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J u l y 2 0 1 8 • ` 1 5 0 • VO L . 7 I S S U E 1 • N AT G E O T R AV E L L E R . I N

SIXTH

Anniversary Special

Hometown secrets Shashi Tharoor on Trivandrum

Raghu Dixit on Mysore

Janice Pariat on Shillong

Smart Hacks Around the World

Easy Come, Easy Go E d e n

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SIIXVETRHSARY

ANN CIAL SPE

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July2018 VOL. 7 ISSUE 1

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24 WHERE’S MY PASSPORT There’s a lot to learn from online travel hacks. Or not

28 IT’S ALWAYS BEAK SEASON IN

Voices

26 CREW CUT What is the best time to visit a place? Maybe there isn’t one 54

The Itinerary MANGALAJODI

A wetland cruise with locals in Odisha’s bird heaven 32 DUBAI SPILLS THE BEANS Sipping coffee from around the world at the U.A.E’S first Coffee Museum 36 HOW MOTOWN GOT ITS

48 A THOUSAND MILES DOWN THE NILE

A cruise along Egypt’s mighty river uncovers millennia-old history 54 IT’S (NOT) JUST ABOUT THE BIKE From vanilla-white passes to tricky bends, a cyclist charts four adventurous courses across the country 60 BEIRUT: THE ORIGINAL URBAN PHOENIX

GROOVE BACK

Soaring sight lines and high aspirations—Lebanon’s seductive seaside capital is on the rise

40 SALZBURG BEYOND THE SOUND

68 THOU SHALT NOT EAT, BUT... Tasting Maultaschen in Germany comes with stories of monks who broke the rules for a forbidden bite

With a wave of exciting new urban spaces, this is the time to visit Detroit OF MUSIC

Ice caves, azure lakes, and Mozart: There’s more to this city than the movie

DAVID SILVERMAN/GETTY IMAGES NEWS/GETTY IMAGES (WINE), MINT IMAGES - FRANS LANTING LIBRARY/MINT IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES (DEER)

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44 NEW WINE IN OLD BOTTLE A wine tasting session in Israel highlights stories of the drink’s past and present


Regulars 20 Editorial | 136 Travel Quiz

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A Writer ABROAD 70 HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT To the casual observer, Japan has luminous natural landscapes and high culture, but to author Akhil Sharma it is the people’s famed inscrutability that bears examination

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Smart Hacks 78 LENS ON LADAKH Handy tips to photograph the Himalayan kingdom’s snow-cloaked landscapes and local culture 86 GOING SOLO IN SOUTH AMERICA A five-month solo trip in South America yields in lifelong friendships and a goldmine of travel wisdom 92 TACKLING EUROPE MINUS THE SPEED BUMPS

A seasoned hand behind the wheel shares her stories of cross-country road trips in the continent 98 WHEN A LONDONER WALKS INTO A BAR

Nightclubs under railways arches, Pimm’s in the park, and old-school gastropubs—a guide to partying smart in the English capital 104 THIN WALLETS TRAVEL FAR Four countries packed with eclectic experiences—and currencies weaker than the rupee 104

BYEBYETOKYO/ISTOCK UNRELEASED/GETTY IMAGES (WOMAN), JAVIER LARREA/AGE FOTOSTOCK/DINODIA PHOTO LIBRARY (FIGURINES)

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Hometown secrets 110 THE REDISCOVERY PROJECT An expatriate, a frequent visitor, and now a Member of Parliament from the city—Shashi Tharoor—talks about his discoveries of Thiruvananthapuram 114 ‘MYSORE IS THE GIRL I SING TO’ No matter where Raghu Dixit’s music takes him, his home city remains his number-one inspiration 118 POSTCARDS FROM A FLEETING HOME

For writer Janice Pariat, Shillong is more than her childhood home. It is a place that can shape-shift into the eccentric characters of a story

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THE JOURNEY 122 QUIET FLOWS THE NILA Tracing the Nila (Bharathapuzha), Kerala’s second largest river, reveals centuries-old art forms and the sentinels who safeguard them 130 CHARMED AT CHAMONIX Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc, a journey on a vintage train, and Frankenstein—a lot happens at the posh French ski town

ON THE COVER Landing in the unfamiliar can be as daunting as it is exciting, and a few travel tricks up your sleeve or an insider’s knowledge Easy Come, Easy Go can become the catalyst to navigating smart. Like the subject of photographer Kei Uesugi’s image, we smile more when we feel better prepared and that’s exactly the feeling we’re hoping to bring to you—a fun package of tips, tricks and secret haunts to carry along on your travels. J U L Y 2 0 1 8 • ` 1 5 0 • VO L . 7 I S S U E 1 • N AT G E O T R AV E L L E R . I N

SIXTH

ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL

HOMETOWN SECRETS

SHASHI THAROOR

ON TRIVANDRUM

RAGHU DIXIT

ON MYSORE

JANICE PARIAT

ON SHILLONG

SMART HACKS AROUND THE WORLD

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Editorial lakshmi sankaran

SIX YEARS AND COUNTING…

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this edition, are the observations of three insiders on their hometowns: Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor sings paeans to Thiruvananthapuram, musician Raghu Dixit toasts Mysore and writer Janice Pariat reminisces about Shillong. The “how” of travel is a matter of debate too. Dyed-in-the-wool snobs harp on about authenticity and immersing yourself in local culture. The more you are inconvenienced, the more real your journey. To which, casual travellers will respond with, “I will take my comfortable stay in a nice hotel, thank you very much.” NGTI’s sixth anniversary is a distillation of these myriad attitudes to travel. In their own way, our writers show you the “right way to do it.” Our centrepiece is the “Smart Hacks” section that features an expert’s take on how best to navigate a place. Lensman Abhishek Hajela, a regular visitor to Ladakh, gives readers a glimpse into getting droolworthy shots in Ladakh. Vaishali Dinakaran, an avowed gearhead, has the lowdown on grappling with Europe by road. Kaushal Karkhanis decodes solo backpacking in South America for the faraway dreamers. Chinmai Gupta offers a guide through that most “mystical” of institutions—a London nightclub. And if these stories are only a reminder of how ill-prepared your wallet is to go anywhere, we have solutions for that, too. As to whether we got it right, we have another year to fuss over that.¾

Supoj Buranaprapapong/Moment/getty images

This issue is a distillation of myriad attitudes to travel. In their own way, our writers show you the “right way to do it”

nniversary editions have the feel of a graduation: a year of studious slogging (of which, truth be told, my team and I do very little) and madcap fun (which we only wish we could indulge in more) rounded off with a sense of achievement and lingering anxiety. There’s pride that National Geographic Traveller India has lived to see another day, and in today’s precarious media landscape, that should account for something. Then the gnawing question: did we get it right? When it comes to travel, is there a right or a wrong way to do it? Early this month, The New York Times unearthed Albert Einstein’s entries of his journeys around Asia and discovered a surprising side to the Nobel Prize winner. About his time in mainland China he wrote, “In the air there is a stench of never-ending manifold variety.” The people, he found, were “industrious, filthy, obtuse...” Travel often functions as a Rorschach test of biases. Some are acutely aware of this and spend their time making amends. Anthony Bourdain’s recent passing prompted glowing tributes from around the world to his openminded exploration of parts and cultures unknown. There are others who stand their ground: If a traveller’s true sentiments veer towards exotification, maybe it should stay so. Read Indian-American author Akhil Sharma’s recounting of a fortnight in Japan, featured in this issue, for a perfect example. The counter to which, also in

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

​Write to me at natgeoeditor@ack-media.com or Editor, National Geographic Traveller India, 7th Floor, AFL House, Lok Bharti Complex, Marol Maroshi Road, Andheri East, Mumbai- 400059. july 2018 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA

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THE ITINERARY ODISHA

IT’S ALWAYS BEAK SEASON IN MANGALAJODI A CRUISE WITH LOCALS IN ODISHA'S WETLANDS IS A BIRDER'S DELIGHT BY SUTIRTHA LAHIRI

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irders often have their eccentric wish lists before they set off on a pursuit. Some may want to see a peregrine falcon hunt, some may want to chance upon their favourite—and hitherto jinxed—warbler. Others may wish to see that ever-elusive Himalayan wood owl. I had mine as well. I wanted to see a Pacific golden plover in the golden light. It was with this desire that I found myself on a boat one evening, exploring the languid waters of Mangalajodi this February. My journey through this freshwater wetland, situated to the north of Odisha’s Chilika lagoon, the largest brackish water lagoon in Asia, started when I stepped on a boat rowed by a local. Long, slender and made of wood, this is the kind of boat I'd believe to be a

thing of the past. And yet there I was, perched on its partitioned body, waiting to explore the treasures of marshland wildlife. Roughly a 1.5-hour drive from Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, the Mangalajodi wetland hosts a stunning diversity of birds—native and migratory—almost 230 species. In my quest I wasn’t alone. Along with my friends and our boatman, I was accompanied by a guide, also a local from the neighbouring village. It was amazing how much they knew about the birds and their nuances, about the features that separate one species from another. As we steered as close to the birds as possible, slinking up without alarming them, the locals, with their alert vision and hearing, ensured that we did not miss out on any bird that crossed our path. You would know what I’m talking about if you have had the good fortune to cruise through a calm water body.

It was amazing how much the boatman knew about birds, and the features that separate one species from another Gliding through the shallow waters of Mangalajodi is a joy in itself. There is a pleasant silence, broken only by the oars sploshing under us, and the call of birds. Add to that the evening sun, slowly slipping down the horizon, bathing the marsh water and the birds in its warm, golden rays. The iridescent hour seemed to me to be the perfect time to be in the company of the birds. My senses were already sharpened by the quietude, when the boatman stopped rowing to point at a group of waders and ducks nearby. While some of them took off in unison almost

SUTIRTHA LAHIRI (BOAT), WINFRIED WISNIEWSKI/PHOTODISC/GETTY IMAGES (BIRD)

Gliding through the quiet waters of Mangalajodi is an enchanting experience for birders and nonbirders alike (top); Smaller waders like the bar-tailed godwit (bottom) are among some of the sightings.


THE ITINERARY AUSTRIA

SALZBURG BEYOND THE SOUND OF MUSIC ICE CAVES, AZURE LAKES, AND MOZART: THERE’S MORE IN THE AUSTRIAN CITY’S TREASURE CHEST THAN THE ICONIC HOLLYWOOD MUSICAL BY NIDHI DHINGRA greens were punctuated with small towns that had the prettiest flowerdecked balconies. We had reached Austria, and the magic had begun. I made sure to get my fill of all things Sound of Music—from a guided themed tour to cycling through the countryside singing like one of the von Trapps (and masterfully ignoring the almostannoyed look of some locals, perhaps tired of movie fans interrupting the birdsong every so often). However, it was only when I stopped chasing the movie’s experiences that Salzburg opened up its treasure chest. The first charmer is right in the heart of the city—Altstadt or the old town of Salzburg, a UNESCO site peppered with striking 17th- and

18th-century baroque towers, domed museums and church spires. Strolling on Getreidegasse, its bustling centre, I found my muses in the beautiful doorways and ornately carved gild signs high above the pedestrians’ heads. Some of the old houses are decorated with names of former owners and significant dates in their history. The old town is also the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The bright ochre building on No. 9 Getreidegasse, where the legendary composer was born on January 27 1756, is now a museum offering a window into his early years. We gave that a miss, but the same evening we had the legend serenade us: High up in Hohensalzburg Castle, the 11th-century fortress that looms over

The view of the city spires and the winding Salzach river from atop Hohensalzburg Fortress is bound to move even the most seasoned traveller.

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JUERGEN RICHTER/LOOK-FOTO/LOOK/GETTY IMAGES

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hink Salzburg, and the mind paints a picture of wide open greens, of hills and vales “alive with the sound of music.” That is, for the thousands of us swayed by the 1965 musical in which a train of kids merrily follow Julie Andrews singing “Do re me.” It was that image that enticed me to visit Salzburg as part of the road trip my husband and I took in central Europe last summer. Flying in and out of Munich, we distributed two weeks between Salzburg, Prague and Seiser Alm, a pristine Alpine village in Italy. Driving 150 kilometres from Munich the scene changed from the wide-laned Autobahn to narrow lanes, meandering through meadows with majestic peaks looming in the backdrop. These rolling


THE ITINERARY INDIA

IT’S (NOT) JUST ABOUT THE BIKE FROM VANILLA-WHITE PASSES TO HAIR-RAISING BENDS, INDIA IS RIPE WITH ROUTES FOR MOUNTAIN BIKES. A CYCLIST CHARTS FOUR ADVENTUROUS COURSES THAT PROMISE ASTOUNDING VIEWS BY DHRUV BOGRA

HIGH IN THE HIMALAYAS 9 DAYS

Royal Enfields rage here. Jeeps, army trucks and trading caravans ply purposefully. And that’s that. Or at least that’s how it’s been for decades. The Manali-Leh highway isn’t everyone’s playfield. But more recently you’d be surprised to see many mountain bikers negotiate the Himalayan landscape that this stretch encompasses. With an average elevation of more than 13,000 feet—highest being the Tanglang La at 17,480 feet— this is one journey that intimidates as much as it thrills. It’s also breathtaking. Flanked by the Zanskar mountain range in Kargil, the ride is a sensory explosion. Such is the enormity of the surroundings that you might possibly feel like Bob, the youngest and tiniest minion from Despicable Me, while slicing your way through snow-sprinkled mountains. Steep ascents and vertiginous drops apart, you will also bike beside rivulets that gush with ice-cold glacial waters. Total elevation gain over the entire route is a staggering 24,000 feet! Rest, therefore, is not just recommended but absolutely essential. Luckily, camps

Mountains in Ladakh shift in shape and size, often making you feel no bigger than a minion.

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and teahouses, run by both organised operators and friendly nomadic herders, are not difficult to come by. Of them, rest camps such as Zingzing Bar, Whiskey Nallah and Debring are perfect for giving those aching calf muscles some TLC. Before you hit Leh, do stop at Thiksey Gompa. Monickered ‘Mini Potala’, for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the monastery affords stunning views of the Indus Valley. Stay the night in Leh and resume the trip’s most epic lap at six the next morning. It might take you between five and seven hours and 40 kilometres to reach Khardung La from the main market in Leh. Weather, the bicycle’s build, your endurance level, and road conditions (avalanches are common) determine the duration. But once you are atop one of the world’s highest motorable roads, on a mountain bike no less, take a minute to soak in the momentous feat. Now how do you celebrate at 17,500 feet? Forking through a bowl of piping hot Maggi at the ‘World’s Highest Cafeteria,’ as the signboard proclaims, is one option.

SOMNUK KROBKUM/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES

MANALI-LEH-KHARDUNG LA, HIMACHAL PRADESH & JAMMU AND KASHMIR


THE ITINERARY INDIA

RAIN-RICH WESTERN GHATS

WAY PAST THE NILGIRIS' BLUES Coonoor's tea plantations

Lohagad Fort

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This is one trip that can be embarked on in any season but the Western Ghats, which the trail hugs, is at its bridal best during monsoon. Start day one on the bustling roads of Vashi in Navi Mumbai. Once beyond city limits, you are greeted by lush, hilly landscapes until Lonavala. Further up, the steep climb clinging to the plush Aamby Valley township is quiet, misty, and the slight chill in the air makes the journey truly magical. Red-mudded pathways, mischievous monkeys, verdant green Ghats—cycling on this stretch feels like flipping through a coffee-table book dedicated to the rains. It’s not advisable to venture out in the Ghat after sunset, so spend the night in Lonavla. A popular weekend getaway from both Mumbai and Pune, it is packed with hotels, Airbnbs and guesthouses. Next morning, on day two, start for Shilimb, a tiny village 32 kilometres from Lonavala embanking Pawna Lake. Some villages along the route are Morve and Chavsar. But remember that once you take the turn opposite Cloud 9 Hills Resort on the Lonavala-Aamby Valley road towards Shilimb, there are no eateries. So stuff your backpack with enough water and nutritious snacks, or even a mid-morning meal of boiled eggs, chutney sandwich, poha, or parathas. This is a trip most suited for getting lost in the highlands and admiring the mystical beauty of the Ghats—and that’s why most cyclists return from Shilimb itself. But if you will, add a third day to hike up the green-carpeted hill forts of Tikona and Lohagad.

BANGALORE-OOTY-COONOOR, KARNATAKA & TAMIL NADU 300

MODERATE TO DIFFICULT

7 DAYS SEPTEMBERMARCH

Cyclists in South India will vouch for this: the Nilgiris are the region’s mecca for riders. Sprawled along Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the range overlooks postcard-pretty landscapes. The 144-kilometre-ride from Bangalore to Mysore is fantastic, and there's more than one worthy pit stop: the timeless artisan town of Channapatna is famous for its wooden toys; 18th-century stories of Tipu Sultan's reign are tucked away in the fort town of Srirangapatna. If luck is on your side, you might end up spotting pachyderms feeding on tender teak leaves and chitals roaming distant grasslands on this route. The tough leg comes en route to Ooty when you have to ride the steep 12-kilometre Kalhatti climb, also called Sigur Ghat, near Mudumalai. The grade is quite steep and in some sections as much as 20 per cent. The angle of gradient of most roads is typically three per cent. Top that with 36 hairpin bends. Yet, graceful mountains, stunning blue skies, and the Nilgiri laughing thrush singing high above make it all worth it. Once you hit Ooty, stop at Modern Stores for Moddy’s nutty almond chocolates the hill station is famous for. For this you will need to get off the Coimbatore-Gundlupet highway to Garden Road. If you have time, pay the botanical garden a visit, or simply enjoy the narrow roads and colonial bungalows dotting them. For those who’d like to stay back, a great budget option is Zostel Ooty (`1,600 for a night) on Kerada Road, a snug hideout overlooking the hills. The next morning when you start for Coonoor, grab a bite at Place to Bee or Hyderabad Biryani House. The Ooty-Coonoor stretch is spectacular, and lined with manicured tea and coffee gardens. It also shows you the best of both worlds—Ooty buzzes with honeymooners, but Coonoor, with its heritage bungalows and green trails, likes a life of quiet.

JOVIVEK PHOTOGRAPHY/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES (FORT), DETHAN PUNALUR/PHOTODISC/GETTY IMAGES (WOMEN), RAJESH NARAYANAN/SHUTTERSTOCK (MONKEYS)

NAVI MUMBAI-LONAVALA-SHILIMB, MAHARASHTRA


A WRITER ABROAD

Kyoto is a modern city but also steeped in nostalgia. It is common to see women dressed to the nines in traditional garb available for hire at local stores.

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JAPAN

HIDING IN

Plain Sight TO THE CASUAL EYE, JAPAN HAS LUMINOUS NATURAL LANDSCAPES AND HIGH CULTURE, BUT TO AUTHOR AKHIL SHARMA IT IS THE JAPANESE PEOPLE’S

“Where is it?” “There.” “Where?” The fog was all around us. My driver raised an arm and pointed a white gloved finger into the mist. It was a cool afternoon and we were standing by the side of the road, two hours outside Tokyo by car and my driver was pointing towards Mount Fuji: except I couldn’t see this iconic symbol of Japan. All I saw was tall green pines wrapped in mist, not yellow Delhi mist, but mist like milk, mist like what you would see if a country had no cars, no smokestacks, nothing beyond pine trees and maybe people drinking tea and discussing philosophy. This, of course, is the Japanese aesthetic, to make everything disappear and to exist almost in essences. Go to gardens in Japan and what you see are not grassy lawns but stretches of moss; grass therefore has been replaced by colour and the slightest bit of softening. How can people live in such abstraction, I wondered, on a recent trip to Japan? And the answer I found was: they cannot. I tried to discover the Japanese people on this recent trip and what I found was that their humanity was hidden behind a mist of Japaneseness in the same way that Mount Fuji was hidden by fog. ***** was in Japan for a book tour. My novel Family Life had been translated into Japanese and I was supposed to give interviews and do readings. My book is a novel, but it is based on my own story and the story of my family. When I was ten and my brother fourteen, my brother dived into a swimming pool and struck his head on the bottom. The blow stunned him and he lay underwater for three minutes. When he was pulled out, oxygen deprivation had caused massive brain damage. He couldn’t walk or talk. He couldn’t roll over in his sleep. He was fed through a gastrointestinal tube. My brother was in hospitals for two years and then my parents decided to buy a house and bring him home and take care of him themselves. This was partially because they thought they could take better care of him themselves where they had more control. Partially also, it was due

I

to them just minding the fact that in a hospital one is always dependent on other people and this is frustrating and frightening. Taking care of someone as injured as my brother is not easy. There are experiences that one has in a situation like ours which are hard to imagine unless one has experienced them: there are the times when one has to stay awake all night and in the morning, when you look at people going to work, it is like you are living in a country torn by war and the people going by are living in a different country. There are the times when you have to do so many things that you don’t know how to do—insert a gastrointestinal tube, set up lung suction machines—that you begin to feel that you are stupid, that the smallest thing is beyond you. At this point, you look at cashiers in stores and think they must be brilliant to be able to work a cash register. Usually when I give a reading, the first part is me reading and doing a question-and-answer with a moderator, and the second part is me taking questions from the audience. Readings in Japan were different from any that I have done so far. Normally when one arrives in a bookstore for a reading, one either goes into a private room to wait for the event to start or one hangs out somewhere in the bookstore while the audience gathers in another section. In Japan, that is not the case. The bookstore sets up a screen which is perhaps five or six feet high and which cordons of a narrow space from where the chairs have been set up for the reading. Here one sits with one’s moderator and drinks tea and pretends that there isn’t a large crowd two or three feet away. In some ways this struck me as a very Japanese way of behaving, the idea that part of living one’s life is pretending that many of the things around one are not actually there. But this was the least of the differences I experienced. In Japan, and this is different from my experiences in any other country, almost every question from the audience was about what it was like to have people visit when my family was taking care of my brother. The people who asked these questions were taking care of ill parents. They all said that other than doctors, who might visit once every six months, they were alone. When I answered the question, I felt morally bound to JULY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

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FAMED INSCRUTABILITY THAT BEARS EXAMINATION


SMART HACKS

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Lens on Ladakh


LADAKH

A TRIP TO LADAKH IS SPIRITUAL FODDER FOR EVERY PHOTOGRAPHER’S SOUL. THESE HANDY TIPS HELP CAPTURE AWE-INSPIRING VISTAS AND LIFE IN THE HIMALAYAN FAVOURITE

ANSARI PHOTOGRAPHS BY ABHISHEK HAJELA

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AS TOLD TO HUMAIRA


SMART HACKS

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evving up my Thar’s engine for Ladakh, away from Delhi’s smog and congestion, is something I’d like to engage in more often than I do. Including halts, the four-night trip to Leh, via Manali, Keylong, and Sarchu, is strewn with sights that are spiritual fodder for any photographer’s soul. That’s perhaps one of the reasons why I am thrilled to lead photography trips here even after a decade. Gushing glacial waters; storied, centuries-old monasteries and the playful energy of monks who inhabit them; hulking mountain ranges, sometimes dredged in snow, other times parched and cocoa-coloured. The landscapes and everyday life in Ladakh make for frames fit for both your digital album and memory book. “They look like choco-chip mountains!” Frank curiously remarked as we drove past the massifs flanking the Sarchu-Leh route. It was the American photographer’s first time in Ladakh. When it comes to landscapes, such singular observations are what translate into unique compositions, making the same mountain, lake, or a pretty bungalow (4) shine differently in different frames. For good landscape shots you need a wide-angle lens (ideally a 24-70mm or 14-24mm) and for a bracketing, or time-lapse effect, carry a tripod. If you are averse to lugging bulky attachments, and understandably so in a high-altitude region like Ladakh, stick to hand-held mode. However, if your surroundings allow, identify a sturdy rock that can double as a makeshift tripod. To capture details sharply, say a cluster of peaks or a rock’s texture, maintain a minimum aperture of f8. If you like arresting reflections, August is a good

2 ISO 200 FOCAL LENGTH 146MM APERTURE F8

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time, for that’s when random water bodies spring to life. For mirror images, like the one I took close to Nubra Valley (1), the lower you angle the shot, the better. This is also needed to do justice to the enormity or the scale of your surroundings. The good thing is, the region isn’t too windy this time of the year. So water surfaces remain smooth, making it possible to seize stillness with relatively greater ease. To make one subject look larger than life, like the photo where the focus is on the man in the foreground leading a camel caravan (3), do a half squat or even better, go down on your knees. As for weather conditions, they can be as tricky or favourable as elsewhere. But patience pays. Case in point: I shot the Stakna monastery (2) at 1 p.m. Luckily, at that time, a thick overcast diffused the harsh afternoon light, and the minute I saw a cloud swallow the sun, I got my peak afternoon shot bathed in soft light. Nature can sometimes be the best filter you could ever ask for.

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NOT ALL INTERNATIONAL DESTINATIONS LEAVE TRAVELLERS WITH FEATHER-LIGHT POCKETS. HERE ARE FOUR COUNTRIES PACKED WITH ECLECTIC EXPERIENCES— WITH CURRENCIES WEAKER THAN THE RUPEE 104

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MIRAGEC/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES (TAG), TOPFORM/SHUTTERSTOCK (ILLUSTRATION)

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Where to Go

Luang Prabang, Vientiane, the adventure hotspot Vang Vieng, coffee plantations of Champasak and Pakse, Kong Lor cave through the Kong Lor Loop and Si Phan Do or 4,000 Islands.

Things to Remember Laos is a conservative country and people are expected to dress accordingly, especially in religious spots. Men and women must cover their elbows and knees when entering temples, and women must take care to not touch a monk.

Carry a sarong or wrap to wear after a dip in the water. The Laotian currency runs from denominations of 500 to 1,00,00. Bigger cities accept credit cards or USD for higher denominations, otherwise all transactions are in Laotian kip. Having been one of the world’s major conflict zones, there are still unexploded bombs found in the Laotian countryside. Avoid exploring unknown trails without a local guide.

How to Travel Overnight sleeper buses are most convenient for long-distance travel (tickets about `1,000; prices are higher between Nov-Feb). For shorter distances, opt for minivans that depart from bus stations. Seats are available on the spot, or ask your hostel/hotel to arrange a ticket. Tuk-tuks and songthaews, or repurposed pick-up trucks, are cheaper when travelling within the city but can get crowded. Tuk-tuk drivers can be persuaded to wait if you’re travelling further away from the city. In tourist hubs like Luang Prabang or Vientiane, you can also rent bicycles for up to `325/day.

Where to Stay Most cities offer affordable options with prices starting from `500/night in hostels and guesthouses. Hotel prices can vary between `1,700 to `10,000, depending on the level of luxury you choose. It’s

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always a better idea to choose one which offers breakfast and airport transfers. Most accommodations also help arrange inter-city transport and day trips outside the city.

What to Eat Padek or Lao fish sauce, the country’s most used condiment; Klai niaw, or sticky rice balls; Laap, a salad made with cooked or raw minced meat, and toasted rice, garnished with padek, kaffir leaves and cilantro; Tam mak, a tangy green papaya salad with chilli, lime and padek; Streetside barbeques, which include whole chicken, meat and offal, or fermented sausages—their casing is stuffed with sticky rice and allowed to ferment giving them a unique pungent taste; Lao lao, the Laotian whisky with reptiles or insects in them, which is found in Luang Prabang and believed to be a cure for joint pain. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, Laos’s most sought-after destination, is filled with surprises: reptile and insect rice whisky (bottom), Buddhist temples and monasteries (top right), and a quiet life along the Mekong River (top left). JULY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

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KEVIN KELLY/FSTOP/GETTY IMAGES (RIVER), UNDEFINED UNDEFINED/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES (MONK), LUIS DAFOS/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES (WHISKY)

ith an unhurried pace and great ethnic diversity, Laos is your gateway to an immersive cultural experience. Trek on trails offering vistas of mountains, ancient temples amid jungles, gleaming paddy fields, or rows of bamboo houses propped on stilts—in Laos, beauty isn’t something you need seek in order to find. You chance upon it on a boat over the river slicing through the Kong Lor limestone cave. You may find it on a visit to the Buddhist temples in the ancient capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang. Perhaps you’ll encounter it as you bite into Laos’ French colonial past over a freshly baked baguette in the capital, Vientiane, or while discovering secrets of its virginal nature in over 20 national protected areas with endemic wildlife, tropical forests, riddling rock formations and more.  

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1 INR = 123 LAK (Laotian Kip)

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Laos

CURRENCY/EXCHANGE RATE


HOMETOWN SECRETS

THE REDISCOVERY PROJECT An expatriate, a frequent visitor, and a Member of Parliament from the city talks about his discoveries of Thiruvananthapuram

How does one honestly write about a place one represents

in parliament? I am the MP from Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, and while I can be forgiven for wanting to praise the city that elected me, the truth is that I had to discover it for myself when I first contested for the Lok Sabha from there. As the son of expatriate Keralites, I had never lived in Thiruvananthapuram before. Born in London, raised in Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi before going abroad for graduate studies and then embarking on a 29-year international career with the United Nations, I knew my parents’ home state only from childhood visits to their ancestral villages in Palakkad District. (Even those I initially resented, grumbling to my parents that annual migrations south were strictly for the birds.) But once in a while we got out of the villages to see other parts of the state. I was 11 years old when I first visited Trivandrum, as it was then known, with my family in 1967. I remember how there was a thunderous monsoon downpour— and within minutes the streets were bone-dry. I turned with astonishment to my father to ask him how that was possible, given that a rainstorm like that in Bombay, where we were living, would cause so much flooding that young men would stand by to make some extra money by pushing stalled cars through the waterlogged roads. He explained to me that Trivandrum was the best-planned city in India, with every road built with a sloping gradient so that the rain poured into well-designed drains on the roadsides and flowed into the innumerable canals that in turn took the water to the sea. I was suitably impressed, and recalled the story when, four decades later, I returned to a transformed Thiruvananthapuram to seek to represent it in Parliament. Of course the city had changed: many of the drains had been built over, the fabled canals were clogged with weeds and refuse, and some junctions now witnessed Bombay-style flooding. But these challenges apart, Thiruvananthapuram had managed to stay true to itself while finding new relevance as a 21st-century city.

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On my first visit to Thiruvananthapuram after returning to India for good in 2008, I was given a warm reception at the city’s pioneering Technopark, the first IT park in India. CEO after CEO told me in glowing terms of their satisfaction with the work environment in Thiruvananthapuram, the quality of the local engineering graduates, and the beauty of the lush and tranquil surroundings. But it all came together when one chief of a Technopark firm told me of having bid for a contract with a Houston-based company. The Americans had drawn up a shortlist of Indian service providers and placed the Thiruvananthapuram-based company last. Then the American executives making the final decision flew down to India to inspect the six shortlisted firms. After three harrowing days ploughing through the traffic congestion and pollution of Mumbai, Bangalore, and Gurgaon, they arrived in Thiruvananthapuram, checked into their hotel at Kovalam beach, sipped a drink by the seaside at sunset, drove just 20 minutes in the morning to the greenest technology campus they had seen. They voted unanimously to give the contract to the Kerala firm. “If we have to visit India from time to time to see how our contract is doing,” the chief said, “we’d rather visit Trivandrum than any other place in India.” As an MP who keeps travelling to his constituency, I can appreciate what the Americans were thinking. I’d rather visit

HINDUSTAN TIMES/CONTRIBUTOR/HINDUSTAN TIMES/GETTY IMAGES

By SHASHI THAROOR


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

AJAYTVM/SHUTTERSTOCK (CHURCH, PERFORMER), PHILIP REEVE/THE IMAGE BANK/GETTY IMAGES (FISHERMEN),

Midnight Mass at St. Joseph’s Metropoiltan Cathedral (top left) is as joyously celebrated in Thiruvananthapuram as Onam on the streets of the city (top right); Once a small fishing village, Kovalam, just south of the city, is now famous for its lighthouse, beach shacks and spectacular views (bottom).

JULY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

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HOMETOWN SECRETS

PHOTO COURTESY: RAGHU DIXIT

Raghupathy Dwarakanath Dixit trained in Bharatanatyam for 18 years. Though he doesn’t perform anymore, its influence is reflected in his stage shows for The Raghu Dixit Project (facing page, top right); Dixit picked up the guitar as a bet with a college mate at Mysore University. Antaragini (facing page, top left) was Dixit’s first band. Here, they can be seen practising during a photo shoot in Melukote, near Mysore; Apart from its obvious splendour, Dixit likes the Mysore Palace for its art (facing page, bottom).

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MYSORE

‘MYSORE IS THE GIRL I SING TO’

No matter where Raghu Dixit’s music takes him, the city—with its time-worn architecture and classical arts traditions—remains his number-one inspiration

PHOTO COURTESY: RAGHU DIXIT (BAND BY THE WATER & STAGE PERFORMANCE), TUUL/ROBERTHARDING/GETTY IMAGES ROBERTHARDING (PALACE)

BY LUBNA AMIR

JULY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

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THE JOURNEY

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Kathakali dancers prepare for ​an electric performance at the 300-year-old Olappamanna Mana in Vellinezhi, Palakkad district. The 20-acre complex is one of the oldest cradles of culture along the Nila river.


KERALA

Quiet Flows the

Tracing the Nila (Bharathapuzha), Kerala’s second largest river, reveals centuries-old art forms and the sentinels who safeguard them TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS BY

Neelima Vallangi

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River

National Geographic Traveller India July 2018  

Preview of the July 2018 issue of the Indian edition of National Geographic Traveller.

National Geographic Traveller India July 2018  

Preview of the July 2018 issue of the Indian edition of National Geographic Traveller.

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