Friday, December 15, 2006

Crete - an adventure trip

Crete is much more than just another Greek island. Much of the time, especially in the cities or along the northern coast, it doesn't feel like an island at all, but a substantial land in its own right. Which of course it is -- a mountainous, wealthy and at times surprisingly cosmopolitan one with a tremendous and unique history. There are two big cities, Heraklion (sometimes spelled Iraklion) and Hania, a host of sizable, historic towns, and an island culture which is uniquely Cretan: the Turks were in occupation less than 100 years ago, and the Greek flag raised for the first time in 1913.
In Crete's less known coastal reaches of the south it's still possible to find yourself alone, this makes it a very attractive location to visit and explore whether on an adventure tour or a lazy holiday. We suggest Adventure!
Incredible coastline, spectacular sunsets, the friendliest innkeepers and taverna owners you'll ever meet, warm waters in tremendously varied shades of blue and green, amazing sea caves, cliff jumping for all levels of risk-takers, never-ending sunshine, phenomenal food, an opportunity to see the Crete that few tourists see. Rick Sweitzer, Executive Director of The Northwest Passage, fell in love with Crete in the late 60's and has been exploring the backroads and coastline of this incredible island ever since. The Northwest Passage has been touring Crete by kayak, bicycle and foot for many years and in the process, and have developed great friendships with the locals. You'll feel like part of the family as they share with you their most popular international trip.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Lille en fete!

Sumedha - the intrepid francophile is back after a week in Lille. Here's her story!!

In Lille, autumn is perhaps the most vibrant season. With beautiful yellow trees and streets patterned with leaves fallen off them! The autumn that we miss here at home…

But this year the festivities are really happening. India has been invited with the theme of “Bombay Kisses from Lille”. And Lille is colourful like never before! Numerous plays, concerts, exhibitions are taking place across Lille and will continue till January.
The celebrations began with a grand parade in which Indian culture met the north of France…..what I sadly wasn’t around to witness but from what I hear and imagine, the parade transformed Lille with kitsch colours and fantastical atmosphere, inspired by Diwali!
What you would notice the first (they are kind of hard to miss anyway!) are the elephants created by artist Nitin Desai. Nitin started as assistant director to Mira Nair, and has has since created superb decors for Bollyood. There are a total of 12 giant elephants eight meters tall gracing the each side of the main street from the Lille Flanders station to the main center or Grande Place. The elephants are made so beautifully and with such skill, they take your breath away! Big majestic creatures decorated with gold jewels with beautiful tusks(which thankfully aren’t precious enough to be poached away!just yesterday I read yet again of elephants being left to bleed to death after extracting their tusks!)
The station itself is illuminated into an Indian Palace with an illuminated façade of twinkling lights! I could easily imagine myself as a princess lost in the streets of an old Indian town…with the elephants on one side and the illuminated palace on the other!
Sadly since I was there for work I couldn’t find the time to explore the many exhibitions being held across the city. A few I read about were…”Bombay maximum city” an exhibition of photographs, sounds and a variety of images which would help the people to discover the incredible city of Bombay. The exhibition is being organized at the Postal Sorting Office. On the second floor of the building, is the exhibition titled “ Futurotextiles”, or the confrontation between technology and contemporary art. Its on till the 14th January. The Fine Arts Museum in Tourcoing is devoting an exhibition to Le Corbusier in Chandigarh. A French architect who designed one of our most modern cities! Music from across the borders isn’t far behind. Just a week before I landed there, was a performance by Anoushka Shankar at the Lille Opera. The National Orchestra of Lille will also make a point of being part of the event. A meetings between Indian music and symphonic music will be organized, directed by Jean-Claude Casadesus, as well as other concerts centred on scores by Hadyn, Alexander von Zemlinsky or Messiaen. Artists I cannot boast of being familiar with at all but nonetheless am sure for those who were and are there to listen to the concerts, would cherish the experience.
On my side, what I did enjoy was Lille at night! With the towering elephants and the lighted streets, it was wonderful!
It was wonderful to see how little flavor of India was made part of stores. The local patisserie had the elephant on diplay with a load of chocolate on its back! And the regal eagle bejeweled and perched on top a chocolate box!
Colourful flags displaying ”Bombaysers de Lille” flanked the streets everywhere. And motifs of Natraja, the autorickshaw, the elephant and the bull peeped here and there and everywhere on the streets of Lille. The travel agents had big billboards of ”Incredible India”, hoping surely to cash in on the Indian flavour of the season to transport some enthusiasts on another journey to discover the extraordinary country that is India!
Another wonderful experience I had was riding the huge ferris wheel, installed every year this time for Christmas! Its right in the centre of the Grand place with accompanying installations of reindeers and gingerbread houses all lighted up! My friends and I packed up in our woolens, well prepared to face the cold winds up there! The ride was slow and nice but shaky enough to make all attempts of my pictures from up there kind of blurred! A view from the top is always beautiful and at this time with streets lit up for x’mas and this time the stations lit up as palaces add to the charm!
Being a vegetarian in Lille isn’t easy! And especially when I am accompanied by my collegues from Honk Kong, China, Bangladesh who eat almost every kind of meat among them! But then I manage and manage well and in the end its fun for me and my colleagues who help me out! This time I went along with three other colleagues to a famous Thai restaurant, “Baan Thai”. Inside the restaurant were again very Indian looking wall hangings of old wooden carving with little bells which looked straight from Jaipur! We had a wonderful 5 course meal served to us by a cute chinky waiter. My colleague was kind enough to tell him to make my food spicy. And boy was it! It was yummy but I was eating through my tears! We ended the meal with mint tea which they served to us along with a selection of three different kinds of sugar! Whipped cream, jaggery with sesame seeds and brown sugar and mishri!
Seriously recommended for the food and service for anyone visiting!
The other place we tried and loved was “La Compostelle”. Five minutes from the Grand Place, it was a former coaching inn on the trail of Santiago de Compostela.It houses the sober charm of yesterday with the gastronomy of today. Fine French cuisine is proposed in rooms decorated in a different hue. We chose to sit in the spacious blue room. Choosing it over the red décor room, which was too warm for our liking. We were served in true French style, slow and easy! But the waiting was worth it, with each course better than the other. The most wonderful was the desert of crème brulee I ordered. I got not one but 3 servings in one! Each a different version of the crème brulee . One the original crème brulee, the second slightly with a chocolate flavour and my favorite….crème brulee spiked with vodka! We initially thought the waitress dropped some from my colleagues “Colonel” into my crème brulee! But then what I got was how it was meant to be! :)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Ice Hotel - its just so cool!!!

Imagine a hotel built from thousands of tons of snow and ice, and re-built every winter- that is Icehotel in Northern Lapland, Sweden.

The main entrance to the Hotel

ICEHOTEL is situated in the village Jukkasjärvi, 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden. The heart and backbone is the River Torne flowing freely through the unspoilt wilderness. Covered with a meter thick ice layer winter time the river is the source of all our art, architecture and design. The pure water and the steady movement of the river creates the clearest ice possible.

A Reindeer skin bed in the hotel

In Icehotel there are double rooms and suites for overnight guests, a lobby, a pillar hall, film auditorium and of course the famous Absolut Icebar - where folk from all over the world socialize till late.

In the Absolut Ice Bar, drinks are served in glasses made of solid ice

In November, the work starts on building the unique Icehotel and the official opening is in mid December.
By the time the spring sunshine has done its work and the Icehotel has slowly but surely made way for summer and has run back into the River Torne, May has arrived. At the end of April or the beginning of May, the Icehotel closes for the season - all depending on the weather gods however.

High Noon in the Arctic Circle

Staying at ICEHOTEL is a must for the modern adventurer - an experience utterly unlike any other hotel stay. Whilst the temperature outside varies from -10°C down to -40°C inside the Icehotel the bar and bedrooms maintain a "comfortable" -5°C.
The hotel has been built to a different design each year since 1990.
Most people spend one night in the Icehotel itself and a couple of nights in a bungalow. Some bungalows have two twin bunk rooms, others are equipped with a double bed and a large skylight for watching the northern lights (aurora borealis).

I'm planning to visit the hotel in February, inshallah.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow - St. Moritz, Switzerland

The Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow will be taking place for the 23rd time next January bringing together professional Polo players and a host of distinguished guests (a host of distinguished guests – oxymoronic or wot?? ) in one of the most breathtaking Alpine settings of them all. Since 1985, when the idea to play polo on the frozen St. Moritz Lake celebrated its world premiere, the Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow has become an indispensible event on the Engadine calendar. At one time considered an extravagant curiosity, this polo tournament has come to accentuate the exquisite image of St. Moritz, and proven itself ideally suited to the chic elegance and high class ambiance to be found in the local legendary "champagne climate". The organizers have certainly succeeded once again to secure exciting participants for this mega event, Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow. The teams from classic polo nations such as Argentina and England promise a spectacular match in the midst of an idyllic, snowcovered alpine setting - certainly the "Top of the World"...

Welcome to the most exciting and unique Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow, which just spells glamour and fun on the frozen Lake of St. Moritz, where the sun never ceases to shine.

The first Polo field in St Moritz was laid out back in 1899, when members of an English Cavalry unit played the game as a part of their military training as well as a way of passing the time. This made St Moritz one of the cradles of the game in Continental Europe. In 1985, Polo celebrated its world premiere on snow and the cornerstone for a new highlight in the St Moritz events calendar was laid. The tournament fits in perfectly with the town’s tourist-related marketing concept. Since then, a number of wintertime tournaments have been established but St Moritz remains the only one played on a frozen lake.

Be there as the wiry, nimble polo ponies fly over the snow. Watch as the world's top polo players from Argentina, Chile, the UK, Australia and other countries give of their best. For the four days of the tournament, there are two top-quality matches daily, culminating in the grand finale on Sunday. These high-level encounters require the highest concentration, strength, finesse, courage and endurance – both from the ponies and their riders. The special conditions on snow, and the unaccustomed altitude of 1800 metres, place exceptional demands on man and animal alike.And as you would expect in the exhilarating surroundings of St Moritz, the world of Polo dovetails perfectly with the cosmopolitan atmosphere that prevails there throughout the winter season.
People meet up for a glass of champagne and elegant dining in the VIP marquee, to go shopping in town, and in the evening to attned one of the countless gala events and parties. When night falls and the lights are lit, guests celebrate the joy of catching up with old- and making new- acquaintances in the town’s superb hotels and restaurants. Whether it’s a club evening in the Chesa Veglia (the town’s oldest house), a glittering gala evening at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, or a cosy dinner with a small, select of friends, the experience offered by St Moritz while the tournament is on is second to none.

The 23rd Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow will be held in St. Moritz from 25th to 28th January, 2007. We’ll be there to cover the event and will be posting here, live.

St Moritz is nearly 1800 metres up Switzerland's Engadine Valley attracts over 320,000 visitors a year. The place was fairly quiet until the English arrived in 1864 introducing the bob sleigh and cricket on ice. St Moritz is said to be the most famous ski resort in the world, yet half of its visitors don't even ski.

Badrutt's Palace is the most exclusive hotel in St Moritz, which boasts Charlie Chaplin, Sylvester Stallone and Claudia Schiffer amongst its clientele. The hotel is also only 10 minutes from the piste. You can take a helicopter ride from St Moritz-Bad to the top of Forkla Grischa, which takes just 4 minutes. Each trip costs approximately US$ 100 and operates on a request-only basis, bookable through your hotel.
St Moritz also offers alternatives to skiing, such as paragliding at around US$ 200 and runs from the Corvillia ski station to the frozen lake adjoining the town. Torchlight skiing is also available on request from the ski school at US$80 per person.
St. Moritz doesn't have the wild après-ski that you might find in St. Anton or Val d'Isère. What it does have are 50 restaurants, 20 bars and the odd night club to choose from. A table at the Kings Club, in the basement of the Palace costs over US$ 400. Cocktails here are $ 30.


Winter Wonders

1. Stay at the Kulm Hotel (+41-81-836-8000; doubles from about $410) and spend the afternoon at the skating rink.
2. Ski Corviglia and stop for toast Madagascar (steak on bread) at Restaurant Trutz (by the Suvretta chairlift; +41-81-833-7030; entrees $6 to $22).
3. At Dolce Vita, dig into the excellent penne all’arrabbiata, made with speck and sirloin (via Maistra 10; +41-81-833-1749; entrees $10 to $35).
4. Walk to Pontresina and have tiramisù at Cafe Puntschella (via Mulin; +41-81-838-8030).
5. Have a long, luxurious Italian dinner at the cozy Restaurant Chasellas (via Suvretta 22; +41-81-833-3854; entrees $8 to $18).
6. Go night skiing (until 2 a.m.) on Fridays at Piz Corvatsch (+41-81-838-7373).
7. Eat sennenrösti — a concoction of potatoes, bacon, onions, leeks and cheese — at Hotel Hauser (+41-81-837-5050; entrees $6 to $22).
8. Catch a movie at the old-fashioned Scala Cinema (via Maistra 29; +41-81-833-3155).
9. Shake your booty on the dance floor of King’s Club (via Serlas 27; +41-81-837-1000).
10. Reserve a place in the wooden dining car of the Rhätische Bahn for the journey back to Chur (where you change for Zurich).

Summer Seductions

1. Stay at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel (+41-81-837-1000; doubles from about $355) and park yourself by the pool.
2. Run around the St. Moritz lake with the athletes who train here. Allow 25 minutes.
3. Troll the Heilsarmee (Salvation Army) in Celerina (Innpark Haus C; +41-81-833-9378) for great Swiss and Italian Modernist finds.
4. Trek the (well-marked) mountain trail that leads to the pristine village of Soglio.
5. Take a quick dip in the Lake of Staz or, if you don’t mind a hike, in Lake Nair.
6. Rent a bike from Boom Sport (via Tegiatscha 5; +41-81-832-2222) and tour the network of well-groomed trails that ring the town.
7. Check out the exhibition of vintage tourism posters in the sparkling new parking garage between the train station and Badrutt’s Palace.
8. Have a cup of coffee at Hanselmann, in the town square (via Maistra 8; +41-81-833-3864).
9. Dine on pizzoccheri, buckweat pasta cooked with potatoes and greens, at Restaurant zum Weissen Kreuz in Samedan (+41-81-852-5353; entrees $10 to $38), just outside town.
10. Check into the Klinik Gut (via Arona 34; +41-81-836-3434) and have your aching back fixed.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mumbai Weekend Getaway - Karjat

88 kms from Mumbai, Karjat is where the coastal plains of the Konkan end and the Bhor Ghat begins. In the monsoons and just after, the area is a luxuriant green. Karjat has a number of health resorts, farmhouses and is a base for some easy treks in the area.

Sadia, who has already won a few fans here with her Sunrise over the Himalayas video, writes about her trip. You can also read about her impressions and expressions on life here. She also creates poetry with her pictures - here!

Over to Sadia:

A warm dry afternoon, a browning green landscape, the trickle of a calmly flowing river, colourful, drying clothes, bathing buffaloes, thirsty goats, wet feet and a hot, mossy, slippery contentment.
This was Kondavane village, near Karjat on the mid October afternoon.
This is about the trip taken the weekend before last with a bunch of friends to a friend’s farmhouse near Karjat. On the way we pottered about some villages around the locality.
A wanted, needed, desired, appreciated and in retrospect, loved, break from the coffee pots of bubbling urgencies into a place where time like lukewarm aromatic tea stands still and waits to be sipped and enjoyed.

The evening of course involved a lot of rest, even more photography (where I was specifically told to get a life and take pictures of humans instead of frogs and insects), an awesome barbecue of chicken, peppers and paneer, with women doing all the cutting and marinating and men doing all the coal heating and cooking. This was followed by, two awesome games of pictionary and dumb charades where everyone fought, made up, accused, cheated and freaked out and finally tired as children surrendered to a blissful, unpeturbed sleep.

It was fun. A raw, juvenile, childlike state of merriment and delight.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Sonali Sokhal - who has also done a story on Mauritius, earlier, writes about her trip to Berlin. She has recently started her own blog - here!


Like a stocky hausfrau, who slowly lifts her skirts up to reveal a saucy garter belt and much more, Berlin’s delights are not the obvious kind……………..

But, they tend to grow on you, as you take a crazy spin through this cosmopolitan city that never sleeps!

All I knew about Berlin, frankly, before my Air Berlin flight flew in from Amsterdam, was that it was the capital city of one of the most developed nations in the world; and of course, where “The Wall” had such an interesting history. That was before the roller coaster ride around the city started, and I must confess….I now know the exact definition of uber cool: Berlin!

Berlin is the ultimate expression of the cultural zeitgeist at work. A city in transition, it still retains the grandiose identity of a world power, and an emerging metropolis with a multi-cultural identity. Berlin surprises, delights, astounds and even revolts at the same time. It is a city which can turn over its character with each passing station on the S-Bahn or U-Bahn circuit. From the riveting, lively and very Manhattan style, Postdammer Platz with its tall glass buildings, to the super quiet Gendarmenmark with its opera halls and old statues, to the extremely decrepit route to the East Side Gallery where you get to see the last remnants of the wall, Berlin changes colours like a globe trotting chameleon in overdrive.

I reach Berlin at the height of the World Cup fever. And the general bonhomie is only too apparent. These Berliners are ready to party like never before. From giant plasma screens set up in marketplaces and squares for public viewing pleasure to the mini stadia created near the historic Brandenburg Gate, to the exciting World Cup VIP events at some of the most exclusive nightclubs in the city, the World Cup is rocking the city. The serious staid image is replaced by riotous and lively parades, happy fans and tourists swilling the streets, and a very eager to please suave Berliner.

We are staying in true Berliner style, in one of the exciting ‘concept hotels’ or art hotels popular in the city. The Propeller Island City Lodge is an art installation cum hotel created by the eccentric artist Lars Stroschen. Each room is a uniquely designed artistic representation of a theme. So you have the Orange room, where even the switches are orange, and the Coffin room, where you need to sleep in a coffin-like bed (note to all adventuristas: the coffin can handle only one person at a time!), the Therapy room, where you sleep in antiseptic environs, complete with a therapy bed. And while I am getting used to creeping around painted floors in bare feet, the unique concept in itself is nothing new to the city, which loves everything with a slight touch of the Bizarre.

To my disappointment, the only skinheads and scary people I get to see are a rather mature couple traveling in the metro. So it seems the punk rock style which defined Berlin’s music and cultural sensibility is giving way to a more stylistic and global appeal. In fact, a lot of the population is actually from Turkey, with even a representative for the Turks in the German parliament. But, yes, there are still places in the Mitte, where European sentiments run high. Though you no longer can guess which part was actually in the east or the west, there are times when you can imagine the city divided if you allow your imagination to run wild. Take a walk to Alexander Platz, the central hub of what was East Berlin and very close to the Brandenburg Gate, and you feel as if the canvas that built these mighty buildings was painted by eccentric giants. The Mitte by the way also boasts of the decrepit buildings and factories run in East Germany now defunct, but unmissable for the most superb and gigantic graffiti I have ever seen in my life. The Mitte by the way, for all music lovers and thrill seekers is the eastern part of the city, where old factories and garages turn into screaming, and raving nightclubs at night.
In general it makes no sense to enter a nightclub before 1am. The nightlife in Berlin starts rather late so as a result many clubs are nearly empty until 1pm/0:00. However, at least they are open until next morning. Nightlife in Berlin has an egalitarian tradition, it doesn't matter what you wear, how you look, how old you are. Another positive aspect is that the nightlife is cheap as it can be. You rarely pay more than €10.00 to get into a club. Or you could just cut the chase and go to the legendary Tresor, for the ultimate in techno music. Berlin has been credited with being the cradle for the emergence of Techno music, like its industrial and dark twin city in the US, Detroit.
However, if you are looking for less predictable forms of entertainment which end a little earlier in the evening, you won’t be lacking for choice. My personal favourite was the ribald and risqué Kabaret, a tradition which has survived the two world wars and the cold war to enter the new millennium still quite intact. With 150 theatres all over the city, the Kabaret and Vaudeville comedy is very high on the ‘Must-see- Must Do’ for any tourist in the city. Though the decadent and opulent settings have toned down a bit, the earthy humour and hedonism has given way to more carefully choreographed spectacles in clubs like Chamaleon Variete and the Wintergarten-Das Variete where we enjoyed a lovely combination of dance, juggling and acrobatics under a starry painted sky.
For the first time visitor, Berlin can be a confusing maze of stations and metros. The easier thing to do is take a hop-on hop off tour which takes you through the more touristy sights of the city and gives you a sense of bearing. The tours can range from the normal touristy ones, to the somewhat Bizarre including one that takes you to all the underground bunkers and Nazi horror zones. Apart from that though, you will not find a single mention of this period in Germany’s turbulent history. In fact, the only remnant of that ugly episode is Checkpoint Charlie where the last check post set-up by the American army is flanked by museums dedicated to the war and its aftermath on the city’s identity. Or the extremely unsettling memorial to the Jews which bears uncanny resemblance to unmarked mass graves.
Alternatively, you can also spend a quiet day in the city’s museums. Berlin is a museum lovers paradise, with about 170 museums scattered around the city. A three day pass sold at the tourist office at Europa Centre gives you access to about 50 of them. It is suggested that you go take a look at least some of them. After all, Germany was the seat of art, science and culture right from the renaissance till modern time. However, be warned that a lot of the museum captions are still in German.

But, if the maudlin is not for you, then leave the horrors of war behind and enjoy a beer at a plush café on the Kurfurstendamm, the plushest street in Germany and I suspect in most of Europe. This also boasts of the gargantuan luxury Mall, the Ka De We (the largest mall in Europe; and please don’t ask me why this supersize obsession is so big with the Germans!). If you are finally exhausted of the frenzy and excitement, or can’t handle another museum, and old buildings and bunkers make you want to cry, then a trip into this adult wonderland crammed to the bits with the most famous luxury brands in the world and 33,000 or so exotic foods and wines is just the right place for you to unwind in some heavy duty retail therapy. Germany is actually a great place for shopping, because it’s a lot cheaper than a whole lot of its other European cousins like France, Switzerland or Austria.
And of course, I did forget to add………the beer is actually very very good!

Tips for Travelers

• The tourist office at the Hauptbahn0f metro station gives you maps and information on tour buses. It also helps you customize our tours according to the length of your stay in the city.
• Make a trip to some of the Bizarre nightclubs and bars along the Mitte, Freidrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg.
• Take a stroll Under Den Linden (which means under the Linden trees) from the Brandenburg Gate to Alexander Platz.
• Visit the Pergamon museum, a feast of classical Greek, Roman, Babylonian and Islamic Art.
• In summer time the Konzerthaus (Concert Hall) at the Gendarmenmark comes alive with classical music concerts. Visit it at night for a full view of this old square with its beautiful cathedrals and buildings.
• Go shopping- its really a good deal with bargains galore.
• Do visit a German beer garden; there are some really good ones in Tiergarten and other places. Some have imported sand and give a very beachy look and feel.

A note on the Techno music scene in Berlin

In Germany, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, post-cold war enthusiasm mixed with techno's euphoric futurism. In 1991, the Underground Resistance EP Sonic Destroyer spawned a new label, Tresor. Named after the famous club, a former bank vault, Tresor became an institution for techno around the world and a home for the Detroit artists on the European continent. To some, it is the "heavy metal of dance music," this music which has occasionally been disparaged as sounding like "car alarms set to disco," this typically beat-heavy, bass-thumping dance music which has, in fact, derived some of its sound symbology from disco, as well as from funk, rap, and numerous lesser-known genres. The music appears fresh and compelling because of its frequent use of the newest and most powerful recording and sound-processing technology, and because of its role in the development of what is commonly termed "rave culture”. Techno is perhaps the most compelling and cutting-edge of contemporary popular music genres. Detroit and Berlin's importance is virtually Biblical in techno-music lore. Producers and DJs from those cities have going back and forth creating new sounds and genres within the genre ever since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The Tresor club opened soon after that historic occasion, exposing thousands to world-class techno; its namesake label debuted in 1991, going on to release two comps hailing the "Berlin Detroit Techno Alliance."

Both metropolises had gone through hardships (race riots, massive unemployment, war, political upheaval, etc.), but their artists drew inspiration from such strife. Techno appealed to these denizens because it seemed to promise a better future. The music's accelerated, metronomic rhythms, and bold, synthetic textures portended escape from grim realities. Orderly Germans Kraftwerk forged the blueprint that Detroiters Derrick May and Juan Atkins extrapolated into the futuristic vehicle that has transported millions to higher states of consciousness.

Where to Stay

• Try a concept hotel- its fun, though not very high on the usual hotel luxury. The Propeller Island Lodge, Hollywood Hotel and Hotel Pension Funk in Charlottenburg area offer you unique opportunities to stay in quaint places.
• Alternatively go for the Hotel Pension Alexandra which boasts of a generous breakfast buffet.
• For a taste of celebrity luxury, go in for the Sorat Hotel Spree-Bogen, on the riverbanks of the Spree. This also offers a lovely champagne breakfast

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sunrise over the Himalayas

Sadia Ravl's video of Sunrise as seen from Tiger Hill, Darjeeling, India.

Elephants in Lille!!

After the success of Lille 2004 Cultural Capital of Europe, now is the time to discover Lille3000. A new cultural event which will take place every two years, open to modernity and cultures, reaching out to artists, inhabitants and visitors. Traditions and innovations are at the heart of the event. Lille3000 transports the city on a voyage to India in 2006, then to Eastern Europe in 2008.
Our in-house Francophile - Sumedha Sood will be there for a week from 20th November. Her story and pics will be appearing here by the last week of November.

14 October 2006 to 14 January 2007

Lille in a sari... Come and experience lille3000!

Lille3000 - Bombaysers de Lille: a wonderful three-month extravaganza in which the city of Lille becomes Indian.

Lille is being adventurous once again! Bollywood posters, a transformed rambla, rickshaws in the streets, an organic city, a transformed urban landscape, Indian concerts, famous exhibitions, a station revisited, illuminations, a mix of incense and spices floating in the air – the magic of India comes to Lille in 2006!

Bombaysers de Lille (Love from Bombay and Lille)!!

The multiple facets of India - at the crossroads of art and modernity - represent the heart of the first edition of lille3000. We will be able to enjoy metamorphoses in the city, artists’ installations, exhibitions, cinema, performances and parades, tastes of Bangalore, Bombay (Mumbai), Brick Lane… and Finland.
Another recurrent theme of lille3000 is the avant-garde, with visions of the future interlinking with the Indian events. Examples include Les modernités recyclées, La Maison de l’Energie Vitale and the Futurotextiles exhibition, where innovation and technology come together in interaction with contemporary art.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Reinventing ourselves


That one word describes how Aparna and me feel about the response we’ve been getting to this blog of ours which we’ve recently revived after letting it exist in a limbo for over a year.
We had originally planned this to be a place where Aparna and me would put up our own travel experiences but find that it is now acquiring the dimensions of being a Traveller’s Digest. In the last 4 days, we’ve received over 40 mails wanting us to feature their stories, photographs and experiences. We already have put a few up and will be posting the rest up shortly. Keep sending those mails – we love ‘em. Surprisingly, we’ve also received over 50 mails asking us for more information on the destinations / activities we’ve covered. Now, those are tough to handle but, nevertheless, we’re trying to answer those as well.

We’ve now decided to re-invent ourselves. Make this a more interactive blog. Get more people to contribute and share. So if you’d like to be a regular contributor, write in and we could open your account to enable you to post directly on the blog. If you have encyclopaedic and up-to-date knowledge of a destination (and it could even be the city you live in!!) and wouldn’t mind sharing it with others or answering queries from those planning to visit that are, you cound become a Destination Guru. We’ll forward all queries that we receive about destination of your choice to you. If you’re traveling to a particular place and would like to catch up with members of our community living there, you could post it here and our members could respond so that you’re never alone wherever you go. You could even use this forum if you’re planning a trip and would like to invite others to join you on it. No need to travel alone. No need to get frustrated when out-of-date and out-of-touch guide books lead you to deserted clubs, stuffy hotels, and horrible restaurants. You can get candid and updated advice from locals and fellow travelers (the real travel experts). Additionally, we will soon be adding a bunch of exciting features so you can plan and share your fantastic travels with your friends. We are also planning to have regular meets where travelers can share their experiences with others over a cup of coffee or a drink.
So hop on board and we hope you enjoy the trip.

Romancing Prague...

Think romance, think timelessness, think baroque art, think exquisite bohemian crystal, think Kafka...think Prague..
Eastern Europe, the world behind the iron curtain, fascinates and compels..and I finally succumbed to it in the summer of 2002. I had heard a lot about Prague..Praha and the traveller in me finally made it to this beautiful city. I stayed in a small and very centrally located hotel in town. Prague IS miniscule..this is one city I would advise you to check out, only on foot. Guide and map in hand I set out to discover this beautiful city.
The Prague Castle is the main attraction and you can spend about half a day just exploring the majestic red tiled buildings..The Lovely art gallery of the Czech baroque artists is a must see..The gothic courtyards and cathedrals in the castle are beautiful. I loved the ancient toy museum which is perhaps the largest in the world. From the first limited edition of Barbie to toy train sets to miniature china tea sets, I was completely awed by the wonderful toy collection. That done, one exited the castle through the Golden Lane. Tiny colourful houses dot the castle arches and the cobbled pathway is suddenly full of people posing outside Franz Kafka's house. A metal name plate adorns the wall and yours truly didn't miss the opportunity of getting photograhed right next to it! I picked up some copies of famous Kafka works for friends and family back home from here.
Strolling down the steep cobbled path, one ambles on to the famous St Charles Bridge, over the Vltava river, the most famous landmark of Prague. The bridge at one time was an archtectural marvel, wide enough for four carraiges to pass simultaneously. Today it's thronged by tourists who seem to be in no particular hurry to reach the other side. The bridge is lined with sandstone arches and baroque statues of many Christian saints. The bridge is very popular with the local Czech artists, musicians, and souvenier vendors, all lining the sides of the bridge. I found it it bit crowded during the day so came back again in the evening..and saw the most exquisite sunset with the Prague castle lit in the background..
Just keep walking and you'll find yourself in the Old Town. The Old Town Square is bustling with people looking with awe at The Orloj or the astronomical clock on the Town Hall wall, which chimes on the hour and an army of statues moves between two wooden doors at the top of the clock You step back atleast 600-700 years back in history and this sight was one of the best that I have seen in Europe. The statue of Jan Hus, the famous Czech reformer, stands in the middle of the square and is seen as a symbol of Czech identity.
This is also a good place for shopping- Bohemian crystal, essentially. I picked up some lovely handmade wine glasses and decantars and believe me ..when I say the prices were great!
One can spend a day in Prague or a week, but the beauty and the magic capitivates one forever..I hope to go back soon!

KANCHENJUNGA - The last virgin

Kanchenjunga - the last virgin peak in the world - is often translated as Five Treasuries of the Great Snow, a reference to the five high peaks that rise from the surrounding glaciers. Kangchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world. From 1838 until 1849, it was believed to be the highest. It is an enormous mountain mass, and many satellite peaks rise from its narrow icy ridges. It is located on the border of Nepal and Sikkim, just 46 miles northwest of Darjeeling. It is the most easterly of the great 8,000 meter peaks of the Himalaya. Though not successfully climbed until 1955, it was first attempted in 1905, but four members of that international party were killed in an avalanche. The threat of avalanches and mudslides is omnipresent in the area, which receives very heavy precipitation throughout much of the year. As inspiring as Kangchenjunga's beauty is that at least the first three parties to ascend the mountain never attempted the final few feet to the summit out of voluntary respect for the Sikkimese, who consider the summit sacred. The successful British expedition of 1955 set the standard by stopping a few feet short of the actual summit, in honor of the local religion. The next two ascents were teams led respectively by India's Colonel N. Kumar in 1977, and by British climber Doug Scott in 1979. These parties also honored the tradition.

Elevation (feet): 28169
Elevation (meters): 8586
Range: Himalaya
SubRange: Sikkim-Eastern Nepal Himalaya
Country: Nepal / India
Continent: Asia
Latitude: 27.7 N
Longitude: 88.1333 E
Difficulty: Major Mountain Expedition
Best months for climbing: April, May
Year first climbed: 1955
Convenient Center: Hille, Nepal via Dharan Bazar
Nearest major airport: Kathmandu, Nepal and Bagdogra, India

Jhinuk Chaudhary is amongst the most intrepid travellers I know. His love for photography is almost obsessive. I've never seen him without a camera - ever. I'm sure he carries his camera/s even when he goes grocery shopping, lest he miss the - now proverbial - Kodak moment. The following pictures have been taken by him over two trips that he's made to this part of the world. The accompanying text is also his. You can see more of his pics - Kanchejunga's and other parts of the world here. We will be featuring him on this blog again. Soon.


There is a narrow gauge "toy train" that runs from the plains to the town of Darjeeling (yes, where the famous tea comes from) in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, in the northen part of the state of West Bengal, in India.

In 1999, UNESCO declared the Toy Train and its tracks a "World Heritage Site." After a ride aboard the Toy Train in 1895, Mark Twain is said to have remarked, "The most enjoyable day I've spent on earth is of mixed ecstacy of deadly fright and unimaginable joy."

It's a 80 km (50 mile) ride through some of the prettiest landscapes in India -- a journey that takes about 7 hours, and climbs from the plains to an altitude 6,800 ft.

In one section of the journey, the train climbs almost a 1,000 feet in a matter of minutes at this "Batasia Loop," where the tracks spiral around over itself through a tunnel and over a hilltop.

Kanchenjungha, the mountain in the background, looks close. But, it is about 75 kms. (47 miles) away as the crow flies!


The mountain in the distance is Kanchenjunga.

NOTE: This is another one of my unintended/accidental HDR photos. I took this photo (two photos, actually) in December of 2003, at a time when I was unaware of the concept of HDR. I was quite aware of the limitations of exposure lattitude though. So, standing at the same spot, more or less, I took two handheld shots of the scene at different exposures - one, for the mountain and the sky, and the other for the foreground. Now, years later, I am able to combine them into a blended photo. :-)

If you look at the top right hand corner of the frame, you will see the outlines of the mountain from the two shots not lining up perfectly. Of course, I was not careful about keeping the frames identical, and must have moved a bit, one way or the other.

Our Planet wears dazzling ornaments!!

Beyond the mists of the valley and the haze in the upper air, Kanchenjunga, the third-highest summit in the world, rises with breathtaking brilliance, exuding its majesty in the morning sun

A greater glory, I've never seen!!

Walking in Memphis, like an Egyptian

eM - the uncrowned queen of bloggers went to Egypt, this summer. Here's what she has to say about her trip.
When we last met, she was a journo with a leading newspaper and on the verge of becoming a published author.
You can check here why she is the blog queen!!

Awww.. I've missed you guys. And blogging.

Egypt was fantastic, but I have so much to say, I hardly know how to contain it into a single blog post. Travel is mind-broadening, and sorta figure broadening too, I must say, I'm a couple of kilos heavier, which sucks, but the amount of beef I ate is all worth it.

Oh, the pyramids! And the colours! Egypt is all about colours--the blue blue blue blueness of the Mediterranean Sea, the hot yellow brightness of the Sahara desert, the green reptileness of the Nile. And that's only their geography. All over the skyline there are green domes of mosques, and every hour on the hour, there's the call to prayer. People stop to pray everywhere, spreading cardboard on sidewalks, sitting with their hijab-clad dates at coffee shops, over the rattle of the train, and not at all self-concious or disturbed by the noise and the clamour around them.

And the hijab. All the women wore scarves around their heads, little sundresses with a full-sleeved bodice and jeans underneath, some even in heavy burkahs, with only their eyes visible. The Lonely Planet told us to dress modestly, and we did, modestly, in t-shirts and long skirts and still eyes followed us, men attempted to get familiar, women tittered to each other about these bold, bare-headed foreigners from the land of Amitabh Bachchan (who they adore), who looked so much like them, but were so shameless.

Are you Muslim, is another question that I was asked over and over again, that and do you have a husband? Both of which I answered in the negative, to which they looked puzzled. Hindusim is a concept not understood at all there, most people haven't even heard of it. One man asked me my name and when I told him, he said, "That is not an Egyptian name. My name is Mustafah, that's not an Indian name." "Yes it is," I said, and he started. "You have Muslims in India?" Even our guide, a strange horrible man called Mohammed said, "I bet you have no Muslim friends in India." "We do, actually," we replied, but he still looked disbelieving, even when we broke it down into figures and statistics.

The ancient Egyptians are more or less forgotten in all this, spoken of only as history lessons. No one worships Amun-Ra or Horus or anyone anymore, which is sad, especially when you see their breathtaking temples, and look at 3,000 year old heiroglyphics, still shiny and new looking. When we were making thingummies out of clay over at the Indus Valley, they were making marble statues, and coins and they had gods for every possible thing, including the god of sex, who is always depicted with a massive hard-on and whom Mohammed pointed out without fail at each temple. "That is his benis," he said (Arabic doesn't have the letter 'p' so all we heard was "bictures" and "barking" and so on), "Have you ever seen a benis?" This to me, right in front of my mother. "A lady never answers these questions," I said, as frostily as I could, but he just cackled and said, "That means you have!" Jesus.

More stories in the next post. So nice to see you all again.

8:51 pm, update: Happy Day was the name of the falluka that took us gently across the Nile. Our cruise ship was called, appropriately, I thought, Le Scribe, but fallukas are things of Cleopatra, with huge sails and two laughing men, who teased me and Small and picked me a handful of water weeds, which I then gave as an offering to the Nile, which I have fallen madly in love with.

At sunset, our falluka drifted close to the marshes and we were very still, listening to the loud opera of frogs and watching as kingfishers darted suddenly across the water. It sounds like a tourism plug, even as I'm writing this, but it was so, so magical, and witchy that I don't think I can do it justice.

As a marked contrast to that, let me offer you the story of a young man in the marketplace, selling glass bottles of coloured sand. "You know Tupac?" he asked me in this strange Brit accent, which sounded so odd in contrast to his long kurta like outfit (that they call a gabbaleya). When I nodded, he said, "Well, he my brother. And Craig David? He's my son."



What we saw

* The Pyramids (overwhelming)

* The coffee shops (encouraged spending)

* The food (kebabs and kushari)

* The belly dancers (almost in a sari)

* The whirling dervishes (whirly)

* Khan-el-Khalil bazaar (pearly)

* Camels called Michael (who almost smiled)

* The Philae temple (in the middle of the Nile)

* Moses' spring (where he was found)

* An old mosque (the dome was round)

What I read

The Lonely Planet Guide To Egypt (excellent for anyone making the trip, I always find the LP even more informative than the locals)

In An Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh (I picked up most of my Arabic from this book, my proudest point was saying Al-Hindi (for India) to farmer's kids and seeing recognition across their faces)

Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk (Okay, not about Egypt, but good reading anyway)

Khul Khaal (About five Egyptian women, telling their life stories. Did you know most of them had clitordectemies?)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

RAJASTHAN - as seen by Alisha Colaco

In her own words "I take pictures, I gaffaw maniacally, i wear eyeliner like a bollywood actress from the 60's, i have rubber knuckles, i draw, i make fish faces, i wear wierd costume jewellry, i point and laugh, i blog, i sing when not wanted, i wear leather slippers,i paint, i laugh at demented humour, i breathe, i philosophize, i have talons, i detest making decisions, i blab
I'm Female and 20. "

She goes by many names (Is that fishy or wot?), though officially she's Alisha Colaco.
She does have an eye for the unusual and takes kick-ass pics.

Join her here as she takes you through Rajasthan and then check out some unusual pictures of Goa - her hometown!!