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Friday, September 28, 2012

Top 5 Attractions of Kuala Lumpur

A mining outpost of just a century ago and now the capital of Malaysia with a population of over 8 million, KL is one of the major centers of Southeast Asia. This crowded architectural marvel of a city has a lot to offer for the tourist. Below are the top 5 tourist spots.

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Colonial City Centre
West of the confluence of the Gombak and the Klang rivers is where one will find the old city centre for British colonial rule, with its 19th century Mughal-style administrative buildings. Most of these buildings are clustered around Dataran Merdeka or the Independence square. The most imposing of these buildings is the Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad, the colonial administrative center. The other important buildings here are the Old Supreme Court, Old Town Hall, Royal Selangor Club, Masjid Jamek, Kompleks Dayabumi and Masjid Negara.

imagePetronas Twin Towers The city’s most striking landmark is one of the world’s tallest building, the 1,483 feet tall Petronas twin towers, whose identical towers are linked midway up by a skybridge. The towers reach a numerically auspicious 88 storeys above the traffic congested streets and house the contemporary Suria KLCC shopping mall, an excellent concert hall and thousands of offices.

Bukit Bintang The fulcrum of modern consumer life in KL is Bukit Bintang, an area of shops, restaurants and hotels to suit every budget. One can find a whole bunch of shopping malls in this area. The Sungai Wang Plaza and the adjacent Bukit Bintang Plaza offer more than 500 shops, including some of the most affordable, trendy clothing options in KL. Imbi Plaza and Plaza Low Yat concentrate on computers and software, while the high end shoppers can explore the Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, the luxury Starhill Gallery and Lot 10.

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Menara Kuala Lumpur
For the best city view of Kuala Lumpur, climb the Menara Kuala Lumpur, a 1380 feet telecom tower, one of the highest such structures in the world. At its base is a lovely tropical forest park that is deserving of an exploration.

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Petaling Street

The city’s most famous street bazaar, Petaling Street, lines Jalan Petaling and Jalan Hang Lekir. It is most famous for pirated versions of branded goods, from handbags and jeans to watches. Bargaining hard here can result in very good buys. Apart from shopping, one can also explore the temples around this area such as Sin Sze Si Ya Temple, ornate South Indian Sri Maha Mariamman Temple and the Chan Shee Shue Yen Clan Association.

Note: Photos in this post have been used with written consent from Beehive Communications on behalf of Tourism Malaysia.

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An Elephant march at Samburu

When I first entered the dry and bleak landscape of Samburu, I hardly expected to see any elephants here. Little did I know that this national reserve packs one of the highest concentrations of the African Elephant in Kenya.

The Elephant trail at Samburu
And true to the park’s elephant status, I got to see huge herds of African Elephants quite regularly during my various game drives. But, it was one of those encounters that I really found interesting. The setting goes like this…It was late evening, say about 30 minutes to go before the park closes and I am standing at the intersection of 2 jeep tracks. I am supposed to head in the left direction, while I see a line of elephants coming on the jeep track from the track on the right side.

An Elephant March at Samburu
While these elephants were making their way over to me, it felt that the elephant were doing some kind of a march past as they were all equidistant from each other and seemed to be pretty synchronized. I watched about 15 elephants do like this before I had to rush to my wildlife lodge as the sun was setting fast.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why Florida holidays are still top for family getaways

When choosing the perfect trip or holiday for the upcoming year, travellers from the UK will find that Florida holidays will be a great option to consider. We reveal what you need to know about The ‘Sunshine State.’

Depending on what sights you want to see and which attractions you are looking to visit, Orlando could be the best place to stay in Florida.

From the best beaches in the US (and worldwide), to the most famous theme parks in the world, those who plan Florida holidays will find there is something for all travellers to enjoy, no matter who the family members are, what their age, or what activities they enjoy taking part in while on holiday.

There are many great beach getaways that can be chosen by travellers. From world-famous Miami Beach, the Florida Keys, Daytona Beach, and several other well-known destinations and beach travel spots travellers flock to; if you want a beach getaway for your Florida holidays 2013, there are many options to consider.

When choosing the destination, travellers have to make sure that they set out an itinerary, as these beaches are pretty spread out through the State, and will therefore require a few days to hit all of them, most likely a rental car, in order for the family to make it to as many of the beaches as possible.

Whether you stay with one, or visit a few different major beaches during your visit to Florida, travellers will find several great beaches for a great tan.

For those who want to visit the Disney theme parks, Orlando is the destination of choice. This is the perfect option for those with children, or individuals who have always wanted to visit the parks and see why they are so famous. There are several options available to visit with Disney parks, including Universal Orlando® Resort and Busch Gardens in Tampa.

So, when setting up the itinerary for Florida holidays 2012 or even 2013, travellers must make a list of the parks they want to visit, how many they are going to visit, and the days they are going to spend at each one, in order for them to get a full day's worth in each park, during their stay at this popular tourist attraction site. Villas in Florida are particularly popular as accommodation options when visiting the theme parks.

There are also many great dining locations and restaurants, many famous outlet malls for those who want to go shopping and many major cities like Miami Beach, which travellers are going to want to make a stop in while they are on their travels.

So, prior to leaving on the trip, making sure that an itinerary is set up, a budget is planned, and that a rental car is hired are top priorities - this will allow travellers to get the most out of their family trip together. Also, by planning in advance, and by booking flights and hotels in advance when taking your Florida holiday, travellers are going to find great savings, and will know they are going to find the best rooms to choose from for their stay.

Author Bio:
Charlotte currently writes on behalf of Ocean Florida holidays 2013, actively blogging about Travel, Beauty, Food & Drink and covering everything from the latest fashion trends to tasty food. On her spare time she loves shopping, discovering new products & enjoys getting lost in new places as she writes away.

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Top 11 Motorcycling Holidays in India

I am sure a lot of my readers are aware that I am a huge motorcycling travel aficionado. For those who aren’t, I wish to tell them that I have covered the entire Indian country on my motorcycle (in a single trip) and have covered over 2,00,000 (2 lakh) kilometers exploring different parts of India on my motorcycle. Travelers who are coming from New Zealand that are considering a motorcycle tour around India will be surprised at how much there is to see. This post is a list of my top 11 favorite motorcycling routes across India. Each have been ranked too (1 being the best).

Astounding views galore in the Western Himalayas of Ladakh
1) Ladakh and Kashmir
This route from Manali to Ladakh and Kashmir is one of the top 10 motorcycling routes in the world and hence it comes as no surprise that it is my most favorite motorcycling holiday in India. The high mountain passes, one of the highest motorable roads in the world (Khardung La), the rarified atmosphere, the rich Buddhist culture and a feeling of being in heaven is what makes this ride a truly once a lifetime experience. While planning a ride here, one is spoilt for choice. The Khardung La top, the sand dunes of Nubra Valley, the high altitude lakes like Pangong Tso, the path along the Zanskar river in Zanskar valley, the Buddhist monasteries of Lamayuru, Alchi or Hemis or the beauty of Srinagar, they all look equally inviting. If you want a more relaxed and planned holiday, you can look up Kashmir tour packages.

Typical route: Manali –> Rohtang La –> Tandi/Keylong –> Sarchu –> Tanglang La –> Upshi –> Leh (from Leh one can take separate routes to Khardungla and Nubra, Pangong and Tso Moriri and Hemis) –> Lamayuru –> Kargil –> Drass –> Zozi La –> Srinagar –> Patnitop –> Chandigarh

Ideal Riding Season: April to August

Beware of: Acute Mountain Sickness

Motorcycle's view of the Satluj River and the Snow peaks in Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India
2) Spiti Valley
The Spiti Valley route in Himachal Pradesh, not too far away from Ladakh, doesn’t get as much traffic as its neighbor, but isn’t any way behind in terms of natural beauty and awe-inspiring roads. In fact, the Hindustan-Tibet highway that leads into Spiti valley ensures your adrenalin keeps flowing on the ride. It is on this ride that you will get to go to the highest villages of the world. While Kaza, Tabo, Spiti and Pin valley make up for the real remoteness, the Baspa and Kinnaur regions act as great supporting pedestals with its apricot and apple orchards, satluj river views and snow capped shrines.

Typical Route: Shimla –> Baspa –> Kinnaur –> Recong Peo –> Kalpa –> Kaza –> Tabo –> Spiti –> Keylong –> Manali

Ideal Riding Season: April to October

Beware of: Acute Mountain Sickness

The extremely dense and quiet Vazhchal Forest roads to Chalkudy - perfect motorcycling terrain
3) Valparai and the Vazhachal Forest
This is possibly the best monsoon ride in the country. This route connecting Pollachi in Tamil Nadu to Chalakudy in Kerala is covered with some of the best cloud forests, tropical rainforests and evergreen forests in the country. This region receives so much rain that a lot of water can be always seen, be it stunning waterfalls and innumerable dams and reservoirs. And since this area is either part of the Anaimalai tiger reserve or the Vazhachal forest reserve, wildlife sightings are also pretty common.

Typical Route: Pollachi –> Valparai –> Vazhachal –> Athirapally –> Chalakudy

Ideal Riding Season: All year around

Beware of: Wildlife confrontations

Picturesque Arabian Sea view from Cabo de Rama fort
4) NH 17
This is undoubtedly the best coastal ride in India and is very similar to the 101 highway in the United States. This ride, which runs all the way from Mumbai in Maharashtra to Trivandrum in Kerala can be either done in one complete shot or in parts. This route ensures that you always play hide seek with the coastline and cross countless pristine beaches of mainland India (across Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala). Maravanthe beach on this highway will be your motorcycle’s favorite parking spot.

Typical Route: Mumbai –> Ratnagiri –> Goa –> Karwar –> Maravanthe –> Mangalore –> Bekal –> Cochin –> Alleppey –> Kollam –> Trivandrum

Ideal Riding Season: Winter months of October to February

Beware of: Heavy truck traffic in certain city junctions

Winding himalayan roads and the steep drop next to it
5) Western Arunachal Pradesh
This route on the eastern Himalayas is as beautiful as its western counterpart, but possibly more tough due to the lack of roads. Western Arunachal Pradesh’s laid back lifestyle, snow covered roads and unique tribal culture make this high altitude route a very interesting one.

Typical Route: Bhalupkong –> Dirang –> Bomdila –> Tawang

Ideal Riding Season: March to May or October and November

Beware of: Landslides triggered by heavy rains

Sunset on sand dunes is indeed a very pretty sight!!
6) Great Indian Thar Desert
Riding in a desert is definitely a fantastic experience and if the desert keeps on coming at you, then it can certainly give you a high. It is such a high that ones gets while traversing the Great Indian Thar Desert via Barmer, Jaisalmer and Bikaner. Apart from riding in the sand dunes, this ride takes you through some of the most sparsely populated regions of our heavily populated country. Riding through erstwhile kingdoms is also a plus.

Typical Route: Barmer –> Jaisalmer –> Bikaner

Ideal Riding Season: October to February

Beware of: Pushing your motorcycle through the fine sands of the dunes

The largest salt desert in the world - Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India
7) Rann of Kutch
Riding across a salt desert might not sound that amusing to you, but if I tell you that you don’t need to press your brake here, then may be, you will listen to me. The salt desert of Kutch is a very wide expanse of land with hardly any obstructions. If the ground below you is hard enough, you can even try and break the land speed record here. But, keeping speed aside, the specialty of this place is its beautiful star lit sky. I love to ride in the night here while following the stars.

Typical Route: Surendrangar –> Dhrangadhra –> Little Rann of Kutch –> Great Rann of Kutch

Ideal Riding Season: December to February

Beware of: Soft ground. This can send you into a tailspin.

Chugging along with the World Heritage “Toy Train” to Darjeeling, West Bengal, India
8) Darjeeling and Sikkim
A true beauty of the Eastern Himalayas, this Himalayan route allows you to ride along the chugging Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and weave through some unbelievably steep and winding roads. The hill culture, a heady mixture or Hinduism and Buddhism and the heavenly sights of the Kanchenjunga are some fine attributes of this route. For a relaxed and planned family or couple holiday, look up Sikkim tour packages.

Typical Route: Siliguri –> Darjeeling –> Kalimpong –> Gangtok –> Pelling –> Yuksom

Ideal Riding Season: All year around

Beware of: Landslides during the heavy rains

Noh Kalikai Falls, Cherrapunji, Meghalaya
9) Meghalaya
Who would not be interested in a ride through the wettest place on the planet? A unique culture, extremely pretty women, some of the highest waterfalls in the country, the cleanest village in India and the living root bridges of Nongriat are more than enough reasons to make Meghalaya a special motorcycle ride in North East India.

Typical Route: Guwahati –> Shillong –> Cheerapunji district –> East Khasi Hills

Ideal Riding Season: October to February

Beware of: Landslides

The famous hairpin bends of Kolli Hills - 70 in all
10) Kolli Hills
How about getting into the Limca Book of Records? Have you ever ridden 70 continuous hairpin bends? Well, Kolli hills or the mountains of death will ensure that you get a feel of both. This tropical hill station located in the Eastern Ghats of Tamil Nadu is also famous for its Agaya Gangai waterfall, its old Shiva temple and Pineapple farms. This makes for a great weekend ride from Bangalore.

Typical Route: Salem –> Rasipuram –> Kolli Hills

Ideal Riding Season: All year around

Beware of: Accidents on the small ghat roads

Dark Clouds over Tranquebar
11) East Coast of Tamil Nadu
The East Coast highway of Tamil Nadu may not be as eye-catching as the NH 17 of Western India, but it certainly has a lot of color, flavor and culture. Whether it is the flamingos at the Pulicat lake, the Sea shore temple at Mahabalipuram, the French settlement at Pondicherry, the famous Natarajar temple at Chidambaram, the unknown Danish colony at Tranquebar, the churches at Velankani or the Adam’s bridge at Rameshwaram, the ECR has a lot of such jewels to showcase.

Typical Route: Pulicat Lake –> Chennai –> Mahabalipuram –> Pondicherry –> Cuddalore –> Chidambaram –> Tranquebar –> Nagapattinam –> Rameshwaram –> Tuticorin

Ideal Riding Season: December and January

Beware of: Unseasonal cyclones that can cause serious damage to the coastline

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Lake Nakuru from Baboon’s Cliff

The Great Rift Valley in Kenya is home to some beautiful lakes. Some of them are alkaline in nature, while the others are fresh water lakes. A unique ecosystem is associated with each of these lakes. Such an ecosystem is located around Lake Nakuru too and that ecosystem is known as the Lake Nakuru National Park.

Locals admiring the view from Baboon's cliff
This ecosystem is primarily known for its water birds, especially the lesser flamingos which arrive here in millions, but its other wildlife is special too, especially the Cape Buffalo, which can be seen here in huge numbers and the Rothchild’s Giraffe, which can be seen only here in the entire world.

Stunning Lake Nakuru landscape from Baboon's cliff view point
But, all this happens at the ground level and sometimes we miss the larger scheme of things, which is the sheer natural beauty of this place even without considering the wildlife. Like the tropical forests, the yellow fever trees, the blue waters of the lake shining in the sun and the small hills in the background.

The beautiful Lake Nakuru roads
Thankfully, there are certain places inside the Lake Nakuru national park from where one can soak in this magnificent view. One such popular view point is the Baboon’s cliff. This spot is at one end of the park and is situated at quite an altitude, thereby giving a great view of the stunning spectacle below.

Typical Safari vans of Kenya with their open hoods - ideal for sun, rain and protection (cheaper too when compared to land cruisers and land rovers)
It is common to see safari vehicles stop here after either their morning game drive or evening game drive. More so the morning game drive so that they don’t miss any wildlife sighting opportunities.

The road that connects Lake Nakuru to Baboon's cliff
The Baboon’s cliff is a perfect place to just sit back and admire mother nature’s creation and is definitely a beautiful addition to a wildlife safari.

Quick note: Stock your wide angle lenses while coming here. Your wildlife zoom lenses might not be really useful here.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cape Buffalo from Lake Nakuru National Park

The Cape Buffalo is one of those animals that looks calm and serene, but can give the best predator a run for its money. No wonder, it is part of the ‘Big Five’, an elite group of animals that were traditionally difficult to capture.

Cape Buffalo rests in the swamp land of Lake Nakuru
But, the Cape Buffalo is unlike the rest of the Big Five and hardly looks interested in even a deep stare. All it cares about is grazing, covering itself with mud and lying in the water.

Cape Buffalos seen from on top of Baboon's Cliff
But, beneath all this docility lies sheer brute strength and an instinct to protect itself and its family. One can get a feel of this by seeing their massive horns and their muscles in tons.

A Resting Cape Buffalo
I was lucky to see them in huge numbers at Lake Nakuru. Most of the time they preferred to rest in the shade or roll in the swampy mud land.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

African Safari Destinations: A Reliable Tour Operator to explore Kenya

Kenya is a country where it is very difficult to travel on your own. The reasons are many: high cost of accommodation, safety issues, reliability, dependability, accessibility for foreign tourists and more. Thus, most of the tourists to Kenya end up going through a tour operator. Even I had to go through a tour operator as I was unable to do bookings on my own (either accommodation was not available owing to high season even though I reached out to hotels/lodges 4 months before my arrival date or the accommodation was working out to be too expensive).

Special Lion Moments from Maasai Mara - 1
After a lot of research, I zeroed in on African Safari Destinations (ASD), a Nairobi based tour operator who organizes tours in Kenya and Tanzania. This is managed and run by Dipesh Galani. I selected them in spite of reading a lot of negative reviews about them on the internet. But, my confidence on them increased when I heard a lot of positive reviews from my friends and from corporates who had availed their services. Thus, I proceeded with them with a mixed set of emotions and with a little bit of risk.

One of the beauties of Maasai Mara
Below is my review of my experience with them. I availed their services for 10 nights and 11 days and I came out at the end of it with a great and happy experience.

1) African Safari Destinations is run by a person of Indian-origin. But, did that give me any confidence? I really don’t know.

2) They allowed me to completely customize the itinerary. I really appreciated this as I did not want to go on a package tour where the itinerary is built by somebody else.

3) Kenya has wide differences in standard of accommodation. Hence, it becomes super important to book in a quality place. African Safari Destinations ensures this by booking only in hotels of good standard. They will refuse to book you in a sub standard accommodation citing bad reviews from their earlier customers. This will take care of your hotel quality, food, safety, et al.

The Towers of Maasai Mara
4) The best part about touring with them was my driver and guide Nicholas, who was very knowledgeable about local conditions, had solid understanding of Kenyan Wildlife and birds (which I really appreciated since me and my friend were on a wildlife holiday and not a normal holiday) and the best part is that he cared about the national park rules and the wildlife. The last one is a quality that is very difficult to get given that most tour operators will break all rules just to please their clients and get a good tip in return. But, our guide was completely law-abiding. I really appreciated this quality.

5) The entire 11 days, I toured 1,500 kms and 14 game drives in their 4 wheel drive vehicle and had no problems at all. The vehicle was in good condition and never even once gave any trouble in spite of the horrible state of roads leading to Maasai Mara.

6) During my research with other tour operators, I found the African Safari Destinations to be marginally cheaper than the others.But, were they really cheap. I don’t know. But, I guess given the rush during the high season, they charged reasonably with not hefty margins.

A soft sunset over the Maasai Mara
7) I found them to be pretty trustworthy too. While making the bookings, they booked us into superior rooms and tents, but during the actual stay, we were booked into standard rooms (this is what we preferred) and the tour operator refunded us the excess amount.

8) The payment process was pretty straight forward. I had wire transferred 50% of the amount as advance and settled the rest in cash when I landed at Nairobi.

9) One of the comforting things in this engagement was the prompt way in which Dipesh and his entire team responded to my emails and phone calls and was always accommodative in spite of my umpteen requests and changes.

Overall, I had a good experience with them and I found them to be reliable.

If you wish to reach out to them, contact Dipesh Galani at dgalani@africansafaridestinations.net or at +254 786 747 804.

Note: Please use your own discretion while booking. This post is my personal opinion based on my recent experience and should not be construed as a recommendation.

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Top 4 Adventure Activities in Malaysian Borneo

Forming the northern part of the large island of Borneo, the Malaysian outposts of Sabah and Sarawak or Malaysian Borneo offer pristine jungles, some of the world’s best diving and the lofty mountain of Gunung Kinabalu. Below are the top 4 adventure activities that one can undertake in Malaysian Borneo.

image Trekking around Mount Kinabalu Home to one of the greatest concentrations of plant species in the world, Gunung Kinabalu at 4,093 metres is South East Asia’s highest peak out of New Guinea. Two well laid paths with steps and rails help climbers ascend and descend the mountain in just two days (taking in a sunrise, too). After trekking, one can soak in the Poring Hot Springs near the headquarters; it also has a tropical garden and a canopy walkway.
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Diving at Pulau Sipadan
The waters off Semporna (southeastern Sabah) are a haven for scuba diving. The most famous spot is Pulau Sipadan, Malaysia’s only true Oceanic island rising upto 2,000 feet from the sea bed.With turtles galore, giant shoals of swirling barracuda and other wonders, the marine life of Sipadan has been hailed by both the Worldwide Fund for nature and the late Jacques Cousteau as among the best in the world.

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Cruise on the Kinabatangan River
This cruise, which begins at Sandakan is dominated by mangrove swamps and twisting waterways. The Kinabatangan and its tributaries are famed as the home of the long-nosed, pot-bellied proboscis monkey, but a host of other wildlife can be seen here, including Bornean pygmy elephants, 10 species of primates and eight species of hornbills.

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Exploring the Rock Pinnacles at Gunung Mulu
Twenty minutes by plane from Miri is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gunung Mulu National Park, an inland expanse of diverse terrain and vegetation with unique cave systems and limestone features, including the spectacular Pinnacles, as well as some of the most magnificent landscapes in the land.

Note: Photos in this post have been used with written consent from Beehive Communications on behalf of Tourism Malaysia.

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Beaches of South Goa’s Canacona District

Even though North Goa is known for its parties, flea markets, adventure sports and more, I find the beaches of South Goa to be more picturesque, serene,  endowed with natural beauty and less crowded. Below is a list of my top beaches (have ranked them: 1 being the best) that come under the Canacona district of South Goa. I thought I should share this list given that the Goa season is fast approaching.

Appraoching the rocky side of Galgibaga Beach 1. Galgibaga Beach This is definitely the cleanest beach in Goa and may be, the whole of Indian mainland. I call it the turtle beach since the Olive Ridley Turtles come to nest here. Accommodation options may be less here, but that helps in preserving this natural beauty.

2. Cola Beach
A very remote beach that has its own river, a small lagoon and the sea to itself. This is ideal for those who prefer a very quiet beach and would like to enjoy those serene sunsets with their loved ones. The freshwater body also adds a special charm to this beach.

3. Agonda Beach This is a popular beach next to the Agonda river estuary that is frequented by those who wish to stay around for long periods of times. One can find houses and shacks on rent by the month here. Sunsets here are legendary. For those staying here, the Cabo de Rama Fort is not too far away.

Where the river meets the sea
4. Palolem Beach
The Palolem Beach is the most happening beach in the Canacona district with a lot of facilities. Ideal for families with great choice available in food.

5. Honeymoon Beach This is a pristine beach that is located on an island. One can get here in the early hours of the morning with packed food, enjoy the beach to themselves and then return to Palolem by evening. Great place to spot dolphins too.

The small, but very pretty and remote Honeymoon beach
6. Butterfly Beach
A very small island beach that is about a 15 minute boat ride from Palolem. Ideal for those who are interested in climbing up the small hillocks of the hill, soak in the stunning Arabian Sea views, take a swim in the waters, have a relaxed afternoon and then return to Palolem in the evening. Watch out for the tides here.

7. Patnem Beach This is the beach that is most preferred by the foreign tourists as it is real close to the party zone that happens all night. Thursdays and Saturdays are the happening nights. It would be difficult to find a domestic tourist staying here.

The Sun, the Beach and the golden sands at Rajbaga Beach
8. Rajbaga Beach
This is the beach that is right in front of the Lalit Intercontinental property. The Talpona river separates it from the Galgibaga beach. Ideal for those luxury seekers and those who wish to indulge in some adventure sports.

9. Colomb Beach This beach next to the Patnem Beach is known for its cove. Has an equal mix of domestic and foreign tourists. The beach is really small, but the waters can be real gentle here.

I hope that this list helps in planning your upcoming South Goa holiday.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Lioness Hunt

A predator stalking a prey, hunting it, killing it and eating it is what we generally see on TV (Nat Geo, Discovery, Animal Planet, etc.), but we hardly see it while we are on a game drive. In fact, this is what most of the wildlife photographers aspire to see.

Lioness getting ready for the chase
I was lucky to spot a part of it while I was on game drive at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. During this game drive, I saw a lioness come out of the bushes and stalk a Coke’s Hartebeest (mother and young one) for a long while.

Lioness stalking its prey
She continued to stalk it in spite of being surrounded by about 10 vehicles that were on the game drive (this included my vehicle). The Coke’s Hartebeest did not notice this stalking lioness because of the vehicles around it.

Lionees chases a Coke's Hartebeest, but the chase ends unsuccessful
This formed an excellent cover for the lioness. But, the lioness decided to chase even when the distance between her and her prey was quite large. This didn’t work to her advantage and the Coke’s Hartebeest (mother and young one) had enough time to run to safety.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sarova Mara Game Camp, Kenya: A Review

The Sarova Hotels group, one of the leading hotel chains in Kenya have properties in all of Kenya’s key tourist spots. Hence, it is not surprising at all that they have one of their larger properties at Kenya’s main tourist destination – Maasai Mara. The Sarova Hotel property located in the eastern side of Maasai Mara is called the Sarova Mara Game Camp. I stayed here for 2 nights and 3 days during my recent wildlife safari holiday to Kenya.

The Cheetah is very friendly with the humans...it is known to climb jeeps with humans in it to get a better view of its prey
Following points make up my review of this tented luxury camp based on my recent experience:

1) Like the Sarova property (Lion Hill Lodge) at Lake Nakuru, even the Sarova Mara Game Camp is notorious for its extremely small accommodation. Over 3 days and 2 nights, I would have banged my head in the tent or my shoulder would have brushed the sides against the tent (standard tent) at least a 100 times. I found this really irritating as I had to literally watch my every step, shoulder and head in the tent. Definitely a huge minus for me given that I am paying a premium for these tents. But, thankfully, this was the only minus in my experience here.

2) I absolutely loved the Sarova Mara property. The property is set in a mini forest in itself on the eastern part of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. The small streams, the lake and the dense vegetation ensures that you are always woken up to pristine nature’s sounds of bird calls and whistles.

The Maasai Giraffe is possibly the only animal that can be seen clearly from a long distance; such is its gigantic height
3) The property, which is quite massive offers a great opportunity for a relaxed walk. It’s well cobbled paths, lake, lawns and excellent tree cover ensure that your walk will be totally blissful.

4) The property also has a swimming pool if you wish to cool off during the day.

5) My favourite thing about the Sarova hotels is their food. Nothing can beat their elaborate spread and quality of starters, salads, main course and desserts. Their food is totally top class. I would always return to Sarova just for their food.

A large herd of Wildebeest and small herd of Zebra graze together
6) Sarova Mara, like other Sarova hotels maintains great service standards. People are real nice too.

7) Since the Sarova Mara is situated inside the game reserve, one doesn’t lose time in commute while on a game drive. This helps in good wildlife sightings in the early hours of the morning as that is when you get to see the more elusive animals.

8) The Sarova Mara also arranges some cultural events in the evenings during high season. This is interesting for families and kids. But, I prefer the fireplace in this hall and the best part is that it is close to the bar counter.

The African Lion at Maasai Mara Game Reserve
9) The Sarova Mara Game Camp stocks a great gift store, but they charge a premium for these versus other lodges.

Overall, I would definitely go back to Sarova Mara for its food and rich hospitality, but I would always prefer a larger and more spacious standard room, which would make it perfect value for money, if there is any such thing.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Remarkable Malaysian Wildlife

Compared with East Africa or India, relatively few visitors to Malaysia take the time to explore the region’s national parks and wildlife reserves. Yet there is a great deal to see as the natural habitats of Malaysia are some of the richest on earth, home to remarkable range of animal life.

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The tropical rainforests of Malaysia, dominated by gigantic trees are home to a wide range of wildlife that includes numerous species of monkey and smaller primates, such as the silvered-leaf monkey at Bukit Nanas in Langkawi and the nocturnal tarsier that is indigenous to the jungles of Sarawak. The Malayan flying squirrel leaping from branch to branch is quite the specialty here, while down on the ground there are forest elephants, rhinos, tigers, leopards, clouded leopards, honey bears and scaly ant-eaters. One of the most unusual animals is the Malayan tapir, a distant cousin of the elephant, which can be seen in parts of peninsular Malaysia.

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Over 620 species of birds have been recorded just on the peninsula. The giant hornbill found in the equatorial forests is one of the more treasured sights. Other bird species include spectacular pheasants and many groups of colorful birds such as kingfishers, sunbirds, woodpeckers and barbets.

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Snakes such as the cobra and the python also can be regularly seen. So are the saltwater crocodiles that are found in plenty in many rivers and coastal areas. A variety of lizards, geckos and chameleons can be seen throughout the region, as can improbably colorful tree frogs.

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Malaysia is a true ecological gem, the excellent combination of sea, sun, fascinating rainforests, mysterious mangroves, birds and wildlife. So whether you are a simple tourist or an ardent naturalist, Malaysian wildlife is bound to leave an impact on you.

Note: Photos in this post have been used with written consent from Beehive Communications on behalf of Tourism Malaysia.

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Fire Up For the Biggest Street Party in Barcelona (21-24 Sept)

Although it could be said that it’s always like summer in Spain, the season comes to a close in Barcelona with a street party that is worth waiting all year for. The La Mercé Festival runs for four days at the end of September and attracts thousands of visitors from all over Spain and beyond for days filled with fireworks, food, parades and even human pyramids!

Kicking off this year on the 21st September and running until the 24th, the La Mercé Festival welcomes in the slightly less scorching months of autumn and also serves to honor the Patron Saint of Barcelona, Mare de Deu de la Mercé. It has taken place every year since 1902 but every year is more spectacular than the rest, so you never quite know what you might see.



However there are always some staples of the La Mercé Festival that you can expect to see each year, starting with the Correfoc, or Fire Run. This colorful part of the festival is an enormous parade that winds around the streets of Barcelona, and locals dressed as devils run up and down the streets with bangers and handheld fireworks.

They will be accompanied by enormous dragon statues that ‘breathe fire’ onto the crowds, as showers of sparkles pour from their mouths, so be sure to wear protective clothing as they can be quite powerful! There is also a tamer children’s version of this parade too, which takes place before the main event.

Towers of Fun You can also expect to see Castellers, or Human Towers, for which thousands of people will pack the Plaça de Sant Jaume to witness Barcelona’s acrobats flip, spin and somersault their way into crazy formations.

The Gigantes are also an enormously important part of La Mercé – in fact, they’re just enormous! The Giants are paraded around Barcelona during the daytime, accompanied by live music, but beware – they’re known to chase people if and when they feel like it.

As well as these three thrilling aspects of the festival, you can also expect drinking, dancing and good food from morning until night, throughout the city of Barcelona. It’s certainly an event not to be missed, so why not check out low-cost airlines like Jet2.com cheap flights to Spain starting at just £29 one way including taxes.

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Five tips to consider when travelling

For both young people and older professionals, gap year traveling is more popular than ever. Gap year traveling traditionally occurs during a break in education or work, usually over a significant period. This period of time most often occurs between high school graduation and enrolling in college, but can occur between any two significant periods. In most cases gap travel lasts for several weeks, an entire semester, or even an entire year.

However, just as with any other type of travel, gap year trips need to be carefully planned out in order to be successful. Gap year travel often involves international travel, with the most popular destinations being South Africa, Australia, Thailand, India, Borneo, and New Zealand. Here are five things to keep in mind when traveling to these or any other destinations during a gap year.

#1 Preparing financially Before setting off on any type of travel, it is always essential to be prepared financially. While at the very basic level this means saving up enough money to cover travel, accommodations, and incidentals while traveling, it also means being prepared for the unexpected. Because bills are rarely in the forefront of anyone’s mind when traveling, paying the bills before leaving is always a good idea. If that isn’t possible, online banking is a wonderful thing. Institutions like Discover Bank allow customers to discover which bills need to be paid and to keep an eye on their finances the entire time they travel.

#2 Getting vaccinated If international travel is in the plans, sorting out the proper vaccinations beforehand is essential. This should not be left to the last minute as some vaccinations often take months to complete. Of course, there are some fast-track alternatives, but they may have side effects and cost more money. But, vaccinations aren’t the only issue travelers should consider – travel plans should also include handling prescription medications. It is essential that local laws be checked to ensure that any prescription medications are legal in the country in which you will be traveling.

#3 Visas and passports
The most important part of the preparation is, without a doubt, making sure that the passports are up to date and all visas are in order. Remember, passports must be valid for at least six months, so if the expiration date is near, it may be smart to apply for a replacement before travel commences. In some countries, there is no need to apply for a visa before arrival, however, others may require advanced filing. Check with ample time to spare – there are different policies and procedures for every country.

#4 Keeping in touch
It is important to keep in touch with friends and relatives while traveling, so taking along the mobile phone is a good idea. However, be sure to speak to the provider beforehand to check on any roaming charges or international calling fees. A quick fix to avoid extraneous fees is to take the sim card but leave the smartphone at home, simply buying an international handset upon arrival.

#5 Drinking the water When traveling, most people have heard to be wary of the local tap water when thirsty. Safe hydration is a must and water is essential, so drink only from bottles that are sealed. Some travelers choose to take a supply of water purification tablets with them as well. However, it goes beyond water – eating fresh fruits and vegetables that have been washed in the local water may pose a problem as well as when brushing teeth. Be careful!

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Spotted Hyena: An Elusive Predator spotted at Maasai Mara, Kenya

For some reason, I have always wanted to watch the Hyena in the wild. In my mind space, the Hyena occupies a much higher ranking than the usual predators – lion, leopard, cheetah, leopard, tiger, etc. May be, it is because I have always been fascinated by their hunting technique that is portrayed on TV (Nat Geo, Discovery, Animal Planet, etc.).

Spotted Hyena - an elusive predator
But, what I didn’t really know was that the Hyenas are more elusive than most of the big cats. And, in 14 game drives in Kenya, I saw the Hyena only once and that too in the wee hours of the morning.

Spotted hyena looks into the lens as it crosses the jeep track
The Hyena that I saw was a Spotted Hyena on the eastern side of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve as he crossed the jeep track. And even while crossing the jeep track, he was very shy of the vehicles. I hope this shyness ensures that their population remains healthy and they remain happy in the wild.

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