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BHUTAN BRINGING JOY TO THE WORLD

THE WORLD IS AN

ADVENTURE U T TA R A K H A N D | N E W Z E A L A N D | W E S T B E N G A L | S O U T H A F R I C A | B O L I V I A


N AT I O N A L G E O G R A P H I C T R AV E L L E R I N D I A

May2018 VOL. 6 ISSUE 11

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14 WHERE’S MY PASSPORT When travel photographers bring adventure—and dread—to your journeys

20 “I’M BOTH AN INSIDER AND

Voices

16 FAULTY COMPASS For a real feel of a new place, look to its literature 18 CREW CUT Behind every perfect journey is a memorable soundtrack

The Itinerary AN OUTSIDER”

Writer and historian William Dalrymple returns to his first love—photography 26 QUIRKY BY THE COAST A new generation of creatives is shaking things up in Buenos Aires 34 LAKES, LORE AND VIETNAMESE PUPPETS

Discovering the traditional art form of water puppetry in Hanoi

36 HOURS

Where to pet pachyderms, feed giraffes and score Maasai treasures at pop-up bazaars in Kenya’s capital 46 THE SCIENCE OF SINGAPORE With green spaces, historical landmarks and cutting-edge technology, the island nation has the best of all worlds 50 PURSUING HAPPINESS IN HELSINKI

The Finnish capital is a design haven and a gastronomic hub that hearts its salmon as much as its saunas

PHOTO COURTESY: JULIA KIVELÄ/º(C) VISIT FINLAND

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38 NAVIGATING NAIROBI IN


Regulars 12 Editor’s Note | 136 Travel Quiz

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The Focus 54 TOKYO: THE GETAWAY GAME In search of secret sushi, sumo masters, and a robot uprising during 72 hours in Japan’s crazy cool capital

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The Address 72 Rx FOR YOUR BLUES Technicoloured corals under the villa’s floor and swimming with sea turtles at Mercure Maldives Kooddoo 76 THE WHOLE WINE YARDS A Tuscan-style retreat at Nashik’s Sula Vineyards is perfect for wine-fuelled weekends and starlit nights 72

ON THE COVER Some travels demand that we yank ourselves out of comfort zones and face our most THE primal fears. They WORLD IS AN also take us to ADVENTURE places ​unheard of, unimagined. This photograph of a woman bungee jumping 141 feet from the Kawarau suspension bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand, captures the essence of our adventure special issue— you might go in trembling, but what a fine story it will be. M AY 2 0 1 8

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BHUTAN BRINGING JOY TO THE WORLD

U T TA R A K H A N D | N E W Z E A L A N D | W E S T B E N G A L | S O U T H A F R I C A | B O L I V I A

ATLANTIDE PHOTOTRAVEL/CORBIS DOCUMENTARY/GETTY IMAGES (MARKET), LING DOH KIN (FOOD) PHOTO COURTESY: ​AJ HACKETT BUNGY NEW ZEALAND (COVER)

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The Destination 80 TAKING THE HIGH ROAD A drive to Sandakphu, West Bengal, not only reveals four of the world’s five tallest peaks, but also hidden aspects of self 84 A BIG FAT BOLIVIAN ADVENTURE A deadly bike trail, gruff landscapes, and adventure activities galore make Bolivia a thrill-seeker’s paradise 88 NEW ZEALAND: LORD OF THE THRILLS

Want to jump off airplanes and drive on the world’s most dangerous roads? Six ways to take the plunge in the adventure capital of the world

96 A HYMN FOR THE NON-BELIEVER Lessons in belief and beauty on an arduous Himalayan trek across Auden’s Col in Uttarakhand 104 LONG JUMP TO FREEDOM A sexagenarian conquers fears on an adrenaline-fuelled trip to South Africa 110 HIGH ON THE HIMALAYAS The 90-kilometre Pindari Glacier Trek across Kumaon throws up jaw-dropping views and friendly encounters 115 AROUND THE WORLD IN 20 ADVENTURES

Ride Icelandic horses, rock-climb near New York and plunge into Mexican cenotes: Discover new worlds above, across, and below the Earth with these achievable feats

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The Journey

​ 124 IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME You can walk through 2,000 years of history in Bath. But the English city is no dreary museum 129 BHUTAN’S KINGDOM OF BLISS Straddling past and future, the small but proud nation is a melange of surprising urban spaces, steadfast beliefs and mystic lore

NEELIMA VALLANGI (MOUNTAIN), ERNST HAAS/ERNST HAAS/GETTY IMAGES (ARTISTE)

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EDITOR’S NOTE SHREEVATSA NEVATIA

OF ODDS AND ENDS

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My appetite for adventure travel is questionable at best. However, my colleagues and fellow writers are less intimidated. They boldly went where I wouldn’t, returning with thoughtful and moving retellings. One of them had her head in the clouds after skydiving and bungee jumping in New Zealand, another described her trek to Auden’s Col in India as a near-religious experience. A father, who recently turned 60, journeyed to South Africa to dive with sharks whereas a dispatch from La Paz in Bolivia packed in more action than I could imagine. In each case, accomplishment was the goal but the conquest of inner demons became the unexpected reward. My personal summit this time last year was to create a National Geographic Traveller India that held the boundless promise of adventure; not just an excellent travel magazine but a superior read that competed with the best in the business. Despite being in uncharted waters, my team’s ambition held it in good stead. If success guarantees glory, then we can rightfully lay claim to our fair share. In the process I was, as I have stated often, happy to be more playful than heroic. Adventures, in the end, leave you satisfyingly depleted. Perhaps, everything didn’t meet your impossible expectations. Surely you could have done more. But once you have hoisted that flag or surfaced from the ocean, it’s time to catch a well-deserved breath. In the words of Jay Z, “Onto the next one.”¾

WESTEND61/GETTY IMAGES

WHAT MOTIVATES MODERN THRILLSEEKERS IS FUN NOT FEAR. ANY PERIL HELPS SHORE UP BRAGGING RIGHTS

epending on their destiny, adventurers are either fools or heroes of their stories. I have no illusions as to which one I am. In my writings elsewhere, I have professed as much, admitting to more folly than valour. I storm in when caution is called for, swing big and miss bigger. But even during my most colossal missteps, I never lack chutzpah. In a more reflective light, my bravado is as entertaining as it is sobering. Physical daredevilry, which I am less prone to, affords its own kind of Sisyphean theatre. At the limit of your body’s endurance, every judgement you make is in doubt, especially by that little voice in your head. Aron Ralston, the American hiker whose life became the basis of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, had a comical back-and-forth in his mind minutes before chopping his arm off. Obeisance to nature has a high price. The hordes of mountaineers stranded in avalanches or sailors taking on deadly tides will certify that. For a majority of travellers though, adventure isn’t usually this dramatic. There is no life-or-death expedition to the end of the earth. No lost-at-sea survival sagas. Adventure in travel these days is achievable if your health and wallet are willing. They are now about ticking off bucket lists. What also motivates modern thrill-seekers is fun not fear. A sense of mortal peril, if at all, can only help shore up bragging rights later.

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. MAY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

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THE ITINERARY CONVERSATION WITH WILLIAM DALRYMPLE

WRITER AND HISTORIAN WILLIAM DALRYMPLE RETURNS TO HIS FIRST LOVE—PHOTOGRAPHY—AND REVEALS WHY AFTER 30 YEARS OF TRAVEL INDIA STILL SURPRISES HIM BY BHAVYA DORE

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hree years ago William Dalrymple began travelling across India to chart the ruin of the Mughal empire and the rise of the East India Company. Following in the steps of Mughal emperor Shah Alam, the central character of his book The Anarchy, Dalrymple visited battlefields, mosques, ruins, palaces and barracks across Srinagar, Srirangapatna, Jaipur, Lucknow, Lahore, Kolkata and elsewhere. He also explored the art and culture of the period. The journeys resulted in “The Historian’s Eye”, an exhibition of blackand-white photos shot on a cell phone that opened in Mumbai in April and will travel to other cities including Delhi and Chennai in the coming months. Scottish-born and Delhi-based Dalrymple has written on travel (In Xanadu, From the Holy Mountain) and history (White Mughals, The Last Mughal) but his early passion was photography. Condensed and edited excerpts from an interview about his teenage hobby, travelling in India and why visiting sites is the key to his kind of history writing: 20

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | MAY 2018

CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT HOW YOU GOT INTO PHOTOGRAPHY? It’s in my blood. My great-great-aunt was a woman called Julia Margaret Cameron, who was a famous Victorian photographer. We had her albums at home and I remember as a child leafing through and seeing the power of photography. My grandmother left me some money and when I was 16, I

bought a camera. As a teenager this is what I did. I used to disappear into the school's dark room on weekends and come out clutching sheets of my prints. I loved that. People who knew me at that stage remember me as someone who was mad keen on photography. Then I got into writing, and the camera sat in its bag unused. I rediscovered it when two things happened. First, I got a really good smartphone and found you could take remarkably good photographs. Then a friend pointed me to some good software, which allowed me to turn all the photos into the same style of photographs that I was working on in the dark, in black-and-white, at 17.

DO YOU ONLY SHOOT WITH A PHONE CAMERA NOW?

India completely changed me. I would have been very different had I gone off to London

I do have a regular camera but haven’t used it for two or three years. [With phone cameras] you can’t get the high shutter speed and I particularly miss the ability to zoom in seriously. But weighing against that, you have something with you the whole time. It’s immediate. No one knows if you are taking photographs or pretending

PHOTO COURTESY: WILLIAM DALRYMPLE/TASVEER AND DAUBLE (MOSQUE), DAVID LEVENSON/CONTRIBUTOR/GETTY IMAGES ENTERTAINMENT/ GETTY IMAGES (WILLIAM DALRYMPLE)

‘I’M BOTH AN INSIDER AND AN OUTSIDER’


THE ITINERARY FINLAND

PURSUING HAPPINESS IN HELSINKI CAPITAL OF THE WORLD’S HAPPIEST COUNTRY, THE FINNISH CITY IS A DESIGN HAVEN AND A GASTRONOMIC HUB THAT HEARTS ITS SALMON AS MUCH AS ITS SAUNAS BY LUBNA AMIR

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fter a weekend in Helsinki, it is easy to see why Finland was recently crowned the World’s Happiest Country. Perched at Finland’s southern tip, the city is surrounded by the Baltic Sea and makes the most of this geographical privilege: Picture a renewed waterfront, and a string of bustling sea-facing cafés and saunas. Snowfall and sun-dappled sea apart, Scandinavian design is legendary, a claim that was reiterated in 2012 when the city bagged the ‘World Design Capital’ title. Today, this honour reflects in Finnish legend Alvar Aalto’s modernist architecture and premium glassware range, and contemporary buildings such as the cup-shaped Kamppi Chapel of Silence and the pinewood-laden Löyly sauna. Design here is rooted in practicality. A fusion of beauty

and innovation, it makes everyday life better, and the Design District is the place to spend all your money. Helsinki is also an immensely walkable city and some of its art nouveau and classic cream-cake-styled buildings are best explored on foot. Strolling past Esplanadi in downtown Helsinki, ogling at display windows brimming with international brands, is one way to gauge how fashion-forward the city is. For traditional fare served with Instagram-worthy plating, old-time favourites Savoy and Salutorget are your best bets. Beyond the Uspenski Cathedral in the Katajanokka district old red-brick warehouses repurposed into chic restaurants and coffee shops hint at Helsinki’s gastronomic credentials. The calories are swiftly burnt in saunas, both public and private.

SAUNA BY THE SEA In Finland, a visit to a sauna is a spiritual experience, like going to church. Share your tobacco and tinderbox, but not your sauna or your woman, preach the Finns. Luckily, Helsinki is still home to an impressive clutch of public saunas that stay abuzz round the year. Be it sub-zero temperatures or balmy summer evenings, tourists and locals can be seen frolicking in and out of them. In a country that brags 3.3 million saunas, the options are plenty. But the Balticfacing Löyly and Allas Sea Pool are top-notch, in their architecture, sauna and pool options, and the delectable fare they serve in their trendy al fresco restaurants. Located in the city centre, Allas’ USP is its freshwater pool that

makes swimming even in freezing cold a delight—it’s always cosy at 27°C! The unregulated seawater pool, on the other hand, is ideal to laze in during summer months. A 10-minute drive from Allas, in Helsinki’s industrial Hernesaari district that's being repurposed into a residential hub, stands Löyly. Even from a distance, its multiterraced pinewood-glass facade looks imposing. Löyly, in Finnish, means the steam that rises when water is thrown on hot stones, and it is Helsinki’s only smoke sauna—most others are electric. Here, you can sweat it out in a smoke or wood-fired sauna, jump into an avanto (ice pool), roll in the snow, head back in, and repeat. Don’t leave without trying some soulful Finnish food. Elk meatballs and salmon soup anyone? (www.allasseapool.com; €12/`1,000 for 10 hrs; www.loylyhelsinki.fi; €19/`1,500 for 2 hrs). MAY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

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PHOTO COURTESY: EETU AHANEN/(C) ALLAS SEA POOL

From Allas Sea Pool’s terrace café one can spot the whiteand-green gilded dome of the Helsinki Cathedral.


THE FOCUS

A woman dressed as a chondara, a traditional clown from the Japanese island of Okinawa, participates in one of Tokyo’s many street festivals.

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JAPAN

THE GETAWAY GAME In search of secret sushi, sumo masters, and a robot uprising during 72 hours in Japan’s crazy cool capital BY MICKEY RAPKIN PHOTOGRAPHS BY JAMES WHITLOW DELANO ILLUSTRATIONS BY ANDREW JOYCE

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THE FOCUS

6.12 a.m.

Raw Bar

Too Much Tuna 2.47 a.m. 

Compact sushi counters surround Tsukiji. While I wait 30 minutes for a seat at Daiwa Sushi, I get the skinny on Tsukiji’s long-delayed move to a modern facility, a transition mired in corruption accusations. Once seated, I ask the chef about the impending move as he serves me pieces of sea urchin and skipjack. “Next year,” he grunts. “Really?” I say. The safest bet: definitely before the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

I arrive early at Tsukiji Market, the largest wholesale

fish market in the world. For the high-stakes tuna auction, bidding begins at 5.30 a.m., and only 120 visitors are allowed to watch. Tsukiji (pronounced skee-gee) attracts 40,000 shoppers daily but wasn’t designed to be a tourist attraction; forklifts whiz by in tight alleyways, and one of the fishmongers actually gives us the middle finger—the Japanese equivalent of “I’m walkin’ here!” A buyer tells me about the most expensive tuna ever sold: a $1.76 million bluefin auctioned in 2013. At 5.20 a.m. we are ushered into a hangar where licenced buyers examine the fish. The whole thing feels like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange; a bell rings and men start shouting numbers and barking into cell phones. What jet lag?

11.32 a.m.

#Purrfect The Tokyo train system is a marvel of efficiency and affordability in a city where taxis are stupid-expensive. I take the Chiyoda line to the Meiji-jingumae stop—admiring a businessman with his Samsonite luggage and Hello Kitty cell phone case on the way—and walk over to the Harajuku neighbourhood, once the epicentre of forward-thinking fashion co-opted by Gwen Stefani and others, now the best place for people-watching. Teenagers eat rainbow-coloured clouds of cotton candy, and women carry umbrellas to avoid getting a tan. Harajuku’s newish trend: cat cafés. For about a `650 entrance fee, you get a cup of coffee and 30 minutes playing with adorable kittens that tussle with each other and nap on your lap.

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Get in line by 2 a.m. at Tsukiji fish market to nab one of the 120 passes to view the tuna auction.

7.53 a.m.

Take a Bath Full and happy, I check in to Hoshinoya, a modern ryokan, or Japanese inn, in the centre of Tokyo. I change into a kimono, then make my way to the hot spring-fed baths on the 17th floor. This is a retreat like no other—a dimly lit pool with an open-air skylight, where you can get naked and soak to the soundtrack of the city.


JAPAN

With living space cramped and pets often forbidden, Tokyoites head to places like Bengal Cat’s Forest café for feline frolics.

3.13 p.m.

Wrestle Mania It’s off-season for sumo wrestling, but I luck out: There’s an all-day exhibition tournament of the yokozuna—the grand champions—in an arena in the centre of the city, including an appearance by Hakuho Sho, a 32-year-old Mongolian superhero who holds the record for most career wins. When Hakuho first arrived in Tokyo, at age 15, he was so small no sumo “stable,” or training facility, would take him in; now he’s the Greatest of All Time. The main rule of sumo seems to be: Push your competitor out of the ring. The men square off, pulling the tassels around their waists to the side, and then slap their thighs. Actually I have no idea what’s going on. The last match of the day is a nail-biter: As his winning move, Hakuho somehow lifts up his 293-pound opponent and drops him outside the ring like a rag doll.

5.23 p.m.

Quitting Time

10.30 p.m.

Kampai! That’s Japanese for “cheers!” Here’s another phrase I learned: nomikai. Which is a uniquely Japanese phrase that basically translates to “forced fun.” Or team drinking. If the boss takes the office out for drinks, you can’t go home until he does. For nomikai, there’s no better experience than the Golden Gai, a series of six snug Shinjuku alleyways packed with more than 200 Barbie-size bars—four-stool watering holes, including maybe the world’s smallest karaoke bar. From an architectural standpoint, it’s a time capsule view of old Tokyo. It’s also bonkers fun. At a locals-only place called Oku Tei, the bartender charges me a $10 cover. I don’t blame her. Everyone is trying to keep the Golden Gai real.

I follow the Japanese salarymen to Omoide Yokocho, nicknamed Piss Alley, a series of narrow, winding alleyways lined with yakitori joints beside the train tracks in Shinjuku. I pick a spot that looks the most fun, sliding open a glass door to Ucchan, which has 15 seats and as many people smoking. The bartender flips the menu over to the English side, which promises—for 1,650 yen (or about `1,000)—“6 kinds of Japanese skewered pork and beer set,” featuring “giblets, innards & organ meat etc.” I’m alarmed by the use of “etc.” But each stick is spiced to perfection.

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THE ADDRESS

LUXURIES AT MERCURE MALDIVES KOODDOO GO BEYOND JUST STUNNING VIEWS OF THE INDIAN OCEAN. HERE, YOU CAN GAWK AT TECHNICOLOURED CORALS THROUGH YOUR VILLA'S FLOOR AND SWIM BESIDE GIANT SEA TURTLES BY HUMAIRA ANSARI

x For

hafeen is swerving the buggy down the snaking wooden jetty like an ace. It’s pitch dark and drizzling, his path is damp from the day’s torrential downpour, but the young Maldivian is jovially transporting our group of seven international journalists to our villas in Mercure Maldives Kooddoo resort. Despite the fatigue from two delayed flights, I’m anxious to find my bearings—they matter, especially when you are in a property that floats atop the Indian Ocean like a levitating yogi. My ears perk up when I hear the sea roar on either side of the jetty we are now trundling down, but, sadly, all I can see is a bulbous black mass lit in parcels, deep blue reflections cast by the resort’s distant structures glinting off it. “Wait for sunrise, madam. Sea looks gorgeous. Everything here does,” Shafeen reassures me when I alight. “Just hope weather’s good tomorrow.” Hoping ditto, I finally enter my villa at two in the morning. Out of habit, I inspect the bathroom first. When I turn on the lights, it sizzles like the parties in The Great Gatsby. The only thing missing is DiCaprio. The black-and-white patterned floor looks classic and is rooted in local traditions, “fashioned after the black-and-white sarongs Maldivian men wear during a celebratory Boduberu musical performance,” GM Scott Bowen, an Australian, tells me later. The bathtub is spacious and the shower cubicle standard, but the real showstopper in here is a separate open-to-sky bath area. It opens on to a private deck, which is also where my private infinity pool sits. I postpone a dip until morning and step back into the villa and that’s when, two strides from the bed, I notice something shimmer under the legs of a blood-red stool whose edges are punched with round golden buttons, similar to those pinned on vintage trunks. Curious, I inch

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closer and peer down. A giant beige coral glares back at me through a glass frame carved into the villa’s otherwise wooden flooring. It’s luminescent from the glow of an underwater LED, and the turquoise ripples embracing it jiggle like a Boomerang. Inspired, I open the app and capture the rhythm of the dancing waves. First Instagram post. Check. My mind finally veers to more pressing matters, like my stomach’s embarrassingly audible rumblings. My last real meal was a salad in Singapore 12 hours ago. So I rip the cellophane off the platter waiting below the LED TV and wolf down the tuna sandwich and macaroons. All four of them. They had come with a side of fragrant white-and-purple orchids. Touched by the warmth and now well-fed, I bundle aside the palm leaf arrangement—in big, bold letters, they had read Marhaba (Arabic for greeting)—and sink into bed. That’s when I give the giant sepia-tinted canvas above the headboard a second, closer glance. It’s a take on a nautical map, with the equator slicing through the Indian Ocean. Maldives is marked, as are some of its 26 atolls, and lurking in the foreground is a tiny airplane. French architect Meriam Hall subtly superimposed the seaplane on the map, Scott explains when I bring up the map later. “People probably flew in these planes when transcontinental travel first opened up. That’s why she didn’t want to use a jumbo jet,” he considers... “it’s supposed to be a bit retro, a bit about the nostalgia of travel.”  Still in bed, through the fluttering film of the curtains, I wake to 180° views of the ocean. It dazzles like a diva, and intimidates as much as it enchants. Sliding apart the glasspaned patio door—they comprise an entire wall to afford unobstructed views of the sunlit cyan expanse—my instinct

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S

Your Blues


MALDIVES

PHOTO COURTESY: MERCURE MALDIVES KOODDOO FACING PAGE: LING DOH KIN (DRINK)

Fashioned after the traditional palm leave-woven kajan roofs, the villas’ tops resemble an assembly line of miniature pyramids.

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THE DESTINATION

A DEADLY BIKE TRAIL, GRUFF LANDSCAPES, AND ADVENTURE ACTIVITIES GALORE MAKE BOLIVIA A THRILL-SEEKER’S PARADISE BY SHRENIK AVLANI 84

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BOLIVIA

MY BIG FAT BOLIVIAN ADVENTURE I

MAY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

ANTONIO SALINAS L./MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES

Close to the Bolivia-Chile border, Salar of Uyuni, the world’s largest salt desert, is a magnet for shutterbugs looking for an illusionary photo op. Water on the 10,000-square-kilometre blinding white flat creates surreal reflections of the sky.

n Bolivia, the adventure starts as my aircraft begins its descent. At 13,300 feet, El Alto International Airport, which services capital La Paz, is the world’s highest international airport. Landing here was quite exciting for me—one moment I was flying over mountains and emerald lakes, and the next, above an array of short, flat, brown houses. Suddenly, I spied the tiniest runway one can imagine. As the airplane lost height, I held my breath. To make the best of La Paz’s breathtaking views, I realised, one can turn to the host of adventure activities, from climbing mountains to biking or cycling down one of the world’s most dangerous roads; from camping by the beautiful Lake Titicaca—the world’s highest navigable body of water—to exploring rainforests. My initiation was a downhill biking trail on the Death Road (also Yungas Road) that snakes down from La Paz to Coroico. It gets its name from statistics that emerged in the 1990s, which showed around 300 deaths on the route anually since its construction in the 1930s. When a new road connecting La Paz and Coroico opened in 2006, regular traffic was diverted. It was around that time that thrill-seeking backpackers took over Death Road, making downhill biking the most soughtafter activity in Bolivia. After spending some time getting a grip of the special downhill bike on a smooth, paved practice-stretch, a short car ride took me to the starting point of the trail—a loose graveland-mud affair with an ominous signboard announcing the name. Dressed in protective gear, I listened to the instructor’s cautionary speech about the dangers lurking ahead, how to avoid them, and instances of fatal accidents that occur nonetheless. More psyched than dissuaded, I set out, tailing the 85


THE DESTINATION

NEW ZEALAND

LORD OF THE

THRILLS

DRIVE ON TREACHEROUS ROADS, CLIMB THE LONGEST VIA FERRATA, DIVE INTO ICE AGE RIVERS: SIX WAYS TO FACE YOUR FEARS IN AND AROUND QUEENSTOWN, THE ADVENTURE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

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BY KAREENA GIANANI

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The heart never stops thumping during a skydive in Queenstown, free-falling over The Remarkables mountains and the glacial Lake Wakatipu. The writer attempted the 15,000-foot jump, and emerged with no regrets. MAY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

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PHOTO COURTESY: REUBEN FALETUAI/NZONE SKYDIVE

NEW ZEALAND


THE DESTINATION

Q U E E N S T O W N F RI GHT AND F LIGHT river, I wasn’t impervious to the beauty around me. The waters sparkled even in the wan winter sun; rust-gold tussock on the cliff face held memories of a glorious autumn. Finally, I closed my eyes and jumped. I leap to the sound of applause from onlookers across the bridge, and fall with the grace of a rag doll. My stomach lurches up—actually, down—to my throat. Yet when my fingers dip into the river, I whoop gleefully, for I have touched the icy water of a glacier carved in the Ice Age, 15,000 years ago. In Queenstown, the drama begins long before touchdown. From the skies you see a city sprawled on the basin of Lake Wakatipu, which means “hollow of the sleeping giant.” According to a Maori legend, the S-shaped lake flows in the hole left behind after

Matau, an evil giant, was set afire by a local warrior out to rescue his beloved from his clutches. Jagged and gigantic, The Remarkables mountain range has risen around the lake for millennia, dwarfing everything in its wake. Sensational landscapes shape Queenstown, but it is adrenaline that stokes its fire. En route to the town centre, cabbie Ian Paddle tells me he came here to honeymoon from Australia three decades ago and never went back. “Which other city lets you walk on glaciers, fall from airplanes, swing through canyons, and race across rivers in a jetboat? You can now have a chopper fly you up The Remarkables, and come down skiing or biking—isn’t that amazing?” (www.bungy.co.nz; children aged 10-14 NZD155/`7,450, adults NZD205/`9,850.)

The Kawarau River bungee is the world’s first commercial bungee site. Visitors jump above the emerald waters flowing through the steep Kawarau Gorge.

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DANITA DELIMONT/GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES (BUNGEE JUMP) FACING PAGE: PHOTO COURTESY: NOMAD SAFARIS (CAR)

It hasn’t been an hour since I left Queenstown airport, and I’m standing 141 feet above a gorge, feet tied with a thick cord. I have never felt such primal, wild terror, not like this; not once in 31 years of life. It swells and shape-shifts with every second I spend on this ledge above the Kawarau River. I will fall and smash my skull; I will projectile vomit. Finally, the one fear sticks—I will have a heart attack, and hang limply mid-air. The cord feels like tentacles tightening around my chest. I’d vowed never to bungee jump, but planning a trip to the “world’s adventure capital” gave me a false sense of bravado. Commercial bungee jumping was invented here in 1988, at A.J. Hackett’s Kawarau Bridge Bungy Centre, and I didn’t want to be a chicken. Up on that ledge above the


NEW ZEALAND

ALL THAT SCARES IS GOLD gold deposits from the sand. “The key,” says Tim, “is to look for black sand by the riverbank; it has iron magnetite, which is 17 times heavier than water. Gold is about the same, and you often find their deposits together.” He hands me another pan and I imitate how he collects the sand, slowly swirling it clockwise and anticlockwise, allowing it to be gradually washed away in the river. I peer into my pan and find six flecks of gold! Chris gets the cookies and hot chocolate, and we drink by the river. “I am a history buff, and all New Zealand really has is the Gold Rush. I save my panned gold in a bottle, and hope to cover its bottom someday,” grins Tim. Chris recounts how his farmer friend panned enough gold to make rings for two daughters. He is still collecting gold for his third. The last leg of the drive takes us to Arrowtown by the goldbearing Arrow River. With its 19th-century cottages and treelined avenues, it seems to be living in the 1860s, when it was built during the Gold Rush. There’s even a Chinese settlement by the river, built by Chinese miners in 1868. Our drive ends back at the Kawarau River. Upstream from the bungee bridge, shafts of sunlight light up a narrow part of the gorge where the gigantic Pillars of the Kings rose in LOTR. This is where Frodo gazed at statues, their left hands raised ominously as warning to enemies. (www.nomadsafaris.co.nz; adults NZD195/`9,400, children NZD95/`4,600.)

Part of the Skippers Canyon Road was hacked by hand between 1883 and 1890, during the Gold Rush. MAY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

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One of us in this 4WD thinks they are about to die. You can tell who—my poker face is crumbling; the knuckles clutching the door of the 4WD are chalk white. Guide Chris Hogan is whistling on the wheel, driving along the Skippers Canyon Road, on an absurdly narrow path clinging to a near-vertical cliff wall. One wrong swerve and the car would go tumbling down into the Shotover River like a plastic toy. “You know, you’re doing so much better than the last couple I drove here,” he turns to me. “The man put a shopping bag over his head.” A perfectly reasonable reaction, if you didn’t count the backdrop. Queenstown is barely behind us, yet I am surrounded by undulating brown hills that seem like ocean waves stunned to stone. Often Chris points to curious rock formations in the distance; a gorilla with a sloping forehead; an elephant with its trunk and feet in the air. The Skippers road is a darling of every “World’s Most Dangerous Roads” list there is, but Chris rubbishes the claim “because no one has died here.” He admits that insurance doesn’t cover rental cars here, so only commercial operators like him end up bringing tourists in. The route isn’t just another pretty face of New Zealand—it is its most historic. Part of the Skippers road was hacked by hand following the Gold Rush, for seven years starting in 1883. It was here, around the Shotover River below, that the metal was discovered in 1861, luring hopefuls from around the world to make their fortunes at the world’s second largest alluvial gold deposit. Far in the distance, I spot Mount Aurum (aurum is Latin for gold), carved like a half-moon rising above the valley. Down at the base of the canyon, the river is eerily silent. I try to imagine miners from Europe and China sweating away with their pans and shovels, nurturing families in these very spots. The river is a robin’s-egg blue and startlingly clear. Nowadays jetboats bring tourists daily, whizzing between narrow crags at 85 kmph, doing 360° spins to make riders squeal. I pocket a pebble for a friend who collects rocks from around the world. Chris helps me find one threaded with quartz veins. “It has gold,” he nods. Further along, several thousand feet above us on Coronet Peak, dot-like workers of ski fields are making snow so the area’s favourite slope can open in five days. By afternoon, a cloudy greyness is upon us. The car is mostly in the Shotover, sending wild echoes of splashes everywhere. Chris points out a deserted stretch of bank that was The Ford of Bruinen in the Lord of the Rings, the point where Frodo was chased by the deathly Ringwraiths on horses. Further ahead, I see someone. A black figure hunched by the riverbank. “Someone’s looking for gold!” Chris veers the car towards the figure. Tim Bridget, a 40-something Christchurch resident, is here on vacation. “Don’t get excited, I haven’t found much,” he smiles sheepishly when I introduce myself. I sit on my haunches and notice the grooves on his pan that help separate


THE DESTINATION

A HYMN

FOR THE NONBELIEVER

Lessons in belief and beauty on an arduous Himalayan trek across Auden’s Col in Uttarakhand TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS BY

NEELIMA VALLANGI


UTTARAKHAND

The climb towards Mayali Pass, a 16,400-high crossing connecting Bhilangana and Mandakini valleys, is a vision in white. It is the third mountain crossing on the challenging Auden’s Col trek that begins in Gangotri and ends at Kedarnath, in Uttarakhand.

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THE JOURNEY

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In Search

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U.K.

of Lost Time

Walking in Bath is time-travelling through 2,000 years of history. But the English city is no dreary museum—its yellow stone buildings live and breathe centuries-old stories BY SWAGATA GHOSH

The Regency Costumed Promenade is the highlight of the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Every September, a procession of about 500 dancers, red coats and town criers bring Regency Bath alive through their 18th-century costumes (inset). The procession starts at the Royal Crescent Lawn and weaves its way down the city to finish at the Parade Gardens near the Bath Abbey (in picture).

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MATT CARDY/STRINGER/GETTY IMAGES (PARK), MATT CARDY/STRINGER/GETTY IMAGES (PEOPLE)

W

here do I begin with Bath? It is the story of secret desires and lovers’ trysts, of marauding Romans and their sanitary habits and of cosmic discoveries and distant dreams. It was the showiest city in all England. Still is. This story is over 2,000 years old yet incredibly modern and it begins 185 kilometres west of London. I first heard of Bath when I was 13. I had borrowed a book from the school library and was so incredibly swept up in its pages that (at great risk) I snuck it in the folds of my school diary and took Northanger Abbey to the morning assembly. There, as my friends prayed for their ‘daily bread’, butter and absolution, I ‘arrived in Bath’ and like Austen’s Catherine ‘was all eager delight…’ University, three jobs, and a decade and three later when I actually arrived in Bath on the train from North West England, it was a grey morning, rain-soaked and dull. And yet again, I ‘was all eager delight… eyes here, there and everywhere.’ The street names appeared familiar. I didn’t need a map. Over the next two days, I went everywhere Catherine took me, Cheap Street, up Milsom Street, left on to Gay Street, the Circus and finally the Assembly Rooms. It seemed nothing had changed in the 200 years from when a young Jane Austen first arrived here for a ball. My eyes climbed the pale duck-egg walls to meet a row of windows set high to provide both ventilation and privacy to dancers on crowded ball nights since 1771. Even the chandeliers have a story to tell. “One of them once lost an arm which fell, narrowly missing painter Thomas Gainsborough who lived nearby,” whispers the guide. Which one, I ask. “Oh! They took it down. Surely they couldn’t keep it after that. Gainsborough might have thrown a fit.” She laughs. The Assembly Rooms' chandeliers are some of the finest examples to have not just survived two wars, but also been adapted through time, from candles to gas light and electricity. And that is the story of much of Bath. You can time travel through 2,000 years of history in two hours. But Bath is no museum city. Here, the Roman, Georgian, Victorian and modern live in one happy house share. And nowhere is this more apparent than at the Abbey Church Yard. Coffee shops and tearooms in this neighbourhood share their front doors with the Roman Baths and the Georgian Pump Room restaurant. On warm summer days, buskers and busloads of tourists stand, stare and stop for a bite and a selfie. Even the residents come out at lunchtime for a sandwich, drink

National Geographic Traveller India May 2018  

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

National Geographic Traveller India May 2018  

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

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