05 hand-picked vacation destinations that are worth a visit in Gujarat


  1. The north west desert ( rann of Kutch )

The white sands portrayed in the tourism of ‘Khushbu Gujarat Ki’ are well within travel reach. This place is an ideal for winter travel as daytimes are less hot while night are really entrancing.

IMG_7152

White Rann of Kuch

Special attraction: there is a place in the Banni Grasslands which is adjoining the Rann of Kutch where according to locals one can see floating lights move around the air. Locals call the phenomenon ‘cheer batti’ or ghost lights which can be seen 2 to 10 feet off ground. Scientists believe the lights are scientific photo emission by oxidation of Phosphine and Disphosphane gases however local legends can be fun to hear over a full moon for adrenaline seeking travelers.

  1. Gir Forest and Girnar
IMG_3693

Cubs been fed my Lioness at Gir Lion National Park, Sasan Gir 

This region between Junagadh and Amreli district are known for its diverse wildlife. It is home to the Asiatic Lion and the Girnar Mountain. This place can be of great adventure for people who find solace in the wild.

Special attraction: the place is the world’s second home to Lions outside Africa. One can also get a chance to mingle with the local ‘siddi’ population whose ancestry can be traced back to African tribes. The mountain Girnar is also a host to ‘Naga Babas’ or naked saints and witnessing them is considered a good omen. It is also a known fact that the formation of this mountain is older than the Himalayan Range.

  1. The deep forests of Dang
Saputara Picnic

Saputara, only Hill Station of Gujarat in Dang Forest Region

Popular among travelers as Saptuara forest; this place is a good winter retreat. The place has a lot to offer for tourists ranging from treks and hiking to a whole unexplored wildlife.

Special attractions: there are a lots of hotels that offer stay in three houses which can be of interest. There might also be a few waterfalls to visit in this area. Taking a good day’s hike in the forests can be of great adventure.

  1. Dwarka & Somnath
SONY DSC

Somnath Temple overlooking Somnath Beach 

These places are of high religious importance. Each of them has a unique spiritual experience to offer.

Special attraction: dwarka is home to ‘bet dwarka’ which is like the lost city of Atlantis and is submerged in water. Somnath is one of the ‘Jyotirlings’ which lord Shiva himself has established which makes it a very significant destination for religious and spiritual people alike. Somnath also has a beach.

  1. Diu & Daman
diufort14052012-an_62-1

Diu 

Contrary to popular befief, Diu & Daman are far away from each other. However both of them offer a good winter gateway with coastal climate and beaches.

Special Attraction: it wouldn’t be wrong to mention it is one of special attractions for anyone wanting to unwind a bit. Daman is soon to be host to onshore gaming complexes (casinos) and it has recently been host to Sunburn Music Festival. Diu is known for its Diu Fort and the Naida Caves.

When the travel bug bites all these places can be on the list for the various special attractions they have to offer. Tourists not wanting to travel far off lands can find proximity in all of these places. After all; all of them have ‘Khushboo Gujarat ni’ in common.

Khajuraho – Madhya Pradesh


The temples of Khajuraho are India’s unique gift to the world. They are an ode to love in stone and are a testimony to the extraordinary breadth of vision of the Chandela Rajputs under whose the temples were conceived and constructed. The Khajuraho temples were built in a 100 years, from 950-1050 AD. of the 85 original temples, 22 have survived till today to constitute one of the world’s great artistic wonders. Architecturally the temples are a highly imaginative recreation of the rising peaks of the Himalayas, abode of the gods and are divided into three geographical divisions that group the temples as western eastern and southern.

khajuraho

Must Watch

The Western Group: This is the main group and is the must see if you have less time. The temples are built on large platforms and have tall shikharas under which is situated the garbha graham for the main deity. The largest and the most typical of the Khajuraho temples, is the Kandariya Mahadeva temple which soars 21 m high. Dedicated to Shiva, the deity is a marble shiva lingam. The temple is exquisitely carved and almost 900 sculptures on the platform.

The other important temples are the Chaunsath Yogini is the only granite temple and the earliest surviving shrine of the group ( 900 AD ), it is dedicated to Kali. The Chitragupta temple is dedicated to the Sun god, Surya. The image of the deity is five feet high, and driving a hourse drawn chariot. The Vishwanath temple is a Brahma Shrinewith a three headed image and a Nandi bull facing the Shrine.

The best preserved temple is the Lakshman temple which houses the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva with Lakshmi, Vishnu’s Consort.

The finely carved sanctum has a three-headed idol of Vishnu’s incarnations, Narasimha and Varaha. 

Easter Group –

The Parsvanath Temple is the largest Jain Temple and exquisite in detail. The sculptures on the northern outer wall are particularly noteworthy. This Ghantai Jain Temple has a frieze which depicts the 16 dreams of Mahavira’s mother, and a Jain goddess on a winged Garuda. The Adinath temple dedicated to the Jain saint has detailed carvings of Yakshis. The three hindu temples of the group are the Brahma, containing a four faced lingam, the Vamana, which is adorned on its outer walls with carving of apsaras in a variety of sensuous attitudes; and the Javari, which a richly carved gateway and exterior sculptures.

Southern group –

Duladeo Temple: Dedicated to Shiva the apsara and ornamented figures are the temple’s most striking features..

Chaturbhuj Temple –

This temple has a massive, intricately carved image of Vishnu in the sanctum.

How to reach –

~ Regular sevies link Khajuraho with Delhi and Varanasi

~ Khajuraho is connected by regular buses with Satna, Harpalpur, Jhansi and Mahoba.

~ Khajuraho has its own railway station linking it to Delhi, Jhansi ( 172 kms ), Harpalpur ( 94 km ) and Mahoba ( 64 km ), Satna ( 117 km ) which is on the Mumbai – Allahabad line of the central Railway is a convenient rail link for those coming from Mumbai, Kolkata and Varanasi.

IN THE PINK OF THINGS – JAIPUR


Jaipur’s forts, palaces, colors and hospitality will make you feel like the royals that lived here centuries ago

Across the rocky plains encircled by desert hills, with bastion and fortified walls spiraling over their contours, lies the capital of Rajasthan. I rolled the window down as we drove through early morning rush hour at Bapu Bazaar. Vendors prepared their fresh supply of fruits, vegetables and bright orange marigolds for sale, children crowded together in cycle-rickshaws headed for school, and there was an extraordinary chaos in the air, as every possible mode of transport, from luxury cars to scooters, rickshaws, horse-drawn carts and camels, all found their place on the same road. The morning sun reflected on the stunning 18th century architecture of pink sand-stone, turning into a soft shade of honeycomb with a pinkish hue.

In stark contrast, our car soon wheeled into a royal landscape which was home to a fairytale princess, the fabulous Rambagh Palace that is now a luxury hotel. The imposing exterior was reminiscent of the regal style of the buildings in the city. We were greeted to a rose petal welcome and led to our suite by an attentive turbaned butler.

The palace interiors were no less impressive, with long, white-marbled verandahs that wound around the courtyards. As the third wife of HH Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II, this was Rajmata Gayatri Devi’s first home after marriage. Sipping tea on the manicured lawns, you get a sense of the kind of grandeur that she wrote so fondly of, what with all the elephant polo matches, lavish meals and the Rolls-Royces. The palace’s resident peacocks complete the picture.

The sights and sounds of Jaipur, like its people, are vibrant and exuberant. It is a world of Bandhani And Leheriyan Saris, Mojari Chappals, Puppet dolls and Daal Baati Churma and Makkai Muthiya meal that we had been anticipating since we left. But first, a brief history lesson: just outside the city, accessible by car – or better yet, by elephant – is the spectacular Amber Fort. Built four centuries ago by Raja Maan Singh I, Amber Fort is renowned as an architectural marvel with stunning artistic elements and stonework, which used the practical approach of the ancient Indian study of vaastu.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Amber Fort gets approximately 5000 visitors a day, most of whom seemed to be waiting for an elephant ride up to the Fort.

“Padharo Mare Desh!” yelled out short, pot-bellied turbaned tour guide Gyaan Singh, in his uncanny American accent. We cheated the serpentine queues to enter the Fort, thanks to his wasta (influence) and soon we were taking in enough history to fill an encyclopaedic volume. He walked us through the Suraj Pol, Jalebi Chowk (an Arabic word referring to a place for soldiers to gather), Ganesh Pol, Sila Devi Temple, the stately courtyards, and numerous other places of unimaginable intrigue all amongst this immaculately planned palatial fort of red sandstone and marble masonry, lattice-screens and mirror work walls.

After taking in all that history, we made our way to some retail therapy in the bustling markets of the city. Jaipur is famous for its textiles, block prints being made by local artisans, silver and of course the spectacular Jaipur gems.

The next morning, we bid farewell to the city and our not-so-humble abode and headed for the undulating Aravalli hills to pink sandstone and limestone-walled resort, reflecting Rajasthan’s famed architectural history. The Tree Of Life Resort and Spa offers a quiet tranquillity – it is an ideal place to unwind and rest. It inspired my very urban children to go off on a ‘nature walk’, so that is something. They reported back with an interesting list – “a real carrot garden, four monarch butterflies, three big squirrels and a large German Shepherd…..that belongs to the lady in the next villa.”

Up here in the Aravalli hills, under the clear blue skies, with no cellphones, no computers or schedules to uphold, you get a chance to be pensive and contemplative. Perhaps, that is my version of being Royal in Rajasthan.

Courtesy by K.T.

FIVE ROAD TRIPS YOU MUST MAKE IN THE UAE


1) Jebel Hafeet

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 182 km from Dubai and 178 km from Abu Dhabi

Time: The drive itself takes two hours each way, which makes for the perfect day trip

It might be a small residential town, but there is plenty to see and do in Al Ain. But you must drive through Jebel Hafeet as it is truly extraordinary. This huge mountain -approximately 1250 metres in height – is on the border of the UAE and Oman and offers picturesque views along the way.

WHAT TO DO THERE: Before reaching Al Ain, make a quick stop at the Green Mubazarrah, a lush area with hot springs. Upon reaching your destination, pick and choose from a wide variety of activities that are on offer.

Highlights include the Al Ain Palace Museum; Al Ain Zoo and Wildlife Park and Wadi Adventure which has a number of activities that include water sports such as white water rafting, kayaking and surfing.

Jeble Hafeet

2) HATTA

Difficulty: Intermediate

Distance: 159 Km from Dubai and 266 Km from Abu Dhabi

Time: Suitable for day or weekend trip

With its stunning views of the mountains and an interesting heritage village, Hatta is well worth the drive. Don’t forget your passport because there are border checks – though some place may accept Emirates ID.

WHAT TO DO THERE: Hatta’s ultimate highlight is the Hatta Pools, which is a cluster of rock pools that have been naturally carved by rain over millions of years. You can easily spend the day there jumping into the water splashing about and having fun.

The best time of day to see the pools is in the early morning or late afternoon, when the misty light settles over the peaks, casting shadows between the many crevices. Hatta heritage village, meanwhile, is home to an old watchtower and restored stone buildings of the old town.

Stay at the Hatta Fort Hotel a secluded retreat with chalet-style suites overlooking the Hajjar Mountains, and mini-golf and archery. Fancy camping…there is the Wadi Al Qahfi campsite, which is just a few minutes away from Hatta Pools.

hatta

3) Fujairah Road

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 113 Km from Dubai and 220 Km from Abu Dhabi

Time: suitable for day or weekend trips

One of the best things about a road trip to Fujairah is that the emirate is approximately 80 percent mountains. There are plenty of beautiful views to take in on a sunny day, as well as many unique photo stops.

What to do there: If you are heading out on a Friday, be sure to make a pit stop at the Friday Market, which sells everything from inflatables to high-end carpets. Don’t be afraid to haggle. Fujairah offers a range of activities including rock climbing and hiking. Diving enthusiasts can check out Snoopy Island- named because the island is shaped like the Peanuts character. Another attraction, Wadi Wurayah, is the only WWF-protected mountain range in the UAE and home to a natural waterfall. Fujairah has a wide range of places to stay, from the budget-friendly Star City Hotel Apartments to the top-rated Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort.

3

4) Fossil Rock

Difficulty: Easy for off-roaders; an intermediate challenge for beginners

Distance: 31 Km from Dubai and 331 km from Abu Dhabi

Time: Can easily be covered in half a day

Officially named Jebel Maleihah, this large area is more commonly known as Fossil Rock thanks to the numerous marine fossils of shells and small sea creatures that can be found on its slopes. Due to its close proximity to Dubai, this route is perfect for anyone new to desert driving and who wants to try a road trip that is relatively easy. It is also a great starting port for anyone looking to learn off-roading. However, you will need a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and it is recommended that you go with someone who already knows how to drive in the desert.

WHAT TO DO THERE: on the way to Fossil Rock, there is the greenert-rich oasis town of Al Awir, and halfway along the route is an estate that is home to a number of gazelles and deer. Speaking of wildlife, there are plenty of other animals to spot along the way, including the pharaoh eagle owl, yellow-spotted sand lizard and cape hare. All of these animals tend to be harmless, do not bother them and they won’t bother you. In addition to fossil spotting, desert driving in Fossil Rock is truly spectacular. The sand in this area is a beautiful rich orange-red colour with easy-to-master dunes.

fossil rock

5) Dibba

Difficulty: Intermediate as it is a bit of a long drive.

Distance: 152 km from Dubai and 286 km from Abu Dhabi

Time: perfect for a weekend escape.

The UAE’s east coast is a perfect getaway. This small section lies between two regions of Oman, the Musandam Penninsula and the region around Muscat. One of the most popular road trips in the UAE is to Dibba, which is in Fujairah. This town lies on a coastal plain, nestled in mountains with green fields and ancient relics.

WHAT TO DO THERE: Dibba is renowned for its relics and historical places, including tombs and tools that date back to 7000 BC. So this is a real treat for anyone interested in discovering more about the region’s history. In fact, archaeological finds have revealed that the area has been inhabited by man since the Stone Age. In the third millennium BC, Dibba was a commercial center frequented by the Phoenicians. Sightseeing highlights include the Al Bidyah Mosque- one of the oldest in Arabia – as well as Dibba Castle and Portuguese Fort. A trip underwater is a must-do for enjoying the diverse marine life. It is worth taking dhow cruise with one of the area’s tour companies that offer snorkeling or diving trips. A great swimming and fishing spot is Dadna Beach, where natural rockfaces are reflected in serene blue water.

dibba

Courtesy by G.N.

Love and longing in Indonesia


jakartataman mini mosque

From the airport to the Ciputra Hotel, on the fringes of the city, is a half-an-hour drive at night. Jakarta, or rather the build-up to the Indonesian capital, is somewhat underwhelming –a feeling that stays with me through the next morning. Jakarta, by day, is crowded (Indonesia is world’s fourth most populated country, and the capital is obviously more than just the tip of the iceberg) and crazy (the traffic jams are in a league of their own); the muggy weather plays its climatic version of spoilsport.

indonesia-love and longingnational monumentulu danu beratan temple

But there are parts of the city – especially the older side – that are beautiful. Cutting through the crowded clutter, you spy colonial (read Dutch) architecture, tree-fringed avenues and interesting eateries. You can grab the lunch at a seafood restaurant called Raja Kuring, a typical Indonesian cuisine is far more unfettered than sya mainland Chinese or Korean (the mix in plate comes from the varied historical and cultural influences – including Indian – the country has absorbed).

Pressed for time, so alongside a traffic-deadened tour of Jakarta – with a mandatory stop at the 137-metre-tall National Monument – a visit to the Taman Mini Indonesia Indah. This is supposed to be like a thoughtfully-dressed-up window display of the diversity of Indonesia’s 27 provinces.

dragon springs

The Jakarta fling over, and headed to the airport to catch a flight to the hidden gem: the island of Lombok. Lombok has the potential to be another Bali and locals regard it to be an unspoilt avatar of the eastern world’s Great Tourism Factory. It is easy to say why. Crystal clear waters – one can see the coral formation through and through – and white sands frame the tropical paradise. The drive through Lombok is wondrously rural: there are lush green pastures and rolling hills.

The hotel room overhangs the sea. The waters were lapping gently through the day, but, as the night gets darker, it gets choppier. Sitting out on the porch outside ground-floor room, one can hear the crashing of the waves reverberating in the surrounding stillness. It is magical.

The next day, head off to a gili – that is island in local parlance. There are many gilis lying a short distance away from the main island of Lombok, and it is an exhilarating 10-minute journey on a bumpy, open-air speed-boat. The tropical sun beats down mercilessly, and the humidity continues to soak it.

gunung kawi

The gili whose shores are washed up on is called Trawangan. The villa at the gili hotel has an open-air bathroom and, because all the water on the island is from the sea, there is an urn of treated water left on the side of the shower area. Adventurous people can head for snorkelling and deep-sea diving. There are bonsai stagecoaches that would take you on an island trot. At night, you can hit an alley that looks straight out of a western European small town (there is a reason why it looks like this – tourism from the Occident): bistros, live-cooking cafes, lounge bars…..and music.

Even the weather seems to be behaving itself. In the morning, it is back to being hot and grimy and you would board the speedboat back to Lombok. You will be taken to this consortium of local houses, like a quick-fix hemlet: locals live here, make a living selling their ethnic wares. It is a labyrinth of levels, little huts magically appearing at every nook and corner. One can buy sarongs from them. Next you will fall in line with the rest of the group to catch a flight to Bali.

Bali turns out to be a somewhat of a downer. That is probably because of a displacement theory. The hotel – Discovery Kartika Plaza – is utterly gorgeous. Cottage comes with a plunge pool, there is Balinese piped music playing, the bedroom has a four-poster bed, complete with a flimsy, diaphanous curtain all around it. The downtown area is quaint and touristy with a certain faded old-world charm. The younger and wilder lot of visitors hang out near the beaches.

The next day, last in Indonesia, the group happily passes up the chance to watch a Balinese dance recital in favour of retail therapy. Consumerism always aces culture.

ulu danu beratan temple

There is a shopping mart called Krishna (most of the Balinese population is Hindu, and Krishna appears to be the most popular god: the main square has a wonderful depiction of Krishna and Arjun from the Mahabharat), a slice of shopping heaven: from Balinese souvenirs to Indonesia artifacts to silver jewellery to spa treatment lines to clothes and shoes and what-have-you.

One last meal at a lovely mom-and-pop dinner and you are off the airport. A new airport is allegedly in the works. Which is good news – the present airport, that greets huge traffic, is in a bit of mess.

Indonesia is the archipelago of 17000-odd islands. One dollar is equals 9600-odd Indonesian rupiahs. With just over 100 dollars, one can feel monetarily and momentarily empowered.

SPOTTING THE POTTED


More elusive than the tiger, leopards are one of the toughest big cats to spot. But if you are passionate about these enigmatic creatures, here are a few places in India to visit.

RAJASTHAN:-

Far from the madding crowd of tourists and safari canters, this is an uncharted leopard terrain, unknown even to the locals. A few dry, parched zones of Rajasthan have become thriving spots for leopard sightings. The journey starts from Taalvraksh (while coming from Delhi), which is just 20 km from Sariska Tiger Sanctuary in Rajasthan. The place has become a safe haven for leopards, which have migrated here from Sariska, thanks to territorial tiffs with the tigers. A small area of dense forest covering, with little water available, has made the place a good leopard habitat.

Next, you can visit Siana in Jalore district, a small hamlet bordering the great Thar Desert. The village of Siana is featured in David Attenborough’s epic The life of Mammals. The rocky desert hills of Siana are still home to a number of leopards other than chinkaras, Indian striped hyenas, desert fox, civet cat and jungle cats. The place offers a farm stay with homegrown food, safaris and a tour of the village where you can see carpenters engaged in making wooden handicrafts, leather embroidery and potters wheels.

Last but not the least, on the list is a place called Bera near Jawai Bandh, one of western Rajasthan’s largest reservoirs, which is abuzz with flamingos, geese, cranes and other migratory birds. Equidistant from Udaipur and Jodhpur ( 4 -5 hours by road), it is an hour’s drive away from the Jain temple at Ranakpur. Unlike Taalvraksh, Bera is not home to a few nomadic leopards, the place is full of the cat, camouflaged under big rocks. The location boasts of quite a few comfortable camps, some in luxury category with private viewing decks! Most of them offer specialized safaris with experienced guides, who will help you track down the stealthy beast and other wildlife, like sloth bears, wolves and hyenas.

Best time to visit:- winter, since the cat strolls out and basks freely under the winder sun.

KARNATAKA

The iconic image of a leopard resting on a silent tea branch that we often see in magazines was perhaps shot in the lush backwaters of the river Kabini in southern India. Snaking its way through the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the Kabini forms a spectacular backdrop to abundant wildlife, especially leopards. The Kabini forest Reserve in Karnataka is rather unique since all three predators – Tigers, leopards and Dholes (Indian wild dogs) coexist here. The leopards spend a large part of the day on trees and come down mostly for hunting. They are so well-camouflaged that even the most trained eye misses them from a distance. The Kabini Forest Reserve is also partially the largest refuge of the endangered Asiatic elephant. On a boat safari of the reserve, one can spot them by the waterfront along with other animals like gaur (Indian bison), spotted deer and wild boar.

Best Time to Visit: Between October and May.

BORDER OF MP, MAHARASHTRA

The fabled forest immortalized in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Mowgli Land in Pench, makes for intriguing jungle safaris. Located on the southern boundary of Madhya Pradesh, bordering Maharashtra, Pench National Park is known for a variety of wildlife and more famously for the Royal Bengal Tiger. However, leopard sightings in this park are stated to be among the best in India. Though known to operate mostly in the peripheral areas of the park, leopards are also seen in the deep forest area. So don’t always keep your vision fixed at ground level, keep a watch on treetops for unsuspecting leopards taking a nap. Birding enthusiasts must pack appropriate binoculars and amateurs should carry birding books since the forest boasts of around 200 different species of birds, including barbets, wagtails and blue kingfishers.

Best time to visit: November to June

MADHYAPRADESH

There is one more place in central India that brags of a high leopard density – Satpura Tiger Reserve. Most travelers, who’ve been here to seek tigers, have come back jubilant over chance leopard sightings, the possibility of which is terrific, both inside the park and in the buffer zone, which is accessible on night drives. This relatively new, little-known scenic reserve also has the distinction of being one of the few national parks offering walking and kayaking safaris! Other than offering abundant wildlife, its forest clad hills, steep gorges and creeks makes for a picturesque outing.

Best time to visit:- November to June

JAMMU AND KASHMIR

A trek to the higher regions of Ladakh has become synonymous with searching for the elusive snow leopard. Leopards are hard to spot and snow leopards top that list. These reticent creatures love their cold habitat and come into sight only during their mating months, when they are on the move. Various organizations have vowed to protect this endangered animal and have started treks in the area, led by a Ladakhi snow leopard expert who tracks the snow leopards movements with the help of local villagers. In support of community-based ecotourism, these organizations make travelers stay with the local herders in the warmth of their traditional Ladakhi homes with comfy beds and gratifying meals.

Best time to visit: February and March, the snow leopards mating season.

AROUND THE WORLD

Asiatic leopard sightseeing’s can be fantastic in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. Boasting of one of the world’s densest leopard populations, Yala is also inhabited by herds of elephants, sloth bears and crocodiles.

Finding the elusive leopard can seem like a tall order, but not in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. Stay in one of the many gorgeous luxury camps and lodges with excellent guides at your service.

The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in Botswana is a place full of predators, roughly 200 cheetahs, 450 lions and 150 leopards dominate the sand dune-ridden landscape!

Feeling Heady In Hyderabad


The Taj Falaknuma Palace – the restored Nizam’s Palace – is yet another jewel in the crown of the city that boasts of the Charminar

taj-falaknuma-palace-courtyardTo enter the Taj Falaknuma Palace involves many steps. You drive to the entrance of the 32-acre palace; then, get on a horse carriage, which takes you to the entrance. You are greeted with vetiver juice. A flag bearer carrying a golden flag-pole bearing a coat of arms marches ahead as you climb the white staircase. Then the rose petal shower.

Taj-Falaknuma-Palace-bWalk into the Ritz Carlton in Miami or George V in Paris and all you get is a form asking for your credit card details. Here in the East, we take hospitality much more seriously, garlanding our guests, giving them a welcome drink, offering them attar and sandalwood paste, or, in this instance, showering petals on them.

cn_image_2.size.taj-falaknuma-palace-hyderabad-india-112405-11Built by Vicar Ul-Umra, the prime minister and son-in-law of then the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1893, the Falaknuma (meaning ‘mirror of the sky’) has had a chequered history. Sir Vicar as he was called, built and inhabited it for a mere five years when he heard that the Nizam was coming for tea. Tea extended to dinner and then overnight. Twenty days later, the Nizam was still in residence. What happened next was typical of the tehzeeb or etiquette of the era, when words were pregnant with hidden meaning. Sir Vicar watched his master’s delight in the palace and the curious questions: “How have you built a palace so wonderful?” He intuited that the Nizam coveted the palace that he had bankrupted himself to build and decided to give it to the Nizam as a nasr or offering. “Huzoor, I have built it for you,” said he. That same evening, three generations of Sir Vicar’s family, along with their retinue of staff, moved out of the palace. To give up something so substantial is not easy for any person, but that was the ethos of the era. The Nizam insisted on paying more than what the palace had cost to build. He presented Sir Vicar with Rs 68 lakh (10 lakh = 1 million), small change for a man who was on the cover of Time magazine with the headline, “The richest man in the world.” The Nizam had his own currency, airline, railways, a fleet of Rolls-Royce, some of which were used to dump the household garbage, and the 48-carat Jacob’s diamond that rolled about his table in lieu of a paperweight.

The-Spectacular-Taj-Falaknuma-Palace-in-Hyderabad-11The Nizam’s family used the Falaknuma till after Independence, when they entertained India’s first President Dr Rajendra Prasad in 1951. After that, the palace fell out of use and into disrepair till the current Nizam’s estranged wife, a princess belonging to the Turkish nobility, decided to restore it. Princess Esra Jah reconciled with her husband, the current Nizam, who lives in Australia, during her son’s wedding. In 2000, she decided to restore the palace in partnership with the Taj Group of Hotels. By then, the palace was in an advanced state of disrepair. Water poured through the roof, rats were running around, the furniture and upholstery were chipped and broken, and cobwebs hung throughout the place. “I was among the first persons to see the palace and it was scary,” says the historian, Mr. Prabhakar.

It took ten years and countless iterations to get the palace back into its pristine glory. The walls were painted a hundred times to match the shade that Princess Esra had in mind: the colour of the sky at dusk. Today, the Falaknuma is a Victorian pastiche of many architectural styles. There are Corinthian columns, Italian frescoes, Carrara marble fountains, Tudor arches, Venetian cut-glass chandeliers, French trompe d’0eil paintings that make cement look like wood, fleur de lis on stained glass windows, English paintings and upholstery. “Not one of the objects or influence is Indian,” says Mr Prabhakar proudly. The result is stunning but a little disconcerting. It is as if the palace was airlifted from Europe and placed atop the hill in Hyderabad.

char minarThe city sparkles far below as Sufi singers sing on the Gol Bangla’s terrace. It is a city built for love, when Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, whose portrait hangs in the Smithsonian, fell in love with a maiden called Bhagmati. In 1591, he moved his capital from Golconda to what was then a tiny village on the banks of the Musi village. He named the new city after his wife, Hyder Mahal. The city was modelled on Esfahan in Iran, with water-bodies for moon-watching, fountains, fragrant gardens and broad boulevards. When the bubonic plague hit the city, Quli Qutb Shah prayed to Allah to release his people from its clutches and built the Charminar (Four Minarets) in gratitude. Diagonally across from the Charminar is the Makkah Masjid, among the holiest shrines in India, built using soil and stones from Mecca. Ten thousand of the faithful can pray together here.

Today, the roads that radiate from the Charminar sell rhinestone-studded lac bangles that are a signature of the city. Countless shops glitter with these coloured gem-like ornaments. Vendors sell burqas, dupattas, vessels, fruits, knives, clothes, Unani medicines, orthopaedic massages and anything else that a person can need. It is a hub of humans and commerce. The Chowmuhallah Palace down the road is quieter. Built over 45 acres in the 18th century, it is now a museum and used for weddings and other ceremonies. Only 14 acres remain since the current Nizam fled to Turkey and then Australia to escape debt payments from his wives and concubines. I attend a wedding there one night. The palace is stunning when lit up at night. Tuberose garlands cast their heady scent and the aroma of slow-cooking biryanis makes the tongue pucker. This is a city that takes it meat seriously. Men can argue for hours over the right technique to cook patther ka gosht, or lamb seared on a stone slab.

lac benglesTextile expert Soraiya Hassan Bose belongs to an old family. Today, she and a band of weavers sell the state’s kalamkari and ikat weaves in her eponymous shop. Hyderabad’s hand-loomed, hand-woven textiles are known throughout the country for their quality.

Local fashion designers such as Anand Kabra use the state’s weaves in their designs and infuse it with a modern cut. Jewellery designer Suhani Pittie lives in a heritage mansion that houses her contemporary creations. Both are passionate about their home state and its rich traditions.

There are two Hyderabad today, one is the city around Hussein Sagar Lake; the modern city that attracts IT companies to its Hi-Tec City or Cyberabad. Then, there is the slower, more leisurely city that was created by kings and Nizams; the Hyderabad of slow-cooked meals and exquisite etiquette.

Courtesy by K.T.

Family Holidays – Kids Please


Five destinations guaranteed to put a smile on children’s faces…

1)      Orlando, Florida

orlandoThere are many reasons Orlando remains a top destination for families: the sun usually shines, there are hotels to suit all tastes, but above all, it’s home to two of the best theme parks in the world. Walt Disney World, Florida, is where you will find the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and the Hollywood Studios, plus the brilliant water parks at Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Trust us, even if you don’t consider yourself a Disney fan, resistance to the charms of the House of Mouse is futile – one ride on the superb Soarin’, Splash Mountain or The Tower of Terror and we guarantee you will be hooked and singing it’s a Small World for ever more.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure (www.universalorlando.com), meanwhile, is home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – a mind-blowing recreation of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, complete with rides, talking portraits and shops selling wands. Universal also has roller coasters such as The Incredible Hulk and a whole section dedicated to Dr. Seuss, which will appear to younger children and those who remember The Cat in the Hat books first time around. Just over an hour’s drive away is Daytona, with its glorious sandy beach, ideal for surfing, and the Nascar racetrack, where you can take a spin inside a real stock car. A holiday in Orlando is exhilarating, but exhausting and requires lots of advance planning.

2)      Rome, Italy

romeKids fans of Horrible Histories? Then take them to Rome, where at the Colosseum, one of the best preserved Roman Amphitheatres in the world, they can run around and imagine what life must have been like for the gladiators and animals that fought here nearly 2000 years ago. You can even enrol them at Gladiator school for the afternoon while you go off to explore the designer shops along the Via Condotti. They will marvel at the apparent traffic chaos by the impressive Vittorio Emanuele II monument where you can see foolhardy tourists riding Segways (our advice is not to try this); at the Trevi Fountain they can throw a short walk to the magnificent Pantheon, built in AD126. Rome is, of course, also a fantiastic place to introduce your children to the wonders of authentic Italian gastronomy where you opt for a pizza in Piazza Navona, pasta in Trastevere or gelati (ice cream) on the banks of the Tiber River, Rome offers a feast for all the senses.

 

 

 

 

3)      Sydney, Australia

australiaAs the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge discovered on their recent trip to Sydney, this Australian city has heaps to offer – and while Prince George is perhaps a little too young to enjoy it right now, for children aged two and up, it is an absolute paradise of wildlife, history and, of course, all those fantastic beaches, including Bondi, which has a children’s pool and playground. At the excellent Featherdale Wildlife Park (www.featherdale.com.au) they (and you) can cuddle up to Koalas, hand-feed kangaroos, see dingoes or check out the crocs and snakes. No child will be able to resist the Tyrannosayrs exhibition at the Australian Museum (www.australianmuseum.net.au), a homage to the most feared of all the dinosaurs. Much-loved Luna Park has lots of rides and a giant Ferris Wheel, while children aged 10 and up (and their brave parents) will jump at the chance to climb the Harbour Bridge (www.bridgeclim.com). Sydney is a very easy city to get around and children will also enjoy a ferry ride over to Manly Bay, particularly if it is a bit choppy. If you have a few days to spare, combine a trip to Sydney with a visit to Uluru (Ayers Rock) or Queensland for the Great Barrier Reef and you will have a holiday to remember.

4)      Kerala, India

keralaIf you want to introduce your children to the fabulousness of India, vibrant, colourful Kerala, with its breathtaking landscapes, glorious beaches, distinct cuisine and amazing wildlife, is the perfect place to do it. Once firmly on the hippie tourist trail, it has evolved to become the hottest destination in India and it is easy to explore. Your children will see wild elephants and jungles, and magnificent natural wonders including the beautiful Athirapally Falls and the Chalakudy River; banana, rubber and tapioca crops; and at Periyar National Park they can look for real-life animals straight out of The Jungle Book, including, if they are very lucky, tigers. (Our advice is not to make any promises, just in case the big cats are feeling a little shy when you visit.)

5)      Stockholm, Sweden

stockholmStockholm is known for being cool city for adults. But it’s also officially one of the most child-friendly cities in the world, with a whole island, Djurgarden, dedicated to families. At Skansen open-air museum you will find traditional Swedish homes, experience life in the 19th century, and at its open-air zoo you can see native wildlife including adorable Swedish brown bears. For fans of Vikings and Disney’s Frozen there is the Vasa, a museum housing the only preserved 17th-century ship in world. There is lots of creative play to be held at Junibacken, dedicated to children’s character Pipi Longstocking and Emil. You may even persuade your kids to visit the brilliant Abba Museum (www.abbathemuseum.com), which has lots of interactive exhibits. Visit Stockholm in the summer, when it’s the midnight sun and there is a non-stop calendar of festivals to experience. Your children will enjoy the novelty of nights that never get dark as well as medieval performances, hot-air balloon races and fireworks against the bright sky. And you will also love exploring Nordiska Kompaniet, or NK, quite simply one of the most stylish luxury department stores in the world.

Courtesy by G.N.

Taj Goa – 4th Complimentary (July Onwards)

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE


India’s forests, wetlands, deserts, mountains, rivers and rainforests host a diversity of bird and wildlife that is one of the richest in the world. We give you practical tips and suggestions about where to sight…

Asiatic Lion: The only place in the world where you are likely to spot the wild, uncaged, endangered Asiatic lion, is ironically, at the former hunting ground for the king of the jungle – the Gir National Park in Gujarat, which has a population of about 400 Asiatic lions. Since, as a rule, lions are known not to attack once they have had a good meal, if you are lucky, you might chance upon a pride of lions in post-prandial hushful response.

asiatic lion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bengal-Tiger-4Bengal Tiger: The ultimate lone ranger, the Bengal Tiger survives by itself, often hunts in the dead of the night, is mighty sneaky and pretty spry and the sound of its roar can be heard three kilometres away. Though critically endangered, you are most likely to spot the Bengal Tiger at national parks like Bandhavgarh, Corbett, Kanha and also at the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve.

 

 

 

leopardLeopard: The leopard is superjock – an excellent swimmer, a superb climber and armed with plenty of stealth, muscles and power, it makes for a formidable predator in the wild. The best places to spot the leopard are the Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka and the tiny hamlet of Bera in Rajasthan. You can also try your luck at the Bandipur National Park in Karnataka or at Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand.

 

 

 

desert foxDesert Fox: The best place to spot the desert fox, also known as the white-footed fox, is in the massive parchedness of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan or in the salt marshes of the Wild Ass Sanctuary in the Little Ran of Kutch in Gujarat. While in the sanctuary, you might as well appreciate the Indian Wild Ass, that exists only here and in the high plateus of Tibet.

 

 

 

hyenaHyena: May be it’s the singular sound they make or maybe it’s the fact they are scavengers, but hyenas have, for centuries now, endured general contempt and obloquy. They don’t quite deserve it though, for they are usually smart, surprisingly monogamous and generally step out of their dens only when it’s dark. Head to the Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar, Gujarat for a sure-shot sighting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

indian_wolf_jpg_69460Indian wolf: The wild dog-like Indian wolf can look misleadingly demesticable. But know that even though it is smallest of the wolf subspecies, the Indian wolf is ferocious and known to prey on human when natural prey is not available. They usually move in packs of six or eight and hunt by ambush. To check them out, head to the Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar, Gujarat or to the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary in Nannaj, Maharasthra.

 

 

 

golden langurGolden Langur: There are only two places in the world where you can see the lush beauty of golden langur: India and Bhutan. An herbivore, the golden langur lives on fruits, nuts, seeds and leaves. Today, the golden langur is endangered and very few individuals survive in the wild. Head to Manas National Park in Assam and try to look upward on high trees to see if you can catch a glimpse of this gorgeous primate.

 

 

 

 

ridlet turtleOlive Ridley Sea Turtles: These turtles make their way to the sea after hatching at the Rushikulua, Devi and Gahirmatha in Odisha from the largest breeding ground for these turtles in India. The synchronised nesting (anywhere between 100000-500000 annually) and march of these turtles towards the seas makes for a spectacular site that is not one to be missed.

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: