Most action-packed jungles


Tiger scouting, Chitwan National Park, Nepal

If you want to see a tiger that isn’t shuffling about in a zoo or on the front of a cereal packet, head for Chitwan National Park in the Nepalese jungle, where there’s a 75 percent likelihood of a sighting. There are also night tours to further help you glimpse this nocturnal beast. But even if you don’t, it’s still the perfect place to channel your inner Mowgli, with heaps of other wildlife on view, such as leopards, sloths and water buffalo. Travel is via a mixture of elephant back, canoe, jeep and foot.

Tiger Safaris  are accompanied by a zoologist and local naturalist guides. Jeep tours and on-foot tracking tours are available, best taken late November to early May.


Gorilla tracking, Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, Central African Republic

When a trip promises ‘long and uncomfortable journeys’ by plane, jeep and canoe, there had better be a super-bright light at the end of the tunnel. In the case of the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, there certainly is – it’s one of the few places where tourists can track the majestic but critically endangered western lowland gorillas. Fewer than 2000 westerners are thought to have visited this stunning jungle region, which is also home to forest elephants, buffalo, crocodiles and red river hogs, and the local Ba’Aka pygmy tribe, who help with the gorilla tracking.

It can take three to eight hours to track the gorillas, after which you’ll move with the group or sit as they groom.

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The City of Lavasa


Nestled a midst the majestic Sahyadri mountains, along the contours of the sprawling Warasgaon Lake, is the planned hill city of Lavasa. Built on the principles of New Urban-ism, its a city where people can live work, learn and play in harmony with nature.

Where in Lavasa, make sure you

  • Start the day with a walk along the serene Nature Trails
  • Explore picturesque locules cruising along the city via the Trackless Train
  • Take a photograph from the numerious Viewing Galleries present
  • Jet Ski across the lake at Lake shore Water sports taking in the beauty of the valley
  • play a veriety of games like Electric Dart Machines, Photo Games & Bowling at the Neospark Games Arcade
  • Discover the city in an eco-friendly way through Robin – A self-balancing joyride ( available at Neospark )
  • Go camping at Xthrill Adventure Academy
  • Unwind at the spa at Dasvino Town & Country Club
  • Spend a peaceful evening strolling at the lakeside promenade

For inquiries / bookings :-

Weddings | MICE | Educational Tours | Summer Special Packages ( April 1st – June 30th ) | Mesmerizing Monsoon Packages ( July 1st – September 30th ) | Festive Fiesta Packages ( October 1st – December 31st )

Email us on adler-tours@hotmail.com or visit http://www.adler-tours.com 

3Day / 2Nights and Leisure fun in Macau


Day 01 :-

After arriving in Hong Kong international Airport, take a direct ferry to Macau and check into the hotel. Freshen up and set out to explore the city.macau

Begin with A-Ma temple, which is dedicated to the worship of Matsu, the goddess of seafarers and fishermen. Head over to the Rusins of St. Paul’s, where only the church’s front facede and grand stone stairs remain, and Senado Square. Next, stop at Macau Fisherman’s Wharf to smaple Macau’s world –class cuisine or good Indian Food.

Catch The house of Dancing Water, a breathtaking water-based show at the City of Dreams, and the Performance Lake featuring a cornucopia of water, light and fire elements in the open area in front of Wtnn Macau. Families can dine and shop at The Venetian Macao, while adults can try their luck at the casinos.

Day 02:-

Start the day on a high note with a visit to the 228m Macau Tower, the worlds 10th highest free standing tower. Here, adrenaline junkies can climb 100m up the mast’s vertical ladder to the summit, free fall from a 223m platform – deemed the worlds highest bungee jump – or take a thrilling walk around the main outer rim of the tower sans hand rails ( safety is guaranteed via an overhead rail system ). And whilst the adventure seekers are having fun, the women can go for a relaxing spa session.

In the afternoon, visits to the Macau Museum, Wine Museum and Grand Prix Museum are highly recommended. Come evening, visit MGM Macau, which boasts European – inspired facades, a dramatic skylight dome, myriad terraces invoking an old-world Portugal feel, and a light and some show each evening.

Day 03:-

Depart for Hong Kong.

For Packages write us on adler-tours@hotmail.com or visit us at http://www.adler-tours.com

Colombo, Sri Lanka ( Things not to miss out for !! )


For Packages write us on adler-tours@hotmail.com or visit us athttp://www.adler-tours.com

Getting There

Colombo, situated one hour’s drive south of the Bandaranaike International Airport, is the largest metropolis on the island, stretching about 12 km along the coast from its southern beach suburb of Mount Lavinia to the Fort and inland to Kelaniya.  The city’s main roadway, Galle Road, is the main road south to the city of Galle and beyond.  This makes Colombo a convenient resting point at the start or the end of your holiday.  The best way to reach the town from the airport remains a private taxi. Useful drive times include:  Colombo to Bentota (2 hours); Colombo to Galle (3.5 hours); Colombo to Kandy (3.5 hours); Colombo to Dambulla (4 hours).

Historical Background

Colombo is the commercial capital of Sri Lanka and lies alongside the present administrative capital, Sri Jayawardenepura, Kotte. Colombo’s port was influential as early as the 5th century when ships from Rome, Arabia, and China traded with Sinhalese kings for food supplies, spices and jewels. Colombo’s destiny changed over the centuries as many nations fought for dominance over the island’s valuable treasures including Arab settlers in the 8th century, followed by the Portuguese, the Dutch and, finally, the British who captured Colombo in 1796. This era of western domination ended peacefully with independence in 1948, followed by a separatist war fought by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) that lasted over two and a half decades, the affects of which were felt through out the country. Terrorism was eradicated from the Sri Lanka in May 2009 and peace continues to rain on the island once more. Through out it all, the city of Colombo has remained stable and comparatively safe and today’s two million population in the city represents a mix of cultures. Sinhalese, Moors, Tamils, Burghers (Dutch descendents), Chinese, and Malay populations all contribute towards the colourful fabric of Colombo society.

Sights

The city of Colombo is a blend of the old and the new.  Seventeenth century buildings – some restored as hotels, shops, and government offices – stand side-by-side with the rest of Colombo’s modern skyline and rudimentary small shops. Several ancient Buddhist temples, Hindu Kovils, churches, and mosques are found in the heart of the city as well as in the suburbs.  Museums, art galleries, golf courses and gyms, spas and salons, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, all add to Colombo’s appeal.

Accommodation

Colombo offers a wide range of accommodation options from the five-star city hotels expected in an Asian capital to a clutch of interesting boutique hotels. There are mid-range city hotels, too, although the great value of the top-end hotels makes it hard for them to compete. There is a shortage of quality guesthouse accommodation in the centre of town. On the outskirts of the centre a couple of villas make a welcome change from standard hotels. The best city hotel is arguably Cinnamon Grand, reinvigorated by the John Keells Group. Their selection of restaurants is unrivalled. Trans Asia and the Hilton trail only marginally behind. Ceylon Continental, a friendly if more limited five-star on the seafront, offers outstanding value. The Galle Face Hotel, which now has a boutique-wing called The Regency, is the favourite for those wanting some colonial charm and a seaside location. Consider Colombo City Hotel as a simple, modern budget choice. If you are after a beach, though, Mount Lavinia Hotel is the only option. The boutique selection includes the stylish Tintagel, opened in 2008, Park Street Hotel run by the acclaimed Taru Villas Group and the eclectic CASA Colombo. For those looking for a villa ambience on the edge of town, choose form Havelock Place Bungalow, Villa Talangama and Java Moon. Mount Lavinia also offers two appealing houses: Mount Lavinia House and Mount Lodge.

Food & Drink

Food is a highlight of Colombo, much more so than you might imagine. You won’t go hungry here with its wide selection of small restaurants serving local hawker-style favourites like meat patties, fish buns, egg rolls, string hoppers, lamprais, kothu roti and biryani. All the local restaurants are extremely cheap. There is also a wide variety of fast food outlets, including McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC. Colombo is the best place in the island for Indian cuisine and the following are recommended: Agra, Mango Tree and Navaratna. For those looking for fusion or European-style food, there are some very special treats. For the quality of its food, especially its meats, Chesa Suisse, a Swiss restaurant, is outstanding. The most popular dining-out experience is at the Paradise Road Gallery Cafe, the restaurant with the most seductive ambience in the island. The owner of the Gallery Cafe, Shan Fernando, has also now opened Tintagel, a private hotel and restaurant that offers a more refined menu. For a more informal open-air dining experience, the Barefoot Cafe, managed by colourful celebrity chef Kollu, is popular and often has live jazz. The best seafood restaurant in the town is Lagoon at the Cinnamon Grand. The best Thai restaurant is the Royal Thai at Trans Asia. There is a huge selection of Chinese restaurants but we recommend two: No. 168 off the Galle Road, which is an authentic no-frills restaurant popular with the local Chinese community, and the Emperors Wok at the Hilton. If you are searching for authentic Sri Lankan food then choose from the Palmyrah Restaurant at Renuka Hotel, the Peninsula in Rajaigiriya suburbs, Hilton’s Curry Leaf and the iconic Green Cabin Restaurant on Galle Road. Colombo by night can be fun with a scattering of pubs and nighclubs that come alive especially on Friday and Saturday nights and features live bands or DJ music.  H20, D’s, and Zetter are more popular with the younger lot.  Bistro Latino, Rhythm & Blues, The Library at Trans Asia and Sugar located on top of H2O appeal to a more mature crowd.  Characterful pubs include the Breeze Bar and Cheers Pub at Cinnamon Grand, Cricket Club Café,  and Inn on the Green nearby Galle Face in Colombo.

Shopping

From buzzing bazaars to stylish boutique outlets, Colombo is increasingly becoming a popular shopping destination within Asia. Odels is Sri Lanka’s most famous shop, a growing department store in the centre of town.  Western-label clothes are sold at a fraction of overseas prices. Other attractions include homewear stores like Paradise Road, Suriya and Gandhara. Saffron Villas is popular for antique furniture. Barefoot is famous for its handspun and vibrantly-coloured fabrics. There are several good quality jewellers. If you want to get a feel for the trading heart of the city, spend a hectic morning wandering the narrow streets of Pettah Bazaar where you will find anything from steel pots to the latest mobile phones. If you accept anybody’s offer to act as a guide, ensure you know the financial basis upon which this has been offered!

Events

Colombo’s streets come alive in January for the annual `Duruthu Perahara’ organised by the Kelaniya Temple and again in February for the `Navam Perehara’ organised by the Gangaramaya Temple.  These processions display traditional folklore, music and the rhythmic dance forms.  Dancers, drummers and flag bearers represent the different provinces. Chieftains in traditional attire and scores of elephants dressed in glittering cloaks are all a part of these colourful pageants.  Vel, a Hindu festival that pays homage to Lord Murakan, takes place in July or August where an ornately decorated Vel chariot, drawn by a pair of snow-white bulls carrying the statue of Lord Murukan, parades the streets of Colombo.  The chariot moves slowly while the drums throb, the bells tinkle, the Tanjore band plays and a “Bajan” gathering singing divine songs follow the chariot.  The arts, sadly, remain largely inactive. The most popular event in Colombo’s art calendar is the Kala Pola (art fair) held in February which sees the shady sidewalks along Green Path filled with the creative works of local artists. Activities

Colonial architecture of Fort & Pettah

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Colombo’s three-mile long rampart, cordoning off the area covered by today’s Fort and Pettah, was originally built in the sixteenth century by the Portuguese and then further developed by the Dutch and the British. Today, it is the commercial hub of the country, consisting of government offices, banks, five-star hotels and the country’s largest wholesale bazaar, which sells a huge range of items. In the Fort many of the old colonial buildings still stand alongside a slowly modernizing skyline.

Geoffrey Bawa Architecture

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The late Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most influential architect, was responsible for linking the ancient architecture of this island with that of the modern world. Sri Lanka’s Parliament, which Bawa was commissioned to design, was created in the centre of a vast man-made lake. The building incorporates traditional Sri Lankan and South Indian architectural features with a series of pavilions with copper roofs. We also recommend a visit to the Paradise Road Gallery Café, formerly the studio of Geoffrey Bawa. His imprint still remains strong here with courtyards, ponds, walkways and open pavilions – spaces that inspired a creative genius.

Art Galleries

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Permanent collections & temporary art exhibits of Sri Lankan artists are held regularly at the National Art Gallery, Sapumal Foundation, the Lionel Wendt, Barefoot Art Gallery and Paradise Road Gallery Café.

Music & theatre

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Classical to contemporary forms of music in Sinhala, Tamil and English by local as well as foreign artists is available on CD at various music outlets in Colombo including ODEL, Barefoot, and Torana at Majestic City. Live performances featuring local jazz, pop, and folkrock artists take place at Rhythm & Blues, Barefoot or on a Sunday at the SSC club in Colombo 7. English theatre is limited, but there are occasional local productions that are interesting and usually take place at the Bishop’s College and British School auditoriums or the Lionel Wendt.

The National Museum

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Colombo’s National Museum, established in 1877, is housed in an impressive colonial building in the heart of the city surrounded by extensive gardens. The museum comprises several galleries dedicated to Sri Lanka’s history and cultural heritage, literature, coins, rock sculptures from the ancient cities, period furniture, artistic theatre traditions, as well as a museum of Natural History. The National Museum is closed on Fridays.

Dutch Period Museum in Pettah

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The Dutch Period Museum is housed in the old Dutch House, built by Count August Carl Van Ranzow in the latter part of the 17th century. The museum provides an insight into the Dutch period in Sri Lanka and houses artifacts including furniture, ceramics, coins and photographs. The museum is closed on Fridays.

Kelaniya Temple

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The ancient Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya, situated six miles from Colombo, stands alongside the Kelani River. According to the Mahavamsa, Lord Buddha stopped at this ancient temple during a visit to Sri Lanka in 523 BC where he was invited to preach at the invitation of the king. The Buddha sat and preached on a gem-studded throne on which the Buddha sat and preached. This temple is also famous for its image of the reclining Buddha and paintings, which depict important events in the life of the Buddha and history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Bellanwilla Temple

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Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya, located close to Mount Lavinia, has a long and hallowed history. The great sanctity attached to this temple is due to its sacred Bo Tree, which according to ancient texts is one of the thirty two saplings that sprang from the sacred Bo tree at Anuradhapura, planted in the 3rd century B.C. This ancient Buddhist temple houses elaborate statues of Buddha and frescoes depicting his life.

Hindu Kovils

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The city of Colombo has several Hindu Kovils with colourful and ornate statues and shrines dedicated to different gods and deities. A visit to a kovil, especially during the time of a pooja (ritual offering devotion to the gods), is a special experience with the clanging of bells, chanting of prayers and intoxicating smell of oil lamps and incense. The New and old Kathiresan Kovils dedicated to God Skanda, the god of war and victory, are located in Pettah. The oldest kovil in Colombo is the Sri Kailawasanthan Swami Devasthanam.

Churches built during Colonial period

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St. Peter’s Church near the Grand Oriental Hotel in Fort was previously a Dutch Governor’s banquet Hall until first used as a church in 1804. St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk built in 1842 is located on Galle Road next to Cinnamon Grand. Wolvendaal Church (Colombo’s oldest Dutch Church) is in Fort.

Royal Colombo Golf Club

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Royal Colombo, built in 1879, is a welcome escape from the hectic city centre. Located in Borella, a short distance from central Colombo, the course is a green oasis accompanied by a clubhouse of colonial charm. Listen to your attentive caddie to avoid the numerous water hazards. Despite being in the centre of Colombo, the course maintains its tranquillity, although the occasional commuter train running along the 6th fairway can prove hazardous.

Cycling Colombo to Negombo

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If you are looking for a challenge, jump on a mountain bike and take the coastal route to Negombo. Leaving early in the morning from near Colombo docks, the route quickly takes you away from the busy roads and into the communities of the Colombo suburbs. It is a fascinating transition from the commercial hub of Colombo, exploring some of the cities poorer communities before cycling through the fishing villages of this untouristy coastline. A three-hour ride brings you to Negombo, a vibrant fishing port and holiday centre. Lunch well in Negombo before retracing your steps – or hiring a minivan from Red Dot to collect you.

Rock climbing & caving

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Hideaway, a small boutique villa in Wathuregama, offers abseiling and caving in the surrounding natural caves and rock faces. State of the art safety equipment including helmets, headlight torches, abseiling equipment and experienced guides are provided by the hotel. This activity is only for guests of Hideaway and prior notice is required.

Spa

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The Angsana City Club and Spa of the Cinnamon Grand is a luxurious facility providing a range of Ayurvedic and aromatherapy massages and treatments, a fully-equipped gym and roof terrace swimming pool. Crown Saloon, also centrally located, provides Aromatherapy spa treatments as well as beauty and salon facilities. The Water’s Edge Golf & Country Club’s Aryana Spa overlooks the magnificent vistas across the golfing green. This spa features a menu of Balinese, Thai and Ayurvedic relaxing and rejuvenating treatments. The Sanctuary Spa, opened in 2002, in the heart of Colombo city, is a day spa where clients can spend the entire day or just pop in at lunchtime. Red Dot clients get a small discount.

Ayurveda

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The Siddhalepa Ayurveda Centre offers holistic wellbeing based on the ancient healing wisdom of Ayurveda through their centres located in Dehiwala and Wijerama Mawatha in Colombo 7. The history of Siddhalepa on this island dates back to 200 years with generations of the owning Hettigoda family playing a vital role in promoting the philosophy of Ayurveda in the country.

Yoga

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Regular Yoga sessions are offered in some of the gyms in Colombo including the Hilton Residencies Sports Center, Global Fitness Gym in Colombo 5 and the Lifestyles Gym in Colombo 7.

Meditation

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Several Buddhist centres in Colombo conduct guided meditation sessions and Buddhist discussions. These include Vishva Niketan International Peace Centre, Sarvodaya, the International Vipassana Meditation center down Wijerama Mawatha in Colombo 7, Vajiraramaya temple in Bambalapitiya and the International Buddhist Research & Information center (IBRIC) located at the Naradha Centre in Colombo 7. Books, DVDs and recorded audio tapes on Buddhist teachings are also available in some of these Centres.

Colombo area wetlands

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The Diyawanna Oya and Talangama wetlands located in the Kotte suburbs offer opportunities for bird watching. These areas are a combination of tanks, canals and paddy fields which have recently been declared as protected natural areas and are supported by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka. Further south, in the suburbs of Piliyandala, is the Bolgoda Lake, Sri Lankan largest natural fresh water basin. Many species of birds, butterflies, monitor lizards and monkeys can be spotted in this area.

Gampaha’s ancient rock temples and wilderness

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The ancient Maligathanne temple and the Pillikuttuwa temples dating back to over 2,000 years are situated in the suburbs in Gampaha about 45 minutes from the main city centre. The Pillikuttuwa temple and its surrounding wilderness covers an area of around 200 acres and consists of a natural forest reserve and several caves. The Maligathanne temple is perched on a two tiered rock that is considered the highest point in the Colombo district with panoramic views. King Valagamba built the rock temple to safeguard the sacred tooth relic which is now enshrined in Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth. Situated over an area of about 65 acres, Maligathanne has 20 caves to explore.

Sri Lanka’s traditional dance

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Traditional dance in Sri Lanka is associated with rituals and ceremonies intended to expel sickness and misfortune as well as evoke blessings during auspicious occasions. There are several dance forms including Kandyan (up country), Sabaragamuwa (central province), Ruhunu (low country). Each of these differs in dress, rhythm of the drums, dance movements, and folk songs. Sri Lanka’s Tourism ministry organises dance performances each Friday at 5:30 pm at the Hotel School Auditorium, 78 Galle Road, Colombo 3. This auditorium is situated right opposite the Cinnamon Grand hotel and nearby several other hotels in the Galle Fort area.

Colombo city walks

Take a stroll through the city of Colombo and experience this vibrant and yet laid back capital city with its mix of ethnic communities living; centuries old colonial period architecture to contemporary Bawa architecture; and road side eateries and restaurants serving a variety of local foods and beverage. Personalised Colombo city walks are now on offer and will take up to three to four hours. The walks are conducted in the evening-time when it’s less humid. The rate includes entry permits, hosting fee, food and beverages while on walk as well as a complimentary beer/wine at the end of the walk. Group of up to six guests are accommodated on this personalized experience. For those preferring to omit the walk and do only a drive through Colombo, there is also a `Colombo City night-drive’ on offer.

We do have packages for Sri Lanka, write us onadler-tours@hotmail.com or visit our sitehttp://www.adler-tours.com

Sasan Gir ( Junagadh, Gujarat ) named best protected area


Gir Sanctuary ( Junagadh, Gujarat )  has been recognized and awarded the best protected area by a Mumbai based wildlife magazine.

The awards were instituted in 2000, to recognize and draw national attention to the contribution of individuals working for the protection of wildlife and natural habitats in India.

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This year, among various categories, Gir Sanctuary ( Junagadh, Gujarat ) was awarded for the best protected sanctuary. Chief conservator of forests R.L. Meena received the award on behalf of Gujarat. C.N. Pandey, the principal chief conservator of forests said: “The award was recognition of the conservation efforts of the state and especially the people of Saurashtra who have protected lions as their family. It was because of this convection that the population of lions increased to 411 according to the 2010 census.”

Officials said that talk of relocating Asiatic Lions from Gir ( Junagadh, Gujarat ) meet vehement protests from local maldharis. Despite the wild cats preying on nearly 6,000 domesticated animals in the forests, satellite areas and villages, locals consider the lions to be a part of their family.

Gir Forest ( Junagadh, Gujarat ) was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1965 with the main area declared a national park. Gradually, more lion habitats in adjoining regions were also declared sanctuaries and ultimately Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary ( Junagadh, Gujarat ) was created in 2007.

Several ecological studies were also conducted to identify problems and prepare a conservation project. This was followed by implementation of the Gir Lion Sanctuary project in 1973 to resettle maldharis.

Courtesy:- Times of India

Kyoto Protocol


Japan’s cultural hub reflects all that is so good about the country; modesty, punctuality and discipline

goldone pavilionWhen the destination takes precedence, some journeys pale into the distance. I have 24 hours to visit Kyoto after 15-hour flight into Japan, via Taiwan. There is barely enough time to gather the thoughts in my groggy head, or savour the sights as I shake off the jet lag, grab my knapsack and make my way through the throng to board a ‘Shinkansen’, the Japanese bullet train.

The wheezing sound of the aerodynamically-designed, long-snouted machine is intimidating as it snakes into the platform at Nagoya station.

‘On time, every time, to a second, ‘my Japanese acquaintance Kiko tells me. The Japanese are sticklers for punctuality and hate to keep their machines waiting. “if speed can kill the pleasure of a trip, this is it,” I say to myself with a chuckle I find hard to suppress in the organised bustle of the teeming station.

It takes a mere 50 minutes at 320 kmph from Nagoya to Japan’s cultural hub of Kyoto, a city of 1.5 million, famed for its Buddhist temples with incense hanging heavy in the dry air, expansive gardens, and gleaming palaces. On the train, you only catch a fleeting glimpse of the scenery as they whiz past: rice fields mostly and some traditional houses, so time is better spent training your eyes on the record-busting speed lighting up the digital display above and surveying the spare interiors of the economy class coach.

historic nijo castleA fellow traveller prefers a pose with a pretty cabin attendant – a relief from the stillness inside – which some tourists find amusing. Bored regulars on the line keep their heads down, glued to their tabs, phones and computers, their fingers messaging, mailing and typing. The joys of travel are lost in the hush of the high-speed rush. When caught up in the bustle of Japanese life, the journey often descends into an episode of vacant thoughts as the destination looms.

“The Japanese are a modest people, timid people,” another acquaintance Yamazaki tells me as we approach Kyoto. He is polite, looks at the floor and avoids eye contact, like many of his compatriots. The chatter and the throb of life at a station are missing despite the crowds. Every process appears programmed and every event is planned the way it is meant to be. A bit disconcerting really and, I really I may be a lonely traveller after all.

Outside the station, school kids wave and greet us with a sprinkling of English, a relief because language can be a challenge in the Land of the Rising sun. The Japanese are a content, inward-looking bunch, rarely showing emotion, you surmise. Kiko, I realise, has now turned into friend from an acquaintance, and her visage sports a broad grin. “I managed some shut eye, 20 minutes maybe, on the train,” she says. The mood is less formal now and I decide not to shun the sun anymore and step out of the covered confines of the station building.

japanese bullen trainThe children are also warming up to me and some of them as where i come from halting English. We start a conversation about Dubai and the world’s tallest building it has come to be famed for. They seem to understand and i am happy to quickly shed the lonely tag being amongst such bright, eager faces keen on a lesson in geography.

“The younger generation is more outgoing these days; they want to learn, explore and belong, ”Kiko makes a point, warming up to the topic. I sense a growing pride in the achievements of the island nation on an economic revival after two decades of tepid growth, and watch tourist groups from all over the country returning to their dressed in traditional kimonos.

I had arrived late for the cherry blossoms which disappeared a fortnight ago, but the cheery faces and bright sunshine is uplifting. You can smell and sense its larger purpose at the shrine we are visiting where gongs are sounded and heads bowed in reverence.

paintings in the ryoainji templeFor the Japanese, the Ryoanji Temple is a spiritual must-see shrine. A World Heritage Site, it was built as a country house by the Tokudaiji Clan, which was converted into a Zen training temple in 1450. I find the faithful meditating near its rock garden and linger for a closer look, move on to the pond, then to a wash basin where there is an inscription which reads: “I learn to be content.” I have 20 minutes and the rest of the tour has to done in a hurry, I am reminded by my guide. I take a quick walk to the Kuri, the main temple building with its sloping roofs, and some Japanese murals of creatures great and small.

It was in Kyoto, formerly known as Heian-kyo, that the geisha culture really took off in AD794. Geishas received huge attention in Western popular novel Memories of a Geisha, by American author Arthur Golden.

I am nervous by now and head out for some Kyoto white miso soup, tempura, a beef concoction, and some sticky rice with gravy at the Yoshikawa, a joint suggested by Kiko. I forget the Japanese names of the other dishes, but if you are a tempura fan, there are places all over Kyoto for a nibble that will delight the palate.

Sushi bars and restaurants abound in Japan’s seventh largest city, and important tourist destination located on the island of Honshu. I also noticed Egyptian, Indian, Lebanese and Iranian restaurants at street corners in the heart of the city.

japanese cuisineKyoto is best explored by bicycle or on foot. Summer is tourism season and bars and restaurants are thriving. Kiyamichi district, which runs along a canal, is the place to enjoy a night out in the city. I meet with Hamid, an Iranian expat, who runs two kabab joints here. He was welcomed in Japan after he fled his country during the revolution in 1979. He now has a Japanese wife and two kids. “The only problem I faced was learning Japanese, but i managed to pick it up in two years. Life has been better since,” he says.

The next morning is spent visiting the resplendent Golden Pavilion, or the Kinkaku, with its sloping roof covered in gold. Originally a villa owned by a nobleman named Saionji Kintsune, it was acquired by a Shogun, or feudal lord in 1397, and later converted into a shrine, where some relics of the Buddha are kept. Entry into the sanctum sanctorum is barred for visitors, but it is a sight to behold even from a distance, with the viewing area separated by a large pond.  A stroll in the compound can take an hour and you pass by a pretty wooden Teahouse, and an area for open-air Buddhist rituals.

zen zoneFor the less religiously inclined, there is the seat of valour, the Nijo Castle, a couple of kilometres away. Completed in 1626 by the third Shogun of the Tokugawa clan, it has lavish paintings, carvings and is one of the best examples of Momoyama culture from the 14th century.

The castle was returned to the Emperor by the last Shogun feudal lord in 1867 and is now a World Heritage Site.

I managed to watch a kimono fashion show at a mall before I rush to grab a few gifts at Nishiki market, a narrow two-kilometre long stretch which dates back to 1311. Some 200 shops sell traditional Japanese food, sweets, dried food and fish here. Paintings, kimonos and traditional Japanese fans and sweets are a good buy if you can suffer the smell of fish and other creatures of the deep.

nijo castleThe ‘Shinkanzen’ awaits for my ride back to Nagoya. It is fast, predictable, even inspiring if you are a fan of time travel. Kyoto was a trip into Japan’s past. Nagoya is the modern, industrial face of the country from where Toyota, Honda, Suzuki and other rule.

What better way to arrive here than on the bullet train? W

Courtesy by K.T.

traditional outfit

stepped walkways

stairway to heaven

Coasting Cornwall


A six—day coastal hike offers up the best of Cornish scenery, history and, of course, pasties

cornwall coast.jpegYou’ll find the best Cornish pasties in all of Cornwall in Porthleven,” the walker told me, leaning on the bar of the Tinners Arms in the village of Zennor. With his walking stick propped against a stool, he was your stereotypical British rambler, and his unshaven and tanned appearance suggested that he’d been hiking for many days. He was probably a long-hauler, walking the full 630 miles of England’s longest footpath — the spectacular South West Coast Path.

In a roller coaster of stunning scenery, the trail scales the tops of rugged cliff lines, descends into isolated sandy beaches where the only company for the walker are seals and gulls. It skirts the ruins of old tin mines, mounts numerous stiles over stone walls dating back to the Bronze Age, and drops each night into one of many traditional mining and fishing villages along the way.

The South West Coast Path is partly based on trails created by coastguards patrolling the area for the many smugglers that abounded in these parts up until the turn of the last century. For this reason, the path literally hugs the coast.

harbour town of St IvsWith limited time I’d chosen to walk  the most scenic six day section, walking from St Ives, around Land’s End  (Britain’s most westerly point) to Lizard Point (Britain’s most southerly point) — a total of 65 miles of Cornwall at its best.

It was an early September day punctuated with the raucous cries of seagulls. Down on St Ives harbour side, amusement arcades rang with the sounds of one-armed bandit machines, while the sea air was tinged with the sickly sweet aroma of candyfloss and toffee apples. Colourfully painted fishing boats were just returning with the day’s catch, salty characters loaded off their catch of crab, kippers and had dock, destined for the town’s numerous fish and chip shops.

In the early sunshine, I walked along the waterfront, past the Three Ferrets where I had indulged in a celebratory few the night before and climbed up the steep road lined with terraced fishermen’s cottages out on to the coastal heathland above the town.

village of porthlevenThe sea breeze whipped the tangy scents of salt and seaweed into our lungs as I pulled away from St Ives. The views of the rooftops soon slipped beyond the farmers’ fields and hedgerows. A few miles further on the going quickly got tough. The trail began a series of plunging descents into rock-strewn coves and torturously steep ascents on to headlands offering panoramic views of turquoise waters below.

The secretive nature of this rugged coastline was perfectly suited to the nefarious trade of smuggling, which for centuries was a way of line in Cornwall. In the 1800s, it became a highly recognised business. Elaborate codes using flashing lights or fires were sent from strategic positions in the numerous coves to let smuggling vessels know of the whereabouts of the excise men.

While walking, I imagined the clandestine landing parties pulling their heavily loaded boats up the beach, to be met by the local residents who, in the dead of night were waiting to cart the contraband away. The clifftops above provided the perfect lookout for anyone approaching from either direction along the coastal pathway.

For my first morning, seven miles wasn’t bad start, and the Tinners Arms, the one-time home of DH Lawrence in 1916, provided a welcome lunch stop. You will get an eyeful of the old copper mines in the next two days and be sure to have a pint at The Star in St Just,” continued the walker in sporadic bursts between mouthfuls of fisherman’s pie.

village of Mousehole“Well it’s all up and down from here to St Ives,” I replied. “And watch yourself around the badger’s sett near Polgassick Cove; it’s right on the path and big enough to fall into.” It was a typical exchange of walkers going in opposite directions on the path.

By 7.30pm that first evening, after a marathon 18 miles to St Just, a B&B had never looked so good and a watering down at The Star was just the ticket to wash away the salt and lubricate my aching muscles. The first day set the scene for the days to come and the good weather continued. Blazing blue skies and no hint of the infamous fogs that can turn the clifftop trail into a treacherous trap.

Day two offered everything the walker at the Tinners Arms had predicted. Like empty eye sockets, the windows of derelict mine pumping stations followed me as I strode past. Old chimneys pointed at the sky like bony fingers and mine shafts dug into sheer cliff faces disappeared into the depths of the earth.

lone outpostThe path skirted past the picturesque engine houses of the Crowns Shaft of Botallack perched far below on a rocky outcrop. The workings once stretched well under the sea and it was said that the miners could hear the boulders rumbling over the seabed above their heads. It was certainly a tough life in such a dangerous and wet environment.

Land’s End is a milestone and, for the British, this magnificent rugged headland marks the most westerly point of the country. For walkers, it is a paradox of beauty and ugliness, but, perhaps more significantly, it’s a left hand turn on the final stretch.

Peter de Savary’s theme park sits like an ugly white elephant on this iconic point. A vast river of cars streams into the car park, disgorging visitors set on having their photos taken under the famous signboard for a few quid. I felt a sense of smugness as I walked past the queue, continuing on my way.

Although mining is the focus along the rugged west Penwith Coast, as I turned east, fishing took over and quaint villages punctuated the gentler terrain. Dropping into hidey-hole villages like Mousehole and Porthleven was a highlight and the promised Cornish pasties at the Porthleven bakery were beyond expectations.

Fishing has long been the mainstay of the economy and many of the towns have wonderful medieval harbour walls where an assortment of colourful boats lies at varying degrees depending on the tide. This is quintessential Cornwall at its most picturesque.

My last stretch was a gentle amble along grassy cliff tips, climbing over numerous stone stiles between fields with only a few steep plunges into wide sandy bays.

After only six days of walking, it was with a tinge of regret that I first caught a glimpse of Lizard Point. The freedom of literally tramping through a land rich with natural beauty and history was addictive. And as I climbed up on to England’s most southerly point, I was already plotting another six days further along the South West Coast Path.

Courtesy by K.T.

chough bakery, padstow

cornish fishing village

beckoning shores

Driving The Causeway Coast – Northern Ireland


NORTHERN IRELAND’S SCENIC CAUSEWAY COAST OFFERS CHALLENGING LINKS GOLF, CHARMING SEASIDE TOWNS AND LEGENDARY IRISH HOSPITALITY

gofl in portrushRoyal Portrush golf course first sneaks into view from around a curve in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim Coast Road, it provides an unforgettable sight: its green fairways hiding amongst shaggy-topped sand dunes, the great headland of Inishowen contrasting vividly with the low line of the Skerries and the sea beyond.

Portrush belongs to one of the most glorious stretches of links land in all of Ireland. Along with Portstewart, Castlerock and Ballycastle, they comprise four of the most natural links courses you are ever likely to find so close together. Dotting the coastline, they are spread like gems — created by nature and linked together to form a necklace of beauty. This is golf with a uniquely Irish flavour.

Dunluce Castle

But it’s not only classic golfcourses that reign supreme here. Steeped in myth and legend and inhabited by giants, ghosts and banshees wailing through the sea mist, the Causeway Coast has one of the most dramatic coastlines in the British Isles. It is also home to the spectacular Giant’s Causeway and some wonderful seaside towns with legendary Irish hospitality.

“Fire away lads,” says the starter as I study the course guide and nervously draw a three-wood from the bag. Royal Portrush throws down the gauntlet right from the very first tee. Established in May 1888 and included in every list of the world’s top 100 golf courses, Portrush has long been regarded as a great test of a golfer’s skill. Had it been more suitable in other respects for staging a modern British Open Championship, it would almost certainly have held more than the one it did host in 195 1, when  England’s eccentric Max Faulkner lifted the trophy.

big footed - giant's causewayThis is links golf at its very best, with everything you expect to find on seaside courses — blind shots, deep pot bunkers, running fairways, lightning fast greens, strong winds and the taste of salt in the sea air. Not golf for the fainthearted, to-be-sure, to-be-sure…

There are plenty of great holes but there is one in particular that will almost certainly be etched in your memory long after you leave. This is the 210-yard par three 14th known as Calamity. It calls for an accurate long iron or hybrid shot that must not go right. To slice or push the ball will earn you an almost sure double bogey, because the links land falls away severely down a steep slope. Don’t be ashamed of taking a four at Calamity — threes are as rare as an unfriendly Irishman.

Acquiring a new supply of golf balls proves a more challenging task than losing them in the penalising rough of Portrush, so we head to nearby Bush-foot Golf Club, a quirky 9-hole course just down the road.

fourth best course outside us“l’ll take you to see Mary Neil, the local golf ball dealer,” says Hutch the affable barman, after we explain our predicament. Inside the small shed in Mary’s backyard, quality golf balls are neatly arranged in separate compartments. “The golfers keep losing them and I keep finding them,” says Mary with a smile. “I’ve found 1,900 golf balls since January. The price is £5 for twelve.” We stock up with a four-dozen assortment ready to face our next big challenge just a few kilometres up the coast — the classic links of Portstewart.

It’s a claim that’s often made — Portstewart has the best opening hole in Irish golf. Played from a high tee with topography that bucks and plunges like a raging river, the golfer needs more than the stunning coastal views of nearby Donegal to steady the nerves. But it is the sixth-hole, aptly named ‘Five Penny Piece’, which often proves the toughest challenge. Although only 125 metres, depending on the wind, it can call for anything from a three-iron to a wedge.

Over the next few days, we play some of the most challenging golf courses to be found anywhere. The driving in between is pure pleasure. The road hugs the coast with spectacular ocean views occasionally going through small towns that retain old seaside charm.

Just a few kilometres out of Portrush are the haunting ruins of Dunluce Castle that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. It perches precariously on the edge of a rocky headland, thanks to a violent storm in 1639 that caused a portion of the castle’s kitchen, along with the cooks to tumble into the sea. It was the main fort of the Irish MacDonnells chiefs of Antrim. Tours of the castle are offered regularly throughout the summer months.

Close by is the small town that is home to ‘Old Bushmills’ — the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world. It celebrated its 400th birthday in 2008 and behind that milestone is a tale of ingenuity, craftsmanship and a quest to perfect the art of distilling.

coastal charmsA couple of par-5’s away from Bushmills is the world famous Giant’s Causeway. Legend has it that the causeway— steps made up of thousands of hexagonal pillars that climb out of the Atlantic Ocean — was created by Finn MacCool, an Irish giant that lived along the Antrim Coast. The logical and less romantic version is that about 60 million years ago there was intense volcanic activity along the coast, after which the lava cooled very quickly. The uneven cooling rate resulted in the basalti contracting into hexagonal and octagonal pillar shapes.

Another attraction in the area is the stunning Carrick-a-rede rope bridge that spans a gaping chasm between the coast and a small island used by fishermen,

The terrifying 50-metre drop can be crossed via a swinging rope bridge — not an experience for the fainthearted. Tourism in Northern Ireland is definitely on the increase and visiting the Causeway Coast is a great place to begin. The golf courses are a string focus and there are plenty of other diversions, but it will ultimately be the people you meet that will make the most lasting impression.Portstewart

Lone Win

rope bridge

ACTIVE BALI


active bali

Forget Eat Pray Love, this Indonesian getaway is real appeal lies in its action adventure offerings.

Its lush green rice paddies, pretty white sand beaches, plethora of spas and retreats and frequent colourful festivals make Bali the obvious choice for a relaxing getaway. But not all of us love spending ten days sprawled out on a beach towel soaking up rays. Thankfully, the island’s incredible landscape makes it ideal for numerous activities to inject a little excitement into your trip, too.  Despite its tiny size, each area of the island is quite distinctive, so it’s worth hopping around every few days to experience the best Bali has to offer.

Ubud is perhaps the best known spot, due to its starring role in the ‘Love’ section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s  book (and subsequent film) Eat Pray Love, and the town certainly has a lot  to offer those looking for the same spiritual awakening (some may say midlife crisis) she experienced. The activities available are somewhat serene and, as such, draw those attracted to its slow pace, vegan cafés and the possibility of meeting their very own hunky Javier Bardem.

If you spend any time in the town’s cafés munching on raw cakes and spirulina and berry smoothies (and you absolutely should), you can’t fail to notice leaflets and posters promoting Yoga Barn. The studio offers the usual power yoga and Iyengar to help you destress and lengthen those limbs as well as some more, ahem, unusual activities such as ecstatic dance (dancing like a loony), crystal bowl meditation and sound healing. It’s easy to get swept up in this way of life in a town that wafts with the smell of incense from every temple and seems to encourage clean living and a slower lifestyle with its café culture and pretty surrounds.

To complement your yoga, most of  the town’s guesthouses rent out cheap  bicycles which can be used to explore  the jaw-droppingly beautiful (and  sometimes surprisingly steep) lanes  and roads that wind through the temples and the green rice paddies which  are stacked up on hillsides surrounding  the village. Make sure you remember to pack a camera and plenty of water!

But if Ubud is a little too laid-back to satisfy the adrenaline junkie in you, Kuta is the best spot for some of Bali’s best known activities. People flock to Kuta for its long beaches and great surf.  Whether you’re a beginner or you could  show the Balinese beach boys a thing  or two, the whole town is set up to ensure you have access to everything you need to hit the waves and show off your skills. Unfortunately, that comes at a price. The town is far from beautiful, except the beach, which remains relatively unspoilt. It is no doubt the ugliest part of Bali, and is lined with western style pubs and restaurants and was the site of the tragic Bali bombing in 2002. By day, everyone hits the beach for surf school and to show off their toned abs while at night the town comes alive with thumping music pumping out of a whole street full of clubs.

sanur beachBut to base yourself in Kuta would mean missing out on some of Bali’s most dramatic and beautiful sights so ensure that, if you want to surf, you also allow time to pack up your belongings and stay in a hotel elsewhere for at least a few nights. It is also worth nothing that Kuta is not the be all and end all of water sports on the island. While it is the best spot for surfing and kite surfing thanks to its impressive waves, stand up paddle boarding can be done almost anywhere. Schools tend to be based around the Sanur area which is free from surfers and allows beginners to learn on flat waters before progressing to catching waves on their very first lesson.

If you’d rather keep your feet on dry land, one of the best ways to take in Bali’s coast, temples, mountains and rice paddies is to take an organised bike trip through the very best the island has to offer. There are a clutch of companies offering tours ranging from simple loops around Ubud (which are easy enough to navigate alone) or more advanced trips, such as the popular Mt

lake batur

Batur Crater Rim to Batur Lake route, which involves a hair-raising descent from 1,700m above sea level with the sea on one side and the crater on the other for a lengthy 35.9km. There are a mind-boggling number of companies offering guided tours of most parts of the island, ranging from easy loops of Ubud to challenging mountain descents.

If you’re not very confident on two wheels, you can also scale the island’s volcanoes by foot. In fact, hiking in Bali is big business and there are a number of hikes you can arrange with a guide or for smaller trips, set off on alone. One of the most popular is the sunrise hike to Bali’s tallest mountain, Gunung Agung, which involves a mostly dark trek up the mountain, rewarded with a spectacular sunrise when you reach the top. Many people consider this one of Bali’s most rewarding experiences. There are also numerous hikes through paddy fields, thick forest and waterfalls and hidden temples. If you decide to  hike, do your research in advance to  find out if a guide is needed (sometimes  scammers will tell you a guide is necessary when it isn’t, but in other spots an experienced guide is essential), find out  what you should wear for the journey  and if there are any permits you need  for the walk. A good concierge or tourist information centre will be able to discuss this with you.

A trip to Bali isn’t complete without a little diving or snorkelling. Nearby islands of Lombok and the Gili’s are great for exploring the ocean, but you can find plenty of spots on Bali that are teeming with marine life too. The most popular spot for snorkelers and divers alike on the island is Pulau Menjangan, where you’ll find a reef alive with parrotfish, clownfish

snorkeller

and corals as well as exciting caves and drops in which to explore the local flora and fauna. Tulamben is another option, offering a sunken freighter just metres from the shore, making it perfect for easy snorkelling. Ten days is a good amount of time to spend hopping around the island by taxi or bus and take in its best activities and sights. Travel from one side of the island to the other can take just a few hours if you go directly (significantly more if you take a bus).

The best news is that however active you are, you can rejuvenate your aching body for pocket change. In Bali, you are never far from a great Balinese massage, the island’s traditional and well known techniques of acupressure, skin rolling, and stroking using essential oils to stimulate the lymphatic system. Those who are really interested in the technique can take a short course to master the massage – which is both a brilliantly selfish present and the best souvenir you can take back to friends and family! Everyone is a winner.

Courtesy by K.T.

A WALK IN THE CLOUDS


It is a dramatic opening act to an adventurous sojourn. There was a nail-biting and heart-in-the-mouth landing at Paro airport, after lurching through the serrated peaks of some of the highest mountains in the world and a brilliant blue sky. The immaculate airport looks more like an ornate tiered castle with carved windows and wooden roofs – an appropriate portal to this last Shangri-La.

bhutan-traditional outfitI arrive in this country with a blessing –with a sungkeye or a red thread tied on my wrist by a Buddhist priest, warding off evil spirits. Bhutan moves as its own rhythm –sequestered in self-imposed isolation over the years and today following a unique ‘low volume, high value tourism policy’. What is unique about this country is that it has never been conquered, never been occupied by any foreign power. Change came to this Utopia slowly; television and internet in 1999 and cell phones in 2003.

Bhutan is rigidly traditional in so many ways. Even today the Bhutanese life is governed by Driglam Namzhe – an official dress, behaviour and architecture code that traces its roots to Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the Tibetan lama and military leader who sought to unify Bhutan.

The Bhutanese are required to wear traditional dress in schools, public offices and at official functions. The men wear the Kimono-like gho, cinched at the waist like a kilt, with incongruous knee length socks and shoes and the women wear the wrap-around skirts with three panels called kira with silk jackets. Many Bhutanese still walk miles on mountain paths to schools and fields and cook on wood stoves.

traditional architectureI love the traditional architecture which is prevalent throughout the country – exquisitely crafted wooden roofs, painted windows, columns and beams. Motifs of double dorjes or thunderbolts with colourful clouds, dragons and lotuses adorn the houses. Most of the agriculture is still done by traditional methods; crops are mostly harvested by hand.

Everywhere I see the unquestioning reverence for the monarch – a whiff of fresh air to my senses jaded by corrupt politicians. “We love our king” is the constant refrain that I hear when I notice locals sporting badges of the royal couple. The perfect counterpoint to all the tradition is the night clubs where young Bhutanese in jeans and spiky hairdos dance the night away.

Uma Paro

Our boutique Hotel Uma Paro looks like a rustic dzong, built in the traditional architectural style of Bhutan, with shingles held down by small stones, well crafted cornices, carved and hand-painted windows and minimalistic interiors.

Our spacious villa comes with a butler – gentle Sengay is our Man Friday, our guide and fountainhead of all things local. He offers archery lessons, lights a wood fire in the room and plans our itinerary. I am reminded of Linda Leaming in her book Married to Bhutan when i meet Sengay: “if I had to name the biggest difference between Bhutan and the rest of the world, I could do it in one world, civility”.

Paro’s main street is short, filled with stout two-storied buildings with rickety stairs draped with swathes of scarlet chillies, small cafes, prayer wheels and handicraft shops. The Rinpung Dzong looms ahead with its roofs and eaves, a striking contrast against the craggy mountains. Dzong were impregnable fortress meant to keep the Tibetan invaders out – today they house monks, temples and serve as the administrative headquarters. Traditionally they were built with no written plan and no nails.

Rinpung dzongAs I enter the dzong, saffron-robed monks scurry across the stone courtyard. I am entranced by the murals and carvings – a sensory overload with motifs drawn from local culture with gods and goddesses, demons and thunderbolts all women into a fascinating narrative. My favourite is the depiction of the legend of the Four Harmonious Friends, a favourite Buddhist tale. Four animals cooperate here to plant a seed, grow a fruit tree, and harvest its fruit to share with each other.

I visit the Dumsteg Lhakhang or the iron bridge temple and learn about the iron bridge builder Thangton Gyelpo, a Tibetan spritiual master who brought the knowledge of ironwork to Bhutan. He is said to have built more than 108 iron suspension bridges around Bhutan and Tibet. This iron bridge lama seems multi faceted – he used to compose folk songs and indulged in opera too!

Chelela PassWe drive through vertiginous forests of spruce, fir and juniper, with wispy lichen draped on silver fir trees, rejuvenated by the deep mountain silence, passing shaggy yaks at higher altitudes. We crunch our way on icy roads to the highest point on Bhutanese roads, the Chele La Pass with a panoramic view of the Himalayas and the second highest peak Jhomolhari. In typical Bhutanese style, the mountains cannot be climbed as they are revered and holy. Through the gossamer folds of multi-coloured prayer flags, weathered by wind and rain, I look down at the photogenic Haa Valley, only recently opened to tourism. Prayer flags flap in the wind all over the country,carrying prayers to heaven like invisible Morse code- for good luck, protection form an illness or help in achieving a goal.

All along the road, we pass crevices in rocks filled with tsa tsa – small triangular mud pies, painted white or gold, contained ashes of departed souls. We hike up to the Kila La Nunnery, clinging to a vertical cliff where more than sixty nuns live in self-imposed isolation, spending their time in meditation and social service. I get a glimpse of the maroon-robed nuns as they go about their daily routine, many of them teenagers. I understand that many families send at least one son or daughter to be a monk and serve humanity in order to earn “heavenly merit”.

Back at the hotel, I soak in traditional hot stone bath to relieve my tired traveller’s muscles. Heated river stones are used to warm the waters, treated with Himalayan salts and infused with camphor leaves. When you strike a Buddhist singing bowl, unseen hands in the next room send a stone rolling down the chute.

National sport of Bhutan ArcheryEven Bhutan’s entertainment is old-fashioned and quaint. Archery competitions can be witnessed throughout Paro and its outskirts, where women pack lunch and cheer the men on and teams celebrate their hits at targets 140 metres away with a victory twirl, a song and dance and trophies of brightly coloured scarves added to their waistbands. I get a glimpse of the influence of the outside world – the Bhutanese spend a lot of money on their hobby and do not use bamboo but expensive high tech carbon fibre bows and arrows!

We visit the National Museum high up on a hill, which used to be an old watchtower of the dzong and was renovated to become a museum. This peculiar circular building is filled with wooden carvings, coin collections, the biggest mask in Bhutan and a stamp gallery showcasing the culture and history of the country over the years. Bhutan is a heaven for stamp collectors – with a variety of stamps, some even with recordings in them.

Far away I see the iconic Tiger’s Nest monastery, clinging to a vertiginous granite cliff strung with colourful prayer flags, where Guru Rinpoche is said to have arrived in the 8th century, on the back of a flying tigress. I regretfully file it under my mental list of “things to do on my next trip”. I wish I was blessed with a capacious pair of lungs but I am not taking chances with the water thin air that has already made me heady.

The winds of change are blowing over this pristine kingdom. In 2006, the fourth king who was a visionary (he set up health care systems, hydroelectric schemes, and banned western-type buildings) not only voluntarily gave up the throne to his son but also ordered that the country hold its first democratic elections. The last Shangri-La may not be as insulated from the modern world as it has been for centuries. May be the best time to see Bhutan is now.

Courtesy by K.T.

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