I am often asked: what is the most under-rated destination that you have been to. My reply would be Sri Lanka with its stellar combination of World Heritage sites, wildlife, history, rich culture, terrific hotels, friendly people and a friendlier currency.


I was in Queensland, Australia after many, many years and it was truly a wonderful experience filled with new friends, good wine and food and exciting travel.


Everyone’s talking about China...There is great interest in China as a travel destination .


I am often asked: what is the most under-rated destination that you have been to. My reply would be Sri Lanka with its stellar combination of World Heritage sites, wildlife, history, rich culture, terrific hotels, friendly people and a friendlier currency.


I was in Queensland, Australia after many, many years and it was truly a wonderful experience filled with new friends, good wine and food and exciting travel.

Of Flash mobs and Antwerp...

There’s so much talk about flash mobs and viral videos now- the best flash mob to date was the one I saw on 'You tube' some time ago, set in Antwerp Station.

Monday, December 19, 2011


What is War tourism or Dark Tourism? It is a term used to describe tourism that capitalises on painful memories. All over the world, people visit sites like Auschwitz, Chernobyl, Hiroshima Peace Park and the Killing fields in Cambodia to have a glimpse in to the hardships of people who suffered. Sometimes to make peace with their own demons or to remember a loved one... Some people think that this kind of tourism is voyeuristic and to be discouraged but like someone once said, “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.” In Vietnam a country once torn by war and strife, memories of the painful past are everywhere. One of the most interesting places that I visited in Vietnam was the Cu Chi tunnels, an hour’s drive from Ho Chi Minh City. The web -like Cu chi tunnels, allowed the Vietcong to control a huge slice of the rural area, almost up to the Cambodian border. Some of the tunnels even ran under the US military base and helped these guerrilla fighters to launch surprise attacks and disappear quickly. Today sections have been enlarged to enable tourists to enter them. In the past a elite band of American soldiers called the Tunnel rats were enlisted (based on their small stature) to enter these small tunnels  and flush out the Vietcong.

Our guide Thung first explained the layout using a model - a three level ingeniously planned underground maze, with meeting rooms, hospitals, bedrooms, kitchens, and even cavernous theatres! People lived, got married, had babies and even died in these subterranean rooms...Thung explained how the chimneys from the kitchen were several metres away, and had flat vents, so that the smoke just diffused gently, instead of a plume. Bamboo poles were stuck through the ground in to the tunnels to provide air in the rooms and disguised as termite mounds from the top.

A man in army fatigues opened a miniscule, camouflaged wooden hatch and in the blink of a second, did a pencil dive into the small trapdoor that leads to the tunnels. The diabolical Vietcong made their weapons and land mines using recycled metal from bomb shrapnel in a most dangerous procedure. Their very rudimentary but durable footwear was made from strips of old rubber tyre treads. There was an unnerving section devoted to the different traps used by the VC-the tiger trap with a hinged trapdoor that flipped up and throws the person into a bed of bamboo spikes, tipped with poison. Of course they have tried to create a kind of Disney war park- there is even a souvenir shop with war memorabilia: planes and toy tanks from coco cola cans, dog tags and jewellery from bullet shells and fake Zippo lighters. But all the same- a crawl inside these tunnels makes you admire the grit and determination of these people who survived all the odds!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Top 13 Travel moments of 2011

It clearly wasn’t easy to choose my Top 10 moments and narrow it down... I am really thankful for all the exciting opportunities which came my way, and here is the list of my Top 13 Moments....

1. Transfixed by the jadeite Bok choi: I kicked off 2011 in the most perfect way, in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan which I did not expect much from, but which turned out to be a great city. The highlight for me was the National Palace Museum with treasures spirited away from Beijing’s Forbidden City. One of the best museums that I have seen to date. The jadeite Bok choi cabbage in a glass case, from the Qing Dynasty with translucent white to deep green leaves is something that I can’t forget easily. Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world was another not-to-be-forgotten experience! This is one country that I want to explore outside the capital, on my next visit.

2. Modern architectural high: I am generally not a fan of manmade wonders as compared to natural ones, but the lotus-like Art Science Museum at the Marina Bay Sands was a stunner. Meeting the great architect Moshe Safdie, exploring the world that is Marina Bay Sands (what we call an Integrated Resort), was a unique experience. The travelling exhibition that I saw there( from the Smithsonian) called’ Shipwrecked’ about a ship laden with treasures that sank off the coast of Indonesia, appealed to my romantic soul.

3. My first Glimpse of Lake Louise- My trip to Canada needs its own Top 10 or 25 moments! Banff and Jasper National Parks were certainly the high points of the entire year...A symphony of rugged and craggy mountains piercing the skies, with glacial capes and evocative names, deep avalanches, emerald lakes, thundering waterfalls vying for attention on both sides of the ribbon of tarmac, wildlife at every turn (Bears and elks lumbering along the roads)-the drive along the Ice fields parkway, with a glacier walk thrown in was the highlight of the trip. The stay at Fairmont Lake Louise and the views from the window took my breath away! The absolutely, adventurous ‘aha’ moment - zip lining through the temperate rain forests of Whistler! Can’t believe I did that!

4. Bonding in Nam - At the risk of sounding Oprah-esque a truly life changing mom- and- daughter trip. Vietnam- warm people, amazing food and the most fascinating culture. Had a glimpse of both dark moments in history like the Cu Chi Tunnels and the modern face of the country in HCM City. The pick of the trip was Hoi An- a small town in Central Vietnam filled with art, ready-in-a-day tailors, and fascinating history. The atmospheric My Son ruins, a kind of Vietnamese Angkor Wat was an eerie but time- travel experience. Our road trip through the country from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue and then Hoi An as well as two days on the Mekong River, with a guide gave us so many memorable vignettes.

Shrined out in Angkor: Angkor War was a long cherished dream- amazing place, so much to see that I have put it on my list of places to re-visit. Bayon, Angkor Thom...the list is endless. The artistry, the history and the jungle encroaching on the ruins- this is one destination that can never be over-rated!

5. On a chocolate high in Flanders: Chocolates and canals, carillons and arched bridges, brick facades painted a salmon pink -Bruges in Flanders was again a dream come true! Gothic architecture, Michelangelo’s Madonna and child, sessions with famous chocolatiers, this was one of the top destinations of the year for me. Belgium itself was a great destination in terms of the compact distances and the variety of sights- Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels too were unique and enjoyable, Put them on your list- Now.

6. Time warp in Cesky Krumlov: Prague has been my favourite European city, This year I discovered the Czech Republic beyond Prague- picture book cities like Cesky Krumlov which are great value destinations too. Cesky Krumlov has the most incredibly picturesque setting with a river and a hilltop castle; we rafted the Vltava, ate on the riverside cafes, walked the winding streets and fell in love with this small town. Top Bizarre moment of the year- the Bone Church in Sedlec with decorations made from yes, bones!

7. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef: I went back to Queensland after many years, and the Whitsundays was a dream destination. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Cuddling a celebrity koala on Hamilton Island, a trip on a 100 year old ship, landing on Paradise Bay Resort (which has only twenty people at a time) from a seaplane, feeding manta rays, Ocean rafting...this trip was just one thrilling experience after another!

8. Cruising the Fjords and a night in Flam: The fjords...Norway- Bergen and beyond was the most ethereal experience of 2011. Lego like farms with red roofs, green pastures with shaggy goats, gargantuan walls of lofty mountains, the grey waters below, low hanging clouds like lost spirits, this was like an Impressionist painting come alive. If you want pristine, untouched, spectacular landscapes, put Norway and the fjords on your list. Recommended trip-Norway in a Nutshell.

9. One day in watery Stockholm: This was such a picturesque city, that I regretted the fact that I could not spend more time there. Stunning architecture, a buzzing cafe culture, a museum built over a restored warship, green spaces and postcard views at every corner- Stockholm is firmly on my list of places to re-visit!

10. Queen for three days at Ahilya Fort and Mandu, India. Closer home, my trip to Maheshwar and Ahilya Fort and the ruins of Mandu was a back-in-time top experience of the year. Poised women with copper pots, children swimming in the waters and locals washing clothes on the Ghats against a backdrop of elegant honey coloured temples with shikara towers, this was a scene out of medieval India. Staying at the atmospheric and intimate heritage hotel- Ahilya Fort, was an incredible experience! A surreal world of elegant palaces, magnificent mosques, crumbling towers and medieval reservoirs with tales of love and death, victories and losses weaved in … my day trip to Mandu was magical!

11. Going Retro in Riga-Stylish balconies and windows, with stucco images of seashells, stylised plants, chestnut leaves, peacocks, reeds and poppies, Greco Roman nymphs and gods entrancing at every turn- Riga the capital of Latvia was another revelation of 2011. Great Art Deco architecture, rich culture, great shopping and a value destination- this is still an under-rated city.

12. Zen Time in Koh Samui –This was an idyllic time- the perfect place to kick back, lounge on the sands and the pool and catch a bit of culture and good food. Loved this island, its quirky sights like the Grandfather Rock (see my article) and the easy vibe.

13. Coasting along the Great Ocean Road: The close of the year saw me in Melbourne, Australia. The drive along the iconic Great Ocean road was certainly the high point here. Pristine beaches lashed by brutal waves, bush land, cathedral like arches, pretty-as-a-postcard seascapes, a smorgasbord of ocean views and even emerald canopies of rain forests- my road trip was completely a high-on-nature experience. And I actually saw koalas in the wild- incredible! The Twelve Apostles from a helicopter was the icing on the cake.

Though my time spent in Langkawi did not make it to the List, it was a tropical beauty! Helsinki was a repeat trip- a beautiful Scandinavian city made for walking! For everyone reading, I have to say that it’s powerful to write a list like this for yourself and reflect back on everything you’ve done in the past year (not confined to travel) that’s brought you great happiness. Happy travels in 2012!

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I am on the Edge...on the Sky Deck of the 88th Floor of the Eureka Tower in Melbourne, Australia- the second tallest residential building in the world. Each apartment had an original price tag of A$7 million just for the empty space; purchasers were required to fit out the apartment at additional cost.
On the last ten floors is gleaming 24 carat gold lining the windows reflecting the sunlight on to the glass. A lift hurtled me here in 38 seconds... it’s like being in an aircraft and your ears go pop! Two lifts exclusively service Eureka Sky deck 88. The fastest lifts in the Southern Hemisphere, they travel at over 9 meters per second. For a white knuckle ride I get in to a 10 feet cube of frosted glass cantilevered THREE METRES outside the building. There are a lot of fearsome noises and dramatic soundtrack, after which the glass clears and whew- I find myself suspended on the edge of the building looking down at the abyss- the futuristic galleries of Federation Square, the lazy meander of the Yarra River and the Victorian enclave with leafy gardens.
Why the name Eureka? That was the rebellion that took place in 1854, during the days of the Gold Rush in Ballarat, when the miners rose against repression and sowed the first seeds of democracy. The gold crown represents the Gold Rush and the red stripe the bloodshed. The blue and white of the Eureka flag runs across the building. The top of the building can flex in the winds up to 600 mm. And there are two gargantuan water tanks on levels 90 and 91 to counter any swaying… As I walk out of the building I notice a swarm of giant golden bees above the entrance.. art work representing people living in a community like a hive?
Sky deck 88 strongly recommends that you do not ride 'The Edge' if you have any of the following conditions: 

• Fear of Heights
• Fear of Enclosed Spaces
• Sensitivity to Loud or Sudden Noises
• Pregnancy
• Heart Problems

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Ladder farms

Windswept cliffs and unspoilt beaches, sprinkled with atmospheric forts and castles, one of the most scenic
 drives that I have been on is the Causeway Coastal drive from   Belfast Lough to the Giant Causeway and the walled city of London Derry. There are a succession of sleepy, desolate fishing hamlets and spick and span towns- each with a unique history peppered with legends of giants, ghosts and fairies. This is the land of the ice gouged valleys or the nine glens of Antrim. The characteristic U shaped valleys have given rise to the ‘ladder farms’ that we see- vertical stripes of holdings running down the slopes to the valley which give each farm an equal share of lowland pasture, hill ground and mountain grazing.

Carnlough Harbour The picturesque village of Carnlough and its harbour dotted with red and green boats has a piece of history: The Londonderry Arms Hotel, an old coaching inn
here was once owned by Sir Winston Churchill himself.

Cushendall with its giant mural of hurling Cushendall is a town with Georgian buildings, where three glens or valleys come together in a sheltered bay. A bright mural of the local sport, hurling, one of the fastest ball games in the world, greets us here.The dramatic, mysterious Lougharema or the Vanishing Lake which is a mud encrusted valley on a dry day and becomes a lake teeming with fish when it rains. When the lake dries the fish hide in the limestone caverns below the limestone. And of course there’s an Irish yarn! Locals say that it’s haunted by the ghost of Colonel Mc Neil and his horses who drowned here in 1888 when the water levels rose abruptly!

Dunluce Castle There is the atmospheric skeletal remains of the 17th century Dunluce castle which tethers dramatically on a rocky promontory above the jagged coast. This was the stomping ground of early Vikings and Christians. Ships from the Spanish Armada once floundered off the coast here.


Bushmills Town famous for its Scotch distillery which has been making whiskey from 1600s making it the oldest licensed distillery in the world. People on the banks of the St Columb’s Rill River have been making whiskey- uisce beatha or the water of life for more than 400 years. . Stay in the atmospheric Bushmills Inn, a re-created coaching inn with individual white washed rooms named after Irish whiskeys.

A spectacular sandy beach like the arc of the moon spreads out like a Japanese fan -it’s the White park bay with ancient dunes and rare orchids.The climax of the route is at the UNESCO site The Giant’s causeway- a surreal, bizarre scene out of an alien planet-geometric, perfectly symmetric honeycomb of gargantuan basalt columns arranged like stepping stones. The result of a volcanic explosion or as the legend goes the result of the fight between two giants? Driving on the Causeway Coastal Route is definitely one of the things to do before you die!

Friday, August 5, 2011


There are places that have been on my wish-list for ages and then I have the opportunity to travel there...there are others that have never been on my radar and I am awestruck by their beauty... Western Canada was certainly one of those destinations that I did not expect much from...But came back seduced by her charms... Among the many experiences that I had there, the following do STAND OUT: BANFF TOWN: Set in the middle of National Park territory, this tourist friendly village with great restaurants (even an Indian one), close-to-nature feel, and a meandering river has the fabulous Bow Falls and a Fairmont property (with some ghost stories). Fairmont properties around the world are after all, iconic. In a town with so many trees and trails, it’s usual to spot an animal or two as you walk along the streets which are by the way named after animals (yes, there are Moose, Caribou, and Wolf streets with sewer covers to match). Surrounded by snow capped mountains this is a town that charms without trying. ICEFIELDS PARKWAY: An amazing drive through the Rockies from Lake Louise to Jasper for over 230 kms- where every bend brought us new vistas, a lake, a waterfall or a bear or big horned sheep! The thrill of seeing a bear in the wild, walking on a glacier and being surrounded by constant, undying beauty made this road trip a winner. LAKE SONG: Pyramid, Maligne, Medicine and Patricia Lakes: Picture perfect reflections and glass like surfaces...these lakes are truly something. Framed by wisps of wild pine like a cloak of iridescent green and an amphitheatre of rugged peaks, these lakes are picture postcards. Medicine Lake, the source of many Indian myths and legends, is a lake that disappears in to an underground system for almost half the year. LAKE LOUISE: This is in the heart of the Banff National Park and the Fairmont Lake Louise has a vantage location overlooking the near-frozen lake. One of the ‘wow’ moments. There is the view of the lake surrounded by the Victoria glacier and the spruce covered mountains- the combination of luxury in wilderness was unique. I love my creature comforts! ZIP LINING IN WHISTLER: Whistler in British Columbia is very Swiss in character- chalets, window boxes with geraniums and tulips and an outdoorsy feel. Our dose of adventure here was zip lining over a valley through a forest. Unforgettable moments...
BIG CITY HIGH: Vancouver’s setting was spectacular- a stellar combination of Sea, land and mountains. If gentrified areas appeal to you, there are plenty here like Gastown or Granville Island. What really appealed to me in this city were their twin obsessions of food and exercise! Definitely a city on my places to re-visit!

Monday, May 30, 2011


This pint sized country sandwiched between Italy and Croatia is a stunner. It joined the EU in 1994 and adopted the Euro in 2007- it is one of the most affordable European countries that I have visited. Why is Slovenia so special? I love countries that offer a great diversity in terrain over a small distance to cover- Slovenia has the Julian Alps, spectacular lakes, phenomenal caves and castles, a little Adriatic coastline thrown in, even a wine growing region, some three thousand- plus churches and monasteries and some stunning architecture. Slovenia is also one of the greenest European countries (about 60% of the country is covered with forests)- A perfect short break destination. As a vegetarian I also found that the country offered a good variety of options and some fine wines. The highest peak Mount Triglav is a national symbol found even on the flag and attracts hikers and climbers. The Venetians once controlled the south west of the country and left their mark on its architecture. My pick of the Must-Sees of Slovenia –


A melting-pot of different cultures, with a medieval castle, statues of dragons, and candy coloured Baroque buildings Ljubljana (pronounced Lyoobliana), the Capital city, is truly fairy tale land. There are decorative Bridges over the Ljubljnaca River, cobblestone alleys and a cafĂ© culture with a Bohemian vibe. Preseren Square is the heart of the city filled with street performers, musicians and milling crowds Much of Ljubljana’s architecture is the work of master architect Joze Plecnik. Visit the distinctive Triple Bridge, the churches and the university library which are his handiwork.
Walk up the hill to Ljubljana Castle and climb the tower for a wondrous view of the city with its orange roofs, the green river and the distant Julian Alps. Take a river cruise to the Botanical gardens admiring the willow lined banks and the artworks on the walls. Walk through the eclectic flea market south of the Triple Bridge and pick up wild honey, decorative glass, painted wooden toys.


 A glassy emerald lake ringed by forests, a picture perfect island perched in the centre with a dainty baroque church and a forbidding medieval castle on a rock crag overlooking the lake like a protective guardian. Bled castle which is a storybook castle- complete with ramparts, towers and moat and Disneyesque red conical brick roofs. The Triglav National Park is a hiker’s paradise with lakes, waterfalls and wildlife. Spend at least one night in Bled though it can be done as a day trip from Ljubljana.

 Slovenia is famous for its peculiar karst or limestone landscapes and caves. There are more than 8000 caves all over this country and caving is a much enjoyed local pastime. Stretching over more than 20 kilometres, the Postojna caves in Slovenia is breathtaking. There is a miniature, open narrow gauge train which ferries the tourists through an artificial tunnel. There are all kinds of fanciful shapes which were pointed out by our guide- some look like animals, some like birds, there are sheets and translucent curtains, even razor thin spaghetti on the ceiling, Predjama castle, close by is wedged tight into a rocky cliff 100 metres high. The castle hosts the Erasmus Knights Tournament in the month of August every year. This is a re-creation of medieval games complete with people in period costumes, archery, swordplay, and jousts.

Portoroz is a relaxing seaside getaway touted to be the Slovenian Monaco. So if casinos and a swinging beach life is your style, head here!

This is Slovenia’s second largest city but feels like a small town. It has medieval churches, castles and mansions and it’s the European capital of Culture in 2012. There are wine cellars, even an old synagogue and an excellent Old Town.

Narrow streets, compact houses, and a Mediterranean feel, this town is not only geographically close to Italy, its architecture is heavily influenced by the Venetian republic. It is a walled city with numerous churches and squares. Get a feel of the place by sitting in a cafe and watching the Adriatic sunset. And be sure to taste the local chocolate made with the local salt( yes!) from the salt pans nearby.                                                         


This medieval city with a city wall and ramparts, the past residences of the Counts and princes and 18th and 19th century facades looming over the picturesque Savinja River, has to be visited just for its architecture. The largest fortress in Slovenia, is on a hill. Among other sights, you can see the Roman remains of this town. Celje has many thermal springs which are located a stone’s throw from the town.

There are many more worthy sights in Slovenia like the Skokjan Caves, Lake Bohinj, Lipica famous for its horses, the Vintgar and the Tomin Gorges. Do put them on your itinerary if you have the time.

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