seeking sun, sea and an array of adventurous island activities. Celebrating it’s 10th anniversary this year, and the first hotel in the Indian Ocean to join Design Hotels™, Shanti Maurice boasts ocean-facing villas, sprawling tropical gardens and the ‘Les Petits Dodos Club’. Entertainment for tiny travellers include a variety of water sports as well as children’s yoga, a garden cinema and a variety of traditional Mauritian games. Also on offer is star gazing, pizza making, henna design classes and traditional Sega dance lessons, delivering a truly authentic island experience.

Daily beachfront yoga and yoga bike tours await those wanting to skip the sky diving, surfing and sailing. In addition, the Nira Spa presents four individual spa concepts and philosophies - Oriental, Natural Bio, Indian and Fitness & Wellness up and above an already extensive treatment menu. Indulging in fresh local island produce is part-andparcel of the Shanti Maurice experience. Families can enjoy freshly caught fish on the beach at the Fish Shack, lazy, leisurely picnics in the herb garden or sample Aquacasia, a new food concept that celebrates the jewels of the Indian Ocean from the isles of Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Reunion, Indonesia and Western Australia. OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • OCTOBER 2015 121 A MEMBER OF DESIGN HOTELS


readers’ survey

best festival

Khajuraho Dance Festival

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n recent decades, Khajuraho’s fame as the home of some of the most impressive historic temples in the country has—almost—been matched by a more contemporary attraction. The annual Festival of Dance celebrates India’s classical dance forms, offering a visual feast during a weeklong extravaganza set against the backdrop of the splendid temples. The festival is held during the spring, further enhancing a refined aesthetic experience. The Lalit Temple View offers the most comfortable stay in town ( from `8,000; thelalit.com).

ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

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TREKKING HOLIDAYS | ROMANTIC EXPERIENCES | FAMILY GATEWAY | INFORMATIVE TRAVEL ART DISCOVERIES | FOODIES PARADISE | BUSINESS TRAVEL


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best driving route

Srinagar-Leh, J&K

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ed up of traffic snarls and road rage? You need to get off your city roads and onto the highway. Preferably a really high highway. The SrinagarLeh highway, part of the old Treaty Road, and now designated NH 1D, is a relatively recent entrant into the consciousness of the driving holiday fan. Open to traffic from early June to mid-November, the highway passes through some extremely challenging if majestic terrain, following the historic trade route along the Indus river. The two highest passes en route are the Fotu La (4,108m) and Zoji La (3,528m).

PHOTOGRAPHS: ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

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Umaid Bhawan Palace

Ananda in the Himalayas

Best HoteLs Best Luxury HiLL resort

Ananda in the Himalayas Best Luxury BeacH resort

The Leela, Kovalam Best Heritage HoteL

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur Best eco-friendLy resort

Spice Village, Thekkady Best Boutique HoteL

The Manor, Delhi Best new HoteL

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InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort


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Top to bottom: Neemrana Fort-Palace; Oberoi Vanyavilas; and Aahana

Outstanding COntributiOn tO travel

best luxury Wildlife lOdge

best Premium Wildlife lOdge

Aman Nath, Chairman, Neemrana Hotels

Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore

Aahana—The Corbett Wilderness Resort

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Discovery Jordan


The sun sets on a spectacular desert landscape: at Wadi Rum

L o o k i n g for Lawrence Ranee Sahaney lives her dream of visiting the magical lands of arabia. (Peter o’toole had something to do with it too.)

blaine harrington/age fotostocK/dinodia


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PHOTOGRAPHS: LUIS DAVILLA/AGE FOTOSTOCK/DINODIA

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he magical journey starts unspooling the minute my flight touches down in Amman, the sprawling modern capital of the desert kingdom of Jordan. I am living a long-forgotten dream, one made vivid by a passionate Englishwoman who taught me geography. And brought compellingly alive by Peter O’Toole as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in David Lean’s film of the same name. T.E. Lawrence was, of course, a key figure in the Great Arab Revolt (1916-18) against the 400-year-long Ottoman rule in Arabia. When Lawrence first visited in 1916, Amman was a small village dominated by Byzantine and Roman ruins and a new station on the Ottomancontrolled Hejaz Railway, which served as an important means of transport between Damascus (Syria) and Medina (Saudi Arabia). It was this critical supply line which was targeted with increasing boldness by Lawrence and his band of Bedouin rebels under Prince Faisal, the son of King Hussein. Faisal and Law132

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the passage through the siq canyon to the treasury is at once magical and eerie rence made a formidable team, engineering the Arab Revolt—and, ultimately, the creation of the Kingdom of Jordan and the rest of the modern Middle East. Our travels revealed how today the desert kingdom is one of the safest destinations in the tumultuous Middle East. Later, travelling through the harsh Negev Desert, I saw vestiges of the rail tracks, which today, in stretches, still move phosphate to Aqaba. Tourists can sign up for an ‘adventure experience’ in some of the original carriages from Lawrence’s days. For more Lawrence nostalgia, visitors can pop into the gallery for contemporary Jordanian and Arab art, Amman’s Darat al-Funun complex. Part of this cultural hub is Darat 1, a restored residential building,

where Lawrence wrote parts of his Seven Pillars of Wisdom. On a tight schedule, we headed to the outskirts of Amman to the Dead Sea and its famed delights, with plans to explore the Jordanian capital later. The lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea offers an otherworldly experience. Floating in the salt-drenched waters is a weird take on one’s understanding of buoyancy. We had zipped down to the private beach at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea and slathered on the mineral-rich clay in the urns helpfully kept by the waterline. Some in our party forgot the injunction “do not float face down!” and so ended up sputtering and fighting the sting from the salty water in their eyes and mouth. It really is very,


BLAINE HARRINGTON/AGE FOTOSTOCK/DINODIA

very salty…. A dash to wash it out with fresh water (also readily available) and back again—this time in the manner prescribed. I had planned to paddle in the shallows but kept slipping on the mud and hurting my feet on the sharp pebbles. Waterproof sandals are the way to go, I learnt from an Englishwoman floating on the sea reading a book! In the hazy distance I saw the hills of Israel, which also shares these waters. To take home a bit of the Dead Sea, we stocked up on soap, mud packs, bath salts and the like. Wherever you travel in Jordan you will encounter its Biblical heritage. The Dead Sea experience is embellished by the story of how God demolished the debauched cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and where Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back against God’s wishes. The legendary spot is also famed for the recovery of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls by a wandering shepherd, said to be the oldest Biblical manuscripts, some of which are on dis-

play in Amman’s new Jordan Museum. The multi-hued splendour of the abandoned city of Petra, the capital of the Nabateans, has long been the stuff of legend—ever since the Swiss geographer and scholar Johannes L. Burckhardt discovered it in 1812. We headed out from the Dead Sea—stopping en route at Bethany, where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan river. A sunrise encounter of the rosy cliffs, after a dawn-lit scramble to your hotel terrace, will remain an everlasting memory. The Nabateans, an Arab community which peopled these parts from the 3rd century BCE, have left their mark for eternity in their fabulous buildings hewn out of the massive multi-hued crags and promontories, sculpted further still by the elements. This cleverly concealed city was for long empowered by its position as a trading outpost for caravans travelling between Damascus and the Arabian desert lands. Our first encounter with Petra is a dark one—but mind-blowing. The night

Left to right: an ancient theatre in the ruins of Jerash; at Captain’s Desert Camp, Wadi Rum; and a view of the Treasury in Petra, from the narrow Siq gorge

we arrive we race through dinner for the two-hour ‘Petra by Night’ tour of the old city. Our hotel, the Mövenpick Resort Petra, stands a stone’s throw from the Petra Visitor’s Centre gate, from where we hit the skinny 2-km path winding through the Siq, a narrow canyon lined with humongous rock formations. The lamp-lit passage cuts through the canyon, curving, rising and falling along the gentle incline. It is at once magical and eerie as the moonlight picks out the gargantuan formations, with the stars shining through brilliantly from a tiny natural skylight. Thank God for my torch—the trail can be quite wicked, peppered as it is with loose pebbles and gravel. The Siq then debouches into a great open space commandeered by a massive pillared structure carved into the rockface. Highlighted by a vast carpet of lighted lamps is the legendary site featured in Indiana OUTLOOK TRAVELLER • APRIL 2016

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Women wet their feet at Aqaba beach on the Red Sea

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Jones and the Last Crusade—the Treasury monument, Al Khazaneh. I’m a fan of the drama of historical sound and light shows but find this one a bit of a letdown, just sitting around contemplating the silhouette of the Treasury while a flautist pipes away traditional Bedouin tunes. But I still recall that frisson of delight when I first laid eyes on the massive rosy structure, its façade hiding three small ante-chambers. Though it’s called the Treasury, its purpose remains a mystery.

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he next morning we discover the magic of Petra by day. As we venture along the 4-km ruin-hopping-trail, we discover that many of the structures are, astonishingly, carved straight into the bald sandstone mountains. A pit stop at the Treasury leads us on for another 2km past the royal tombs. Many of these abandoned sites were used later by Bedouin families—we saw kids playing outside some ancient tombs and the day’s washing on a line. The earthquake 134

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of 555 AD sounded the death knell for this once-flourishing city. Today, tourists such as I merely gawp at the sheer scale of the works of both man and God. After lunch, the lively ones in our party set off for the spectacular Al-Deir, or the Monastery, an hour’s hike up. Some prefer a donkey ride. Over drinks, I regret not having gone up. Petra views, I learn, are stupendous from this spectacular structure, which is even bigger than the Treasury. It is believed to have been built as a tomb for a Nabatean king in the 3rd century BCE. Early the next day, we are ready for the run to Wadi Rum and the port of Aqaba by the Red Sea. We get our first taste of the awesome landscape of the Negev Desert—ancient home to that storied nomadic community, the Bedouins. Stretching out to the horizon is a shimmering sea of red sand punctuated by craggy spurs and distinctive promontories of meltedchocolate sandstone. Occasionally one can see fertile pockets, marked by sheets of plastic, gleaming fluidly in the midday

sun and protecting farmed potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and the like. As we hurtle on to Wadi Rum along the historic NH15, which runs from Amman to Aqaba, the terrain appears even more remote. Running parallel to it are vestiges of the rail track marking the old Hejaz railway route. The desert slips seamlessly into the vast canyon of the Wadi Rum, where Lawrence would confer with the Hashemite army chiefs. The blood-red sands of this ‘Valley of the Moon’ are punctuated by sandstone cliffs and towering promontories of granite. Dominating this moonscape land is Jabal Rum, Jordan’s second-highest peak. The Rum is also the setting of Lean’s epic movie. The Zalabia Bedouin, descendants of those tribesmen who joined Lawrence in revolt, are said to have taken part in the filming. Lawrence has the best words to describe one’s first encounter with the Rum: “Rum the magnificent…vast echoing and Godlike… a processional way greater than imagination…” The chatter


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jordan Lawrence and his Bedouins used the desert to launch their assaults against the Turks. On offer today are hiking tours, rock scrambling, motorbike drives and cycling trips along tourist-designated trails. A well-fitting hat, a scarf, water and a loo visit are essentials before you get on to that sneering camel. Opting GONZALO AZUMENDI/AGE FOTOSTOCK/DINODIA for a Bedouin-style safari or just a short camel ride brings you up-close and personal to this grand vista. Lunch, Bedouin-style, awaits us at Captain’s Desert Camp. Aqaba and Wadi Rum are legendary for showcasing the unique leadership qualities of Lawrence—scholar, archaeologist, writer, soldier, dreamer—who brokered new ways of frustrating the Turks. No one was more aware of the devils that drove him to do the impossible: “Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, or they may act on their dreams with open eyes, LEHMANN, HERBERT/STOCKFOOD/DINODIA to make them possible.” And nothing exempliFrom top: Floating on the Dead Sea; the fied this trait more than the bold plan to Royal Auto Museum; and a mezze spread attack the Turks who held Aqaba port. The Hashemite army rained down fire on the Turkish outpost in the Wadi Aba of our party stopped as we surveyed the el Lissan. Some 550 Turks were killed— magnificent setting. “Our little caravan leaving the road to Aqaba open to a coup grew self-conscious, and fell dead quiet, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its smallness on July 6, 1917. Today, Aqaba fort, damaged by the in the presence of the stupendous hills attack and an earthquake, is a poor of Wadi Ram, Jordan.” Throughout 1917, 136

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reminder of this epic battle. Standing in the courtyard of the small museum next door is a 430-ft-high flagpole. It marks the spot where Lawrence and his band of rebel Arabs took a “victory bath” in the sea. The rest, as they say, is history. First Jerusalem fell to the British, and then Damascus. Things have changed radically since Lawrence’s days. Downtown Aqaba is awash with hotels, spas, restaurants and shops. We enjoy a marvellous dinner at the Royal Yacht Club Romero, and the following morning a cruise on the Red Sea. We doze on the upper deck under a benign sun, while a couple of girls brave the chilly waters for a spot of snorkelling. Lunch is barbecued fare rustled up by the captain of the Yasmina.

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n route to Amman we make a night stop at the Hot Springs at Maan. Not far away lies Mekawer, where John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod Antipas. We wrap up the tour with a ride up to Mount Nebo where God showed Moses the Promised Land. Jericho and, further up, Jerusalem are still, sadly, hidden from us by a hazy veil. Next up is Madaba’s Byzantine St George’s Orthodox Church, important for its 6th-century mosaic map of Christian holy places. Lawrence was a shattered man when he returned to England to settle anonymously in a small Dorset cottage, under the alias of T.E. Shaw. He had left feeling that the Arabs had been betrayed by the British and French whose imperialistic designs had flung the dream of a free Arab nation out of the window. It was only after Lawrence prevailed upon Churchill that an ‘honourable’ solution was found, with Faisal becoming king of Iraq and Abdullah, his brother, king of Transjordan. The road to Amman brings us to the Royal Auto Museum with its stunning display of royal ‘boys’ toys’. Also housed in this collection is a Brough Superior, British-made and once common in Jordan for military use. It was the same model that Lawrence was riding when he crashed on a quiet English country road and died in 1935.


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A modern Orthodox church near Christ’s baptism site in the Jordan river ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

# THE INFORMATION GETTING THERE Qatar Airways flies Delhi to Amman via Doha. From Mumbai, flight connections are available via Dubai. vIsas Visas on arrival are available for Indians; documents required are proof of hotel accommodation and a return air ticket. A single entry visa costs 40 JOD (approx. `4,000). However, visa fees will be waived for tourists who buy the ‘Jordan Pass’, with the condition that they spend a minimum of three consecutive nights in Jordan (which you should certainly be doing!). The Pass is useful: it gives you prepaid entry at a reduced rate to over 40 attractions. The Jordan Pass needs to be purchased before arrival to Jordan (for this too, you’ll have to stay a minimum of three nights). Buy it online at jordanpass.jo. cuRRENcy 1 Jordanian dollar (JOD) = approximately `100 WHERE To sTay At the Dead Sea we opted for Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea (from `10,000; movenpick.com/DeadSea) whose traditional village-style sprawl, private beach by the Dead Sea and in-house spa are lovely. It’s also perfect for visits to the Baptism Site at the Jordan river 8km away. Rooms open on spectacular views of the Dead Sea and the river. At Petra we chose Mövenpick Resort Petra (from `16,000; movenpick.com/ Petra), because it’s a two-minute walk away from the Visitor’s Centre gate from where one can access the historic ruins. At Wadi Rum we lunched Bedouin-style at Captain’s Desert Camp (from `4,500; captainsjo.com) but overnight stays for a Bedouin experience under the stars in authentic Bedouin goat hair tents are also an option. The tents come with separate sleep and seating areas. In Aqaba, the Kempinski Hotel 138

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Aqaba (from `14,000; kempinski.com/en/aqaba/hotel-aqaba) bordering the Red Sea, was all comfort and luxury with its own private beach, open-air jacuzzi and swimming pool. It’s the perfect base for snorkelling and scuba adventure at the nearby Dive Centre. At Amman, the Crowne Plaza Amman (from `12,000; ihg.com), located in the prestigious 6th Circle, is just minutes away from The Citadel and Souq Zara.

WHERE To EaT Be sure to have a traditional Jordanian meal at Petra Kitchen. It’s also a good idea to learn to cook some of the culinary standouts, such as Maqlouba, the famous upside-down chicken, and the fried veggies in rice (biryani-style) dish, from their chefs. Sample the juiciest steaks at Crowne Plaza Amman’s V Lounge and Restaurant. WHaT To sEE & do > The Lawrence of Arabia Trail: Several outfitters offer the Lawrencetrail tours. An excellent itinerary is available online from dakkakjordan.com. > Dead Sea: Floating face-up on the salty water is de rigeur when visiting Jordan, as is a mud pack. Wear waterproof footwear to avoid getting nicks from the sharp pebbles. And avoid getting into the water if you have any abrasions—it will sting! > Snorkelling and scuba in Aqaba: There’s a dedicated Dive Centre in the Red Sea, close to where most of the seaside resorts are located. The current is deceptively strong and the winds can rev up so check with the weatherman/your instructor before you venture in. > Camping at Wadi Rum: For a Bedouin-style goatherd-tent desert stay, sign up with a recognised outfitter. Meals and comfort levels will be, of course, tourist-style. > Royal Auto Musuem: This is an absolute treat for vintage car buffs. n

ranee sahaney


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Back Time Traveller Book Review of the 4.15… Classic Where on Earth? Picture Post Book edited by bibek bhattacharya n

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time traveller sydney, 1961 It’s arguably Australia’s best known landmark. Sitting pretty on the Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour since 1973, the Sydney Opera House is the youngest cultural site to be listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco. The Opera House was a brainchild of the Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who won an international design competition for a new venue, large enough for big theatrical productions, in 1955. Utzon received the prize money of £5,000 and was named the chief supervisor of the project. But this beautiful building was not without controversy, primarily because of Utzon’s disagreements with the Australian government on progressive revisions on his design. He resigned in 1966, memorably calling the situation “Malice in Blunderland” and wasn’t acknowledged at the Opera House’s gala opening in 1973, when it was inaugurated with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. It was ten years late, and had gone a whopping 1,457% over the initial budget! Today it is considered a landmark architectural achievement, and Utzon was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the field’s highest accolade, in 2003, a year before his death. n

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bibek bhattacharya


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The High Road There are very few genuine

books

adventures left in the world, in these days of Google Maps and 4G connections, anywhere in the world, even in the remote Himalaya.

However, it’s still possible to find that adventure, if only you make a plan to do something quite audacious, like, say walking the length of the Himalaya. Levison Wood is the yang to Robert Macfarlane’s yin. Both are hugely successful travel writers, young and British, but that’s where the similarities end. While Macfarlane’s the purist walker and chronicler of lost trails, Wood is the high definition adventurer. His epic overland trips are a multimedia affair, documented on camera and recounted in books, with tweets along the way. The 34-year-old Wood has been a Captain with the Parachute Regiment of the British Army, seen service in Afghanistan and other theatres of conflict around the world, and today is a best-selling travel writer and TV personality. His USP is the overland hike, and a couple of years ago, his walk from the source of the Nile to its mouth in the Mediterranean

had resulted in a wildly popular TV series as well as a bestselling book. Not one to rest on his laurels, in 2015, he embarked on a similar trip to walk the Himalayan ranges, from the Wakhan Corridor in the Afghan Pamirs all the way through to Bhutan in the Eastern Himalaya, and make a documentary about it. Wood has an easy and engaging voice, more eloquent in his writing than in the TV series. He flies to Kabul, and with the Afghan guide Malang Darya for company, he sets off up the Wakhan to cross the 5,000m Irshad Pass from the Pamir into the Hunza valley of the Karakoram in Pakistan. Borders are always tricky, especially in the high mountains of South Asia, so Wood has to come back to Afghanistan, cross over into Pakistan and make his way up to the Hunza Valley to resume his walk. From here, Malang and Wood walk down through Gilgit as far as they can, before

Walking the Himalayas By Levison Wood (Hodder & Stoughton, `699)

Wood makes another detour to enter India through Punjab. First with his Indian friend Ashwin Bharadwaj and then with his old Nepali associate Binod Pariyar, Wood hikes through the Indian Himalayan foothills and the Nepali terai to Pokhara and Kathmandu. Post a helicopter flight to the Everest base camp, Binod and Wood continue their walk though West Bengal and Sikkim to Bhutan, where he ends his journey on a high ridge overlooking Tibet, beneath the sacred peak of Gangkhar Puensum. To me, the Afghanistan-Pakistan stretch and Bhutan in the end make for the most compelling bits of the book, primarily because it’s always bemusing and a little embarrassing to read about India and Nepal through foreign eyes, especially ones as wide-eyed as Wood’s. Most of the narrative in the middle stretch

Travel Classic

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is dominated by his and Binod’s horrible car crash in Nepal that the party was lucky to survive. It resulted in a 50-day break in his walk as he recuperated in England. The slog through Nepal often takes on a purgatorial tone, grim and mean-tempered. However, the final stretch from Kathmandu to Bhutan regains the sense of wonder and joy that characterises the opening section of the book. On the whole, Walking the Himalayas is an engaging and ambitious book, though not as gripping as Wood’s Nile journey. My other grouse is that Wood concentrates too much on the foothills and not the high Himalaya. On the flipside, the narrative races along, and especially fun are Wood’s encounters with the shamanism of the region, ranging from a village shaman in Pakistan, an Aghori sadhu in India and a Tibetan monk in Bhutan who literally rolls the dice to tell Wood’s fate.

A Dragon Apparent, 1951

I don’t have a favourite travelogue as much as a favourite travel writer, which is Norman Lewis. He wrote about Vietnam just before the outbreak of Dien Bien Phu in A Dragon Apparent, which is a truly spectacular book. A brilliant writer, he was an intelligence officer in the British

Army. Based on his experiences during World War II, he wrote Naples ‘44, about the city of Naples in the year 1944. He wrote a more discursive book about the Mafia in Sicily called The Honoured Society. Lewis was a very prolific writer, and lived a long time, well into his nineties. I think that he is, without doubt, the great English travel writer of the twentieth century. Will Self is an award-winning novelist, journalist, and TV personality whose latest book is Shark

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(as told to shreya ila anasuya)


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where on earth?

this volcano is considered to be the most active in the world, as well as one of the youngest shield volcanoes in the United states. regular eruptions have been recorded since the 18th century, but local folklore suggests that this volcano has been active for over 2,000 years. in fact, it can be said to be almost constantly erupting from vents either on its summit caldera or on the rift zones, and officially it has been in a state of eruption since 1983. the volcano has a large caldera with a central crater which is supposed by the locals to be the home of the fire goddess Pele. it was formed through repeated eruptions about 1,500 years ago, and in the past 33 years, the volcano’s lava flow has covered about 100 sq km, destroying nearly 200 houses and adding a new coastline. 4name the volcano and the state in which it is situated.

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the mystique of india's

'seven sisters' - assam, arunacha pradesh, nagaland, manipur, mizoram, meghalaya, tripura and the himalayan state of sikkim... Outlook Traveller Getaways presents a guide spanning the entire extent of India, focusing on destinations that have remained off the beaten path thus far

THE A-Z OF NORTHEAST


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Taking Flight Photograph by Kunal GuPTa Sewri Creek, Mumbai

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Outlook traveller  

So, I juSt came back from SrInagar. I last went to kashmir in 1982, as a five-year-old, and returned teeming with memories (and goodies). th...

Outlook traveller  

So, I juSt came back from SrInagar. I last went to kashmir in 1982, as a five-year-old, and returned teeming with memories (and goodies). th...

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