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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Choosing a Holiday

It’s that time of year again: the rain is pouring down, it’s cold and you’re in the mood to plan your next getaway. But choosing a holiday is easier said than done. Will you opt for a late deal and a quick fix, a fun-filled adventure with the family, or put some money aside for a trip to the tropics?

Whatever you fancy, there’s a world of choice to suit every taste and budget. Take the Caribbean for instance. Holidays to Cuba are simply magical - a memorable trip to a sun-drenched corner of the world that’s all breathtaking beaches, soaring mountain peaks and a laid-back way of life that’s perfectly suited to holidays. Then there’s Jamaica with its beautiful colonial forts, the lost Mayan city at Chichen Itza in Mexico, or the vibrant reefs and powder-soft sands of the Dominican Republic.

But if that all feels a bit too exotic, there are plenty of options closer to home that fit the bill perfectly.

Package holidays to Spain might not feel comparable to the Caribbean but this magical country has more than its fair share of qualities. It’s got fabulous beaches with glittering golden sands, crystal clear shores and bubbly resorts with everything from cheesy karaoke and 80s discos to Irish pubs and chic wine bars. Spain is also home to bustling Barcelona and fabulous Valencia, two prime city break territories, and the lovely Balearics - a collection of sun-drenched islands with just about everything to see and do under the sun.

Europe really does sum up the meaning of ‘diversity’. Beaches and cities aside, you’ll also find sprawling mountain ranges such as the Alps - perfect for winter fun on the slopes or summer days spent walking amongst wildflower meadows, tackling hairpin bends or gazing across spectacular scenery.

At home or away, when it comes to holidays there really is a world of choice. It’s just a matter of finding your favorite.

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Tour the Mayan Ruins in Cancun

Cancún is one of the best places to visit in Mexico if you like beaches, water sports and live music venues. But there’s an ancient side to the city that is unmissable if you’re staying in the land of the Maya, who blossomed in the region about 2,500 years ago.

Some of the most frequently visited Mayan ruins (and palaces, temples and burial sites) are in Mexico, of which some are located right within Cancún’s hotel zone - home to a huge number of all-inclusive hotels. In fact, the Ruinas Del Rey excavation site, which is thought to have once been a Mayan burial site, can be found in the Hilton Resort complex and is home to a mess of iguanas.

But there are several Mayan ruins around the Yucatan Peninsula that can all be reached by car or bus. Just 3 miles north of Cancún is El Meco, which was once an ancient coastal city that provides visitors with impressive views of the nearby Chacmochuc Lagoon. Only excavated from 1997, El Meco is thought to have started as a fishing port and slowly morphed into an important trade and commercial port due to its prime location.

Perhaps the most famous Mayan site in the world, Chichen Itza is about 120 miles away from Cancún and well worth the trip. Thought to have been built as early as 445 BC, this 75-foot pyramid was inhabited until 1204 AD when it was inexplicably abandoned. Owing to the statues of serpents at its apex, the pyramid accurately predicts the summer and autumn equinoxes using shadows, indicating the Mayan’s knowledge of science.

Shrouded in mystery, the Mayan ruins are a source of fascination for visitors from around the world. Easily accessible by bus or car, places like Itza and El Meco as well as Tulum, Coba and Xelha speak to the majesty that was once this fascinating civilization. Visit Cancún and hit up the beaches, but don’t forget to pay a visit to these ancient remnants of culture as well.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sunset from Tawang’s War Memorial

Sunsets bring a certain change in our moods. This one is no different. The mood is of joy and may be sorrow in some cases, but always with an awe factor in it. This is one such moment where we see nature’s raw beauty and power.

Sunset as seen from Tawang's war memorial
It was such a moody sunset that I got to see from Tawang’s war memorial in Western Arunachal Pradesh in North East India.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Guest Post: Beyond the Horizon-Line

Orlando is one of the most majestic destinations I have ever visited and it fulfills many ideals that other places are lacking. The immediate facet that springs to mind is the weather. Glorious all year round! And then there is the entertainment… whether you want a whimsical regression to childhood by seeing Walt Disney characters, or having the adrenaline-fuelled sensation of flappy G-force-inflated cheeks on the rides at Busch Gardens, there is something for you all! But Orlando also has a rich arts and culture heritage that often gets eclipsed by other tourist attractions. There is:

- The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art which showcases the intricate work of decorative artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, who specialized in pottery, jewellery and stained glass. 

- The Orlando Museum of Art which showcases more contemporary and diverse exhibitions that feature installations, conceptual art as well as interactive art sessions with visiting groups. 

- Lots of theatres

Make 2012 the year where you take a Holiday to Orlando.

The Holiday Buffet!
Maybe you want to go further afield and explore more of America. You can sample a bit of everything that America has to offer with multi center holidays. Ocean Florida enables you to plan and customize your own tour of the U.S. So whatever you are looking for, whether it is stunning white sandy beaches of Miami, or the Technicolor slot-machine lined streets of Las Vegas, to the electric sunshine of Orlando or the Big Apple to party, there are a diverse number of things you can pack into your trip. The latest offers on the ‘holiday buffet menu’ consist of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Boston, New York, Orlando, Miami and San Francisco. The benefits of multi center holidays are:

- You get to do more sight-seeing and pack a lot more into your trip away.

- You save time and money. To go to several places anywhere separately would cost you several times as much money, and take several times longer in travelling time.

Accommodation Choices
A major factor to take into consideration when you go away is: What kind of habitat do I want whilst I am away? Hotel? Hostel? Tent? (The weather is warm enough for this to be a feasible option) You could take a vacation in a luxury Florida villa and enjoy the comfort you would have if you were at home. They are suitable for all people groups. Lone travellers, Newlyweds, People with pets (it’s only fair that your pet dog or cat gets to enjoy Florida sunshine as well!) They are also adapted for people with disabilities so Florida villas offer lots of freedom, convenience and privacy.

Many villas have recreation rooms that consist of pool and air hockey tables. I was particularly glad about the latter. I’m a mean contestant at air hockey but I can’t hold a pool cue to save my life! Externally, some have tennis courts, basketball courts and heated saunas and spas. It feels like everything, both in terms of recreation and leisure is at your fingertips.

If you’re looking for Holidays to Orlando then why not consider Florida villas for your accommodation? Ocean Florida has a range of beautiful villas for a range of budgets. Or if you want to visit other places in the U.S., then check out multi-center holidays 2012 with for a variety of destinations.

This article has been written by Carlos Rabanillo, a copywriter for Ocean Florida, an independent UK-based tour operator specializing in the USA.

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The Best Countryside in Ireland

Ireland is famous for some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. It is not called the Emerald Isle for nothing, with its mountains, lakes, seashore and the shimmering green central plain, it is truly a gem. Ireland is said to have 40 shades of green that surround the castles, monasteries and ancient stone circles that dot the countryside.

The River Lee Hotel in Cork is a great place to start. One of the most luxurious hotels in Cork, where visitors can enjoy the rugged natural beauty of West Cork, the beautiful beaches and friendly people. It is also near Blarney Castle where the Blarney Stone was built into the battlements of the castle in 1446. Visitors hang upside down and kiss the stone in the hopes they will gain eloquent speech and great wit.

The Cliffs of Moher on the south western coast of County Clare rise dramatically 120 meters above the Atlantic Ocean. They are one of the most popular attractions for visitors, and are a member of the European Geoparks Network. The cliffs mainly consist of sandstone and Namurian shale, and there are 300 million year old river channels cutting through their base. Approximately 30,000 birds live on the cliffs with over 20 species.
Ireland also has beautiful landscaped gardens such as the Kilfame Glen and Waterfall. It is a romantic era garden from 1790s and has not been changed for 200 years. There are woodland paths, ancient trees and tiny bridges over the stream that is fed by the waterfall. The flowers and ferns are historically correct for the 18th century. It is an Irish Heritage Garden with 15 acres of natural landscape open to the public.

In the centre of Ireland is the Lough Boora Parklands. They contain many natural and manmade lakes, woodland areas, wetlands, 50 km of walkways and provide a new habitat for flora and fauna. The ancient bog lands, having been stripped of peat, have been reclaimed by nature. Along with enjoying the spectacular natural beauty, visitors can fish, walk, cycle, bird watch, see the archaeological Mesolithic site and view the sculptures throughout the area.

A visit to the countryside wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a working farm. Tullyboy Farm has farm animals that children can pet and feed in a safe environment. Visitors learn about Irish culture and tradition and can participate in the activities of the farm such as making butter, organic gardening, grooming animals and cooking. There are other fun activities such as fishing, herding sheep, pony rides, tractor rides and catching frogs in the bog.

The Glen of Aherlow, Tipperary is in the lush Aherlow River valley between the Galtee Mountains and Slievenamick. The local people welcome visitors who arrive to walk, horse ride, cycle and fish. There are also many early Christian and prehistoric sites in the valley. The Galtees are the highest inland mountain range in Ireland at 919 meters and are a good challenge for hill walkers. Five corrie lakes are only accessible by foot. Near the local Heritage Towns there is golfing, horse racing and other activities.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Exploring the Valparai hills on a Motorcycle

Valparai,  nestled in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu is definitely a top motorcycling destination in India. The 58 kilometer winding ghat road from Pollachi is a definite attraction and the even denser Vazhachal forest roads leading out of Valparai is an even better attraction. But, just reaching the destination is not the journey.

Shooting the pristine tea estates of Valparai
And that saying applies to Valparai as well. In fact, this quaint looking hill station has a lot to offer and exploring its beauty on a motorcycle is quite an experience. Well, to start with, if you are a wildlife lover, you will absolutely love to be inside the Anaimalai Tiger Reserve as the tea estates of Valparai and the town are right in the middle of it. Here, one can get lucky and see rich Indian wildlife like the elephants, Gaur, Lion Tailed Macaque, Leopard and many more. The Puduthotham Tea Estate is a preferred place to sight lion tailed macaques.

Gaur at Pudhuthotam Tea Estate, Valparai
And if the green tea estates warm your eyes, then simply drive to Nirar Dam, Nallamudi Poonjolai, Kurungu Mudi, Waterfall estate and Sholayar Dam. The roads to all these places are surrounded by tea estates primarily owned by the Woodbriar Group and Tata Coffee.

Sholayar Dam near Valparai is surrounded by tea estates making for a fantastic sight
In terms of large water bodies, there is Nirar Dam, Sholayar Dam and Aliyar Dam. Three great reservoirs that supply water to the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Nallamudi Poonjolai is a view point, where in the rains, one can spot as many as 20 odd waterfalls in the distance. Kurungu Mudi is another view point where the tea estates give way to forests and then the Sholayar Dam.

Serene View of the tea estates of Valparai
And for the religious tourists, there are umpteen churches and temples here that one can visit. The Muruga temple is the most famous. If all of these are not enough adventure for you, initiate descent and drive west from Valparai. This will take you to the Vazhachal forests of Kerala with its rich tropical rainforests, Vazhachal falls and the mighty Athirapally falls on the Chalakudy river. Climbing the steep paths through tea estates
And that is why I call this place as one of the best motorcycling destinations in the country. It’s diversified nature offers so much to the nature lover. Like I have said before, this is one place that is very unlike the other hill stations of India and I hope it stays that way.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Partner on my motorcycling journeys!!

My trustworthy and reliable motorcycling partner has accompanied me on innumerable journeys. We have clocked close to 60,000 kilometers together, have been to all of India’s mainland states and union territories and have seen our share of accidents. We make a great pair and I have shared some of my life’s best moments with him.

BE ON THE ROAD
My motorcycling partner is my 350 cc Royal Enfield Thunderbird Twinspark motorcycle. Together, we have crossed the length and breadth of India that includes its mighty mountains, its great deserts, its congested plains, its pristine coastline, the special Western Ghats and its rich forests and national parks.

That's my 'BE ON THE ROAD' partner
Recently, we went on a ride to Valparai and the Vazhachal forests of the Western Ghats in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. And that is where I took these snaps of my partner.

The ROYAL BEAST with the THUMP
Both of us look forward to more interesting travels!!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Guest Post: The Top Backpacking Destinations in 2012

I have been backpacking for my annual holidays for many years and I have no trouble at all finding new and exciting countries to visit. There is always something new around every corner and I have met some amazing individuals and seen incredible places during my travels. To really experience a country there is no better way than to get around on foot, as when travelling by car you can miss so much. However, you may well need to hire a car to get to your setting-off point or to link parts of your journey. If that is the case always compare car hire rates to get the best deal.

Below you will find listed my recommendations for the best backpacking destinations for 2012.

Croatia
Croatia makes it to the top of the list of favorite destinations, outside of the popular, more traditional backpacking haunts such as Argentina, Australia and Thailand. Croatia is a beautiful country with wonderful landscapes plus a terrific cuisine that has strong Mediterranean influences. There is an abundance of pretty islands to visit and in the capital city of Zagreb the stunning architecture is rivaled only by the exotic and offbeat nightlife.

Bolivia
Backpackers on a budget can take great advantage of cheap accommodation in Bolivia in South America, which is also blessed with rugged landscapes and spectacular scenery. In the remote city of Uyuni there are plenty of markets and an unusual feature in the shape of the largest salt flat in the world. From Bolivia the intrepid explorer can reach any or all of Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, Chile and Argentina.

Germany (Berlin)
In addition to the usual backpacking areas in Germany, Berlin has become a focus of new interest as a result of the city’s flourishing cultural offering, including some stunning graffiti art in the streets. The zoo has also become a major attraction, as are the remains of the Berlin wall and the many galleries, museum, observatories and aquaria to visit. As a central European destination, Berlin is ideally placed for access to Amsterdam and Krakow. It has a lively nightlife and lots of great music venues.

Backpacking tips and advice for travellers
Getting ready for a journey means making a few plans and packing the right clothing and equipment. Clothing will vary depending on the destination – several layers of light garments are easier to handle than bulky sweaters, and just as warm. T-shirts, trousers and a light fleece are essentials; shorts, swimwear and some form of head covering can be useful in certain places – check the dress code for chosen destinations in advance. Those who plan to walk a lot will need hiking boots or sturdy walking shoes. Whether walking or driving, make sure there are water bottles and towels available, plus a basic first aid kit including insect repellent if appropriate. It may not be necessary to include a sleeping bag if not planning to camp out. Travel documents, insurance papers and money will need to be kept in a safe and secure place – a money belt worn under clothing is ideal for this purpose. Think about mobile phone use, as it may be worth purchasing additional sim cards or to arrange roaming facilities in advance.

Best ways to travel around
Planes, boats and trains might all be necessary at some point in a longer journey. Bus journeys and road trips by car can be arranged around any of these. Compare car hire rates in advance so that the best deal according to a point of arrival can be found, whether this is an airport, railway station or port.

This article has been written by Sam Black, a freelance travel writer.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Old Galle’s Lighthouse

There is something about Lighthouses that interest everyone. Be its history, its splendid location or its commanding views from the top, all lighthouses have a certain oomph factor.

Splendid looking lighthouse all clean n white and against the blue background
Such lighthouses were the norm for 2 and a half centuries till modern navigation devices took over. Personally, I have been to quite a few of such lighthouses and find them real interesting. In today’s era, we will find that most of the lighthouses are closed for the common man, but if you do find one that allows entrance, climb right to the top, relish the wafting sea breeze and soak in the stunning views of the coastline and the open waters.

The Galle Fort lighthouse in the distance
And if you happen to exploring the fort area of Galle in Sri Lanka, do try and pay a visit to this strikingly white lighthouse that functions even today. The lighthouse in itself is a great sight against the azure waters of the Indian Ocean. I am sure the views from the top will be even better though tourists are not allowed to climb to the top.

Lighthouse on Galle Fort - unfortunately, tourists are not allowed to climb it. Would have loved the view
And be it a sunny day or a dark cloudy day, this scene will remain etched in your memory for a long time. Such is its beauty.

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Athirapally Falls: The Niagara of Kerala

Athirapally falls is said to be a sight to behold in late July/early August. However, I was here in early May, but still found the experience captivating and the flow in the waterfall quite decent. The Athirapally falls is the largest waterfall in Kerala and forms on the Chalakudy river deep in the Vazhachal forests of the Western Ghats.

Athirapally Falls from the bottom
This waterfall, which is dubbed as the ‘Niagara’ of Kerala in peak flow is quite a popular scenic tourist spot with hoards of tourists coming to visit it every weekend and especially during national holidays. The tourist infrastructure here is pretty decent here with great trekking trails both to the top and to the bottom of the waterfall. Each of these trekking trails should take you about 10 minutes one way. The only things to watch out for here are the monkeys, your footing during the rains and proximity to the waters while you are at the bottom of the falls.

Athirapally Falls - the Niagara of Kerala
Otherwise, this place offers a stunning natural spectacle. If you drive down from Valparai, you will also notice the smaller Vazhachal falls, about 5 kilometers upstream on the Chalakudy river. The treks within the theme park do not offer great shots of the waterfall. In fact, I realized this after I completed the circuit. I wanted to go downstream and explore around the forests to find for a good spot, but unfortunately was running short on time and hence could not do that. Though, I have plans to visit this beautiful place and waterfall during the middle of the monsoons and hopefully then, I will have enough time to explore for good photography spots.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Poringalkuthu Reservoir: Nestled in the tropical rainforests of Vazhachal, Kerala

The Pollachi to Chalakudy belt is possibly got the highest concentration of large water bodies in India and all this is made possible by the dense and pristine rainforests of the Western Ghats here. To name a few, we have the Aliyar Dam, Nirar Dam, Upper Sholayar Dam, Lower Sholayar dam, the Poringalkuthu Dam and many more.

Poringalkuthu Reservoir as seen from the Vazhachal ghat roads
Of all these, the Poringalkuthu reservoir is possibly the most remote. While the others are surrounded by tea estates and forests, this one is just surrounded by tropical rainforests and evergreen forests. One can see this mighty reservoir play hide and seek while driving on the Vazhachal forest road.

Mist settles in on the Poringalputhu Reservoir
From the road, the reservoir itself forms quite a sight with large tall trees surrounding it on all sides and dense clouds above it always making their e presence felt. It is the water from this reservoir that ends up landing at the mighty Athirapally falls. This terrain is also home to a large concentration of Asiatic elephants.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Chariot at Airavateeswara Temple, Darasuram

If you are interested in temples and history, then I am sure you know the 2 temples that are famous for their chariots. One of them is the Sun temple at Konark and the other one is the Vittala temple in Hampi. But, there is an unknown third one that has carved a niche for itself in one of the Great Living Chola Temples in the plains of the Cauvery in the South.

Airavateeswara's Chariot looks similar to the one in Konark and Hampi
This temple is the small, but intricately carved Airavateeswara Temple at Darasuram, the third of the Great Living Chola Temples that was built by Raja Raja Chola, the third. The chariot in this temple may not be as exhaustive as the ones in the Vittala and the Sun temple, but it has a lot of similarities even in its miniature state. Do remember to check it out while in and around Thanjavur. This small temple campus packs quite a punch with its creativity.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Valparai to Athirapally: One of the top tropical motorcycle routes in India

Tea estates, coffee estates, umpteen curves, dams, reservoirs, rivers, streams, tropical rainforests, waterfalls, wildlife and oodles of greenery will ensure your eyes and mind always stay fresh when you ride from Valparai in Tamil Nadu to Athirapally Falls in Kerala. Having ridden all the roads of tropical India and the Western Ghats in particular, I can easily say that this route through the Vazhachal forest is one of the best tropical motorcycle routes in India and that too especially in the rains.

The extremely dense and quiet Vazhchal Forest roads to Chalkudy - perfect motorcycling terrain
In terms of distance, the destinations are only 85 kms apart. But, the meandering roads in the middle of dense greenery make you want to stay here forever. The journey in my mind is a natural wonder in itself. The scenic spots like the Sholayar dam, the Poringalputhu reservoir, the Vazhachal falls and the ‘Niagara of Kerala – the Athirapally Falls’ are the icing on the cake.

Mist settles in on the Poringalputhu Reservoir
The route is simply unbelievable, but it does come with some restrictions owing to forest department regulations. This Vazhachal forest route is a part of the elephant migration corridor where the pachyderms move from the Anaimalai and Parambikulam Tiger Reserve to the Chimmony Wildlife sanctuary and the Idukki district of Kerala. In fact, this belt has one of the highest elephant and tiger populations in the country. Hence, this route is open only from sunrise to sunset and that too one has to enter vehicle and personal details at each forest check post. This is only for keeping track of visitors and to launch a search and rescue mission if required.

The dense Vazhachal Forests
The entire route is a ‘plastic free’ zone. The forest department takes a count of all the plastic belongings that you carry inside and that count will be matched at the other end of the forest. But over and above these forest department best practices, I think we ourselves should be good Samaritans to ensure that the forest remains pure and pristine forever. To ensure that you have a hassle free journey, ensure you carry enough fuel on you. The nearest fuel stations are either Valparai or Chalakudy in Kerala. A good 105 kms separate both these destinations. Also, a good motorcycle maintenance kit and a first aid kit is recommended to ensure you don’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere for long. Do give this place a visit if you wish to be one with nature even though you are on a motorcycle!

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Guest Post: Things to do/experience while visiting India

For most travelers, a business visit or a vacation to India will be one of the most memorable experiences of their lives while at the same time being something of a culture shock. Be prepared for the contrast between the modern face of the thriving commercial India, and the abject poverty of some of the population that you will see all around you as you travel. You may well be shocked at seeing beggars in the streets. That having been said a visit to India can be a rewarding and a remarkable experience. I have been twice now and I would recommend a visit to anyone. India is vast, with a very large population, and lives up to its reputation for being extraordinary in many ways. Wherever you choose to visit in India, your trip is sure to be filled with exotic flavors, colors, sights, and sounds.

Preparation and safety tips
When you travel to India you are visiting a culture that is exotic and alien to you, and the trip will require some preparation if it is to be a success. Book your accommodations in India well in advance and check the local weather for the time of year to avoid the monsoon season if possible.

Once you arrive it is necessary to remember that, even though many hotels are modern and attractively decorated, you should still take some precautions with regards to health and hygiene. The tap water in particular should not be trusted; bottled water is generally easy to find, and should be used for drinking and brushing your teeth.

As a general rule of thumb, it is best to avoid the food sold by the street vendors. Additionally, as is the case elsewhere, the water in restaurants should be bottled and should be opened at the table. It is also a good idea to carry a supply of disinfecting wet wipes to use before eating. One interesting side note: the local custom is to use only the right hand for handling food, as the left hand is considered unclean and therefore unsuitable.

There are a number of things to do and experience in India that will help to make any trip to this enchanting land a memorable one. Here are just a few suggestions:

Visit the Taj Mahal
Perhaps the most famous and iconic destination in all of India is the Taj Mahal. Located in the city of Agra, a visit here is well worth the effort regardless of the part of the country you spend the majority of your trip visiting. Visitors walking in the grounds will admire the beauty and symmetry of this massive marble tomb. It was built by the Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, and was completed in 1653. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal lives up to its reputation as one of the Wonders of the World.

See the Golden City
When visiting western Rajasthan, heading through the sand dunes on a camel-trek will eventually bring you to the city of Jaisalmer. Known as the Golden City, Jaisalmer is home to a spectacular walled fortress that dates back to 1156 AD; the sunset over its centuries-old walls is a feast for the senses.

Experience Jaipur
If you like elephants then you will need to head for Jaipur, where these giant creatures are trained to ferry visitors up the hill to the castle. The ride is unforgettable, and the castle itself is well worth the visit. It is also quite common to catch sight of a local mahout – or elephant rider – riding an elephant through the city center. There are a number of other areas in India where elephants are ridden through the streets, including in the south-west state of Kerala.

Visit the Golden Temple
For adventurous travelers the Golden Temple, or Harimandir Sahib, which is located in Amritsar in the Punjab, is a rewarding and awe-inspiring sight. Located in a distinctive and enchanting part of the country, the current incarnation of the Golden Temple was finished in 1764 and is known for the gold plating and marble of its exterior, and the massive frescos and assortment of gemstones that decorate the interior.

Attend a festival
India is home to hundreds of festivals, and regardless of when you visit; the odds are that some of the locals will be celebrating a local deity or an historic event. For example, Diwali is a five-day festival that takes place in late October or early November each year; called the “Festival of Lights”, it is known for its spectacular fireworks. Holi is known as the “Festival of Colors”, and is celebrated in March each year.

This article has been written by Sam Black, a freelance travel writer.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Shyok River: A Beautiful Himalayan River from Northern Ladakh

The glacier-fed Shyok river is one of the main reasons for the extremely pretty and fertile Shyok and Nubra valleys. This tributary of the Indus river originates from the Rimo glacier, one of the tongues of the Siachen glacier, flows along the Pangong range of Changthang, does a ‘U’ turn and joins the Nubra river. It is the valley of these rivers that is known as the food bowl of Ladakh, allowing exotic fruits like seabuckthorn berries, apricots, almonds, etc. to grow here.

The Shyok river flowing in from the Changthang Cold Desert and before it joins the Nubra river
The Shyok and the Nubra then enter Pakistan and join the Indus river. The entire river is quite a sight in all seasons, especially in the summers when it glitters in emerald colors. This picture is of the Shyok river from a curve on one of the Himalayan roads that connects Khardung la to the town of Diskit

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Monday, May 07, 2012

Wild Horses from Changthang Cold Desert

I am always amazed when I see animals thriving in unforgiving conditions. But, that is how nature provides for and protects all its species even in the toughest conditions. Hence, even in one of the coldest places on the planet, the Changthang Cold Desert, the wild horses seem to be perfectly at home.

The famous horses of Changthang Cold Desert
Their thick fur and their ability to sniff out grass even in the driest of terrain make them survive these supremely cold conditions. While most of these horses roam wild in the cold desert, some of them are tamed by the Changpa nomads and used as ‘beasts of burden’ to transport precious pashmina wool and the likes.

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Eating your way across Turkey

The ancient crossroads of the East and West, Turkey has a distinct style of cuisine drawing from both Mediterranean and the Middle East influences. Local recipes date back to the Ottoman Empire, when thousands of chefs working under the sultans would take part in competitions reminiscent of Iron Chef to perfect one dish at a time. Turkish food relies on purity of flavor. Many fruits, vegetables, and meats are left standing on their own so that you can appreciate each flavorful burst of the sun-soaked local produce.

Turkish Cookery Staples
If the bread in Turkey tastes heavenly, it may be because Ottoman bakers believed that the archangel Gabriel himself passed down the art of bread making to Adam. You'll find bread in any number of delicious permutations when you take cheap flights to Turkey, and always warm from the oven. Pide and lavash are popular flat breads which can help sop up sauces or wrap around any number of delectable fillings, particularly Middle Eastern favorites such as hummus and baba ghanoush.

Yoghurt is a Turkish creation, and its creamy tang is used to compliment grilled meat kebabs, fried eggplant, or dished up alongside bread and olive oil for a simple yet satisfying snack. Rice, olive oil, and seafood are common ingredients in many dishes, and both meat and vegetables are usually grilled to bring out a greater intensity of flavor.

Top Foodie Regions
The benefit of a gastronomic tour around Turkey is that the cuisine will change along with the landscape. You can start in the Mediterranean region with Dalaman flights. Fresh cheese, almonds, and seafood are all typical bites in this area. Midye dolma are a popular seaside take on the classic stuffed grape leaves known as dolma. Instead of leaves, mussels are filled with spiced rice, closed back up, and then steamed and served with fresh lemon. This region is also filled with olive trees, so you will find that the best dishes are those which are glistening with fruity oil.

From there you can move inland to Central Anatolia, which features heartier cuisine including meat stews and dumplings. Mantu are dumplings stuffed with spiced meat and served with yoghurt, pepper, and sumac on top. Further north in the Marmara region, which includes the capital of Istanbul, you will find the greatest Ottoman influence. Expect to see a heavier use of rice and more elaborate spice blends in this region.

Hopping a bus and sampling your way through the various Turkish markets and taverns in these regions is a great way to get your taste buds acquainted with the local offerings. If you can't bear to part with Turkish cuisine at the end of your holiday, there are numerous cooking schools to teach you how to roll the perfect dolma.

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Sunday, May 06, 2012

Abstract Photography: Solitary!!

At Ladakh, the landscape photographer is spoilt for choice. Beautiful frames can be formed almost anywhere here. The sensational locales here nullify the importance of a good camera and/or a photographer. All frames taken here seem to be good.

Barren Look
This is such a frame that I took near the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh. This solitary tree was standing against the barren mountains and the clear blue skies. This landscape photograph also looks like abstract art or at least that’s what I feel.

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The Votive Stupas of Ladakh

A typical traveller to Ladakh notices a lot of miniature stupas at every nook and corner of this trans-Himalayan region. These are not the typical relic stupas that are very well known for their religious significance.

Such Buddhist Stupas can be seen all across the Ladakh region
Instead, these are the votive stupas that are constructed by the locals to commemorate their visits or to gain spiritual benefits. Locals keep sacred texts and other goods of religious importance like a prayer bowl or a prayer wheel inside these votive stupas as offerings.

Leh offers some fantastic monochrome landscapes
These votive stupas are found across the entire region of Ladakh and more so at the site of prominent stupas, which are regularly visited. The smallest of these votive stupas can be an assorted pyramid of stones, while the large ones will be the more well constructed and organized that look like miniature stupas.

Small stupas on the climb up to Shanti Stupa
These votive stupas offer the typical traveller a great feel of the rich Buddhist culture and add an interesting flavour to Ladakh’s barren landscape.

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Blue Skies of Ladakh: A Landscape Photography Series

The Western Himalayas are blessed with beautiful blue skies nearly all 365 days of the year. Its dry weather and low atmospheric water vapor levels ensures that the lighting is nearly always good here. So, be it summer or winter, the blues in the skies are a plenty.

Barren trees against the clear blue Leh Sky
It was such a series of blue skies that I saw when I went there on a winter backpacking expedition. These are some of the SUPER BLUE moments!
Evening sky at Tangtse
Sunset at Hanle
The barren Himalayas as seen from Hemis Monastery
The prayer flags against the blue skies of Leh
Totally dry, but still offers some colour

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Saturday, May 05, 2012

Sunset Moments from Leh Town

A cold evening at Leh saw me and my friends climb up Shanti Stupa as part of our acclimatization program. The short, but steep climb is a great way to get adjusted to the high altitude. This was the idea when we climbed, but when we reached the top, we were pleasantly stunned by the aerial beauty that was on offer.

Sunset in the Western Himalayas of Leh
The entire town of Leh with its barren tree cover could be seen from the top of Shanti Stupa. The Himalayan mountains surrounding it added to the aura. And as the evening set in, the rays of the setting sun dressed these views in splendid gold making for some fantastic sunset moments from Leh.

View of the Leh town from Shanti Stupa 
The barren Western Himalayas, the Leh town and the army camps below, each seemed to shine in the golden light making for some treasured views of the Leh town. These beautiful views more than made up for the puffing climb to the top of Shanti Stupa that included climbing over a steep flight of 200 to 250 plus steps.

Sunset over Leh
A word of caution though; Don’t get confused by these bright scenes, which give a feeling of warmth. In reality, it was a good 15 degrees below zero or even lower when we saw these spectacular sunset moments.

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