Pak SC lifts ban on hunting Houbara bustard


Islamabad:

Pakistan’s supreme court on Friday lifted a ban on the hunting of the Houbara bustard, an endangered migratory bird, whose meat is prized by elite Arab sheikhs for its aphrodisiac value.

The ban on the Houbara bustard, about the size of a chicken, was imposed by former chief justice Jawwad S Khawaja on August 20 last year; who also ordered the cancellation of all exiting permits by government to Arab rules. The federal and provincial governments in October had challenged the ban, pleading that sustainable hunting should be allowed.

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The petitioners had pleaded to the SC that issuing permits for hunting of the endangered bird to Arab dignitaries was part of foreign policy

A five-member larger bench headed by chief justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali lifted the ban in a verdict on the review petitions, although the decision was not unanimous, with one dissenting note by justice Qazi Faez Isa, whoo opposed the bench’ order.

The petitioners had pleaded that issuing hunting permits to Arab dignitaries was part of foreign policy. The atorney general Salman Buttasked the SC to allow “sustainable hunting” of the bird. Pakistan enjoys good ties with elite Arabs who love hunting Houbara using falcons and travel to Balochistan every winter to kill the bustard. The bird is listed in the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals and is declared as an endangered species.

Vegetarian delights in Korea


Vegetarian delights in Korea

Sandeep Narang

If you are a traveller packaged in a group tour, your travel agent will certainly fix up the dinners for you at an Indian restaurant. And there are plenty of them! Seoul ranks eighth in the top 25 global cities, so it does not come as a surprise that a quick search on TripAdvisor nets 106 Indian restau-rants with ubiquitous names –  Taj, Ganga, Om, Bombay Grill, New Delhi, Shanti …  with the Jyoti restaurant (www. jyotifood.com), near Sinchon station being ranked #12 of 12,969 listed restaurants.

If you are yearning for that Naan, or missing your post- meal papad, Seoul has it all. And it will all be below $25 per person (probably with a beer thrown in). Almost all Indian restaurants serve North Indian or Punjabi food. Most of them have multiple branches, so check out the one closest to your hotel. Chances are wherever you might be in Seoul, you will not be a few blocks away from Indian food. The Indian res taurants are run either by a Nepali, or a Pakistani capitalising on the brand name India. Some are run by Indians.

Here’s your daal-roti check area-wise in Seoul:

Gangnam: Ganga Gangnam (ganga.co.kr), Luna Asia, Durga

Itaewon: Agra Indian Dining Restaurant, Ashoka and Chakra (chakra.co.kr) — serves South Indian food too.

Jongno-gu: Durga (durga.co.kr) , Himalayan (hirnaloyanrest. corn) — yes, you have to walk up three floors, Taj Palace (tajpalace.co.kr), Om (omfood.kr)

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Sinchon: Namaste (narnasterestaurant. co.kr), Manokamna, Amma

Other: Shanti (shanti , Taj (taj.co.kr) , Everest(everes corn)

Kimchi

Kimchi is Korea’s national dish. The Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul has documented 187 varieties of kimchi. Some kimchi facts googled:

  • During South Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the government requested American help to ensure that South Korean troops, reportedly “desperate” for the food, could obtain it in the field; South Korean President Park Chung-hee told US President Lyndon B Johnson that kimchi was “vitally important to the morale of Korean troops.”
  • Kimchi was sent to space on board Soyuz TMA-12 with Yi So-yeon after a multi- million dollar research effort to kill the bacteria and lessen the odour without affecting taste.
  • South Koreans consume 40 pounds (18 kg) of kimchi per person annually, and many credit their industrious energy, and its impact on their nation’s rapid economic growth, in part to eating the dish.
  • Kimchi is made of various vegetables and contains a high concentration of dietary fibre while being low in calories. One serving also provides over 50 per cent of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin C and carotene.

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  • Health magazine named kimchi in its list of top five World’s Healthiest Foods’ for being rich in vita mins, aiding digestion and even possibly reducing cancer growth.
  • A study conducted by the Seoul National University found that chicken infected with the H5N1 virus recovered after eating food containing bacteria found in kimchi.

We got Kimchi with every meal, and sometimes we did not even realise it was kimchi!

Jeoneun chaeshikjooeeja imnida (I’m a vegetarian)

Coming to Korea as a vegetarian is a little disconcerting, the concept is quite foreign to most Koreans. But, relax. Indian food is not a problem; there are plenty of vegetarian dishes in Indian restaurants: aloo gobi, dal bukhara, palak paneer sarnosa, mango lassi…. But if you are one of those who wouldn’t touch a diner that serves meat even with a barge pole, then you have a serious issue.

Temple Food

A highlight of my visit to Seoul was a dinner hosted by RI Director Sangkoo Yun and his gracious wife, Eun Sun a Buddhist temple meal at the Barn Gongyang. Korean temple food is a 1,700 years old tradition to a Buddhist monk, eating is more than enjoying good taste and nutrition; it is also a process of seeking the truth. The food is distinguished by the philosophy that all living things depend on each other for existence. Non-veg ingredients are prohibited, and also banned are pungent vegetables green onions, garlic and chives. Temple food is nature- friendly, healthy, simple and light, bringing out the natural flavour of the ingredients. The grand- daddy of temple food is Sanchon, a decades-old mainstay of Seoul’s tradition-focused Insadong neighbourhood — a must-do vegetarian gastro nomical experience.

Barn Gongyang is operated by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Located on the fifth floor of the landmark Templestay Information Centre across the Jogyesa Temple, the place offers the urban diner a superb chance to experience first class Buddhist temple food without having to trek to a temple on some distant mountainside. The decor is appropriately Zen, and if you’re lucky you may get to sit in the Korean-style floor sitting section. The food is 100 percent vegetarian. Prices: $20 —$40. Getting there: Exit 2, Jonggak Station, Line 1. Walk 70m to Jogyesa Temple. The Temple Stay Information Centre is across the street.

There are plenty of temple food spots in Seoul (you may even consider temple stay options for lodging).

Check out the website http://www.happycow.net for veg restaurant options in Seoul or Loving Hut (www.lovinghut.kr), the international chain of vegan restaurants opened by followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai. Oh Se Gae Hyang in Insadong; PLANT in Itaewon; So True in Gangnam-gu and Veggie Holic Bakery (wwwveggieholic.co.kr) are few more. The Store Sajik-dong in Jongno-gu serves only vegetarian and vegan Tibetan and Indian style curries and dosa and chai including soy milk options.

If this does not help there are plenty of fruits available or look at opening a Haldiram in Seoul— great business opportu nity there. And, of course come loaded with plenty of theplas, acchar khakara, bhujia, burfi — I will be looking out for you.

At the Seoul Promotion meeting the issue about avail ability of vegetarian Indian food at the venue, Kintex was discussed at large. The Korean Host Organising Committee has assured that there will be Indian food aplenty, not only for the 4,000 targeted Indian delegates, but also for delegates from other countries who might go in for Indian food.

(The writer is D 3250 PDG and Regional Convention Promotion Coordinator.)

Rangiloo Rajkot


Rajkot is the fourth largest city in the state of Gujarat. Rajkot was once the capital of the princely State of Saurashtra, before its merger in to the Bombay State on 1st of November, 1956. The sprawling city of Rajkot is located on the backs of River Aji and Nirari, and lies in the centre of Saurashtra. It is flourishing of industrial hub with wide streets and distinctly urban architecture. The typical Kathiawari hospitality greets people from all walks of life. Here complicated business deals are struck over cups of tea, jalebi-fafda and ice-cream. The city over the years has earned the title ‘Rangiloo Rajkot’ and the exuberance of the people more than live up to the name.

Today it is best known as the town where Mahatma Gandhi spent the early years of his life, when his father was the Diwan or Prime Minister to the Raja of Saurashtra.

Welcome to the land of fun, frolic and food!

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Places to visit…

Rajkumar College

This is one of the oldest colleges founded in India, by the princes and chiefs of Kathiawar for the education of the princely order. The RKC was opened to the public ini 1939 and is one of Rajkot’s most esteemed schools. A series of buildings in Indo-Gothic architecture, characterizez this 25 acre campus, exuding an old world charm.

RKC rajkot

Rajkumar College

Location: Dr. Radhakrishnan Road, Gavliwad.

Timing: Across the day, every day. Permission to be obtained from the Principal’s office for touring the campus.

For more Details: +91 281 2466064/248 1032

Rashtriya Shala

Rashtriya Shala was established in 1921 by the erstwhile ruler of Rajkot, Lakhaji Raj Thakore, in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi to serve as a national educational institution. From 1934 Khadi spinning and weaving were introduced here. Today this institution is involved in reviving Patola weaving techniques.

rashtriya shala rajkot

Rashtriya Shala

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Location: 3 km from Rajkot railway station.

Timings: 09:00 am to 12:00 noon.

For more details: +91 281 2466076

Mayur Patola Art

Rajkot has quickly developed a Patola-weaving industry. This skill comes from Patan, and is a torturous process that involves dyeing each thread before it is woven. However, in Patan both the warp and weft threads are dyed (double ikat ), whereas in Rajkot only the weft is dyed (single ikat ), so the product is more affordable. You can visit workshops that are located in people’s houses in the Sarvoday Society area, including Mayur Patola Art , behind Virani High School.
Address: Sarvoday Society

Telephone: +91 281 2464519

Opening hours: 10am-6pm

Watson Museum

The Watson Museum is named after Colonel John Watson, a political agent (administrator) in the 1880s who gathered many historical artefacts and documents from around Saurashtra. It’s a jumbled attic of a collection, featuring 3rd-century inscriptions, delicate ivory work, and taxidermy exhibits put together by someone with a bizarre sense of humor.

watson museum

Rajkumar College

Address: Jubilee Gardens

Prices: Indian/foreigner: 5/50

Opening hours: 9am-12.45pm & 3-6pm Thu-Tue, closed 2nd & 4th Sat of the month

Kaba Gandhi No Delo

This is the house where Gandhi lived from the age of six (while his father was diwan of Rajkot), and it contains lots of interesting information on his life. It now holds a permanent exhibition of Gandhian items called Gandhi Smriti. The house offers a pictorial tour of the Mahatma’s life with captions in both Hindi and Gujarati. The Mahatma’s passion for the handloom is preserved in the form of a small weaving school.

kaba gandhi no delo rajkot

Rajkumar College

Address: Kadiya Nav Line, Street No. 8, Sri Lakhajraj Road, Lohana Para.

 

Opening hours: 09:00 am to 12:00 pm and 03:00 pm to 06:00 pm.

Bangdi Bazaar

The market in the old part of the city is a maze of narrow alleyways, lanes and dead ends. Shop fronts and foot paths display an array of embroidered fabrics, beadwork, bandhanis and readymade material.

Location: Kanak Road in the Old City.

Lang Library

It is an institution over a hundred years old which commemorates the memory of Col. Lang. Originally stared as Vidya Gun Prakash in 1856, it came to be finally housed in the present building in 1893.

Temptations

RESTAURANT

Hugely popular with families, Mexican, Italian, falafel, baked potatoes, parathas (thick flat bread with stuffings such as vegetables or paneer) and South Indian are served in a clean, brightly decorated, well air-conditioned cafe.
Address: Kasturba Rd

Lord’s Banquet

RESTAURANT

Location: Rajkot , India

Address: Kasturba Rd

Telephone: +91 281 2444486

Opening hours

12.30-3.30pm & 7.30-11.30pm

Patel Ice Cream

Home made type/unpasteurized ice cream: Especially seasonal flavours like ginger, Sitafal (Custard Apple), Mango

Address: Sadar Bajar, Race Course

Chouki Dhani, Rajkot

RESTAURANT/HOTEL

chouki dhani rajkot

Rajkumar College

Address: Near All India Radio Tower, Jamnagar Road, Rajkot. Gujarat. India
Mobile: 91-99789 55595
Phone: 91-281-6544664 / 6543664
Website: www.ChoukiDhani.com

Heritage Khirasara palace

RESTAURANT/HOTEL

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Khirsara Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Address: Kalawad Road, Near Metoda G.I.D.C.Khirsara, Kalawad Road, Khirasra, Rajkot, Gujarat 360021, India

Cell: +91 99130 77077
Tel: +91 2827 234444
Web: www.khirasarapalace.in

Places to see around Rajkot…

Virpur: Located here is the Jalaram Bapa temple, a popular pilgrimage sire and the former residence of the saint and social reformer. He dedicated his life to selfless service. During his late teens Bapa and his wife established a sadavrat, offering food to people at all hours. Nobody returned hungry from their doorstep.

Khambhalida Caves: At Khambhalida there are three caves, the central one called ‘chaitya’ has a worn-out stupa. The entrance of the ‘chaitya’ is flanked by two large sculptures of the Bodhisattvas – Padmapani on the right and Vajrapani on the left. The caves date back to the 4th-5th century AD and are carved out from the local limestone rock.

Gujarat Trip: Somnath & Diu


Somnath

Temple of Somnath

SIGHTS / RELIGIOUS

Location: Somnath , India

Opening hours: 6am-9pm

It’s said that Somraj (the moon god) first built a temple here, made of gold; this was rebuilt by Ravana in silver, by Krishna in wood and by Bhimdev in stone. The current serene, symmetrical structure was built to traditional designs on the original coastal site: it’s painted a creamy colour and boasts a little fine sculpture. The large, black Shiva lingam at its heart is one of the 12 most sacred Shiva shrines, known as jyoti linga.

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Somnath Temple

A description of the temple by Al-Biruni, an Arab traveller, was so glowing that it prompted a visit in 1024 by a most unwelcome tourist – the legendary looter Mahmud of Ghazni from Afghanistan. At that time, the temple was so wealthy that it had 300 musicians, 500 dancing girls and even 300 barbers. Mahmud of Ghazni took the town and temple after a two-day battle in which it’s said 70,000 Hindu defenders died. Having stripped the temple of its fabulous wealth, Mahmud destroyed it. So began a pattern of Muslim destruction and Hindu rebuilding that continued for centuries. The temple was again razed in 1297, 1394 and finally in 1706 by Aurangzeb, the notorious Mughal ruler. After that, the temple wasn’t rebuilt until 1950.

Cameras, mobile phones and bags must be left at the cloakroom before entering. Colourful dioramas of the Shiva story line the north side of the temple garden, though it’s hard to see them through the hazy glass. A one-hour sound-and-light show highlights the temple nightly at 7.45pm.

Prabhas Patan Museum

SIGHTS / MUSEUMS & GALLERIES

Location: Somnath , India

Prices: Indian/foreigner 5/50

Opening hours: 10.30am-5.30pm Thu-Tue, closed 2nd & 4th Sat of the month

This museum, 300m north of the Somnath temple, is laid out in courtyard-centred rooms and contains remains of the previous temples, some intricately carved, though many are very weathered.

Diu

Diu is different. This tiny island linked by a bridge to Gujarat’s southern coast is infused with Portuguese history; its major architectural landmarks include three churches and a seafront fort; the streets of the main town are remarkably clean and quiet once you get off the tourist-packed waterfront strip; and alcohol is legal here. If you’ve been spending time immersed in the intensity of Gujarati cities, or just really need a beer, Diu offers a refreshing break.

Despite its draw as a seaside destination, Diu is not a great choice for a beach-centric vacation. Most of its sandy strips are littered with trash, and the throngs of families make them better for people-watching than sun-worshipping. Add in the random drunk-guy factor and any fantasies you have of a tropical paradise will surely be dashed. Diu, however, is one of the safest places in India to ride a scooter, with minimum traffic and excellent roads, and zipping along the coast with the wind in your hair is a joy.

Like Daman and Goa, Diu was a Portuguese colony until taken over by India in 1961. With Daman, it is still governed from Delhi as part of the Union Territory of Daman & Diu and is not part of Gujarat. It includes Diu Island, about 11km by 3km, separated from the mainland by a narrow channel, and two tiny mainland enclaves. One of these, housing the village of Ghoghla, is the entry point to Diu from Una.

Diu town sits at the east end of the island. The northern side of the island, facing Gujarat, is tidal marsh and salt pans, while the southern coast alternates between limestone cliffs, rocky coves and sandy beaches.

The island’s main industries are fishing, tourism, alcohol and salt. Kalpana Distillery at Malala produces rum from sugar cane.

One custom of the Portuguese still very much respected by local businesses is that of the siesta, meaning you shouldn’t count on much being open in mid-afternoon.

Diu Fort

SIGHTS / MILITARY

Location: Diu , India

Opening hours: 8am-6pm

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Diu Fort

Built in 1535, with additions made in 1541, this massive, well-preserved Portuguese fort with its double moat (one tidal) must once have been impregnable, but sea erosion and neglect are leading to a slow collapse. Cannonballs litter the place, and the ramparts have a superb array of cannons. The lighthouse, which you can climb, is Diu’s highest point, with a beam that reaches 32km. There are several small chapels, one holding engraved tombstone fragments.Part of the fort also serves as the island’s jail.

St Paul’s Church

A wedding cake of a church, founded by Jesuits in 1600 and then rebuilt in 1807. Its neoclassical facade is the most elaborate of any…

Diu Museum

A spooky, evocative collection of old Catholic saint statues inside St, Thomas’ Church.

St Thomas’ Church

A simple church that now houses a museum.

O’Coqueiro

Here, the dedicated Kailash Pandey has developed a soul-infused garden restaurant celebrating freshness and quality. The menu offers…

Vanakbara

SIGHTS / NEIGHBOURHOODS & VILLAGES

Vanakbara information

Location: Diu , India

At the extreme west of the island, Vanakbara is a fascinating little fishing village and the highlight of the island. It’s great to wander around the port, packed with colourful fishing boats and bustling activity – best around 7am to 8am when the fishing fleet returns and sells off its catch.

Beaches

SIGHTS / BEACHES, ISLANDS & WATERFRONTS

Location: Diu , India

Nagoa Beach , on the south coast of the island 7km west of Diu town, is long, palm-fringed and safe for swimming – but trash-strewn and very busy, and often with drunk men: foreign women receive a lot of unwanted attention. Two kilometres further west begins the sandy, 2.5km sweep of Gomptimata Beach . This is often empty, except on busy weekends, but it gets big waves – you need to be a strong swimmer here. Within walking distance of Diu town are the rocky Jallandhar Beach , on the town’s southern shore; the longer, sandier Chakratirth Beach , west of Jallandhar; and pretty Sunset Point Beach , a small, gentle curve beyond Chakratirth that’s popular for swimming and relatively hassle-free. Sunset Point itself is a small headland at the south end of the beach, topped by the INS Khukhri Memorial , commemorating an Indian Navy frigate sunk off Diu during the 1971 India–Pakistan War. Unfortunately the region around Sunset Point is also a dumping ground, and any early-morning excursion will reveal that the tidal zone here is a popular toilet venue.

The best beach is Ghoghla Beach , north of Diu. A long stretch of sand, it’s got less trash and fewer people than the others, along with gentle waves and some decent restaurants behind it.

Padhaaro Mhaare Des…


…or ‘welcome to our city’ exemplifies the spirit of Jodhpur — a canvas of Rajasthani culture

Ever thought the colour used by locals to paint their homes — in a bid to ward off insects —would become synonymous with the city? In the past, Jodhpur suffered from a major termite problem —so the residents started adding copper sulphate to their whitewashes, which lent the city its pristine blue-indigo hue. The Blue City is really blue!

Modem Jodhpur stretches well beyond the city walls, but it’s within the walled city that you find the Rajasthan of your imagination – the hustle-bustle, the colours, and the larger-than-life Mehrangarh Fort At the base of the mighty fort is a jumble of blue cubes that stretches out to the 10 km-long, 16th-century city wall. Inside are vibrant, entangled and bustling medieval streets — all of which never seem to lead where you want them to… The shops sell everything from vintage home decor items and temple decorations to colourful clothes and accessories. The colourful rickshaws here are super slim since they have to squeeze through the narrow streets. They make for a great travel option.

RAJPUTANA SPLENDOUR

The colossal and grand Mehrangarh Fort, which rises 400 sq ft above the city, looks nothing less than a page out of a fairy tale. The imprint of Jodhpur’s erstwhile royal family, built by Maharaja Jaswant Singh in the 17th century, it is the defining feature of this otherwise low-rise landscape. If you aren’t visiting Jodhpur in winter, make sure you reach the fort early to skip the midday sun. You don’t need a ticket to enter the fort; only the muse um section requires one. Packed with history, Mehran- garh Fort houses one of the best- kept collections of regal parapherna lia in the country. What you see is a mag nificent collection of silver elephant how dahs, gilded palanquins, carved ivory, weapons inlaid with gold and jewels, rare pieces of textile, and some of the world’s finest miniature paintings. You’ll be amazed to see elaborate cradles of infant princes and the extensive zenana (where maharanis lived) with dainty filigree win dows. Make sure to hire a guide to take you through the palatial labyrinth, great hall ways and long corridors and hear fascinating stories about the heroism of the leg endary Rajput warriors of Marwar. You can also consider spending the afternoon in its small cafe, sipping chilled beer or wine, lounge under shady trees reading a book or simply enjoy the spectacular views of the city. There are some curio shops too; you can take back valuable merchandise like a Jodhpuri earring or a maharaja pen as memento. For adventur seekers, there’s the flying fox zip- 1 line tour, which runs below the fort.

jashwath thada jodhpur

When in Jodhpur, a visit to Umaid Bhavan is a must. If your budget doesn’t permit you to stay there, go for dinner or drinks at its scenic restuarant where the verandah of fers a lavish view of the palace gardens. Indulge in some Rajasthani delicacies (ker sangri and laal maas) generously spread on silver platters. Visitors aren’t admitted dur ing all seasons, so call in advance to make a reservation. Again, casual visitors are not allowed inside the palace as the current royal bearer Gaj Singh II still lives in the premises. But you can certainly visit the museum by paying a nominal entry free. Pictures of artistic palace interiors, a collection of antique clocks and the maharaja’s vintage cars are eye-catching.

ALL THINGS ETHNIC

You’ll find steps leading to the marketplace all around the Ghanta Ghar. The area somehow creates an aura that is hard to resist. Though loud, dusty and a tad dirty, the bylanes sell wares, spices, metal bangles, Jodhpun jootis, Rajasthani turbans, and loads of mithais and snacky items you can munch on during a shopping spree. The city is popularly known for its antique fur niture emporiums. There are a few near Ghanta Ghar too. If you love investing in retro, unique home decor pieces and fur nishings in Indian prints, it’s impossible to leave empty-handed. From coloured-glass lanterns and vintage posters to jaali-work wooden frames and quirky painted metal trunks, you’ll find them all. As a souvenhi you can pick a signature Jodhpuri re versible block-print quilt that is known to have a cooling effect in summer and acts as an insulator against the cold in the harsh winter cold.

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Village market, Jodhpur

FESTIVAL ALERT!

Lose yourself to the sacred sounds and dance performances by the best artiste line-up from across the globe at Mehrangarh Fort that is lit by the sparkling incandescence of a thousand candles.

World Sacred Spirit Festival (Feb 26-27, 2016); Flamenco & Gypsy Festival (Mar 18-20, 2016)

MUST-EAT

Your trip would be incomplete if you leave Jodhpur without biting into the fiery mirchi vadas (king-size green chili stuffed with spicy potato filling, dipped in gram flour batter and fried), kachoris and makhaniya lass!. The busy area around the Clock Tower market has a number of street stalls offering freshly-fried versions of the eatables. Try Janta Sweet Home at Na! Sarak, a favourite among the locals.

 

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.

Song of the Wilde – The Bandipur Tiger Reserve


SONG OF THE WILD

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We sat down for a romantic dinner at a candlelit table for two, on the periphery of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in south India and the air resonated with mystery and menace. We heard an owl hoot, the electrifying alarm call of a deer ripped across the jungle and then the low growl of a tiger resonated in the depths. It was a chilling moment, but laden with ineffable beauty.

The king of the jungle was probably on the prowl in the forest beyond The Serai Bandipur, a plush jungle resort in Karnataka, around 226 km from Bangalore. As we sipped a drink and pondered on the surreal nature of our tryst, we exulted that the Royal Bengal Tiger was roaring back, having been written off by doomsday prophets as being on the brink of extinction.

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A handsome total of 2226 tigers have clawed back into the big cat census of 2014 as opposed to 1706 in 2010, and the southern Indian state of Karnataka has the highest number in the country. Indeed, Karnataka was the first state in India to set up a commando force to fight poachers and, today, the Bandipur Tiger Reserve supports the highest density of tigers in the country.

The low roars had died down soon after in that star-span-gled night as we savoured a gourmet repast laid out for us at The Serai, where luxury in the wild is the byword. Not surprisingly, the 990 sq km Bandipur Tiger reserve is no stranger to the luxury, these forests, though the 18th and 19 centuries, like to pulverise a tiger or two over an idle weekend.

bird-1chital fight

Built artfully across 19 acres (and enclosed by solar fencing), the resort has 17 acres of private wilderness around it. As we turned in for the night in our capacious suite, we could imagine the majestic cat scoping the jungle for a meal; transfixing a terrified fawn in his tawny eyed gaze; sizing up on a muscled Sambar and could almost hear the nervous titters of Langurs, high up in a gnarled old tree…

Nestling in the foothills of the Nilgiris, Bandipur that day was awash in shades of green where dawn crept in on silent feet, painting the vast lushness in pastel shades. Langurs swung from tree to tree to welcome the new dawn, birds trilled and the Giant Malabar Squirrel scampered up the sturdy trunk of a tree. The rare while bellied black woodpecker peeked out of a hole in a tree like an inquisitive old aunt; the greater racket-tailed drongo called, displaying his ability to mimic the calls of a number of birds while a crested serpent eagle sat prey. Spotted deer pranced as our jeep purred past and handsome stags locked velvety antlers in a display of brawn.

As the sun rose in the sky, it glanced off the axle-wood trees and glided the forest, turning it into a wonderland. Knotted old growth trees leant towards stands of dead bamboo as though to breathe life into their old, lifeless comrades; red pathways sliced the dense forest and suddenly, a herd of elephants – aunts, matriarch and baby, chomping their way through the jungle. As jeep stopped in quiet homage of the huge beasts, another group suddenly emerged from the other side, backlit by the climbing sun. Low sounds emanated from the herd as they communicated with their brethren on the other side of the divide.

Then a couple of them lumbered across the safari trail, even as our driver reversed the jeep to let them pass unhindered. But one gentle giant hesitated for a heart-stopping moment as though considering mock charge and then plodded away, having decided that we were not invaders. The most stirring moment was yet to happen: the herd trumpeted as they crashed through the jungle, sending shock waves through a silent landscape.

There were no encores after that, but it was a cameo of the world in all its raw innocence. And as drove back to the Serai, a graceful leopard draped in a tree just outside the property, a gorgeous beauty that combined raw menace and grace.

Later, we savoured breakfast at the resort, revelling in the scenic beauty of South African style lodge, which cleverly combines rustic chic with luxury. We spent the rest of the day under the thatched umbrella set up on the terrace of our residence suite, gazing at the Nilgiris blueing in the distance and heaving ourselves up only to go on a nature walk with the resident naturalist in the private wilderness of property. This is a not-to-be-missed activity for the formidable Kuttappan’s air of a fearsome bandit, complete with a rakish bandana and scarred face, is deceptive.

To embark on a nature walk with him is to experience the smaller pleasures of the jungle: points out the pug marks of a visiting tiger who might have loitered past at night; presents a non-venomous wolf snake to you as a mark of respect and affection; and lifts up from the forest floor a pair of deer antlers, velvety in the dying sun, with the tender care that one would accord a newborn baby!

kuttappan-resident naturalistwoodpecker

Kuttappan is a legend in these parts, a tribal who taught himself to read and write, despite a childhood spent in the forest eating birds and robbing wild dog kills for his family, which they would roast on a crackling fire and eat.

Later, as our vehicle trundled through the forest, we were resigned to the fact that we might not see the striped feline. But to out amazement, he made a guest appearance. He sat in a clearing in the distance, gazing back at us with disdain. We eyed each other for a while before he seemed to tire of our pesky presence. He rose and strode off into the thicket, his swishing tail waving goodbye.

Courtesy by K.T.

Wildlife Package

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

Heathrow Express – Travel Made Easy

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