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photo workshop with Joanna b. Pinneo

FEBRUARY 2013 • `120 VOL. 1 ISSUE 8

Elephant Spotting Trailing the planet’s largest land animal






INDIAN Connections live on

February 2013 N a t ion a l

G eog r a p h i c

In focus



Getting up-close and personal with the largest land mammals



Chasing an obsession through culture, movies and history


T r a velle r




20 destinations that should be on every travel wishlist this year


in d i a



Amidst Rangoon’s Buddhist pagodas, British colonial buildings, and political strife, Indian connections live on



Seedy pubs, drugs and women have deserted China’s 1930s gangster paradise

The Gathering

Xintiandi is one of Shanghai’s most upmarket districts, with chic pubs and a throbbing nightlife.

6 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | FEBRUARY 2013


Grant Faint/Photographer’s choice/getty images

Awestruck at the world’s largest congregation of Asian elephants



2013 • `120 FEBRUARY 8 VOL. 1 ISSUE

Elephantg Spottin planet’s Trailing the animal largest land



FOR 2013




On The Cover Photographer Paul Gilham took this image of a seven-month-old elephant calf, behind its mother Azizah, at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, one of Europe’s largest wildlife conservation parks in Bedfordshire, England. NatGeoTraveller.India

10 Editor’s Note | 138 Inspire

Voices 14 Tread Softly India’s elephants are fast disappearing


16 Real Travel Travel faux pas are unavoidable

40 Geo Tourism Tourism saves turtles

18 Frontier Tales Let indigenous societies decide

41 Hidden Gem Goa’s pre-historic rock carvings

20 Guest Column Abundant life in the big empty

137 Photo Contest The best of readers’ photos


Experience 42 Sticky-toffee pudding at last 44 Almora burns with the passion of the Ramlila

24 Take 5 Aquariums from across the world

48 National Park Underwater in the Andaman Islands

144 Dire Straits Tarantulas of the Western Ghats

28 48 Hours Museums and monuments of Washington D.C.

get going

last page

114 Adventure Take the skydiving plunge

32 The Idea Battery-powered Swiss bikes

117 Record Journey Battling storms in the Southern Ocean

34 Taste of Travel Hanoi’s underground cafés

118 Learning Holiday Lessons in crab fishing and life on Goa’s rivers

short breaks 122 From Delhi Rampur’s crumbling heritage 126 From Hyderabad Dancing through Kuchipudi

126 xx

130 From Mumbai Leisure and adventure in Karwar


February 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 7

paul gilham (cover), Rachel lewis/Lonely planet images/getty images (Shwedagon Pagoda), A.Howden-SingaporeStockPhotography/Alamy/indiapicture (dolphin), Mark Markau/alamy/indiapicture (kuchipudi stamp)

134 Photo Workshop Capturing communities with Joanna B. Pinneo

Editor’s Note Niloufer Venkatraman

Little ones can make the most bored traveller see the world with a fresh perspective.


tanding in the check-in line at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport, some years ago, my ears pricked up when I heard Marathi being spoken. I turned around to find a group of some 20 middle-aged travellers from Mumbai discussing their tour group’s itinerary. “Why have they brought us here for this unnecessary mountain flight,” one said. “They should have just dropped us off at Bishal Bazaar instead,” quipped another. I did not really want to hear any more. The hourlong mountain flight takes one through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery on Earth, and on a clear day, the views of the Everest range are awe-inspiring. I was aghast that anyone could prefer the chaos of Bishal Bazaar, where knock-offs of branded shoes and clothes are the central delights. As I thought about it, however, I wondered if those visitors were just feeling jaded about mountain scenery. I had, after all, at different points suffered temple-fatigue in South India, been completely museumed-out in Washington D.C., and after two weeks in Italy, found myself quite unable to enter another church or cathedral. I was guilty of feeling jaded about certain sights. When travelling, there have been days when I do not want to explore anymore; when nothing seems new or exciting. All this occurred over eight years ago. Since then I’ve travelled with my daughter, now almost seven, and my way of seeing the world has been completely transformed. Children make you look at things differently and you find yourself examining

Children make you look at things differently and you find yourself examining the world more closely

10 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | FEBRUARY 2013

the world more closely, for them, and for yourself. Simply by what they notice, children bring a fresh eye to our jaded perspectives or ways of seeing. From the time my daughter was a toddler, she was fascinated with cows. I suddenly started spotting cows everywhere—black ones, brown ones, big ones, small ones, naughty ones (blocking the expressway, or doing their business at an intersection). She’s stopped noticing the cows, but I still do. Now she notices other little things about places, so that every trip we go on is the best trip ever. Although our recent trip to Goa, for the nth time, was rather uneventful, she insists it was the best vacation she’s been on. What made it so? The soft bed in the hotel room (on which she could bounce), the pool which was better than any pool “in the world”. Plus the breakfast pancakes, ordinary by my standards, were the most awesome pancakes in the world, and the bathtub with that lemonscented bubble foam, utterly unforgettable. It’s easy to be jaded. It’s easy to complain: the food doesn’t live up to expectations, it’s too hot, it’s the same old stuff. But when the youngest member of the family is so enthusiastic about every little aspect of a trip, it renews one’s zest for travel to new places, for discovery, for enjoying the little things.   I’ve been warned though, that things will change. As they grow older, children may not want to notice the cows on the road or the monkeys in the trees any more. I’ve been cautioned that there will be a stage when I will point excitedly to a pink unicorn flying in the sky only to be met with a jaded reply from a 13-year-old, who will say “whatever!” n

Andre Morris

Jaded traveller


talk to

Thank you for the most interesting article on the Mhadei and Abhilash Tomy in your December issue. I particularly enjoyed reading your editor’s note that highlighted Abhilash’s quote: “Once you start wishing for things to be different, there is no stopping. First it’s the heat, then it’s the weather, the wind, the food, and soon everything will fall apart.” This is profound in more ways than one. While all of us try to make things different within the limits of our capabilities, we also have to learn the art of accepting what lies beyond. Mhadei makes this job relatively easy for Abhilash, as in this respect, the boundaries on a boat are so clearly defined. For most of us ashore, the distinction, though existing, is not so easy to identify. I look forward to reading more about this fascinating voyage. –Rear Admiral Monty Khanna

Every issue of National Geographic Traveller India is a delight and I look forward to it every month. In the December issue, I am thankful to Mike Pandey for his article on “Defacing our Heritage”. Like many tourists, I particularly enjoy visiting ancient temples, ruins and archaeological sites. But seeing the graffiti spoils the mood. I have seen architectural delights at the Bara Imambara and The Residency at Lucknow, Lodhi Gardens, Chhitorgarh Fort, Agra Fort and many more, being spoilt. One particular example was at Bara Imambara where a boy of no more than 17-18 years was scribbling away on the walls in bright daylight, with many people around, even the security guards. When I tried to teach him the importance of preserving these buildings, I was met with a disinterested attitude. Perhaps this civic aesthetic cannot be taught. It comes only when you love the history of a place. I hope people will understand that these relics lend a city meaning. I look forward to many more issues of National Geographic Traveller. It does inspire me to travel. –Pratishtha Joshi I have been reading your magazine for five months now and I am a great admirer of its articles and photographs. The article on Mumbai in your December issue interested me the most. I especially visited Mumbai to photograph and write about the flower market mentioned by you. The experience was fulfilling. I have always loved travelling no matter whether by tonga or a by bus. I love reading about different cultures and knowing about various traditions. Your magazine talks about all these aspects of travel along with various others. –Swati Priya

We asked our Facebook fans about their most memorable travel experiences of 2012. Here are some answers: My trip to Lakshadweep, the paradise island of India, was unforgettable. -Sunirmal Mandal I trekked to Sagargad, which has an awesome view. To get there, I hitchhiked through the night from Mumbai. -Narayanan Subramanian Striding across the International Date Line, on the last day of 2013. This was on the Mhedei, of course. -Abhilash Tomy I went to Andhra Pradesh and brought back some yummy pickles. -Hyacinths Pennefather Neil Island in the Andamans was the perfect place to bring in the new year. -Menaka Warrier

What are your travel plans for 2013? Email us at or visit NatGeoTraveller.India

Write to us, share stories of your travel experiences within India and around the world. We will publish some of them on these pages. Send your emails to

I especially visited Mumbai to photograph and write about the flower market mentioned by you.”

Emails: Letters: Editor, National Geographic Traveller India, Krishna House, 3rd floor, Raghuvanshi Mills Compound, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 013. Include address and telephone number. Not all letters can be published or answered; those published may be excerpted and edited. Customer Service: To subscribe or manage a subscription, email us at or call 022-40497417/31/35/36. JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Visit us at for ideas that will inspire you to plan your next holiday.

February 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 11

sohini maitra


-Swati Priya

Visit us at



Aquamania Bringing the sea to land By Zahra Amiruddin


Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, USA

It is the world’s largest aquarium with nearly four million litres of fresh and marine water. The collection of aquatic life here includes creatures as varied as the Australian weedy sea dragon, the Garibaldi damselfish, and the intriguing Japanese spider crab. Strawberry anemones, giant Pacific octopus, and

giant manta rays paint a fabulous oceanic canvas on the 4,574 sq ft acrylic viewing window. The experience of walking through the 100-foot underwater tunnel, surrounded by colourful sea creatures, is ethereal. Numerous touch pools allow visitors to get close to friendly marine creatures, and there are also a number of programmes involving dives with beluga whales and whale sharks. The coral, jellyfish and frog exhibits add a splash of colour, while the borderline psychedelic shows at the underwater 4D theatre are an immersive experience, literally (www.; open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturdays; entry `2,000 for adults and `1,560 for children).


Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Okinawa, Japan

Disbelievers of the 17th-century myth about sailors confusing manatees with mermaids can see the adorable sea cows at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and decide for themselves. Other residents include a manta ray that holds the record for longevity in captivity, a bottlenose dolphin with an artificial tail fin, as well as loggerhead, black, and Kemp’s ridley turtles. Close to 800 different coral colonies bring colour to the man-made sea bed at the Kuroshio fish tank. The shark research lab is an exhaustive A-Z on sharks, from foetal specimens of the great white shark to a reconstructed jaw model of the now extinct “megalodon” (www.oki-churaumi.

Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium offers sleepovers for children’s birthdays, family occasions, or just for a fun night out. 24 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | FEBRUARY 2013

PHOTO courtesy: Georgia Aquarium


quariums around the world have created experiences that replicate the wonder and awe of encountering ocean life. With coral parks, underwater tunnels, and opportunities to swim with sharks and dolphins, these five aquariums bring the ocean alive for children and adults of all ages.

jp; open daily from 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Oct-Feb, 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Mar-Sept; entry `1230 adults; `815-450 school students; free for children under 6).


Lost Chambers Aquarium, Dubai, UAE

The Lost Chambers Aquarium in Dubai’s Atlantis Palm Hotel is packed with underwater tunnels and mazes made for the aquatic life to swim through. The waters are home to glowing jellyfish, eels, sharks, and feisty piranhas amongst other marine dwellers. Visitors can feed cownose rays, watch shows at the Aquatheatre, or even go diving in the 11.5 million litres of water in the Ambassador Lagoon, with around 65,000 sea creatures for company. The aquarium also has a fish hospital where visitors can interact with animal experts who act as guides and provide first-hand education on caring for marine life (; open daily from 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; entry `1,550 adults; `1,060 children).


tropical marine species including trigger fish, humphead wrasse, blowfish, soldier fish and silver moonfish. The elevator can hold 48 people, and a guide gives visitors insights into the aquarium’s inhabitants, as well as the fascinating architecture of the AquaDom (Open daily from 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; entry `1,220 adults; `1,050 children).


Underwater World, Singapore

Though “Dinner with the Sharks” sounds like a frightening prospect, at the Underwater World in Singapore, it simply means enjoying a meal on the underwater “travellator” that takes

passengers on a lazy journey through a submerged aquatic tank. That said, daredevils (even those without scuba experience) can go on shark dives and come face to face with grey nurse sharks. Above the water, visitors can mingle with and feed the shovelnose and blue-spotted rays, or tickle their feet with a soothing fish reflexology massage. One of the highlights of a visit here is the chance to interact and even swim with the endangered pink-nosed dolphins (; open daily from 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; entry `1,150 for adults and `775 for children; entry free for children below 3 years). n

AquaDom, Berlin, Germany

In the middle of Berlin’s Radisson Blu Hotel, the AquaDom boasts of being the world’s largest cylindrical aquarium. Built at a cost of 13 million euro, it clearly took a degree of innovation, seeing how placing a gigantic cylindrical tank with 1,500 fish in the middle of a hotel lobby is not easy. A two-storey glass elevator runs through the centre of the 25-metre-tall tank, giving passengers a 360° view of

Berlin’s 25m-high AquaDom (left) contains a million litres of water and 1,500 fish; The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium (right) is the first to successfully breed giant manta rays in captivity. FEBRUARY 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 25

A.Howden-Singapore Stock Photography/Alamy/indiapicture (dolphin), Jochen Tack/ArabianEye/getty images (lost chambers aquarium), Sean Gallup/Getty Images (aquadom), Paul dymond/alamy/indiapicture (manta ray)

The endangered Indo-Pacific pink humpback dolphins at Underwater World, Singapore (left), are among the star attractions at this park; Interactive guided tours through the Lost Chambers Aquarium in Dubai (right) give insights into the 6,500 marine creatures present there.

NAVIGATE Taste of Travel

Good Morning, Vietnam In Hanoi, you’ll never be stuck for a quirky café to serve up your coffee fix By Nga Hoang | photographs by Nam Long Nguyen

Café Xe Co is a regular haunt for vintage bike enthusiasts and coffee fanatics alike.


n Hanoi, when it comes to coffee, you never know what you’re going to get. At the top end, trendy cafés with plush seats and panoramic city views attract well-heeled urbanites and dating couples with cash to splash, while chain outlets in prime locations are where busy

businessmen hammer out deals. In the middle are Korean-esque cafés, awash with bright colours and emblazoned with vintage knick-knacks, directed at teenagers hankering after eye-catching venues to pose with friends. At street level, old men, cash-strapped students, and working class

34 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | FEBRUARY 2013

folk settle down with newspapers on low plastic stools and soak up city life in living rooms-turned-caféterias facing the street. But if you dig really deep, you’ll eventually hit the cult-themed cafés that are bubbling beneath the surface and slowly filtering through to the rest of the city. When Vietnam was ravaged by war from the 1950s, coffee became a popular drink, served predominantly at state-owned caféterias. People would crowd around tables and wait for the chocolatey coffee to slowly drip from the metal filter into their glass. As the country entered a new era of economic reform at the beginning of this century, coffee became fashionable. Hanoi has since been deluged with trendy cafés and Western-style cafés targeted at tourists and youth. I start at Café Xe Co (Classic Motorcycle Café, 13 Hang Bun Street, Ba Dinh District). It is wrapped around a corner, which has motorbikes, old and new, on the pavements. I am amazed at how boisterous this place is. Sharp-suited men sip coffee with one hand and tap on iPads with the other. A young chap armed with stacks of bootleg DVDs and nail clippers patrols the tables, desperate for customers. One corner is dominated by men in Moby Harley Davidson T-shirts. Among them, I was told, is the owner of the café. Upstairs, the raucous chatter fades away and I gaze in awe at a gigantic Soviet-era sport motorcycle and Singer pedal-powered sewing machines that have been converted into coffee tables. Excitement builds as I saunter into the room on the top floor. It’s piled high with retro bric-a-brac, from Marelli fans and rotary dial telephones to gramophones and MIFA bicycles. Owner Tran Quang Vinh’s eyes light up when he talks about his most treasured possession, a Mobylette bike his family had owned when he was a child but had been forced to sell during the economic crisis that plagued the country between 1975 and 1986. When Vinh grew up, he tirelessly scoured the country in search of this bike. “My family sold the bike to a Hanoian family who passed it on to someone else in

Thai Binh Province,” Vinh recalls. “When I finally got there, it had turned into a scrapheap. It took an awful lot of time and effort to restore it.” Though new-model Vespa motorbikes are now a status symbol in the Vietnamese capital, Vinh remains captivated by the sound of the old engine revving up—for him it is the sound of history. Before the sun throws out its fierce shafts of red light at noon, I head to the north of the city to Café Nhac Xua (Old-time Music Café, 46 Yen Phu Street, Ba Dinh District). You wouldn’t exactly call it a nice café: the wall is smashed, the chairs are worn out and the floor is littered with pieces of wood. It was, however, everything I had been told it would be: a madhouse complete with assorted old sound systems stacked up high. And its keeper, Nguyen Duy Binh, is full of energy and passion for music and hi-fi stereos. “In 1976, most cafés played French music, yellow music (pre-war reactionary music) and anti-war music. In the ’80s, the state imposed a ban on all kinds of music

You wouldn’t exactly call it a nice café: the wall is smashed, the chairs are worn and the floor is littered with pieces of wood

A Cafe Linh patron revisits his military past.

Café Nhac Xua grew out of Nyugen Duy Binh’s fondness for antique sound systems.

except red music (revolutionary songs),” Binh shrugs. “The strange thing is the more they ban, the more tempted I feel.” His interest in sound systems was sparked when he first saw a sidewalk sale of televisions and hi-fi stereos from the Soviet bloc countries, which had been home to a vast community of Vietnamese students and migrant workers. After he retired from a confectionery factory in the ’90s, he turned to collecting, trading and repairing sound systems. Against the backdrop of a quiet, tranquil lake dotted with fishermen, Binh takes delight in playing the old tracks by Million Roses and Afternoon in Moscow, bands famed for their melodramatic tunes, turning the volume up full blast. Hearing those songs transports him back to the good old days where enjoyment, optimism, and a carefree life made up for lack of money. In a blur of melancholic music, I drive back to the city centre. My next stop is Café Linh (Soldier’s Café, 65 Hang Buom Street, Hoan Kiem District), a new kid on the block. Awash in military green, the café whisks you to the days when warriors marched through forests in tatty rubber sandals, when they sought solace from the ghastly years of war by pouring their emotions into love letters, and when they rejoiced at coming home with their

battered backpacks loaded with a doll in celebration of liberation. That’s the vibe that this café exudes. The man at the helm is Tuan Nghia. Born in a professional family, Nghia enjoyed the privilege of not having to join the army, as was compulsory for men upon reaching 18. Despite this, his memories of the war are vivid. “In 1972, just out of curiosity, I ran out into the street to watch an enemy plane when I heard the roar overhead,” Nghia recalls. “My dad found out and I got told off for the entire day.” Nghia has spent ten years amassing an unrivalled collection of wartime artefacts worth hundreds of millions of Vietnamese dong (the equivalent of thousands of dollars). “I opened this café to create a meeting place for war veterans and just as importantly, to engage young people in their local history in a way that museums can’t,” he said. Glancing around the room, people of all ages are giddy with excitement at seeing the kitschy objects on display. Just seeing this, I’m sure, makes him feel his mission is accomplished. Heading back out to the street, I make my way to Café Lam (60 Nguyen Huu Huan Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi), one of Hanoi’s oldest and best-loved institutions. Little has changed since this café opened in 1960. With ageing wooden

FEBRUARY 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 35

NAVIGATE Taste of Travel

Antique motorcycles, Harley Davidsons, as well as the latest Vespas (top left) can be found parked outside Café Xe Co whose owner is obsessed with vintage bikes; Café Lam (top right) is one of Hanoi’s oldest coffee institutions, a relic of a bygone Hanoi; Café Linh doubles as a wartime museum (bottom right); Tuan Nghia (bottom left) has been scouring the country for ten years collecting wartime artefacts.

chairs, faded paintings, and dusty greenshuttered windows, Café Lam has no intention of surrendering to modernity. Its original vibe is still strong: loud, but quaint. Café Lam is named for its first owner. Starting out with nothing to his name, Mr. Lam arrived in Hanoi from the countryside and earned his living with a pop-up coffee cart in a flower garden. With a secret brewing recipe passed down from his father, his coffee became an instant hit. But it was not without its challenges.

“Before 1975, trading coffee was banned, so it was as scarce as gold.” says his daughter Bich, who now runs his business. “Depending on the price of gold, the price of coffee would increase or decrease. Our coffee had to keep a low profile,” she says. After saving a bit of money, Lam opened a café in Hang Voi Street in the mid-’50s that became a frequent haunt for intellectuals and students. In 1960, he settled at 60 Nguyen Huu Huan Street and the café has since played host to many impoverished

36 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | FEBRUARY 2013

artists who traded their paintings in for cups of coffee. Lam proved that he had a keen eye for fine art. Today, the peeling walls of the café are filled with paintings that cost a fortune. In the hands of his daughter, his coffee legacy lives on. In a city where most of the old establishments have been rebranded as fashion boutiques, upmarket cafés and swanky hotels, Café Lam has stubbornly held its ground. It stands proud as a relic of a bygone Hanoi. n

NAVIGATE Geo Tourism low rate of survival. “It looked like only one per cent of the hatchlings actually reached the sea,” says Bhau Katdare, who works for the NGO. Olive ridley turtles are protected under India’s Wildlife Protection Act, which means they should get as much cover as the tiger. “But most of the egg harvesting happens at night and so catching the poachers was difficult. We needed to teach smugglers the importance of these turtles,” he says. A sustainable plan to educate and involve local people was needed. The solution, it seemed, was tourism. Tourism for Turtles

In 2006, the NGO started a turtle festival. Villages around the beaches hosted travellers who wanted to watch the hatchlings crawl into the sea. The survival of the turtles now turned into a steady source of income for the villagers. Boys who used to make `1,000 per season selling eggs now monitor and protect the nests and earn five times more from the wages paid to them by the NGO. Twenty five villages are involved in the conservation and the festival hosted over 2,500 visitors in 2012. In fact, due to their efforts in the last ten years, over 30,000 hatchlings have made it to sea. Olive ridleys start laying eggs once they turn around 20 years old. So though the future does seem bright, the result of this effort will only be known ten years from now, when the first of these hatchlings return to lay their eggs. It is believed that when baby turtles make the crawl to sea for the first time without assistance, they develop a sense of direction that allows them to come back there 20 years later.

Turtle Power By Natasha Sahgal


If the eggs do manage to hatch, the baby turtles are in danger from dogs, crabs, and humans. Although olive ridleys were once among the most abundant varieties of sea turtles, their numbers have now dwindled. The Maharashtrian solution

Several beaches on the coast of Maharashtra are nesting sites for olive ridleys. In 2002, Chiplun-based NGO Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra began to monitor the nests on the state’s coastline and noticed a pretty

Velas is a small village in coastal Maharashtra that usually has the largest number of nests. It is 218 km south of Mumbai (5 hour drive). The State Highway 70 (SH70) runs through Velas. There are two buses that go daily from Mumbai to Velas. There are no hotels there so the best option is the clean and welcoming rural homestay programme (94238 31700). It costs less than `500 per person per day for accommodation and food. Ten percent of this money is used for the Turtle Conservation Fund. While at Velas, visit the Marine Turtle Knowledge Centre to learn more about sea turtles and to buy some souvenirs. Accommodation is limited, so do not visit without making a reservation. n

FEBRUARY 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 37

kedar bhat

Getting there

Visiting olive ridley babies might just save them

very year, hundreds of olive green turtles swim to the beach of their birth. There they dig holes and lay two or three clutches of around 150 eggs each. After two months, the eggs hatch and hundreds of little turtles slowly crawl back to sea. From the beginning of the nesting period to the time the hatchlings enter the water, the turtles are in danger. When they get on the beach, some adult turtles are caught for meat. Local people often raid the nests for eggs to sell in the market.

When to go

The eggs start hatching around the last week of February and this goes on till the last week of April. Visit for dates and details.

IN FOCUS The Elephant Issue


In the Wild Up close and personal with the planet's largest land animals By Natasha sahgal


ore than half of the world’s population of Asian elephants are found in India. This makes it easy to observe groups of these giant animals in the wild here.

NORTHEAST Elephant habitats extend from northern West Bengal and spread east all through the seven sister states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. Kaziranga Tiger Reserve A four-hour drive from Guwahati, Kaziranga Tiger Reserve attracts wildlife enthusiasts because it is home to the one-horned rhino. It also has a sizeable population of elephants. Visitors can interact with the gentle giants by taking an hour-long, elephant-back safari around the grasslands, but to spot a wild family, you must go on a jeep safari. Closed May-October. Best explored by jeep. Kameng Elephant Reserve This reserve spreads across the south of Arunachal Pradesh. It includes the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary and Pakhui Tiger Reserve, both of which are easily accessible to tourists for treks. Open all year round. Best explored on foot. 54 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | february 2013

Manas National Park A national park and elephant reserve, Manas has a population of around 800 elephants. Jeep safaris are the best way to look for groups of wild elephants, and forest guides usually know where and when they can be found. Closed May-September. Best explored by car. Nameri Tiger Reserve At Nameri, it is not uncommon for trekkers to be rushed back to their camps after guards spots wild elephants nearby. The Nameri Eco Camp, where most tourists stay, has been raided by curious elephants on several occasions. Locals spend all night sleeping in machans in fields to guard their crops and warn others from the animals. Elephants thrive in this small national park and live in close proximity to the residents. Closed May-October. Best explored on foot. SOUTH A majority of India’s elephants live in south India. Large populations can be found in the hills of the Western Ghats, and in the forests and hills of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. Elephants are a big part of the culture of this region and are commonly tamed, especially for temple rituals and processions.

dhritiman mukherjee (elephants),Ivan Montero Martinez/shutterstock (binoculars), Hein Nouwens/shutterstock (banana tree left), Morphart Creation/shutterstock (banana tree right)


Cover Story

It is common for bulls to fight during mating season, but they usually only pick fights with elephants of the same size.

elephants on foot may not be the safest option, unless accompanied by an experienced and armed forest guard. The reserve frequently organises overnight camps for elephant sightings. Open all year round. Best explored on foot. NORTH Small populations of elephants live at the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh. Shivalik Elephant Reserve Uttaranchal’s protected area for elephants has a happy population of over one thousand. This region includes the Jim Corbett National Park and Rajaji National Park, where regular safaris make it possible to see elephants and several other animals in the wild. Main areas of Corbett (Dhikala and Bijrani) closed June-November. Rajaji closed July-September. Best explored by car. Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary Close to the Nepal border, this wildlife sanctuary has vast grasslands and some wetlands. Accommodation within the forest is possible in the forest guesthouse, always a good choice for early morning safaris. This is part of the Dudhwa National Park, where small elephant populations live. Closed July-October. Best explored by car. february 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 55

dhritiman mukherjee

Mysore Elephant Reserve This elephant reserve combines the Bandipur, Nagarhole, Mudumalai and Wayanad National Parks to protect the 3,000 elephants that live here. The area is also rich in other wildlife such as tigers and langurs. Elephant corridors connect these forests and one often encounters a herd taking a stroll from one forest to another, while driving through roads in the area. Open all year round. Best explored by car or jeep. Anamalai Wildlife Sanctuary Also located in the Western Ghats, Anamalai is a beautiful elephant reserve, filled with teak forests, shrubs, and tropical evergreen forests. There is a forest guesthouse for accommodation and elephants are commonly sighted. For those who do not spot wild elephants, there is also an elephant camp in the reserve where tourists can watch domesticated elephants being bathed. Sometimes closes in summer, check with hotel before planning a trip. Best explored by safari bus. Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary Sleeping in one of the hotels near the border of the park usually ensures that you hear some trumpeting at night. Elephants live quite deep inside Periyar and keep a safe distance from tourists walking in the reserve. No jeep rides are allowed in this forest, and looking for

IN FOCUS The Elephant Issue

Elephant Camps Five elephant camps around the world to visit and interact with the planet’s largest land animals. Elephant Heaven, Agra Kartick Satyanarayan rescued Champa from cruel employers in 2009. The only problem was that Champa was a full grown elephant and Kartick was a man with a small house. With some land borrowed from the forest department, funds raised through his NGO, Wildlife SOS, and the help of a gentle mahout and vet, Champa was soon cured of her wounds and began to live happily in her new space. This encouraged Kartick, who already ran a bear rescue shelter in Agra, to take in more elephants. And Elephant Heaven was born. Currently six elephants (including a blind one) happily co-exist in the space. A “walk with elephants” programme allows visitors to meet the mahout as well as the vet, and interact with the elephants as they walk and bathe (visitors should make a donation as no fee is charged). There are no rides here and elephants are never chained, except in an emergency. There are volunteer opportunities for those who want to stay longer and learn more about these gentle animals ( The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Orphan Project, Nairobi Daphne Sheldrick is known as the person who perfected a formula to

Baby elephants have a rapid metabolism and need to be fed every three hours for the first year. 56 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | february 2013

peter barritt/alamy/indiapicture


nteracting with elephants can be a joyful experience, for young and old alike. But the thinking traveller can’t help but wonder if a wild elephant can be domesticated without harming it. Shelters provide homes for elephants that have been retired from the logging trade and cannot be released in to the wild, or animals that have been used for begging that the mahouts can no longer afford to feed. In such cases, tourism actually provides the means for their care. Often however, the shelters can be regressive in the way they treat the animals. Travellers should look out for tell-tale signs of unhappy elephants— open wounds, the use of an ankush (a sharp stick used to hurt them), extremely short chains, and the absence of social interaction between animals—and report it. Boycotting all shelters is not the solution to stop cruelty towards elephants, supporting the right ones is a better choice. Elephants are friendly, playful, social animals, and spending time with them in a space where they are happy makes for an unforgettable holiday. Here are a few elephant camps that are recommended for their animal care. Practices at most shelters however, vary according to the mahouts who are in charge, so keep an eye out for any distressing signs.

hand-feed African elephants (the secret was coconut milk). Now, she runs a shelter in Nairobi that cares for orphaned calves during the first two years when they are milk-dependent, with the aim of releasing them back to the wild. The orphanage is open to visitors for an hour daily, from 11 a.m. to noon, when the babies are being fed. Visitors cannot interact with the calves since excess human bonding can damage their chances of integrating with a wild herd—but watching the playful young ones rolling in the mud and suckling on giant milk bottles is enough to make anyone feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Elephant Transit Home, Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka A visit to the Udawalawe National Park is a complete elephant package. It starts with a jeep safari to see the hundreds of wild elephants that inhabit this park and ends with a visit to the shelter that cares for orphaned calves. The shelter is a transit home that trains elephants to survive when they return to the wild. The combination of the two experiences really brings home the importance and the difficulties of surviving in the wild. Visitors are required to maintain a fair distance from the calves, but it is still fun to watch the babies as they play and roam, or are fed at mealtimes (9 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m., and 6 p.m.).

Elephant Nature Park, Thailand Elephant tourism is a huge industry in Thailand, which unfortunately means that some shelters capture babies from the wild, and use cruel practices like beating and starving to break their spirit. Domestic elephants are considered livestock in Thailand and do not have much legal protection against cruel owners. Elephant Nature Park is a rehabilitation centre for ill-treated elephants. In an attempt to create awareness and involve visitors in their care and conservation, the guides share endearing stories of the human-like emotions shown by elephants. Visitors can interact with the animals over periods ranging from an hour to four days and learn to bathe, play with, and care for these giants (www.elephant The park’s founder, Lek Chailert, has received many awards worldwide for her work with elephants.

Elephant Valley Project, Cambodia This small sanctuary has 12 elephants and the strong belief that this generation of elephants should be the last to be domesticated. The elephants here have been rescued from unpleasant working situations and cruel owners. They live in an environment that is as close to the wild as possible, foraging for their own food. There are no chains and no tourist rides. Visitors can observe them from a safe distance (the sanctuary is funded by the money raised through tourism) and interact with elephants when they bathe and feed. They can also spend the whole day with the mahout and learn to take care of elephants. Accommodation is available inside the sanctuary, next to where the elephants sleep ( Volunteers at the sanctuary also work with locals to help them find sources of income that do not include elephant domestication.

Bath time is a big highlight at the Elephant Nature Park, Thailand, and at most elephant camps, as the animals are social and young ones get extremely playful in the water. february 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 57

Travel Ink/Gallo Images/Getty images

Cover Story

IN FOCUS The Elephant Issue

Elephants usually grow around seven sets of teeth in a lifetime since they spend many hours a day chewing, causing their teeth to wear out quickly.

To watch wild elephants play in South Africa, just follow them on Twitter and Facebook. In an initiative started by a South African company called Africam (, viewers can watch wildlife, usually elephants and some big cats, bathe and relax in the wild. Africam has set up cameras in several South African reserves, including the Tembe Elephant Park, Nkorho, and Idube Game Reserve. The cameras broadcast live footage 24/7 to computers around the world. It is fun and educational to be able to peep in to the forest at any time and watch their wild behaviour, without being intrusive. Quite like Big Boss, but without the loud commentary. The feed has the excitement of a safari since the timings are never planned and you never know when an animal will be spotted—but there is no need to spend all day watching trees while waiting for them. As soon as there is activity on any of the cameras, Africam’s Twitter and Facebook accounts sends immediate alerts. The best time to see wildlife is early morning and late afternoon, African time (10 a.m. and 6 p.m. IST). Volunteers from around the world monitor these cameras and zoom in around the animals when they are spotted. There is also a radio option, where just the live sound of the jungle plays all day. The excitement of an African safari, the wait for wildlife to appear, and spending hours watching baby elephants cuddle and play with their moms—you can have it all, in the convenience of your own home.

Elephant Corridors Elephants travel to survive. One patch of forest cannot sustain a large elephant population for too long. A full grown elephant eats nearly 200 kg of leaves, branches and fruit every day. To ensure an endless supply of food and water, elephants like to move to different areas every season—usually to dryer parts of the forest during monsoons and near lakes in the summer. They also need to interact with other herds of elephants to prevent inbreeding. India’s forests are becoming fragmented into smaller parks because of roads and human settlements. An elephant corridor is a stretch of unfenced land that connects two large forested areas so that elephants can travel from one to another. With the

forests getting smaller, these corridors are extremely important for survival of the species. Currently, there are 88 designated elephant corridors in India, but less than 20 are actually free of human activity. Train lines cut through some of these spaces often killing elephants on the tracks. Human settlements result in elephant-human conflict, and corridor land is also being used by the mining industry. All this means that elephants don’t have a safe pathway to get from one forest to another and when they try, they sometimes get killed. Several wildlife NGOs are working hard to make these transit areas completely safe and have recently succeeded with two new corridors in Meghalaya and Kerala.

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Trucks, fast trains, and armed villagers are threats to elephants when they use elephant corridors that include roads and villages.

dhritiman mukherjee (elephants by the water), STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images/G (elephants crossing)

Couch Safari

Cover Story Why you should never buy ivory

Wild elephant populations across india

NORTH EASTERN 9,305-9,355


EAST 2,633


• 2008 wild elephant census This map is for illustrative purposes only

ELE-FACTS Elephants don’t drink water through their trunks. They merely use the trunk as a hose to squirt the water into their mouths. The Asian and African elephant are only very distant relatives. The Sri Lankan elephant is a different (some scientists say they are larger and heavier) sub species from the Indian elephant. The tiny rock hyrax, which looks like a large guinea pig, is very closely related to the elephant. The earliest records of taming of elephants date back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. These elephants were used in agriculture.

It’s hard to believe that the almost rodent-like rock hyrax is very closely related to the elephant.

You can identify individual elephants by their ear shapes, tears on their ears, tail hair and length,

tusk length, size and symmetry, among other features. Elephants live in herds, led by a matriarch. These herds are formed by female relatives with males being excluded by the age of ten. Males live independently though they may form bachelor herds. In order to be domesticated, elephants are captured and tamed by having their spirit broken usually by physical coercion. Elephants are not fat. Their enormous digestive systems can process 150 kg of food a day. Elephants poop up to 100 kg a day. You can buy paper and paper products made of elephant dung from And no, it does not smell! –With inputs from Rachel Dwyer and Arati Kumar-Rao

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Jeff Hutchens/Getty Images (tusks), Yair Leibovich/shutterstock (rock hyrax), urmimala nag (map)

In October 2012, National Geographic Magazine ran a story by Bryan Christy titled “Ivory Worship”, which delved beneath the surface of illegal ivory trade originating in Africa. A shocking 6,00,000 elephants were slaughtered in the 1980s, effectively halving Africa’s elephant population. In the last year alone, 25,000 elephants were killed. Despite a global ivory trade ban in 1989, tens of thousands of African elephants are still brutalised for their tusks every year. The ivory, invariably used to carve religious idols, sells at a premium, and smugglers across Asia are only looking for more. Since 1989, close to 6,800 kg of illegally smuggled ivory has been seized in India alone. The article sheds light on poachers and traders in the Philippines, China, Japan, and a number of other Asian countries. Read the full story at

Journeys Quest

Neon lights and fancy cars aren’t a cover up. Shanghai’s notoriety is really all in the past. Facing page: Opium and dancing girls may not be in vogue anymore, but Shanghai’s nightlife is still thriving.

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China’s Sin City simply isn’t as seedy as the history books promised it would be By Zac O’Yeah february 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 95

tao images limited/getty images (traffic), philippe lopez/afp/getty images (bar)


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Over the past century, Shanghai has evolved into China’s financial capital, with an interesting mix of big corporations, fast highways, and art deco buildings.

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“Your lovin’ gives me such a thrill, but your lovin’ don’t pay my bills,” the performer yells. At the table behind me, three Chinese girls, who haven’t been singing along so far, outshout her when the refrain comes: “Give me money, that’s what I want.” I’d been forewarned about Chinese capitalism, but this was more material evidence than I had bargained for—“Money” clearly ranks as the most popular cover by the house band at the Cotton Club in Shanghai’s former French Quarter. A mixed crowd of expats and locals guzzle pricey cocktails and smoking isn’t prohibited. Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that the jazzy-blues’y club isn’t quite living up to the city’s old reputation for sleaze because the adjective that pops up when I try to describe it is “cosy”. During the band’s break, I chat with the polite European drummer. When he moved to Shanghai in the 1990s, he was the only jazz drummer in town. Today, laid-off musicians swarm in from all over the world. It is common to see Chinese performers too, as jazz is experiencing a revival. Competition is harsh, but luckily he has his day job to bring home the bacon. He’s a manager at one of the big foreign banks, so playing in smoky bars is more of a hobby. That’s Shanghai—bankers jazzing the night away. With its bars staying open as long as people keep drinking, Frenchtown is the beating heart of the entertainment district, though it isn’t dirty or rowdy or particularly sinful. The quiet streets are lined with sycamore trees, but before you need to take a leak against one you usually find a neat public bathroom. Every block has a boulangerie doing brisk business selling croissants and baguettes to yuppies. Over two months, I get propositioned only once by a prostitute outside a Hengshan Road bar. She’s pretty, positively glowing with health, and offers me a private massage. When I decline, she just smiles and doesn’t attempt to rob me. In the lowliest bars in the grungiest alleys, I find myself at rickety tables among friendly working-class heroes, petty traders, and even rag-pickers, and with them, I sink my chopsticks into bowls of fried rice. The waiters are jolly and hand me a free smoke with my third Snow Beer. The beer is very mild in Shanghai, so one needs lots to get high. Even the cheapest joints are quite safe, but one has to watch out for gents who imbibe too much rice booze and unexpectedly puke like fountains. I get neither pick-pocketed nor scammed, which isn’t necessarily

a bad thing, though I must admit that I had expected more from the “Paris of the East” and “Sodom of China”. Once upon a time it was different. Many a hapless sailor found himself here, having been “shanghaied”—doped, kidnapped and turned into a bonded labourer aboard a ship bound for China. Shanghai itself had no immediate culpability. The concept was born in the mid-1800s in American ports. It was hard to get crews for the long journey to China, especially during the Gold Rush in California when many sailors went off digging for the yellow metal. So ship owners bought “bodies” through unscrupulous head-hunters. Any ablebodied landlubber at a waterside bar might find his drink spiked, his cigar laced with opium, and himself delivered down a trapdoor into a waiting dinghy. As accidental tourists in an exotic city full of opportunities, legal and illegal, loads of Westerners stayed on to become Shanghailanders. There were some 70,000 in the 1930s, not all shanghaied, but many of them colourful, ranging from mercenaries to nightclub performers, all looking for money. In those days it was easy to get high at the many dives and dens. But as soon as you got into the mood, you were likely to get robbed. The most downmarket street, the infamous Blood Alley near the riverfront, housed the cheapest bars and brothels (average `9 a go), where nightly fistfights ensured that the gutters were clotted with blood. The hookers were lethal. Gangs of them would pounce upon an innocent man walking down Avenue Edward VII (today’s Yan’an Road), wrestle him down and drag him into a brothel. These legendary tales demand closer investigation, so I chase down shots of baijiu (the famous 54 percent strong local rice brew) with a few ice-cold pijou(Chinese beers) in a bar. Thus fortified, and armed with my camera, I go looking for the past. I expect it to be hidden behind the present and obscured by the future that Shanghai seems to live for, but when I locate Blood Alley (renamed Xikou Road) it’s a short, tidy street with just a YMCA on the corner. Maybe it is thanks to that Christian influence, but Blood Alley’s gone anaemic. A few blocks north lay the epicentre of 1930s’ vice, Foochow Street, february 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 97

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Maybe it is thanks to that Christian influence, but Blood Alley’s gone anaemic. 98 national Geographic Traveller INDIA |february 2013

mondadori/contributor/getty images

Blood Alley’s reputation earned it a place in western popular culture. Oddly, the 1955 John Wayne-starer of the same name, while based in China, had nothing to do with Shanghai.



1 The New Ritz Bar, identifiable by the Coca-Cola logo, on the corner of Blood Alley, was amongst Shanghai’s most infamous establishments. 2 Behind the closed doors of smoky 1930s Shanghai, a thin line separated capitalists, racketeers, and gangsters. 3 Bars, casinos, and women made Shanghai a playground for the rich from all over the world. 4 Close to 1300 cases of opium were seized and burned at Shanghai’s Pootung furnaces in March 1919. It took three days to burn all of it. 5 Smiling hostesses in seedy bars were often bait for foreign travellers. 6 Sailors, soldiers, and other travellers that ventured into bars invariably ended up passed-out and penniless by the end of the night.


4 5


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jack birns/contributor/time & life pictures/getty images (blood alley), jean- phillippe charbonnier/contributor/gamma-rapho/getty images (capitalists), jack birns/contributor/time & life pictures/getty images (tango bar), hulton archive/stringer/getty images (burning opium), jack birns/contributor/time & life pictures/getty images (women waiting at a bar), jack birns/contributor/time & life pictures/getty images (chinese and maericans ata bar)


Journeys Quest with over 150 singsong houses full of pleasure ladies who skimmed the day’s gambling earnings. That is, if a punter made it so far, for one might be “pig skinned”, waylaid immediately upon leaving the race course or casino and stripped down to one’s underwear by street gangs. So thoroughly has the modern city erased its dirty past that today’s Fuzhou has become the official Culture Street. The only red lights around are at the traffic intersections, and the only ladies who perform are the Peking Opera artists at Yifu Theatre (701 Fuzhou Road). I buy a ticket, of course. But it is such a stylised art form, with so little action, that I notice the Chinese patrons in the seats around me taking naps when their thermos flasks run out of tea. Instead of dozing off in opium dens, people also take siestas on the floors of Fuzhou’s many bookshops (despite the prominent “Sleeping Prohibited” signs). The seedy street has become cultivated. Museums? Perhaps they can be of help. Across the river, in the new Pudong developments, in the futuristic Oriental Pearl Tower, there’s a Municipal History Museum. Displays explain how “after the Opium War, the big foreign powers invaded China one after another”. Gunboat politics created settlements that were “countries within a country”, turning Shanghai into “a metropolis infested with foreign adventurers”. The museum juxtaposes Western depravity with the noble poverty of the Chinese masses—the former exploiting the latter for cheap labour, prostitutes and drug addicts to sell opium to. Opium was the name of the game and in the 1930s Shanghai was the most corrupt town on the planet. One of the main druglords was “Pockmarked” Jinrong, paradoxically also employed as a Frenchtown police chief. He was the mentor of “Big Ears” Yesheng, a high-volume dealer who was also the head of the Bureau for Opium Suppression—another twist of irony only possible in Shanghai. The opium warehouses used to be on what is now Renmin Road, a busy street where the old city wall encircling the now touristy Chinatown once stood. There’s nothing to be seen there now, except clean laundry hanging out to dry across the alleys. The buildings that housed the prosperous foreign trading companies have withstood time. They line the riverside Bund in a grand display of European architecture. The Jardine Matheson Building at No 27 belonged to one of the biggest opium importers; now it’s a posh Rolex shop. Shanghai was then synonymous with enormous wealth and today it has re-emerged as the commercial capital of China. For the upper echelon, the order of the day is lavish banquets. I have my fill of these— VIP rooms in glitzy restaurants where the massive rotating tables are chock-a-block with sliced duck, deep-fried pork chunks, braised whole fish, crab stuffed in oranges, cold chicken feet, pickled ducks’ tongue, and of course lotus stems prepared in every imaginable way. Eating these meals, I’m reminded of Lynn Pan’s book Old Shanghai: Gangsters in Paradise, where there’s a description of how the aforementioned “Big Ears” —the Al Capone of Shanghai—erected a temple to his ancestors in 1931 and to mark the occasion hosted a banquet for the who’s who. One of the most famous restaurants shut down for three days and moved its kitchen to the temple, to keep food and wine flowing to 200 banqueting tables over multiple sittings. It was perhaps the most lavish feast in the history of Shanghai. Are there any restaurants left from the old days? Food was always

big in this cosmopolitan town. In times past, eateries would have ventriloquists outside with speaking dolls reading out the menus. At one end of Fuzhou, I discover a recreated cobblestone alley, down by the Metro entrance at People’s Square, a “1930 Shanghai Style Street” trying but failing to offer Shanghai nostalgia because of some obviously inauthentic fast-food joints. But around here, quite a few establishments claim a pedigree dating way back. The seafood restaurant Wang Bao He (603 Fuzhou Road) for instance, originally opened in the 1740s as a rice wine shop and still serves local Shaoxing booze, while the Curry House (578 Fuzhou Road) from 1863 does Chinese takes on curry. A serious foodie should turn down Yunnan Road to discover humbler but more popular places such as Shenjiamen (no sign in English; corner of 59 Yunnan and 269 Ninghai Road) that does fresh oysters and deep-fried silkworms (day’s catch displayed outside). Nearby is the famous Halal Hong Chang Xing Muslim Hotpot, a Shanghai landmark for more than a hundred years. My quest for older Shanghai flavours finally leads me to Deda Westen, dating back to 1897. (Note the prominent and appropriate misspelling of “Western” on the board.) It’s one of the last places to serve “dacai”, the Shanghai version of French, British, and Russian cooking. In the early 1900s, there were hundreds of such places, but today when glitzy European style bistros dish up far more authentic Continental food, yuppies have found new haunts. Still, Deda Western on 473 Nanjing Road (the main drag), is packed with diners. There’s something endearing about its quirky interpretations of Western cuisine, such as pork chops breaded like a schnitzel, deep-fried and served with soggy finger chips and vinegar. Or the baked chicken cheese curry stew Portugal style, which you could sample, if you dare. Both rank among the most puzzling bastardised dishes I’ve ever eaten and illustrate how Western food was forced to go through a metamorphosis to suit Asian conditions. Perhaps the restaurant remains in business thanks to its grand building with pillared dining halls and worn parquet floors. It certainly isn’t on account of its topsy-turvy service—starters served after mains. The Shanghai Municipal History Museum has a model of a 1917 amusement palace, the Great World, with a pagoda imitation tower that makes it look like an oversized wedding cake. Once upon a time, the Great World offered four floors of every imaginable enjoyment and depravity, including cinema, opera, distorting mirrors, fortune-tellers, and a brothel, opium den, and gambling hall, all operating 24/7 (including a bank offering loans to gamblers). It was said that the higher up in the building you went, the more revealing the clothes of the hostesses. Even Charlie Chaplin popped by in 1936. So I walk about with a new determination to discover that the Great World is, amazingly enough, still standing, two blocks south of Fuzhou Road, though unfortunately shut down. After the 1949 Communist takeover, it only staged “approved and uplifting performances for the public” and was still running in the 1990s with video games and karaoke. A Chinese woman who shows me the site tells me how she used to go there as a child every week and win pocket money. She’s not entirely comfortable with how downtown has become posh while everything old, weird and wonderful has

When I decline, she just smiles and doesn’t attempt to rob me

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The drugs, gangsters, and prostitutes that once ruled Shanghai’s streets have been replaced by chic dresses and shopping bags. february 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 101

manfred bail/dinodia photos


Journeys Quest disappeared. Looking at the stone lions guarding the boarded up entrance to the Great World, she quips, “Like a stone on my grave.” The block now houses traditional shops for tea, candy and medicine, a theatre where occasional acrobatic performances are showcased, and an international sports bar. As I dig deeper, I find that modern entrepreneurs tried to recreate a Great World of sorts for visitors to the 2010 World Expo, built underground below a park on Julu Road. The Datong Complex features a central waterway suggesting a faux Venice, an Eiffel tower in red iron (a wink at the real Paris), surrounded by a number of girlie bars with names like Nightshift Libido and L.A. Club. But the bars are shut, the transvestites gone, and the lone security guard watching over the disastrous investment chases me out. To document its criminal history, the city has opened China’s first and only Police Museum on 518 Ruijin Road. Most of the signposting is in Chinese, but you get a sense of what it’s about when you see the evidence—a pair of scissors smashed through a cranium tells its own story. There’s a display of old uniforms and a wax doll of a Sikh policeman who would have patrolled the British-controlled streets in the 1930s. The best part is the souvenir shop where I pick up a replica cop badge. Mounted on a leather wallet, the badge flips open in a cool way. Despite this, I feel that my decadent adventure in the “Capital of Sin” remains incomplete. Besides, my feet are sore from all the walking. This leads to a genuinely half-baked idea. I’ve noticed the large number of massage parlours and have re-

ceived, under my hotel door, bundles of visiting cards with images of semi-nude girls offering room service. So I dare myself to do something almost seedy. A foot massage. In the old days, there were the “Flowery Smoking Houses”—opium dens with “hostesses”. There’s a mock-up of one in the Municipal History Museum: the dreamy addicts weren’t good for sex so the hostesses gave them foot massages instead. Most parlours look dodgy, decidedly too flowery for a serious writer. So as not to chicken out at the last minute, I pick one with a scientificlooking sign for reflexology and a big fat mama at the doorway. This can’t be a hanky-panky place, I convince myself. I make it clear that I’m visiting only for therapy and the price is fixed at 45 yuan (`396). Soft couches upholstered in red, men lolling with cigarettes in hands (no opium in sight) and skimpily dressed girls fingering their toes. I’m about to get cold feet when a therapist in leopard miniskirt and fishnet stockings pushes me onto a couch. Before I can protest I’m having a hot footbath. The reflexology is innocent enough— but the therapists keep shooting off lewd smiles to the all-male clientele. Towards the end, when there is an offer for more advanced services, I flash my newly bought wallet with its fake Shanghai cop badge and, handing over the massage fee, indicate that I’m glad to be able to report that there’s no dirty business going on in Shanghai anymore. n Zac O’Yeah is the author of crime novels Once Upon A Time in Scandinavistan (Hachette India, 2010) and Mr Majestic: The Tout of Bengaluru (Hachette India, 2012).

Experience the Classic Shanghai

Duolun Culture Street North of the centre, walk on cobblestone streets where progressive writers hung out. Visit the Lu Xun museum, home of one of China’s most celebrated novelists, and have afternoon high tea (or beer) in Old Film Café. Metro: Hongkou Stadium. Dongtai Road Antique Market The older antiques here are fakes but you’ll get Mao and Cultural Revolution memorabilia (dolls, ashtrays, badges) and replica 1930s posters at very reasonable rates, or a life-sized terracotta soldier at less reason-

able rates. This is one of the rare occasions when you need to bargain hard in Shanghai. Metro: Huangpi Nan Lu.

Dongtai Road Antique Market

Jazz clubs The best picks are Jz Club (46 Fuxing Road) and Cotton Club (corner of Fuxing and Huaihai Roads), both in the French Concession. Showtime is usually 10 p.m. to past midnight, entry fee is charged only for some high profile shows. Metro: Changshu Road. Coastal style restaurants Paradoxically Shanghainese food isn’t really that good (oily and often a bit sweet) and so foodies tend to seek out Cantonese restaurants when they want seafood. Two “secret” tips: Boduo Xinji in Alley 9 just off Baoqing Road, by the corner with Fuxing Road; and Chao Shan Yuan on 458 Jiangsu Road, near Yuyuan Road. The former is basic and reasonably cheap, the latter semi-posh.

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richard I'Anson/lonely planet images/getty images

Tea houses The really ancient Qibao tea house on Nanda Street in Qibao Old Town, is most atmospheric, and tea costs from `16 (per head for a pot and an almost unlimited quantity of hot water). There are occasional afternoon performances, in the middle of a lively area next to a pretty river. Metro: Qibao.


The GUIDE Orientation Shanghai is a major city in China and one of the biggest metros in the world, spread along the banks of the Huangpu River, some distance inland from China’s west coast. The downtown areas, including the French Concession, are west of the river, while the new developments that include Pudong and the international airport, are laid out east of the river.

Yifu Theatre Blood Alley

People Square Cotton Club Police Museum

Getting there There are direct flights to Shanghai from Mumbai, Delhi and other Indian cities. The journey takes about 8 to 9 hours and tends to include a stop in the new air hub at Chengdu where travellers deplane to go through immigration and customs.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower

Huangpu Rive


Visa Indian travellers to China require a visa. Tourist visas are usually valid for a month and one must enter the country within three months of the date of issue. Either a letter of invitation or a confirmed return ticket is required during the application process, which generally takes around a week and costs `3,621. The application process can

occasionally be cumbersome, so engaging a travel agent is a good idea.

Getting Around

The metro system is relatively cheap and easy to use and single trips start from around `30; if you’re planning to spend time in the city it is worth investing in a recharge-

able metro card (`720 + `180 refundable deposit). Taxis are reasonably cheap and quite accurate, but the drivers generally don’t know any English at all. Always remember to collect the“name-cards” available at most hotel lobbies, restaurants and bars so that you can show the driver your destination in Chinese print.

MAr - october

Nov - Feb

Max: 32˚C, Min : 11˚C. Rain – 170mm

Max: 17˚C, Min : 1˚C. Rain – 50mm

Summer, from June to mid-September can be hot, but isn’t necessarily a bad time to visit. Be prepared for rain storms. Mar-May and Sept-Oct is most pleasant. Travel during the “Moon Festival” national holiday week (end Sept/early-Oct) is best avoided because of the crowding caused by millions of Chinese travellers.

Winters can get cold so visitors should carry woollens for protection from icy winds on cold evenings, especially in January. Shanghai is draped in bright lights from December onwards for the Christmas festivities, followed by the Chinese New Year, which, depending on the lunar calendar, is in late-Jan/early Feb.


Jinjiang Inn is a popular chain of hotels preferred by money-conscious travellers with around 10 branches spread across Shanghai and over 80 branches all over China (+8621-6326 2200;; from `2,500). Motel 168 is another budget chain with more than 30 branches in Shanghai. Rooms are minimalistic, clean and cheap (+8621-5117 7777;; from `2,000).



Pentahotel in Changnin District is a good base from where to explore town, close to bars and nightlife–the lobby itself is a popular bar. It has well-maintainted rooms with colourful, contemporary interiors. (+86-21-6252 1111;; from `7,500). Astor House is a good alternative if you can’t afford the Waldorf Astoria. Albert Einstein stayed here too (+86-21-6324 6388;; from `8,500).

Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund is a classic location to stay, as it used to be the colonial Shanghai Club (+86-21-6322 9988;; from `25,000). Park Hyatt Shanghai is the highest hotel in China occupying floors 79-93 of the Shanghai World Financial Centre. It has great views of the Pudong side of the city (+86-21-6888 1234; com; from `55,000).

february 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 103

omna winston (map)


GET GOING Adventure

It takes a sense of adventure and some degree of imprudence to want to jump out of a plane | By Rohan Joshi

The statue of Christ the Redeemer is just a tiny speck when you are 10,000 ft above Rio. 114 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | FEBRUARY 2013


Rick Neves/Flickr/getty images

Falling to Earth

here are some things in life that you do despite their glaring stupidity—like quaffing 11 tequila shots in one evening. Or skydiving. I can’t remember what happened on the tequila-fuelled night, but I’ll never forget my first dive. When you skydive, you basically pay somebody to strap you to another person and lob you out of a plane, so it’s a good idea to choose a skydiving operator carefully, after lots of research, and not in a bar after 11 tequilas. I’m not saying that’s what happened. For my first dive in Queenstown in 2008, I chose nZone, one of New Zealand’s highest-rated skydiving services. I made my way to their office downtown and filled out some forms that attested I was medically fit to make the jump. Then, they drove me and a few other firsttimers, out to the middle of nowhere, and had us change into jump suits. We were introduced to professional skydivers who would train us and be our jump partners. Much of the training revolved around the art of hanging off the door of an airplane, with our limbs positioned in the right manner—arms across the chest, and legs folded. When the time came to jump, we would assume the same position, with our instructors bearing our weight. The most important thing, we were told, was not to panic, no matter what happened. We were essentially being trained not to get in the way of the instructors strapped to our backs. We were just passengers along for the ride. Pleasantries finished, we were bundled into the 12-seater Cessna, and off we went, climbing steadily to 12,000 feet. I remember watching the ground get very, very small. I remember making funny faces for the cameraman who would leap out with me. I remember thinking that this was probably the most foolhardy thing I had ever done. As we reached jump height, a buzzer and red light went off. The door slid open, and a rush of cold, thin air flooded the plane. Scott, my dive partner, rechecked all the harnesses and equipment. I felt unimaginable terror, but it was time to pay the piper. When I first jumped, my brain switched off for about five seconds and so I have little memory of the actual moment that I leapt from the plane. I imagine this was my brain’s way of saying “You’re voluntarily jumping out of a perfectly good

plane. So if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to shut down now, and just not deal with this.” My eyes opened after those five seconds, to be met by cold, blue sky, and a receding speck of plane above. I was in free-fall for forty seconds, hitting speeds of close to 200 kmph, kept stable by Scott, and the little pilot chute he had deployed just after we jumped out. The wind howled through my ears, which popped spectacularly, the sheer force of the air obliterating a blockage created by a horrible cold I’d had for a week. I realised I was screaming. The open sky was all around me as I hurtled past mountaintops. Somehow, as the ground got closer, I felt no dread, just the sheer ecstasy of putting my life on a line thinner than a razor’s edge. I’m told now that feeling was probably on account of a lack of oxygen. When the chute flew open, after almost a minute of falling, the howling was replaced by complete silence. I realised

Scott had a hold of my head—to prevent it from jerking back violently with the sudden change in pace. We had suddenly slowed to a pace so sedate, it felt as though the world had hit a pause button. I was frozen in the sky. Two gentle minutes later, we touched down. I stretched out my legs horizontally; as I’d been instructed to (it can be rather clumsy to make a running landing with two disjointed pairs of feet). I was back on land again. There was cheering, highfiving, and fevered hugging. Ten minutes later, I was sipping coffee, exhausted. The adrenaline had left my system just as quickly as it had flooded it. I was strongly urged during training to get a video of my jump. Initially, it struck me as a way for the operators to make an extra hundred dollars, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was a worthwhile investment to have my first ever skydive recorded for posterity, to relive the madness over and over again. n

Free-fall (top) feels like floating, unlike the stomach-churning drop of a steep roller coaster; “Arch at the hips” is the most basic dive position, with the body shaped in a “U” and arms spread outward.

FEBRUARY 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 115

Moodboard/ the agency collection/getty images (tandem skydivers), Jonathan cole/alamy/indiapicture (skydivers jumping from the plane)


GET GOING Adventure The guide Skydiving is slowly gaining a presence in India, with a couple of national federations and organisations pushing to popularise the sport and explore new skydiving destinations within the country. The skydiving season in India is between September and April, when winds and weather are suitable. Most camps are less than 15 days long, and are announced a couple of weeks in advance, so it’s a good idea to keep checking the websites below for updates. The Indian Skydiving and Parachuting Association (ISPA) is a non-profit organisation that co-ordinates with adventure sports operators across the country and organises several skydiving camps a year. The camps are usually in Sagar (Madhya Pradesh) or Mysore (Karnataka) and spread over a couple of days to a week. Skydivers can choose between one-off tandem jumps (from 10,000 ft) or static line-jump courses (from 4,000 ft) that range from one to five jumps (84474 98053; www.; contact@; static line jumps from `16,000; tandem jumps from `32,000). The Indian Parachuting Federation is a national level sports federation, and a member of the Aero Club of India. It organises skydiving camps between September and February in Deesa (Gujarat) and Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu), and is exploring Haryana and Maharashtra as potential destinations for the current season (011-20906796;; info@; static line dives from `45,000 for 3 dives). Aamby Valley Skydive is most accessible from Mumbai. Skydives are conducted by Art of the Extreme, a team of professionals based in Austria and Spain. The skydiving camp is only until 15th February. No further camps have been announced (022-39807444;; tandem dive `30,000 on weekdays; `40,000 on weekends; `5,000 extra for video). Indian skydiving camps are limited to a few weeks through

A pilot chute is deployed shortly after the jump to stabilise the fall and is later followed by the main parachute. 116 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | FEBRUARY 2013

the season, but there are excellent skydiving facilities in a countries across Asia.

UAE Skydive Dubai organises tandem dives over the Palm Jumeirah, as well as the deserts surrounding Dubai almost every day. They should ideally be booked several weeks in advance, and reservations can be made online. Enthusiasts can also join Skydive Dubai’s school for AFF (accelerated freefall) training and instruction rating courses (+971-50-1533222;; tandem dives from `25,000).

Malaysia The Kuala Lumpur Skydiving Association is Malaysia’s only registered skydiving club, founded by Azlan Ismail, the first ever civilian to skydive in the country. The club offers certified static line jump courses, and tandem skydives (groups of five or more only) outside KL’s city limits on weekends. Courses are conducted when at least 12 people have signed up. Advance

booking is required. (+60-173753326; kualalumpurskydive.; two-jump static line course `18,000; tandem `22,000).

Thailand Thai Sky Adventures at Nong Kho Reservoir, 40 km from Pattaya organises tandem jumps for over 300 days a year. It also conducts AFF, A-License and canopy courses (+66-85-9003412; www.; tandem dives from `17,000).

New Zealand Although it isn’t as easily accessible as the Asian destinations, New Zealand is widely considered the skydiving capital of the world. There are skydiving operators all across the country, but Queenstown in the country’s southwest is considered one of the best spots. nZone Skydive has three categories of tandem dive, depending on the height (9,00015,000 ft) from which they are made (+64-3-4425867; www.; tandem dives from `11,500). —Azeem Banatwalla

Simon Baylis/Alamy/indiapicture


dire straits Red Slate Ornamental Tarantula

Friendly Neighbourhood Spider


t’s not wise to cuddle a tarantula, but there is no need to run away from these large spiders either. Tarantulas are quite docile and rarely come in the way of larger animals since they do not have too much of a defence against them. In case they do bite, their venom is harmless to humans. In fact, keeping a distance from them is recommended mainly for the safety of the spider. They have an extremely thin exoskeleton that can rupture with even a small fall, killing them instantly. All spiders, including tarantulas, are extremely important natural pest controllers. They gorge on insects and other pests and some

large ones even eat little mice, for which the venom is extremely potent. It was recently discovered that unlike most other spiders that squirt silk from their abdomens, tarantulas use their feet—suddenly making the superhero Spiderman’s powers seem quite realistic. However, they do not spin webs to catch prey—they chase and grab their food. They have other uses for their silk. A female will spread out a layer on the floor of her home like a mat, to keep it clean, and around her cocoon, to protect it. Sometimes they like to spin a little hammock for themselves to rest in.

Red slate ornamental tarantulas are highly endangered and grow to around four inches. Their size and colour make them one of the prettiest spiders around and that’s why they are popular as pets with collectors around the world. The red slate ornamental tarantula is found only in small pockets of the Western Ghats. There are large populations in the hill station of Ponmudi and Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala along with the Agasthyavanam Reserve in Tamil Nadu. This is not the kind of animal that you find on a usual safari— but when one does come your way, it’s hard to miss. n

FEBRUARY 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 117

SANDESH KADUR/felis images

These large and furry spiders pose no threat to humans | By natasha sahgal

Short break From Delhi

Royal Memories



The spirit of the Nawabs lingers on in Rampur | By Sameera Khan | Photographs by Sanjay Austa

R Moti Masjid is the smaller of the two mosques inside the four-acre walled Rampur Fort.

ampur is a common name, shared by dozens of villages and towns across India, but when I was growing up, there was always only one Rampur for me. It was the place where the Kashi Vishwanath Express train from Delhi halted briefly in the late afternoon. Where long, lazy summers were spent eating tub-loads of

122 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | February 2013

mangoes from my grandmother’s orchard. Where kites were chased, and cousins slept in an inner courtyard cooled by water from the tube well. Winter meant weddings with beautiful brides weighed down by their farshi ghararas (floor-sweeping pyjama-styled skirts) and lavish feasts of rich kormas, kababs, sheermals, and halwas. The old bangle-seller came home to measure our wrists and apply mehendi on our hands. Cycle-rickshaws took us through elegant arched gateways to the walled city market where Rampur’s karigars produced the finest kites, violins, zari, and appliqué work, and the infamous Rampuri chakku, the weapon of choice for many a Bollywood villain, was laid out by size of blade. Rampur city was established in 1774 by the Rohilla Afghan, Nawab Faizullah Khan, around the same time that the modern city of Lucknow was founded. Unlike Lucknow however, Rampur doesn’t lure its visitors easily. Only the determined will be able to discern the charms of this town—perhaps en route to the Kumaon Hills or as a detour from nearby Jim Corbett National Park. Though Rampur was recognised as a princely state by the British colonial powers in the late 1700s, it grew to prominence after 1857. The Nawab of Rampur had stayed aloof from the uprising and Rampur state emerged as the only Muslim state in the North Indian plains to survive the mutiny. The decline of the Mughal and Avadh court meant that many of the poets, scholars and leading luminaries drifted towards Rampur, encouraged by successive Rampuri Nawabs who prized learning and the arts. Thus was born a noted Hindustani classical music school (RampurSahaswan gharana). Poets like Mirza Ghalib, Mir Hussain Taskin, and Daagh Dehlvi, singers like Begum Akhtar, musicians like Ahmed Jan Thirakwa and dancers like Acchan Maharaj and Lacchu Maharaj received patronage and support. Over a period of time, the royals built a world-renowned archive of rare manuscripts, now collected in the Raza Library. Though much of the former princely kingdom is in decay, there are hints of grandeur everywhere—a dome, a graceful arch, an old shopkeeper full of tales of royal banquets—reminding visitors of a different time and place.


EXPLORE The Walled City Spend a day exploring the remnants of Nawabi Rampur, starting with the Rampur Fort. The lanes of the inner city are narrow and winding, so it is best to make the trip by cycle-rickshaw. An experienced rickshaw driver may also double up as a useful guide. At one time, there were 12 arched darwazas (gates) leading to the inner city, each designed in a different style. Visitors can still see the simple, scallop-arched Top-Khana Darwaza, the white-washed Nawab Darwaza, the oriental-looking Khushro Bagh Darwaza, the splendid, Dutch-style, gabled Hamid Gate, and the graceful Wright’s Gate, named after W.C. Wright, the architect who did extensive work in Rampur during the reign of Nawab Hamid Ali Khan. A variety of Islamic art motifs decorate the gates. Smaller gates within the city lead to the courtyards of old havelis. The crumbling walls of Rampur Fort are lined with hundreds of tiny shops selling jewellery, hookahs, clothes, and the special Rampuri topi, a rigid hat of black velvet. Walk around the walls and enter through Hamid, Wright’s, or Nawab Gates. The inside of the fort, an area of four acres, is like a miniature city. Its centrepiece is the grand Hamid Manzil, the winter palace of the Nawabs, which now houses the central Raza Library. The Tosha-Khana behind (now the Industrial Training Institute) is worth visiting to see its built-in arched cupboards, grill work, and terraces. On the right of the Raza Library grounds is the bright yellow Macchli (or Machchi) Bhavan whose fish insignia have


The elegant 107-year old Hamid Manzil was once the winter palace of the Nawabs of Rampur, situated within the walls of the old Rampur Fort. It is now the Raza Library, and thousands of ancient, yellowed manuscripts hide behind its attractive Indo-Saracenic facade of domes, minarets, cupolas, screens, and ornamental arches. The traditional exterior is complimented by European-influenced décor inside (gilded ceilings, Belgian chandeliers and marble statues), much of it quite well-maintained. A Persian-style garden with ornate fountains and water channels offers a soothing calm from the chaos outside. Finally, more noteworthy than its

Touseef Mian is one of the few remaining traditional kite-makers of Rampur. The skill came to Rampur in the 1700s, from Afghanistan with the Rohilla Pathans, who established the town. unfortunately been removed. It now functions as the Government Girls’ P.G. College. The fort also houses the Rang Mahal, an old guest house from the Nawabi era, and an imambara (congregation hall). Abbas Market, in the southeast corner of the walled city, has an abundance of Rampur’s famed phool-patti ka kaam ( appliqué work) on dupattas and salwar suits (`400-1,500, depending on intricacy). Just outside the fort walls, on the southern side, are the triple white domes and red minarets of the Rampur Jama Masjid, whose foundations were laid by the Nawab Faizullah Khan in 1775, though it was completed by the seventh Nawab, Kalb Ali Khan in the 1870s. Surrounded by the bustling Shadab Market,

spacious Durbar Hall, is its reputation as one of the best libraries in the world for Indo-Islamic literature. Among its 17,000 manuscripts, about 500 are rare seventh and eighth century manuscripts of the Quran, acquired from Mecca by one of the Nawabs. The oldest copy of the Holy book is on parchment in early Kufic script, believed to be hand-written by Hazrat Ali dated 661 AD. Other rare illustrated manuscripts include Shah-Nama of Firdausi, the illustrated Tilism of Akbar depicting magical events, the Diwan-i-Hafiz and 13 handwritten volumes of the Bhagwad Gita and the Balmiki Ramayan, translated during Aurangzeb’s reign into Persian Nasta’liq script. A Turkish section includes perhaps the only original copy of Babur’s poetic collection. The library

it has an uncanny resemblance to Delhi’s majestic Jama Masjid. Located on an incline with several wide steps leading up to it, the mosque provides a sense of quiet in the crowded inner city. Moti Masjid, another pretty but small mosque, borders the western wall of the fort. Further north is the Government Raza P.G. College which occupies another of the former princely properties, Khushro Bagh. Before leaving the Jama Masjid area, wander into Safdarganj Bazaar behind the mosque to find a handful of the remaining chakku shops. During the reign of the Nawabs, Rampur was known for its excellent quality swords. Later, its knives, with single-edged blades from 9 to 12 inches, brought it notoriety. In the

is also home to thousands of miniature paintings and rare specimens of Islamic calligraphy, as well as a marvellous collection of Mughal astronomical instruments and metallic globes.

February 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 123

Short break From Delhi

mid-1990s, the U.P. government banned the making of knives with blades longer than 4.5 inches. Though the Rampuri is missing from action, visitors can still pick up a few smaller switchblades, sarotas (betel-nut crackers), and brass knuckledusters as souvenirs from the chaotic bazaar.

Other Glories From the fort, make your way out of the main city to Kothi Khas Bagh (near Moradabad-Rampur Civil Lines road), tracing the journey of the Nawabs who moved here in 1930. The 200-room palace has Mughal and British architectural influences, a durbar hall, ball room, personal apartments, its own imambara, and at one time, even a personal cinema hall for the Nawabs. It is said to be the first palace in India to have air-conditioning. Now under dispute among the heirs of the Nawab’s family, it lies in near ruin with little to show of its original Burma teak panelling and Belgian glass chandeliers, some removed and others allegedly stolen. Royal pavilions, ponds, neglected gardens, and a hunting lodge are spread across its vast grounds. Rampuri old-timers often shake their heads in dismay as they recollect the time when Rajmata Rafat Zamani Begum lived at Khas Bagh just a few decades ago. The old summer palace, Benazir Kothi (near Jauhar University), a few kilometres outside the main city, is in similar disrepair. Yet the caretakers of both properties are said to be amenable to letting visitors wander around and imagine what things were like in an earlier, more refined period. Near Benazir Kothi, standing amidst fields, is the unique circular white jali-clad Qadam Shareef, which is believed to hold footprints of Prophet Mohammad brought there from Mecca.

Kothi Khas Bagh (top left) was the 200-room palace of the Nawabs of Rampur. It had airconditioning, a personal cinema hall, and lavish interiors that include Burma teak panelling, Belgian glass chandeliers, and an Italian marble grand staircase; The Rampuri topi (top right) made of black velvet is one of town’s distinctive products; Rampur is home to several violin and oud making factories (above). The oldest, called New Slovakia Musical Ltd., is in Puraniganj.

New Rampur To take a break from Nawabi indulgences, circle the 2006-renovated Mahatma Gandhi Samadhi that stands at a prominent road junction (where Mohammed Ali Jauhar road leads from Khas Bagh to Top-Khana Gate). It is perhaps the only spot outside Delhi’s Raj Ghat to hold the Mahatma’s ashes. Raza Ali Khan carried the ashes in an urn to Rampur on an elephant. To experience modern Rampur, visit recently-opened Aryabhatta Planetarium, the first in the country to use digital laser technology. The 150-seater planetarium currently has a 30-minute “Kids Night Sky” show—essentially a 3-D movie—running three

124 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | February 2013

times a day in Hindi. A telescope that receives online database updates from NASA will soon be installed. The Rohilla Mohalla Project, set up by Ratnesh and Sangeeta Mathur in 2012, supports Rampuri artisans (behind the Raza Library on Domehla Road) who have perfected crafts like cap-making, zardozi and zari karigari, kite-making, and violin-making over generations. The skill of kite-making came to Rampur with the Rohilla Pathans from Afghanistan and the town is considered at par with kite-making centres like Ahmedabad and Jaipur. To see the process and buy kites, contact Touseef Mian a traditional kite maker,

Rampur and manager at the Rohilla Mohalla Project (Chah Satai, Domehla Road; 96345 83110 , 94177 50292; `5-25). He’s also a good guide to other inner city areas and its traditional craftspeople, like the violin-makers. To see the musical instruments being made and to purchase one, visit Puraniganj. It has Rampur’s oldest violin and oud factory, renamed New Slovakia Musical Ltd. in 1991 (Zamiruddin at 97608 39064; `5,000 onwards).

NEARBY Ahichhatra, an hour’s drive from Rampur in the direction of Aonla and Shabad, is the ancient capital of the Northern Panchala kingdom, better known as Draupadi’s hometown (first excavated in the 1940s). The 40 sq km of ruins with mounds and large stupa-like brick structures show evidence of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain presence. One can also visit the Ahichhatra Parsvanath Tirthkshetra Digamber Jain Mandir a major Jain pilgrimage site. Other day trips could include Nainital (103 km/2 hours) to the northeast and Jim Corbett National Park (120 km/2 hours, 30 minutes) to the northwest.

STAY There is no luxury accommodation in Rampur, but hotels with basic amenities can be found. Modipur Hotel is a little outside Rampur, on the Bareilly-Rampur Road. It has AC rooms, cable TV, and hot water (0595-2357134; doubles `1,250-2,000). Hotel Bombay Palace is centrally located on Rah-e-Raza Road (Civil Lines) and has basic, non-AC rooms (0595-2350824; doubles `700).

Traditional zari work is still done in the old bazaars. Rohilla Mohalla Project supports the works of craftspeople like Iqbal Kamalzai. Hotel Delite, also on Rah-e-Raza road, has 15 air-conditioned rooms. Both Hotel Delite and Bombay Palace have no restaurants on the premises (0595-2351201; doubles `700-1,000).

EAT Rampuri food, though similar to Mughlai cuisine, is known for its distinct flavours and was developed by the chefs of the Nawabs of Rampur. The rich Rampuri mutton korma with a brown-red gravy, mutton koftas (meat balls), shallow-fried shammi kebabs, doodhiya

biryani (with mutton cooked in milk) and Habshi halwa are all worth trying. There are several dhabas in and around Rampur and a few restaurants, but none of them are particularly fancy. Nahid’s Chicken Corner, opposite Nahid Cinema, is a dhabastyle eatery renowned for its tasty chicken Changezi, cooked with cream, butter, and tomatoes, and chicken kali-mirch with gravy. A plate of seekh kebabs is `80 for four pieces and chicken tikka is `70 a plate. For dessert, try shahi toast (a fancy bread pudding) or the unusual gulathi, a kind of fried kheer (99972 07786; open 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; meal for two `600). The same management also runs Chirag Chicken Corner in Civil Lines. Karim's Food, opposite Diamond Talkies near Shahbad Gate, is one of the few air-conditioned restaurants in town. Try the excellent Firdausi korma and mutton Nargisi kofta (meatball). Mutton and chicken kormas are always on the menu and mutton nihari is popular in winter (99170 28289; open 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; meal for two `700). For dessert, make your way to Halwa Sohan Lal Ki Dukan, a traditional sweet shop whose owners have been sweet makers for several generations, once making mithai in Kothi Khas Bagh for the Nawab of Rampur. The shop is situated at the edge of the walled city, in the vicinity of the Jama Masjid, near the old bartan bazaar. Try the mouth-watering habshi halwa, (known locally as halwa sond), a heavy, dark sweet made from wheat, best enjoyed in winter. Its recipe is said to trace back to Nawab Hamid Ali Khan, a noted gourmet (0595-2340979; open 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; `300 per kilo). Hakimji Halwa in Bazaar Nasrullah Khan is also known for its halwa sond. n


Getting there Air The nearest airport is in New Delhi, around 190 km/3 hours away (air-conditioned cab to Rampur `3,000 one-way). Rail Rampur Railway Station is on the Moradabad-Bareilly line. Several trains from Delhi and Lucknow stop here. Road The three-hour drive from

Delhi is along the Grand Trunk Road/NH 24 until Moradabad, where the bypass road takes you towards Rampur.


Getting around To visit places near Rampur (Ahichhatra, Corbett) having your own car is good, but driving in the old city’s tiny lanes can be troublesome. For those sojourns, hire a cycle rickshaw.

Season From May-Jun temperatures can soar to over 40° C and winter minimums can go down to -5° C in Jan-Feb.

Rampur Fort

Hamid Gate Jama Masjid


February 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 125

urmimala nag (map)

Orientation Rampur city is in the Rohilkhand region of northwest Uttar Pradesh. It is around 190 km east of Delhi and between Moradabad and Bareilly en route to the Kumaon Hills.

National Geographic Traveller India  
National Geographic Traveller India  

Sample of the February 2013 issue