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Seeking Light

photo workshop with catherine karnow

May 2013 • `120 VOL. 1 ISSUE 11


Holidays PERU


EVerest base camp IN the company of strangers



space travel | kolkata’s chinese breakfast | rome’s full monti

May 2013 N a t ion a l

In focus


The Company of Strangers Everest Base Camp—the solo trek that wasn’t



Anniversary of the ascent of Everest &

Top of the World Walks

Tea house-trekking through the Nepal Himalayas


The Inca Trail

A four-day walk to Machu Picchu sheds new light on the Old World

G eog r a p h i c


T r a velle r


Secret Tigers Settling for an unexpected prize on a walking safari through Satpura National Park


Walking with Wildlife

Tracking animals in the Indian wilderness


Star Trek

Night time wonders at Yosemite National Park


in d i a



The Social Network

Travellers become friends in wired San Francisco


At the Confluence of Cultures The freezing town of Kars is a melting pot of Turkish history


Palace Affairs

Falling in love in the halls of Padmanabhapuram

Scenic Treks

Walks of great beauty in the magnificent Himalayas

86 Bara Bangal, Himachal Pradesh

4 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | may 2013

Sankar Sridhar

est S t n Co NER 3 N 3 WIPAGE 1

On The Cover ing Light sEEk kaRnow with cathERinE P

Photo woRksho

• `120 May 2013 11 1 ISSUE VOL.

ing Walk olidays H


inca trail to the “lost citY”

EVEREst camP basE the companY

in of strangers


the after dark ontrail John muir


st | rome’s full ’s chinese breakfa travel | kolkata


This photograph was shot on a trek along a little-known route from Gangotri to Raansi in Uttarakhand by Delhibased award-winning photographer Sankar Sridhar. He particularly loves photography in the mountains. natgeotraveller.india

10 Editor’s Note | 138 Inspire

14 Tread Softly Turn the volume down in the wild 16 Real Travel Travellers often earn cultural waivers 18 Frontier Tales Cities and the planet’s future 20 Guest Column Prudence is the better part of adventure

44 32 The Icon Once abandoned, Fatehpur Sikri lives on Taste of Travel 34 Chinese breakfast treats in Kolkata 38 Mangalore’s sublime eats 42 Take 5 Pay-what-you-want establishments


44 The Neighbourhood Monti is Rome’s new VIP zone

24 The Idea A ticket to outer space

48 National Park A walk through Kedarnath

26 Go Now Ladakh’s monastery festivals

50 48 Hours Jamshedpur and the big green

28 Slice of Life Fort Kochi beach echoes the city’s voice

52 Quest Looking for the perfect Kanjivaram sari



54 Experience Rashtrapati Bhavan on a Segway

124 From Hyderabad Faith and temple art in Alampur

get going

128 From Delhi A touch of the surreal in Lucknow

112 Adventure Finding adrenaline in relaxing Coorg


114 Active Holiday Walking through the Swiss countryside

134 Photo Workshop Seeking light with Catherine Karnow

118 Record Journey After 151 days at sea, ready to go again

136 Photo Contest The best of readers’ photos

short breaks

last page

120 From Bengaluru A coffee break in Chikmagalur

144 Dire Straits The smallest and most agile of big cats

may 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 5

David Lorente/Age Fotostock/Dinodia (trajan market ruins), Dinodia (temple), Kettik Images/Alamy/IndiaPicture (mask) sankar sridhar (cover)


Editor’s Note Niloufer Venkatraman

Buddhists believe that when wind and rain bear down on prayer flags, the mantras and blessings inscribed on them are transmitted across the land.


ne of my favourite countries in the world has, in the last decade, been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons: the massacre of a royal family, Maoist insurgency, a murderer called Charles Sobhraj. Our neighbour Nepal should instead be in the limelight for a more glorious reason. It has some of the world’s best walking trails with superb infrastructure, and people who will charm you to the top of the mountain. On my first trek to Nepal in 1992 the toilets at the lodges in the Annapurna region were nothing more than a hole in the floor of an outhouse put together with pine planks. In the corner of the cubicle lay a heap of pine needles and after you were done, as a courtesy to the next user, you threw a handful down the pit. Today, the Annapurna trail has been transformed: comfortable lodges, international menus, and rooms with attached flushtoilets are the norm. I like the fact that anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and common sense can pack a backpack and trek on one of several stunning routes. For the average Indian who wants to trek but does not have the wherewithal to organise a truckload of equipment and support staff, these logistics are a blessing. And Nepal is right next door. That’s why, for me, it ranks as the top destination for Indians to trek to and experience some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the world. Of the five, two-week-long, summer treks I’ve undertaken in Nepal, by far the most challenging was crossing Thorung La, a pass that is 17,770 feet above sea level. Although I’ve done many walking holidays

Eight hours of solo descent later, I reached my destination, the sacred shrine of Muktinath

10 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | MAY 2013

since, the day we reached the pass is etched in my memory permanently. It was a five-hour trudge to the top and, as we climbed higher, my oxygenstarved brain imagined a surreal landscape. The ground was covered with ice and snow. If I stopped for more than five minutes, my toes would turn icy, my face already numb with cold would feel the frost taking over. At some points my feet would sink 14 inches into the snow. I stopped every ten steps; the going was desperately slow. After an eternity, we were at the top, where a thousand Tibetan prayer flags fluttered in the strong breeze—a sense of elation, a happy high came over me. And then, just when I thought my body had endured enough, we started the descent to Muktinath. It was a steep, relentless downhill trudge, descending almost 5,000 feet. My body shut down, my knees couldn’t take it and I was in agony. My companions who had waited initially, had moved on ahead, my slow pace tiring them out further. In the mountains there is no way out, you just have to keep going. I shut the world out, focussing on other thoughts: a problem I had been trying to solve, a plan for a rafting trip, the memory of an old friend. Eight hours of solo descent later, I reached my destination, the sacred shrine of Muktinath inside which a small stream flows, and alongside this glows an eternal flame powered by natural gas from the Earth. Years later, my knees still bear the scars of that 14-hour walk. But something else happened that day on the mountain that I carry with me to this day—the knowledge that whatever the hurdle ahead we are capable of working through the agony entirely with mind over matter. n

micahel svec photography/flickr/getty images

Next door neighbour

VOICES Guest Column

Often, the pleasure is in the road, not the destination


’m an Englishman in Mumbai. I love the buzz, the fact that it’s a magnet for entrepreneurs and creative people. But the noise, traffic, and constant altercations aren’t good for my blood pressure. My antidote is the Lake District, in northwest England. Home for some of my childhood years, it’s a place of breathtaking beauty. On and off for 30 years, I have explored its rugged mountains and valleys. As a young boy I fished the lakes and streams that feed them. When I returned home with a couple of trout or perch in my canvas bag, my mother taught me to clean out the guts and cook them. As a young man, I tested myself against the elements; hiking and camping and learning survival skills. As an adult, I’ve sought solace on the high fells, as locals call the mountains, and put into

20 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | may 2013

Mark Hannant perspective the challenges of everyday city life by scrambling over rocky outcrops and bagging Wainwrights. Wainwrights is the name walkers have given the 214 fells listed in the books of Lake District legend A.W. Wainwright. A civil servant who escaped an unhappy marriage by taking to the hills, Wainwright created an extensive written and illustrated record of the region. A seven-volume set of Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells published between 1955 and 1966 remain the Bible for fell walkers of all abilities. My list of conquests is still relatively small— only just in triple digits—but whenever possible I contrive to return, to add a couple more Wainwrights to the tally or to revisit, with my young family, the scenes of my adolescent successes. My most recent return was this March, a two-day escape after a blizzard of business meetings in London. With Easter a week away, it was reasonable to expect daffodils and bluebells and newborn lambs heralding the arrival of spring. The reality was Arctic temperatures and icy roads at the end of the coldest March for more than half a century. Despite the weather warnings and road closures, I was determined to take to the fells. I was well equipped and knew the terrain. My co-conspirator was a friend I’ve known since high school, who spends much of the year in the Swiss Alps. We walked to an altitude of around 500 metres on the approach to Helvellyn—one of the Lake District region’s iconic mountains. We were at times thigh-deep in snow and the narrow path to Red Tarn was difficult to follow. It was bitterly cold and the cloud base was dropping along with the temperature.

I realised that I was achieving more by turning back than I could by ploughing on stubbornly and mental skill of finding your footing and balance in deep snow; the physical exertion; the ability to read a map and make sure the survival skills learned in my youth weren’t needed. I pictured my young self, seated for hours by a fast-flowing stream or a tranquil lake, baiting a hook, casting a line, waiting for a float to dip or reeling in a spinner, watching nature, learning about the seasons and the river’s currents. The enjoyment came in large part from the activity. The pleasure was in the journey, not the destination. The catch was a bonus but I didn’t feel cheated if I went home with an empty canvas bag. As we thawed out by a roaring log fire in a pub serving local real ales, I revelled in the joy of the moment. Much had been gained despite the fact that the Wainwright tally hadn’t moved. n In the days of the Raj, English gentlemen sent their children back to the UK for their education. In a sign of how the world has changed Mark Hannant moved from London to Mumbai in 2009 where he and his Ugandan-born, Manchester-raised, non vegetarian, wine-loving Gujarati wife are raising their two children.

Sebastian Wasek/Alamy/IndiaPicture

Walking Away

We admitted defeat. As we began our descent, I grappled with a sense of loss. An opportunity was being surrendered. Not today the exhilaration of attaining the summit, bagging another Wainwright, adding a notch to the metaphorical bedpost of life’s accomplishments. As we tried to retrace our steps, we found that in just an hour, the wind and new snow had completely covered our tracks. Prudence was the best policy. Seeing other groups turn and cut short their ascents on other parts of the mountain, I realised that I was achieving more by turning back than I could by ploughing on stubbornly. Walking with a harsh wind whipping snow into my face, I listed the constituent parts of the journey: the enjoyment and anticipation of its planning and preparation; the camaraderie of walking with a rarely-seen, close friend; the physical


Fly Me to the Moon Cruising through outer space is on the horizon By Neha Sumitran & Zahra Amiruddin


ith a little time and a lot of money, you could spend New Year’s Eve hurtling through the Milky Way Galaxy, looking fondly upon our blue planet outside your window. Instead of the months of training—and vast knowledge of physics—previously required, travellers now need only three days of schooling before they can make the trip to outer space. The most imminent suborbital journeys are being advertised by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which will begin twohour-long space flights from December 2013, priced at $200,000. Journeys offered by other companies are far more expensive, but cover greater distances. Golden Spike, a space tourism company run by NASA executives promises flights to the moon by 2020. A round trip will cost a whopping $750 million (they claim to have sold their first ticket). Another American company, Space Adventures,

offers marginally cheaper trips to the moon for $150 million and will be operational by February 2017. Agencies like Orbital Space Technologies blend the luxuries of a five-star vacation with the awesome experience of space travel. The Russian aerospace firm plans to build a space hotel 400 kilometres above our planet’s surface. On board, Orbital’s hotel offers guests “Earth-views” from their rooms, extravagant menus—meals will feature dishes such as braised veal cheeks with mushrooms, white bean puree, and plum compote—and a choice of vertical or horizontal beds. The hotel is designed to hold seven passengers, and is likely to be functional by 2016. A five-day-stay at the Russian Soyuz space hotel will set you back $942,000. A million-dollar space journey may be unthinkable for most travellers. The idea however, will become a lot more feasible when the technology is used for travel

between continents right here on Earth. Virgin Galactic believes that by travelling out of the Earth’s atmosphere for a small amount of time, a trip from New York to Sydney can be reduced to two hours instead of the current 20-hour one. n

First flight Engineer and businesswoman Anousheh Ansari was the first female tourist to spend time in outer space back in 2006. A multi-million dollar contributor to the X Prize Foundation—a non-profit that funds technological development to benefit mankind—Ansari spent six months training at Star City in Russia that year. In September 2006, the Iranborn American finally made the trip of a lifetime. Among the things she enjoyed the most on her 10-day journey, was the feeling of weightlessness. “I saw Earth— magnificent and beautiful,” she said. “It felt warm and full of energy and life.”

zuma wire service/alamy/indiapicture

New Mexico’s Spaceport America is ground zero for commercial space travel.

24 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | may 2013


Fatehpur Sikri The once-abandoned city is now easily accessible to all By NATASHA SAHGAL

for Akbar’s large family, army, workers, and entourage of servants. Build and leave

The well-planned complex took around 15 years to build but was completely abandoned after only ten years of use. Reasons for this sudden move vary from lack of water to the need for a new centre to fight Afghan invasions. Royal entry

One of the entrances to the city is the Buland Darwaza, also known as the “Gate of Magnificence”, which was built to comemorate Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat. The 54-metre-tall gate is believed to be the highest stone archway in Asia. Game of thrones

Dancers wearing colourful costumes would be pawns for a game called chausar, which Akbar played on the giant board that can still be seen in the courtyard. Head hunter

One of Akbar’s court judges was his favourite elephant, Hiran. Criminals were placed in front of the elephant and while most people were stamped to death, Hiran refused to kill some, who were then declared innocent.

Horsing around


n March 2013, Fatehpur Sikri won an award from the Indian tourism ministry for the best maintained and disabledfriendly monument for 2012. It’s easy to see why—the red sandstone and marble structures inside this stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site are impeccably

There are more wishes to be made. One of the wooden doors of the Buland Darwaza is full of horseshoes, nailed on by people praying for their animal’s good health.

preserved and most of its entrances have wheelchair access.

Earrings for chefs What is it?

An elaborate walled city built by Mughal emperor Akbar in the 1570s. It had palaces, buildings, mosques, and enough space

The top section of the kitchen walls in Jodha bai’s palace are carved with over a hundred different designs of jhumkas, a kind of earring. No one knows why. n

MAY 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 25

James Gritz/Photographer’s Choice RF/getty Images

Make a wish

In the complex is the beautiful marble tomb in memory of Salim Chisti, the Sufi mystic who predicted the birth of Akbar’s sons. To this day, people tie a yellow and red thread on the jaali walls while making a wish.

NAVIGATE Taste of Travel

Tiretti Bazaar is one of the few remaining places to sample authentic Chinese snacks like steamed pork buns, dim sum, and light, subtly sweet, sesame sprinkled deep-fried batter balls.

Kolkata’s Chinese Breakfast On Sun Yat Sen Street at dawn, you don’t need to curb your appetite Text & Photographs by Arundhati Ray


olkata offers several interesting ways to start the day, but few as fascinating and delicious as breakfast at the Chinese market in the heart of the commercial district. For decades, this was where Kolkata’s large Chinese community lived and worked. Even though, from the 1960s, the old quarters were gradually razed to make way for office blocks and broader roads, for a few hours at dawn, the site reclaims its old identity as a traditional open-air market along the broad Sun Yat Sen Street. On mats, rickety tables, and upturned packing cases, vendors sell a dizzying

34 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | MAY 2013

variety of homemade products: soy and chilli sauces, tofu and pickles, roast pork and Chinese sausages, glass noodles and prawn wafers. Pots, steamers, and woks, perched on sidewalk stoves, produce soup, dim sum, stuffed buns, hot patties, as well as pakoras and aloo-puri. Many of the vendors and shoppers are Chinese or of Chinese descent. Sunday is the busiest day at the market as there’s no hurry to finish before a river of traffic brings office-goers to the commercial district. At 6.30 one weekend morning, we hurry to join the queue for a special dish that gets sold out within 30 minutes

of being put on sale: red roast pork. Two young men are swiftly slicing pork backs, weighing the pieces, wrapping them in newspaper and handing over the parcels to customers. The meat is still warm, fragrant with star anise and coated in the mysterious spice mix that gives it its delicious flavour and characteristic ruddy appearance. We eat some right away, the juices dripping from our fingers, because the only way to savour the superb crackling is to have it fresh from the oven. An old Chinese lady has been setting out her wares on the neighbouring table: ivory bricks of firm tofu and magnolia-white

The open-air market (left) is a hub for the city’s rapidly dwindling Chinese community; A vendor advertises his wares in English (right) for the increasing number of non-Chinese visitors. Some years ago, such signs were rare. mikao pao. With a silken texture akin to

blancmange, these rice buns are rather flavourless. But when warmed and eaten with the little packets of sweet-garlic-soy sauce that accompany them, they morph into delicious snacks. Another table is laden with pink-edged prawn wafers, soy and chilli sauces, mysterious bottles of pickled mustard greens, fried momos and oily, but tasty arbi (colocasia) fritters. Subtly sweet, richly fat, air-cured Chinese sausages, a much-awaited winter treat, lie in tangled red and white heaps, trailing their signature scarlet twine for good fortune. At the far end is the main attraction of the Chinese breakfast: soup with pork and fish balls. Three women manage the huge simmering pot of broth on a sidewalk stove, ladling out the soup into plastic bowls and dropping in pork and fish balls before handing the bowls over to us. We have our soup standing round a table set with little dishes of chilli sauce and spoons. We are joined soon by a Sikh family, a young Bengali couple visiting from Bengaluru, and a group of Anglo-Indians on vacation from Australia. The light, flavoursome broth warms us against the chill of the morning, and the steamed fish balls have a satisfying rubbery bite which contrasts nicely with the more meaty pork ones. Two bowls of soup later we move on, but not before we’ve bought some of the fish and pork balls to store in the freezer for soups. Lids removed from towering, multi-

tiered steamers release fragrant steam into the air and reveal neat dim sum made with prawn, pork, fish, and chicken, and large rounds of steamed bread stuffed with pork and chicken. We snack on the excellent dumplings and pack the saucer-sized soft buns for home. A baksawallah or patty man, is selling his wares from the ancient tin trunk traditionally used to hawk around those flaky pastry envelopes stuffed with curried vegetables or chicken. Other AngloIndian treats beckon: a tray of crumb-fried egg chops and golden pantharas—deepfried, meat-filled pancakes. Enterprising vendors are constantly tinkering with traditional products to adapt to changing tastes. On this visit, we discover chicken rolls—crepes stuffed with spring onion and chicken mince and rolled into long cigar shapes. Right next to the sealed packets of Chinese prawn wafers are freshly made “prawn papars”, flat puris studded with shrimp. But not all

Resisting the temptation of hot onion pakoras, we head home laden with food, reassured that this living tribute to Kolkata’s cosmopolitan identity still remains resoundingly robust

the experiments are successful. When we unwrap our packets of sticky rice, we are disappointed to find what once was a moist melange of glutinous rice and succulent pieces of pork scented with star anise and soy has been Indianised with a bland lentil paste, barely any meat, and no Chinese character to it. By now, the place is bursting with people. An old Chinese gentleman is distributing invitations to a family wedding, calling out to potential guests as he spots them. Chinese New Year is around the corner and several people crowd around a poster announcing the programme of celebrations. Two youth study a sign advertising Mandarin lessons. As we sip cups of tea from the chaiwalla, we are greeted by Chef Jacky, who runs an eatery in our neighbourhood and, like many other Chinese restaurant owners, is stocking up on supplies. A burly young man of Chinese origin speaks with us in fluent Bengali to explain he’s now relocated to Beijing and introduces us to his beautiful wife who speaks only Mandarin. “This place is great to meet everyone at one go when we come to Cal,” he says. Our last stops are the fish seller for large whiskered catfish and the vegetable man for fat stalks of celery. Then, resisting the temptation of hot onion pakoras, we head home laden with food and reassured that this living tribute to Kolkata’s cosmopolitan identity still remains resoundingly robust. n

MAY 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 35

IN FOCUS Walking Holidays

This image of ancient Machu Picchu was created for National Geographic with 3-D scans of the location and inputs from experts. The conical roof sits on the Temple of the Sun. 66 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | May 2013


The Inca Trail


Soaking in the story of greed, gold, and a city lost and found, on a four-day walk to Machu Picchu

Llamas are a common sight at Machu Picchu and probably the most photographed after the ruins. The Incas used them as pack animals and for their wool, meat, and leather. may 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 67

Michael melford/national geographic stock

by samir patil

IN FOCUS Walking Holidays


How does a city with grand stone gateways and hundreds of homes go missing? How does a civilisation with-

out a script, iron, or the wheel build a citadel of such advanced civil engineering and architecture? How do 160 Spaniards manage to wipe

out an army of over one hundred thousand? These are just some of the questions that had intrigued me ever since I read about Machu About two years ago, when I turned 40, I made a commitment to getting fit. At the end of that year as a test of and reward for my newfound fitness, I decided I would climb to what has long been called the “Lost City of the Incas”. It seemed very doable—at about 40 kilometres over four days, the trail seemed difficult, but not too tough as a first trial. The official route of the Inca Trail begins 82 kilometres northwest of Peru’s capital city Cuzco, high up in the Peruvian Andes. The Inca Trail is not, in fact, a solitary trail, but part of a whole network that radiates out of Cuzco towards several Inca cities. However, the four-day trek to Machu Picchu has become the classic route because of the popular (though unconfirmed) belief that the Incas built this indirect route as a pilgrimage to their sacred city. In the 2000s the route drew so many travellers that the authorities were forced to introduce restrictions to prevent the original paving stones from wearing out. Only 200 people are allowed to start the trek every day, so the permits sell out months in advance. What probably explains Machu Picchu’s magnetic pull is its stunning location amongst the snow peaks of the Andes and the dramatic story of its disappearance and rediscovery. My four companions and I landed in Cuzco on a crisp, bright blue, June morning. In the southern hemisphere, this is the dry winter season and the best time to climb. At an altitude of over 11,000 feet, Cuzco is low in oxygen and most prospective trekkers take 2-3 days to acclimatise to the rarefied air. On the first day of our trek, our guide Edwin was a worried man. With his short, curly hair, bushy moustache, and square glasses, he looked like a younger version of the former Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega. Despite my precautions—a course of acetazolamide and the local remedy, tea made with coca leaves—I had succumbed to the altitude and skipped his short orientation in Cuzco. He seemed unsure of our group’s fitness for the journey. He need not have worried. We had all trained in our own way in 68 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | May 2013

The four-day, 82-km Inca Trail winds through the Andes, affording trekkers views of dramatic landscapes, smaller Incan ruins along the way, and of Machu Picchu itself (top); The 8-km long Hiram Bingham Highway (bottom) is the only way up to Machu Picchu by road. Only official tourism buses are allowed to travel on the treacherous road.

annia/flickr/getty images (tourist taking a photo of machu picchu) , Fuse/Getty Images (Hiram Bingham Highway)

Picchu over a decade ago.

Peru nal strife for succession which coincided with Pizaro’s third attempt to conquer Peru in the winter of 1532. A civil war had engulfed the empire after the Inca king Huayna Capac died of smallpox. An unknown disease in the Americas until it arrived with the Europeans; it had decimated the Inca army. Two young princes—Atahualpa and his brother Huascar—were engaged in a bloody battle to become the next ruler. Atahualpa was victorious but the coming of the Spaniards changed everything. On our second day, we began walking at 7 a.m. The trail was relentlessly uphill, an ascent of more than 900 metres in five hours. We had been warned that this was reputed to be the hardest stretch, leading to the Dead Woman’s Pass, so named because the mountains resemble a woman lying on her back. As we climbed, the peaks seem to move further back. Most trekkers develop a rhythm. Mine, I discovered, was the excruciatingly slow crawl. As seasoned trekkers strode past and porters effortlessly ran ahead, I felt like a golf cart moving on an expressway. The topography had completely changed since we’d started. Up ahead, we could see treeless, snow-capped ranges. Yet, all around us were dense green shrubs and trees, which formed a canopy over the trail in some sections. Cold-water streams ran down the mountain so fast that they looked like flowing mist. At the top of Dead Woman’s Pass we just had enough time for photos and a quick survey of how far we had come. Then we began the sharp descent, dropping in altitude by almost 600 metres, enough to cause oxygen levels to change. We were all dizzy from the descent. After lunch, on the way to our second climb of the day, we stopped at the ruins of Runkurakay, an odd semi-circular building overlook-

The Intihuatana stone, also called the Hitching Post of the Sun, is a sort of astronomical calendar, used to tell the date of the two equinoxes. Visitors gather around the stone, hoping to absorb good vibrations from it. may 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 69

Michael Melford/national geographic STOCK

the months leading up to the climb, and everyone, other than I, had completed long treks. I hadn’t exactly been a slacker myself. I’d spent a few months running up and down the hill near my house in Mumbai. Past the passport checkpoint in Piskacucho, we crossed the Urubamba River via a short suspension bridge and with that began the trail. It was a cloudy day, warm enough so only a sweater was necessary. We only carried our daypacks and water. Five porters and a cook, who had all the supplies, brought the rest, running ahead to set up camp and prepare fantastic meals for us each day. In the 16th century, the legendary treasures of these mountains had drawn Spanish soldiers to the region. The Andes were part of the vast Inca empire, which stretched over modern Peru and large swathes of land that are now Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and Columbia. In 1533, when the Mughals were still establishing themselves in India, the mighty Incas were defeated by Francisco Pizaro and a company of less than 200 conquistadors. This surprising victory, a turning point in the history of the Americas, was also at the heart of the mystery of how Machu Picchu disappeared. After a leisurely stretch, we began climbing uphill. Our first stop was on a high plateau with a great view of the river valley and the Inca agricultural settlement of Patallacta terraced into the mountains. Further away in the horizon a tiny strip of the railway line to Machu Picchu was visible. Edwin began to tell us the story of Hiram Bingham, the swashbuckling Yale archaeologist and one of the inspirations for the character of Indiana Jones, who is credited with rediscovering Machu Picchu. He also narrated the even more-intriguing story of the Inca’s inter-

IN FOCUS Walking Holidays

The Lost City has hundreds of ancient terraces covered in green grass and white granite walls that glisten in the sun. The stone walls of storage rooms and houses are fitted together perfectly without any mortar. 70 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | May 2013



may 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 71

IN FOCUS Walking Holidays

"For the Incas, the sun was all-powerful and so the new discoverers of Machu Picchu named its grandest entrance the sun gate" every day at every stop, did little to cheer us up. With temperatures dipping well below freezing, our expensive sleeping bags, built to endure sub-zero temperatures, seemed like a good investment. When we awoke the next morning, we realised that we were in fact at a stunning spot surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Even in early daylight the moon shone bright and clear, suspended high above the peaks. The trail on day three was easy and we completed it by mid-afternoon to reach the final camp at Winaywayna. There we had the first hot-water baths since we’d set out and lunch was a feast: salads of several local vegetables, a main course of baked capsicum with potato fillings, and a potato stew that looked startlingly like aloo bhaji. We had come to admire Edwin’s unusually balanced telling of Inca stories. Unlike most guides at historical sites, he didn’t believe in mythical golden pasts. For instance, he talked about how the Inca’s themselves had systematically displaced and decimated other indigenous cultures while expanding their own empire. However, there was one subject on which Edwin’s customary restraint would fall away and that was the glories of Peruvian agriculture. At each meal, he pointed out that many types of foods enjoyed by people around the world—potato, corn, tomato, peanut, chocolate, vanilla, and many others—had their origins in the Americas.

Machu Picchu sprawls down a hillside. Taking in all the sights requires climbing up and down a lot of stairs. 72 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | May 2013

aaron huey/national geographic stock

ing the valley we had just climbed. Without any hyperbole Edwin continued his stories. Runkurakay was a meant to be a relay station for specially trained runners who took messages across the smaller cities and Cuzco. The Incas had built thousands of kilometres of messengerfriendly roads and bridges to manage their empire, without writing or wheels. Atahualpa was kept informed by his messengers about the 160 strange white men and their movements. His sophisticated communication system, though finely tuned to the Andean environment, was overwhelmed by the advantages that the conquistadors had: horses and deadly weapons. After defeating his brother, Atahualpa agreed to meet Pizaro in Cajamarca in northern Peru. He arrived at the site unarmed, with a giant procession of ceremonially draped men and women meant to impress the conquistadors with Inca wealth and culture. Leaving Runkurakay, we had been slow and arrived at the camp in pitch darkness, walking the last hours slowly in the light of our headlamps; the trail has a lot of loose stones—one wrong step and an ankle is out. The crew had also carried oxygen cans for use in case of altitude sickness, but we had not needed them. We had walked for 14 hours that day, covering a distance of 14 kilometres. That night was bitterly cold. Even changing clothes in the tent, to put on inner layers for the night was daunting. We had not showered for two days. Piping hot, bland coca tea, which we consumed

Peru He also spoke with pride about the “thousands” of varieties of potatoes that the Incas cultivated and how skilfully they used Peru’s microclimates to create newer varieties. Spanish and Portuguese traders made these so ubiquitous that today they seem local to the whole world. Yet the Old World was not generous to the Incas. Atahualpa’s encounter with Pizaro in Cajamarca is the stuff of tragic legend. Francisco Pizaro’s small group had horses, guns, mechanical crossbows, and steel armour—equipment that the Incas had never encountered before. The conquistadors attacked Atahualpa’s procession and arrested him. Caught by surprise, the unarmed Incas were massacred. When he understood the Spanish desire was for gold, he tried to negotiate and redeem himself for a roomful of gold and two rooms of silver. Pizaro collected the ransom but reneged on releasing Atahualpa and had him executed soon after. In a span of just a few months, the power centres of the Inca Empire collapsed. The Inca resistance lasted a few years, and in that time, facing certain defeat, legends say that they systematically destroyed the roads and trails leading to their sacred cities. For the next 400 years, these cities remained hidden from the world. The gold that was paid as ransom for Atahualpa fed legends of untold wealth stashed away in the lost cities of the Incas. On the final day of our journey, we woke up at 3 a.m. to start for the Intipunku, the sun gate. For the Incas, the sun was all-powerful and so the new discoverers of Machu Picchu named its grandest entrance the sun gate.We arrived there in time for sunrise after a final steep climb that was best negotiated on all fours. The view from this point is the well-known, picture-postcard view of Machu Picchu—we could see the entire city in one, stunning full sweep. At the centre of the scene are the fluorescent green terraces that schol-

ars have called the “extreme landscaping” typical of the Incas. Giant stones, cut in trapezoidal shape, are neatly stacked without mortar to make buildings that seem to rise organically out of the mountains. Immediately behind the city is a great cliff surrounded by a moat-like valley and then a wave of mountains as far as the eye can see. As we walked down, we could see the winding road that brings busloads of tourists to the site. Some arrive very early so that they can catch the sunrise from the sun gate. The competitive ones asked their guides how we had reached before them. His explanation got us a spontaneous round of applause. We wandered among the ruins for a few hours. The overcast morning had given way to a sunny day with tufts of white clouds hanging over the site. Standing there, amongst the ruins of temples and storehouses, Edwin told us his final story. It was about Pachacuti, the ninth Inca king, who, according to recent scholarship, built much of the empire and Machu Picchu. While there are many theories about Machu Picchu and why it was built, there’s very little agreement on what the city meant to its Inca builders. Even the name Machu Picchu (literally “Old Mountain”) is misleading because it refers not to the city, whose name remains unknown, but to the nearby peak. Though the sacred cities of the Incas have been found, their true meaning remains lost. As Edwin finished his tale, I knew I was glad to be here at this sacred site, and to have reached not by bus or train, but by walking the pilgrim’s route. I had never walked 40 kilometres in four days, let alone at challenging altitudes and in freezing weather; yet all that it had required was an inspiring destination. Later, on the train back from Machu Picchu to Cuzco, it occurred to me: if I could accomplish this walk with so little training, how large is the gap between what I do every day and what I can actually push myself to do? n THE VITALS Orientation Cuzco city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located southeast of Lima, the capital of Peru in South America. For the Inca Trail, trekkers need to take a train from Cuzco to the start point, which differs according to the length of the trek. It can be completed in 2, 4, or 5 days.

Alpacas look like small llamas and are bred specifically for their fur, which is used to make warm clothes like sweaters, blankets, socks, and gloves. Travellers to Cuzco can visit family workshops to buy products and see craftspeople at work.

Booking the trip The Inca Trail can only be done with a registered tour operator or guide. The list of registered operators can be found online (www. or The four-day trek costs around `30,000 per person for the entire trip. This includes train tickets, trail permits, food, accommodation, and a guide. Tours must be booked at least six months in advance since spots sell out fast. Trail permits are needed for the trek and only around 200 are given out to visitors each day (additional permits are issued to staff who assist). Availability can be checked on the government website www.machupicchu. but permits should be bought through the tour operator you plan to use for the trek.

may 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 73

Siegfried Kuttig/imagebroker/Dinodia

Getting there There are no direct flights from India to Peru. Flights from Mumbai or Delhi to Lima fly via one or two stops in Europe or the USA. The approximate time of the journey is 30 hours. From Lima, there are daily domestic flights to Cuzco (`6,000). Buses that run from Lima to Cuzco take 21 hours and cost `1,800 (

Journeys Go Now

At the

Confluence of Cultures The Turkish city of Kars is famous for its freezing climate and bitter battles

By Vedica Kant

Philippe Michel/Age Fotostock/Dinodia

The ruins of Ani are surrounded by the remote landscape of the Turkish steppe. In its heyday Ani was a metropolis, which rivalled Constantinople, Cairo, or Baghdad as a centre of culture and enterprise, but it has been a ghost site for the past 200 years or so.

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n Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, a revolutionary theatre group stages a coup in the town of Kars. They are aided by a blizzard that cuts off all outside contact. The town, in northeastern Turkey, is a particularly apt location for the action. “Kar” is the Turkish word for snow and the town is famous for being very cold for large parts of the year. temperatures were relatively mild. Turkish friends were always surprised when I told them I wanted to travel to Kars. The town has the reputation for being a distant, forgotten place. Still, it does have more than snow: it’s known for its excellent cheeses eski kaşar and gravyer. However, my friends pointed out that one of the perks of being in a city like Istanbul was that one did not have to visit Kars to get a supply of its famous aged sheep’s cheese and local variant of Gruyère. Undeterred, a friend and I finally made a trip in June, when the worst of the cold had dissipated. The taxi driver at the airport told me we’d picked a good time. “The snow only fully melted away last week,” he said. As we drove through the broad roads, I noticed that the freshly green hills still had dustings of snow on their peaks. We first made our way to Ani, some 30 kilometres away from the city centre. Ani was initially excavated by Russian archaeologists in 1892 but once these evocative ruins became a part of Turkey, their location on the hostile border between Turkey and the USSR (now in Armenia) resulted in their being placed in an inaccessible military

The area around Kars is largely agricultural—farming, cheesemaking, and honey production still provide jobs to a large number of people. may 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 101

Images & Stories/Alamy/IndiaPicture

I first learnt about Kars through Pamuk’s novel. As I learnt more about the region during my Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies, that first forbidding image of the town only grew stronger. I discovered that in the Battle of Sarıkamışh during the First World War, over 90,000 Ottoman soldiers had frozen to death in forests around Kars while battling the Russian army. My imagination was captured both by the grotesque image of frozen soldiers and the attraction of visiting a town located at the confluence of empires and cultures: Armenian, Seljuk, Georgian, Mongol, Ottoman, Russian, Turkish. During the medieval period, Kars was an important centre for various Armenian dynasties. As a result, the area is rich in beautiful Armenian monuments. Nearby is the windswept and atmospheric site of Ani, which served as the capital of the Armenian Bagrutani kingdom but was slowly destroyed by raids, conquests, and earthquakes. Though I was taken in by the image of extreme snow, I actually have only a minimal tolerance for the cold. After my studies, I got a job in Turkey, increasing the odds of my being able to visit the town when the

Journeys Go Now


Kars is located at the confluence of Armenian, Seljuk, Georgian, Mongol, Ottoman, Russian, and Turkish cultures and the influences are visible among its people, homes, and monuments.

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Turkey The clean-cut basalt buildings, ornamented with false columns, were hard to miss. Even more striking was the way the town’s modern architecture—multi-storey monstrosities that have become a defining feature of the Turkish landscape—was crowding out the old. At one street corner, a building of bubble-gum pink concrete hulked over a classical Russian building. The iconic sight of Kars is the stern castle on a hill that overlooks it. The fortress was so impregnable against Russian attacks that the poet Alexander Pushkin who spent some time in the town took to calling his mother-in-law “Mama Kars”. That Sunday, families picnicked in the castle, drinking tea and playing backgammon. The view from the castle was stunning. Down below, the Armenian Church of the Apostles, which was converted into a mosque in 1998, stood out in sharp relief against the rest of the town. A sign by TOKI, Turkey’s housing development authority, below the castle, announced that modern apartment blocks would soon replace the shanties here. We had timed our visit well. The next time, it won’t be the castle but high-rise apartments that frame the city. We spent our last afternoon sampling cheese. I went to a store to buy some of the gravyer that I had first tasted and come to love in Istanbul. The shopkeeper told me that I had to return to Kars in the winter to really get a feel of the place. I told him that I didn’t really like the cold. “It doesn’t snow as much as it used to,” he said. “It won’t be so bad.” Even though I don’t particularly like the white stuff, it was a sad thought. Snow is among the emblems that offer hints of the town’s former life. Like its history, Kars’s snow is also fading. It’s becoming more tolerable, more manageable. n Vedica Kant is a freelance writer and researcher based in London and Istanbul.

When the snow melts away in the summer, tourists visit Kars to take the Honey Road, locally called the Balyolu. During the trail, travellers follow the footsteps of nomadic herders, visiting numerous small villages, harvesting and tasting fresh, artisanal honey at every stop. may 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 103


zone. Now, even though visitors no longer require official permission to travel to Ani, an air of neglect persists. There is still no public transport to the site. Our first view of Ani was magnificent. Great wrecks of buildings were adrift on a sea of green. I’d never seen Armenian architecture at this scale and proximity before. The visit was edifying because it brought into sharp focus the manner in which Turkey tries to ignore the uncomfortable pieces of its past. Though over a million Armenians were massacred in Turkey in 1915 and the Armenian community was driven out of Kars when Turkish forces took over in 1920, Ankara continues to resist international efforts to describe the killings as genocide. If Ani has been saved from complete ruin, it is because the government gradually realised that tourism could generate much-needed revenue for one of Turkey’s most impoverished regions. But the need for funds is obviously tempered by knowledge that visitors would have to be told about the strong Armenian influence on this part of Turkey. An ingenious solution has been found. In the citadel, the official notice boards focussed on Ani as a town that flourished under the Seljuks, a Turko-Persian dynasty from the medieval ages. But this sleight of hand doesn’t quite work. The pointed domes, tetraconch plans, and tall arches of the cathedrals and churches were obviously Armenian, as were the innumerable inscriptions in the Armenian script. As if to make a point, the snow-capped Mount Ararat, Armenia’s national symbol, hulked in the background. In legend, it is the home of the gods, the place where Noah’s Ark landed after the flood, and whose peak was mirrored by the churches that surrounded us. Making our way back to Kars was like to coming back to modernday reality from a dream. Exploring the city, I thought that Kars could have been any other small Turkish town if not for some rather affecting Baltic-style architectural remnants of Russian rule in the late 1800s.

The folk singer Murat Çobanoğlu (top left), famous for his türkü or traditional folk song renditions, was born in Kars and is remembered by a memorial in his name; Kars is famous for two cheeses—gravyer and kaşar. Gravyer (top right) was introduced to the country from Switzerland via Russia and quickly became popular; Completed in 1215, the church of St. Gregory (bottom) in Ani was commissioned by a wealthy Armenian merchant. It is known for its ornate frescoes and stone carvings of real and imaginary animals. 104 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | may 2013

Gezmen/Alamy/IndiaPicture (Murat ÇobanoGlu memorial), Vedica Kant (Gravyer), Izzet Keribar/Lonely Planet Images/ Getty images (church)

Journeys Go Now


The GUIDE Orientation Kars is a city in northeast Turkey, and the capital of the Kars Province. At around 1,800 m above sea level, it is the highest city in Turkey. Kars is around 1,450 km west of Istanbul, and 1,100 km west of the Turkish capital, Ankara. The Armenian border is just 75 km to the west.

Getting There There are direct flights to Istanbul from Mumbai and Delhi on Turkish Airlines. The flight takes a little under 7 hours. Flights to Kars are easily available from Istanbul (3 hours). Alternatively, travellers on a budget can take a daily train that departs from Istanbul early in the morning and arrives at Kars the following night. The journey is scenic, but rather slow, lasting close to 38 hours.

around the city centre. A car is required to explore the surrounding mountains. Sightseeing taxis can be organised through hotels, and car rentals are an option for travellers with an international driving licence.


kars city


ani ruins

castle of kars

Indian travellers to Turkey require a visa. A tourist visa for a period of 30 days costs `3,300, with a processing time of three days. Forms can be submitted in Delhi (Embassy of Turkey; 01124101921) and Mumbai (Consulate General of the Republic of Turkey; 022- 22040365). For a complete list of documents and visa requirements, visit A visa on arrival is available to Indian travellers with a valid Schengen or US visa.

Getting Around


Kars is a small city, most of which can be traversed on foot. However, a few taxis can be found

In addition to some excellent cheeses, Kars  also has some of the best honey in Turkey. The


region falls squarely within eastern Turkey’s unique ecosystem, which has great variation in altitude, wide untainted spaces and a rich variety of flora and fauna. It is said that the region is the birth place of the Caucasian bee, the species with the longest tongue, which can drink nectar from even

the deepest of the region’s 500 endemic wildflower species. The result is an amazing variety of honeys. Kars city is full of shops dedicated to selling cheese and honey. Shopkeepers are usually happy to offer free tastings and are knowledgeable about their produce. Talk about a sweet city.



Max: 2°C Min: -10°C Rain/Snow: 170mm

Max: 20°C Min: 6°C Rain: 300mm

Due to its high altitude, winters in Kars are harsh, with cold days and freezing nights. Continuous snowfall carpets the city during this time, especially between Dec-Feb.

These months have a fairly mild climate with no real summer heat. The season is brief, with warm and slightly humid days. There is moderate rainfall in May-June, although each month of the year averages 5-6 days of precipitation.

The Tasköprü, or stone bridge, over the Kars River dates back to 1725.




Kent Otel is centrally located in Hapan Mekvii. It’s a nofrills hotel, primarily aimed at backpackers. Rooms are simple and bathrooms are shared (+90-474-2231929; doubles `1,000).

Buyukkale Hotel is close to the centre of the city and has comfortable rooms with views of the Kars castle from the roof (+90-74-2126444;; doubles `6,000).

Grand Ani Hotel is a massive new hotel where size and hulk outweigh charm but nonetheless, the rooms are clean and comfortable (+90474-2237500; www.grandani.; doubles from `7,000).

The Temel Hotel in Yusufpasa has basic, clean rooms for the budget traveller. It is centrally located and close to a number of eateries and shops (+90474-2231376; doubles from `3,000).

Güngören Hotel on Halitpasa is a cosy budget hotel. Ask for the renovated rooms (+90-4742125630; gungorenhotel. com ; doubles `4,000).

Kars Hotel on Ordu Cd. is a restored Russian mansion. The boutique hotel is unique, an excellent example of architectural preservation (+90-474-2121616; www.; doubles from `10,000).

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Jane Sweeney/AWL Images/Getty images (bridge), urmimala nag (map)


GET GOING Active Holiday

In the canton of Neuchâtel in the Jura mountains, this picturesque bridge is part of a hike through the beautiful, green Areuse Gorges. For a while the trail hugs the rocky cliff of the gorge until it suddenly opens up on the lavish vineyards of Boudry.

Swiss Strides


he Swiss people are an outdoorsy lot. At the first sign of good weather, they put on their hiking boots and set off on walks and hikes, making the best of the sunshine and blue skies. Families go on picnics, couples set off to pick mushrooms, and friends challenge each other to a race to the top. With so many people enjoying the great outdoors, and fantastic maps, information, and infrastructure it’s easy to get tempted to do as the Swiss do. A walk through the beautiful Swiss Alps or Jura mountains can be a great way to break the usual sightseeing routine. It may seem daunting to wander into the unknown unassisted, but finding your way through

Switzerland is very easy. A route map and a pair of legs are all you need to get started. The right walk

Finding where to begin seems the hardest part; even more so in a new country. Since Switzerland is a relatively tiny country, a good walk is seldom too far away. The “Wanderland” website from Switzerland Tourism ( lists close to 400 routes of varying difficulties, lengths, and terrains. Travellers looking for short day trips close to them can choose from around 230 local routes. Some walks cover cultural landmarks, while others are strolls to panoramic viewpoints, or quiet walks alongside clear rivers.

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Switzerland’s regional and national hiking routes encompass a much grander scale, spanning several hundreds of kilometres. It’s quite possible to plan itineraries over a number of days, or even weeks, as the case may be, depending on how much time and energy you have. To narrow down the selection for firsttime visitors, Switzerland Tourism has the “Swiss Hikes” iPhone app (free at the iTunes store) that includes routes, maps, accommodation, topography charts, and everything in between for more than 30 walking and hiking routes across Switzerland. Once installed, it downloads everything onto your phone, and the information is available offline.

Joss Fredy/Prisma/IndiaPicture

Planning a hike through Switzerland is easier than you think | By Azeem Banatwalla

Switzerland while you are on a hike, the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) has efficient and hasslefree baggage transfer facilities at more than 450 stations across the country. Bags can be checked in at any railway station before 7 p.m. daily, and are safely delivered to the designated station the next day. Transporting bags that weigh up to 25 kg costs `700, irrespective of the distance between stations. You can also have your bags delivered to a number of hotels across Switzerland, listed on While it’s easy to hike on your own by simply following road signs, finding a guide to take you along is not a problem. Even the smallest Swiss villages tend to have experienced local guides (well versed in several languages) who can be contacted via hotels or tourist offices.

Once you’re suitably prepared, actually going on the walk, believe it or not, is the easiest part. Depending on the weather and time of year, it’s a good idea to carry several layers and prepare to add or remove clothing based on the changing conditions. Signposts and markers are plentiful and clear, giving both distances and time required. Some signposts get frosted over as winter approaches, but it’s nothing a couple of bangs on the pole can’t fix. Keep a map handy and look out for nearby points of interest. There are a number of camping sites, especially along the regional and national hiking routes, and camping out in the summer is a great idea. However, it’s best to check into a warm B&B at higher altitudes, especially from July onwards. n

December is the wettest month in Sierre (top) in Valais. Most of the year, the district enjoys mild weather, perfect for growing grapes and hiking through the vineyards; The summit of Mount Chasseral (bottom), one of the highest peaks of the Swiss Jura, is part of a 400-square-kilometre regional nature park.


Once you’ve selected a suitable walking itinerary, it’s a good idea to plot things out on a map, especially if it’s more than just a day trip. A detailed map of Switzerland, with all hiking, cycling, skating, train, and road routes is available at map., which makes it easy to look up restaurants, accommodation, and points of interest along the way. It’s a good idea to pick up a physical copy of the Swiss hiking routes map, available at tourist centres and kiosks across the country. The map costs around `900 and is waterproof

and easy to carry on a long hike. Before fixing on a date to begin your walk, check the weather on www., a very accurate weather service that Swiss residents swear by. Weather conditions can be particularly volatile between June and August, so it’s a good idea to check the hourly forecasts to make sure your walking schedule won’t be blighted by an unwelcome storm. Forecasted temperatures and precipitation timings are usually very reliable. If you’re carrying a lot of baggage, and want to send it to your onward destination

Re ad ing th e Signs While walking in the Swiss Alps, look out for signposts to point you in the right direction. Signposts with redand-white striped points indicate a hiking trail, while yellow points denote a leisurely walk. Along with the destination name, there’s also an approximate time frame of how long it’ll take you to get there. In between signposts, look out for rocks painted with white and red stripes to point you in the right direction.

MAY 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 115

Angelo cavalli/age/dinodia (Sierre), Sonderegger Christof/Prisma/IndiaPicture (Mount ChasseralSS)

On the road

GET GOING Active Holiday

mountain grass they seem to relish and nod approvingly at them—it is actually quite sweet. On old-fashioned ranches, farmers tolerate our voyeurism as they fork giant piles of hay and haul stout milk churns (cans) onto trucks. At one farm we refresh ourselves with Rivella, a bottled carbonated beverage made from whey; at another we eat chunks of local Mont d’Or cheese, fresh bread, pink cured ham and rosti. Three hours later we finish our walk near Tête de Ran. With more time we could have ascended Chasseral the highest peak in the Bernese Jura, not far from here. But, I was content to have tasted a slice of rural life on a hike that was very family-friendly. –Niloufer Venkatraman

Wine Trail in Valais The canton of Valais At the look-out point of Creux du Van, a semi-circular rock formation, hikers enjoy beautiful views of the valley.

To Heidi’s Village It had been a gloomy few days in Bivio, a town in eastern, Italian-speaking Switzerland. A mist still hung over the morning as we followed our guide Arturo on the trail to Lunghin Pass, past open fields with cows keeping lonely sheds company. As the sun’s rays emerged, we climbed through craggy mountains carpeted with pale, frosty grass. Despite a couple of hours of walking, I wasn’t in the least bit tired. Every breath of the sweet, crisp air seemed to refresh me. Arturo stopped every now and then to tell us tales of local folklore and odd bits of geography. The story of Lunghin Pass was somewhat philosophical. Every drop of rain that falls on Lunghin has an equal chance of ending up in one of three bodies of water—the Black Sea, the Rhine, or the Mediterranean. No one can know where each drop goes; just like life, Arturo reckoned. We stopped to eat the lunches we’d packed for ourselves (hard bread, ham, and cheese) at the icy Lake Lunghin, which mirrored the now-blue sky flawlessly. With the sun directly above us, we were down to t-shirts, trudging through the mountains, passing more glittering lakes (Sils and Silvaplana) that wore the deepest shades of emerald. As we rounded Sils, a little group of houses seemingly in the middle of nowhere, came into view. Something about them was oddly familiar. It turned out, that was once the village where a production of Heidi had been filmed. The cobbled paths were now

deserted, the houses turned into holiday homes. An hour of blue skies and downhill roads later, Lake Silvaplana announced itself from between the trees, and just like that, our walk was almost over. I’d been in the country for a week prior to my walk, but it was only after those seven kilometres that I truly felt I had seen Switzerland. –Azeem Banatwalla

A day in the Jura While the towering Swiss Alps dominate south and central Switzerland I decided to go to the lesserknown Jura Mountains in the west, on the border with France, a region of lakes, waterfalls, and rich forests. The Jura Crest Trail runs almost all the way from Generva to Zurich, but with only one spare day on my Swiss holiday I decide to hike a small section of it. I’m lucky to be accompanied by Mike Lauenstein who, like most of the Swiss I’ve met on my trip, is an outdoor enthusiast even though he’s led a busy life as chairman of a firm. Our walk starts near the mountain pass of La Tourne. We climb uphill, the trail offering alternate views of haze and superb panoramas of lakes with the wall of snow-capped Swiss Alps beyond it. But more than the views, for me the exciting part of this walk is the close-up view of life on working Swiss farms. We walk along ridges, through high alpine pastures accompanied by the sweet music of cowbells and pass hundreds of cows contentedly grazing. I even stop to taste the

116 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | MAY 2013

is at the heart of Switzerland’s winegrowing belt. It’s a place where entire families come home at harvest time, even the ones with fancy jobs in Zurich and Geneva, to help pick grapes (and usually drink a vast quantity of wine). The favourite wine of the area is the locally-grown sweet and fresh Fendant without which no celebration is possible in these parts. The best way to get a sense of this sunny region in southwest Switzerland, where one half speaks French and the other German, is to sign up for a wine trail through vineyards that sprawl down steep terrace-farmed hillsides. Narrow paths meander up and down past 50 varieties of neatly labelled vines. There’s the sound of water running in the 19th century bisses (canals) alongside the paths. The water is pleasantly cold when I plunge my hand in. Little white butterflies crisscross the path, and each turn holds the promise of another grand vista. While the entire hiking route is 66 km-long, there’s also an 85 km-long cyclists’ route and a drive. It’s also possible to do a pleasant three-hour, six-kilometre walk from Salgesch to Sierre. The trail is well marked and can easily be done without a guide. Signboards give interesting details about the process of wine-making, life in the vineyards, and titbits about the area. It was just enough walking to make me feel a little less guilty when I sat down to eat raclette for dinner—a favourite meal of Valaisians comprising five courses of melted cheese, eaten with gherkins, pickled white onions, and small boiled potatoes, washed down with many glasses of cold Fendant. –Neha Dara

Sonderegger Christof/Prisma/IndiaPicture (Creux du Van). Facing page: ip cuisines/indiapicture (cheese), Gerth Roland/Prisma/IndiaPicture (cows), Sonderegger Christof/Prisma/IndiaPicture (tourists), Azeem Banatwalla (swiss village), Guenter Fischer/Getty images (logs), Barnes David A/Prisma/IndiaPicture (cyclists)

Three walks reveal three different aspects of the Swiss countryside



2 4

3 1 Raclette, a meal of melted cheese, accompanied by chilled Fendant wine is the perfect way to end a hike in the vineyards of Valais. 2 Cows graze in the alpine meadows of Mount Tendre. Every cow is fitted with a bell, not just to ensure it does not get lost, but also according to tradition, to ward off evil spirits. 3 Visitors to Mount Chasseral in the Jura Mountains can explore the area on 12 signposted hiking and mountain biking trails. 4 The trail to Lake Lunghin meanders past picture-perfect Swiss villages. 5 Popular as the trails of the Jura Mountains are among hikers during summer, its snow-clad slopes probably draw even more visitors to ski resorts during winter. 6 Besides well-marked hiking trails, Switzerland also has several hundred kilometres of cycling routes of varying difficulty.



Short break From Delhi

Nawabs and Kebabs 3


In the mid-1800s, the Asafi Mosque in the Bara Imambara complex, was occupied by British soldiers for close to 30 years. It was restored as a house of worship in 1886 and has remained so ever since.


ucknow is the sort of place one writes home about. It holds an air of mystery that few other cities possess, elegantly juxtaposing the haunting and the serene qualities of India. Every tourist attraction in the city either provides a window into India’s climb to independence (The Residency), or offers a lesson about the complications of the modern political landscape (the Ambedkar Memorial). A little over 500 km from Delhi, “the city of Nawabs” has played second fiddle to its northwestern sister in recent years, though that was not the case during the 18th and 19th centuries.

EXPLORE The Imambaras Even the most cynical traveller will be impressed by Lucknow’s Imambaras. Side-by-side in the same general area, entry to the Bara Imambara and its 128 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | MAY 2013

smaller but more colourful “Hussainabad”, or Chota Imambara, next door can be purchased with the same ticket. Depending on how captivated you are, the pair can eat up an entire day (entry fee `25; open sunrise to sunset). The stunning, vast main hall of the Bara Imambara doesn’t get as much attention as the Bhul-Bhulaiya located above it, which leads visitors through a complex network of tunnels, nooks, and stairways. The maze is said to have been created by accident in order to support the weight of the heavy roof of this building, which was built by the reigning Nawab atop a marsh in 1784. But accident or not, this labyrinth is very real. Legend has it that a blocked tunnel inside was built to lead directly to the Gomti River. The structure boasts nearly 500 identical doorways, which can make you feel like you’ve stepped into a scene from an Indiana Jones film. It’s best to take a guide to help you navigate. More than a few gentlemen stand around waiting to help visitors along with

Images from India/Flickr/Getty images

A touch of the surreal in Lucknow | By Michael Edison Hayden


their journey for a modest, negotiable fee, but the quality of the tour is a bit of a lottery. On the roof of the Bara Imambara, the horizon opens up, revealing the pointed minarets of the Asafi Mosque, also on the grounds. The Chota Imambara lacks the mystical aura of its larger brother but makes up for it in beauty. The “Palace of Lights”, which is often decorated to correspond to specific holidays, was meant to be the mausoleum of the third Nawab of Awadh upon its construction in 1838. A fountain leads to the building with its gilded dome and interior decked out with chandeliers. Within the same complex are two mausoleums that are replicas of the Taj Mahal. Both Imambaras were built as food-for-work projects during times of famine. The Nawabs paid labourers with cooked meals. Just a short walk from the Imambaras is the staggering Rumi Darwaza (no admission fee). Like the Bara Imambara, the freestanding gateway was built in 1784 by Nawab Asaf Ud-Daulah. The 60-foot structure has become the de facto symbol of Lucknow. Haunting and gorgeous, it is a great example of 18th-century Awadhi architecture. Not far to the east is the Hussainabad Clock Tower a Victorian structure built a century later.

Stirring Sights Built in 1800, The Residency (2.5 km from the Imambaras; entry fee `5; open sunrise to sunset) served as the home of the British Resident, who was the representative in the court of the Nawab.In 1857, during the Indian uprising, it became the site of a bloody battle. Roughly 2,000 graves of those who died defending the British Empire

are interspersed through the dilapidated, canon-ball-shattered buildings, many etched with heart-breaking epitaphs. The grounds on which these ruined walls stand remain lush, reminding visitors of nature’s beauty amidst these symbols of destruction. Not far from the Residency is Qaiserbagh Palace built between 1848-1850 by Lucknow’s last Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah. Much of it was damaged by the British after the uprising of 1857, but weddings and mushairahs are often held in the remaining halls. About six kilometres to the southeast of The Residency is La Martinière College. A rare cross-pollination between Italian and Mughal architecture, the gorgeous building is the home of one of U.P.’s leading schools. Though visitors are not allowed inside, it is still worth the trip to view the building through its gates. A little to the south lies Dilkusha Palace, now in ruins, but once a hunting lodge, built in a mix of English and Awadhi styles. The humble and intimate side of Lucknow continues to thrive in the recently renovated shopping district of Hazratganj (5 km southeast of Imambaras). Street-side chaat stands now boast that they use bottled water, and kebab stalls have a warm, inviting character. Bookstores like the famous Ram Advani Booksellers serve as a reminder of Lucknow’s rich intellectual past. For clothing, chikan embroidery is the local specialty and can be found in shops along this street. For high quality chikan head to the SEWA store (0522-2615907), which is a great example of how a dying art form has been revived and women artisans empowered.

Parks and Statues Few politicians in recent times have craved to be a part of history as much as the recently ousted Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati. A wild array of parks, statues, walls, monuments, and stone pathways erected during Mayawati’s fourth and most recent tenure (2007-2012) dominate Lucknow’s landscape. At nearly every turn, blocks of pink Rajasthani sandstone steal the eye, demanding closer attention. The result of this ambitious, often ludicrously over-the-top beautification project is a rare combination of giggle-inspiring and breathtaking. There are more bronze and white marble representations of elephants, Buddha, Dalit icons, and Mayawati than you can count. Don’t miss the surreal Ambedkar Memorial by the bank of the Gomti (10 km from the Imambaras; entry fee `10, open sunrise to sunset; popularly known as Ambedkar Park). Named after the Dalit icon and primary author of the Indian constitution, the memorial features more representations of Mayawati than the man it’s named after. The highlight of the park is a walkway flanked by 60 lifesize stone elephants that leads to a massive altar. On top of the altar is a giant version of Mayawati cast in bronze, pointing to a massive relief map of the park.

STAY Lucknow has many accommodation options to suit every budget. If you want to experience the city from the point of view of the locals seek out a homestay of which there are many.

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Amit Chakravarty/TIMEOUT MUMBAI (canon), Images from India/Flickr/Getty images (Rumi Darwaza)

The ruined buildings and relics in The Residency (left) have been preserved exactly as they were after the Revolt of 1857; The Rumi Darwaza (right) was built in 1784 as an ornate entry gate to the city of Lucknow. However, its significance as a gateway waned as the city expanded around it.

La Martiniere College (left) was established on the estates of Claude Martin, a Frenchman who deserted the Compagnie des Indes to join the British East India company, eventually rising to the rank of Major-General; The official story about the Bara Imambara’s Bhul-Bhulaiya (right) says it was built to bear the weight of the heavy roof, but some legends claim that it was deliberately created to confuse intruders and trap them with dead-ends. For amenities and comfort, the favourite is The Vivanta by Taj, Gomti Nagar. At one time the Taj hotel dominated the landscape near the Gomti River. Today, Mayawati’s nearby Ambedkar Park makes the domed hotel look miniscule in comparison. They have a superb lunch buffet, as well as the Oudhyana restaurant that serves excellent regional cuisine (0522-6711000; www.vivantabytaj. com; doubles from `11,000). Hotel Clarks Avadh Lucknow has been an old standby in downtown Lucknow for generations. From its Falaknuma restaurant, you get a panoramic view of downtown Lucknow and the Gomti River along with your Awadhi meal (05222616500/09;; doubles from 8,000 per night ). If you’re looking for a homestay, or something more affordable, Mayoor’s Nest on

Mall Avenue is tough to beat. Formerly owned by one of India’s early women’s rights activists, and run today by her children, the estate is situated right next to Mayawati’s walled off, domed house, and serves regional vegetarian food (0522-2239314; call for rates and availability). Also on Mall Avenue is Lucknow Homestay proficiently run by Naheed Varma for many years (0522-6460592; Mid-range hotels are available all over the city.

EAT Like the architecture, Lucknow’s food spells royalty. The city’s palette of rich flavours is often laden with saffron and cream. Nuts and dry fruits are common ingredients and the food

is often slow-cooked over a low flame in the dum style. Shahitukda, local bread pudding, is a fine specimen of how indulgent Lucknavi fare can be. Most restaurants serve excellent kebabs. The Hazratganj area is the ideal place to stop for chaat. The popular Royal Café has a chaat stand out front that serves regional variations of panipuri made with filtered water. Lucknow is famed for its street food but the environment that the food is served in, might put off the average visitor. Those particular about hygiene will prefer Tunday Kebabi in Aminabad (Naaz Cinema Road), which is a sanitised version of the original near Akbari Gate in Chowk. However, everywhere you go in Lucknow, kebabs and biryanis are the norm. Don’t miss the opportunity, if you are lucky enough to be invited, to eat at the home of a true-blue Lucknavi. n

THE GUIDE Orientation Lucknow is the capital of Uttar Pradesh, set in the heart of the state, along the banks of the Gomti River. It is around 80 km northeast of Kanpur, and 480 km southeast of Delhi.

Getting there Air Lucknow’s Amausi airport is well-connected to the rest of the country, with direct, daily flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata. Rail Lucknow is a major railway

junction and is well connected to Delhi, Allahabad, Agra, and other major railheads in states across the country. The New Delhi-Lucknow Swarn Shatabdi Express is a convenient train that covers the distance in a around six hours. Road Lucknow is around 480km/10 hours from Delhi along NH91. Alternatively, travellers can go via Agra, along the six-lane Yamuna Expressway, merging on to NH91 at Kannauj.

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Seasons Lucknow has the most pleasant weather between November and February, when maximum temperatures do not exceed 26-27°C, and minimums are a pleasant 12-16°C. Summers (March-June) are extremely hot and dry, with the mercury often rising up to 40°C. Lucknow experiences monsoon rains between July and September.


LUCKNOW Chota Imambara Bara Imambara Rumi Darwaza The Residency Complex

Travel Ink/Gallo Images/Getty images (La Martiniere College), CLICKED IMAGEZ BY CHETAN RANA/Flickr/Getty images (Bhul-Bhulaiya), urmimala nag (map)

Short break From Delhi


On Foot in Lucknow By Ali Khan Mahmudabad ention Lucknow to an outsider and their mind conjures up visions of nawabs, ornate palaces, equally rich food and perhaps an even more lavish culture. Sadly, the city’s new nawabs have an incorrigible taste for glass and concrete, but parts of the old city retain their charm. Driving to Chowk past Shah Meena Sahib, a Sufi shrine hidden behind pharmacies offering more worldly cures, you reach a roundabout. Turn left on Victoria Street, towards Nakhaas, and ask to be dropped off at Akbari Gate. Just outside Akbari Gate, on the main road, are a number of tea shops. In winter a cup of pink Kashmiri chai accompanied by baalai (thick cream) and a samosa or light puff pastry provide good fortification for a day of exploring. If you are lucky you might spot a man with a large brass vat selling nimish also called malai makhan. The sweet, creamy foam sprinkled with flecks of emerald green pistachios melts in the mouth and is only made in winter by frothing milk, mixing it with saffron and sugar and then leaving it out to set in the oows, or pre-dawn dew. After filling up, walk into the main arterial market of Akbari Gate. This kilometre-long stretch is only accessible on foot though it is important to watch out for wayward two-wheelers. Akbari Gate is a shell of its former self, but the intricate exposed lakhori brickwork—a compact style of brick no longer used—leads on to a street bustling with shops, mosques, temples and old houses. Dotted along the entire street are little paan shops, often no bigger than a cupboard, where the betel leaf is laced with various condiments and eaten as a post-prandial digestive by

Lucknow is famous for its chikan embroidery (top) as well as its street food (bottom left). Besides eating kebabs with naan, try it with sheermal, the soft, slightly sweet roti that is flavoured with milk and saffron; In the narrow lanes of old Lucknow, a cycle rickshaw (bottom right) substitutes for a school bus.

locals. Shops are quite compact and often shopkeepers sit in the street. One of the first shops you pass is where silver is beaten into fine sheets and then used to decorate food items. Lucknow’s famous Chikan embroidery hangs on

rods jutting out onto the street, while neighbouring shops sell shoes, colourful brocade cloth, hookahs and itar (oil-based perfumes) as well as modern appliances. After a short walk, on the left you see the Tehsin Ki Masjid, a mosque built by

one of the ministers of the Nawabs of Awadh. Legend has it that it was built of rubble that was left over from the building of the Asafi Mosque or Bara Imambara. Just before the main gate of the mosque is the original branch

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Andrea Pistolesi/Age Fotostock/Dinodia (sari shop), Boaz Rottem/Age Fotostock/Dinodia (kebabs), Dinodia (school children)


Short break From Delhi

Lucknow’s Chowk area is packed with little shops and vendors peddling a variety of wares from spices to bangles, clothes and paints.

beautiful even in their decay, and eventually reach Chobdaari Mohalla. On the left, under an exquisite archway, steps lead up to the shrine. Mir Anees was a prolific poet of the 19th century. He mostly composed elegies in memory of the battle of Karbala and these are still recited today in many imambaras. If the entrance is locked ask the

past the old Sambhavnathji Jain Temple and back to the main road. Take a right, and continue past the rows of jewellery shops. Just before arriving at the Gol Darwaza, turn right into the dimly-lit passage called Lala Bhola Nath Dharamsala. At the back, parallel to the main street, are the “back-offices” of the jewellery shops with small, brightly-lit spaces where jewellers expertly craft their products under the watchful eyes of little statues of the goddess Laxmi. Head back onto the Main Street and exit the market through the Gol Darwaza, now hidden under thick swathes of banners and posters. Pause to absorb the bustling atmosphere of the area in Radhey Lal’s famous sweetshop, on the left as you exit, and have warm gulab jamuns, some rabri or barfi. Then, if you feel like discovering a little bit more of Lucknow, take a rickshaw and head towards the Chota and Bara Imambaras.


Crocodile Compound Walk straight in to a giant crocodile’s mouth to enter the Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Centre, 10 km north of Lucknow. The giant croc with two-feet-long teeth is made of cement, but the hundreds of reptiles inside are for real. Gharials are fish-eating crocodiles and males have a round pot-like growth at the end of their big, narrow snouts. The largest population of gharials in India lives in the Chambal Valley, but their numbers are still small. In an effort to prevent the species from going extinct, this centre breeds gharials and releases two-year-old

132 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | MAY 2013

ones into the wild. Recent releases have been to the National Chambal Sanctuary across three states and the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh. Along with being a pretty picnic spot, the visit to the centre is a great practical biology lesson and a rare

chance to see these animals up-close. Visitors can observe crocodiles in each life stage— eggs, hatchlings, and adults. Carry a picnic basket of Lucknavi specials and sit on the huge lawns outside; just don’t share your lunch with the reptiles. —Natasha Sahgal

Andrea Pistolesi/Age Fotostock/Dinodia (man), Pawan Kumar/Reuters (Gharial)

of Tunday Kebabi named after its founder who made kebabs with the stumps of his arms. Try the small, succulent kebabs with a paratha, then carry on past Mohammad Ali’s itar shop, where the owner sits surrounded by hundreds of bottles of perfume, towards Purani Sabzi Mandi. Just before this alley you can try nahari and kulcha, which is available allday at Raheem’s shop, though Lucknavis prefer to eat it in the morning,. Remember to look up while walking, something that is often forgotten in constricted spaces as it is hard to do. Apart from the chaotic canopy of wires and the colourful advertising banners, it is possible to see the fading stucco work, intricate woodwork, and ornate windows of dignified but dilapidated looking houses. At the Sabzi Vaali Gali take a left and then another left down Koocha-e-Mir-Anees. Although the criss-crossed small alleys can be confusing ask where the Maqbara of Mir Anees is. On the way you will pass the huge mansion of Digamber Jain with its ornate facade, the Ainak vali Masjid with its whitewashed exteriors, and also a number of crumbling old buildings with their lakhori bricks,

neighbours and they will tell you to how get the keys from Anees’ descendants who live in a haveli close by. After seeing the shrine, retrace your steps to the main street pausing at Naushad’s Haveli. Look out for the pair of fish, the Mahi Maratib, that adorn the entrances to various houses and whose use was an honour bestowed by the king. Take a right on the main street and you reach the Phoolowan vali galli on the left, dedicated to the purveyance of flowers. Walk past the stacks of bright orange marigolds, red roses, and white jasmine garlands and take a left at the end of the alley towards Nepali Kothi. This large red building houses a shop run by Tara Bahadur “Munna” who provides hakims, the ingredients for Yunani Medicine and prides himself on selling high quality saffron. Continue past the Nepali Kothi and loop back past the Krishna Temple, the Nepali Temple, the old havelis of Katari Tola, through Chudiya vali gali,

dire straits Clouded Leopard

Wild Acrobats


t’s not normal to see a wild cat hanging upside down from a branch, like a bat. Or run down a tree head-first, like a squirrel. Clouded leopards do all that. They are the smallest of big cats, but also among the most agile. They spend most of their life on trees and have bodies that are adapted to this way of life. For vertical climbs down tree trunks they have sharp claws allowing for good grip, and rotating ankles on their rear legs to help get a perfect posture. A bushy tail, which is nearly the length of their body, maintains

balance on thin branches. They differ from other big cats in some more ways—the markings on their coats are a mixture of stripes and spots. Short black lines fill their neck but their body sports large, cloud-shaped spots, for which they are named. Though small in size, clouded leopards have the longest canines in the cat family. Unfortunately they have been hunted for their beautiful coat and teeth, which are sought in China and Southeast Asia for their alleged medicinal properties. This has

led to a fall in their numbers in the last ten years, and their extinction in parts of China. Estimates claim that there are only around 10,000 clouded leopards left in the world. Their small numbers spread over a large habitat stretching from the Indian Himalayas to Southeast Asia, makes them extremely hard to spot. Clouded leopards are also very shy. In India, they have been sighted at Pakke Tiger Reserve and Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh, and Manas Tiger Reserve in Assam. n

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Sandesh Kadur/felis images

The smallest big cat is also the most elusive | By Natasha Sahgal

National Geographic Traveller May 2013  

The May 2013 issued of the Indian edition of National Geographic Traveller

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