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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Travel Photo: A Torajan Coffee Seller

The Indonesia Kopi packs quite a unique flavor and is quite an important part of Indonesia’s ‘Nongkrong’ culture. Hence, I was all pepped up when I saw the coffee estates in the Sulawesi island of Indonesia. They are quite strong and come with their own special aroma. While the coffee estates are beautiful, the subject here is the roasted coffee beans and the local Torajan seller who either sells the coffee beans or grinds them and then sells the coffee powder. What I really loved is his relaxed attitude towards his work. He simply put his feet up and once a while used his stick and cloth to shoo away the flies. And when someone looked at him, he simply smiled. And that is precisely what happened with me. And he was kind enough to let me take his photograph.

A Tana Torajan Coffee seller
This in essence captures the mood of Tana Toraja, which is very relaxed and blessed with natural beauty. The people of Toraja are easy going and love their relaxed life. They are very proud of their traditions and love their coffee fiercely. If you ever get a chance to visit Tana Toraja, do check out this relaxed culture, their traditions and their coffee.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

How Your Phone Can Be the Ultimate Vacation Guide

Booking the perfect vacation is easier than ever now that so many websites and apps exist to help you find the best deals and most stellar attractions. Downloading the right apps will help you plan your trip, follow your itinerary, and find great things to do while you're on vacation.

SkyScanner
The first step in taking the ultimate vacation is booking the right flight. That's where SkyScanner comes in. SkyScanner's free app helps you find the best flight, be it by price, location, or date. Booking is simple, and so is sharing the flight details.

FlightTrack
Keeping track of trips can get hectic if you've got to change flights or share and coordinate your itinerary with multiple people. FlightTrack makes it simple to follow all your flight details via your phone. This handy app color codes your flights, notifies you of delays, and gives you a simple way to share the itinerary with whoever needs to know.

Hotel Tonight
While waiting until the last minute to book a hotel isn't ideal, unfortunate things happen, and if you find yourself in need of a good room very quickly, Hotel Tonight is the perfect app for you. It's free to download, and gives you a secure way to book last-minute hotel rooms at the best price. While it isn't available in every city in the US yet, it does boast a long list of popular vacation destinations.

TripIt
TripIt is the app for keeping all your travel plans in one place. The free app gives you a clean layout of your daily itinerary, from your flight times to your car rental to your dinner plans. It offers information like your flight number and addresses of places you want to go all in an easy list form, so you can view everything from one screen. All you have to do is forward your confirmation emails to TripIt and the app does the rest of the organization work for you.

Gogobot
Once you've flown to your destination and are settled into your hotel, it's time to find things to do. The Gogobot app will help you fill your vacation days with awesome activities. Gogobot helps you find things to do wherever you are, with lots of different search parameters. Plus, once you've signed up, it makes recommendations based on your preferences. This is an app you'll use even once you get home again to find cool new things to do.

Urbanspoon
When you're hungry, Urbanspoon will help you find a great restaurant. You can filter your search based on location, type of cuisine, price range, or time of meal (e.g. breakfast, lunch, dinner). It has a handy "Nearby" button which shows you lots of options right near where you are at the moment, which is great in an unfamiliar city. You can also read reviews and create a dining timeline of all the places you've eaten.

TouristEye
Whether you need help planning your next trip or need to find something fun to do while you're in a new city, TouristEye can help. With the option to create a wish list, you can keep track of ideas for future vacations. The app also recommends cool spots to check out based on where you are during your vacation. The app features maps that are accessible offline, which will save you on roaming fees, or you can check out a good data plan from carriers like T-Mobile with no roaming fees.

Travel Guides by Stay.com
When you're looking for stuff to do, it's easy to tap on your phone's GPS app and search for things to eat or places to see. But after days of vacationing, that method can be pretty rough on your data plan. Stay.com's travel guides are offline maps, great because they still tell you where you want to go and how to get there without giving you a gigantic phone bill. From offline maps to flight trackers, these apps guide any kind of traveler to a highly customized vacation without any stress. Manage everything from your itinerary to your meals, and take advantage of the best your destination has to offer.

About the Author:
Abigail Clark is an up-and-coming freelance writer. She graduated from The University of South Florida with a bachelors in marketing, minoring in journalism. When she isn’t up to her neck in coupons she is enjoying the outdoors fishing. She loves doing reviews for technology, home products and beauty products. If you would like her to do a review for you look her up on twitter @downtownabby17.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Top 10 Off-Beat Honeymoon Destinations in India

There was a time when the various hill stations of India such as Darjeeling, Khandala, Nainital, Srinagar, Kodaikanal, Ooty, Coorg, Mt. Abu, etc. and mainland beach destinations in Goa, Karnataka and Kerala used to be popular honeymoon choices of the people of India. But, as I keep traveling to various parts of India, I have realized the potential of other destinations that offer immense potential and value to prospective honeymooners. Based on this experience, I have put together these top 10 off-beat honeymoon destinations in India. I hope you get a chance to explore them either during your honeymoons or simply during your holiday.

Kadmat Island, Lakshadweep

White sands of Kadmat Island
I call it
: Pristine Island Paradise

This 9 km long island, located in the Lakshwadeep sea is 1 km long at its widest part and about 200m at its shortest end. Its white sandy beaches is the cleanest you will ever see in India and its sensational underwater marine life and coral reefs rank as some of the best in the world. In fact, it gives neighboring island countries of Maldives and Mauritius a run for the money. Kadmat is not as expensive as Agatti or Bangaram, the other famous islands in the Lakshadweep and this means that you can spend a longer time loafing around in your beach bungalow with your own hammocks. The ocean is your swimming pool and for entertainment, you can catch hermit crabs, go snorkeling, kayaking or scuba diving, read a book on your hammock, work on your tan and the oodles of privacy available here.

Ideal for: Beach Lovers, Underwater Enthusiasts, Isolation

Luxury Level: Medium

Best Time of the Year to Visit: All year round except for the monsoon season

Nearest Airport Location: Agatti 

Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh

Tawang and the snow capped Himalayas
I call it
: Tibet of India

If you have always been enamored by Tibet, you will instantly fall in love with Tawang. This seat of Buddhism in Western Arunachal Pradesh is nestled amongst the snow clad peaks of the Eastern Himalayas. This part of India is home to some sensational high altitude lakes, beautiful waterfalls, lots of interesting crafts and amazing people. Just walking around Tawang gives you a feel of Switzerland albeit with different architecture and religion. And this part of North East India, unlike the Western Himalayas is very sparsely populated, still uncluttered and makes you feel like you are on virgin territory.

Ideal for: Mountain Lovers, Trekkers, Bird Watchers, Nature Lovers and Buddhism Culture

Luxury Level: Medium

Best Time of the Year to Visit: October to May

Nearest Airport Location: Tezpur is closer, but Itanagar and Guwahati are the busier airports.

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Thar Desert, Jaisalmer

I call it
: Romance in the Desert

This desert jewel is fit for kings and queens. With palaces, colorful bazaars and rolling sand dunes, this place has it all. But, what makes it perfect for honeymooners is the option to stay in the desert, enjoying camel ride sunsets, cozying up during a romantic candle night dinner under a starry desert sky and being one with the local Rajasthani culture. It also has a fair share of forts, national parks and nomadic villages. Basically, a complete desert experience for you. And if you feel like a romantic and luxury rail holiday then you try the Maharaja Express that take you across Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Ranthambore, Udaipur and Jaipur. A rich Rajasthan experience!

Ideal for: Desert Lovers, Palaces, Isolation, Rajasthani Food and Hospitality

Luxury Level: Luxury

Best Time of the Year to Visit: August to March

Nearest Airport Location: Jodhpur

Valparai, Tamil Nadu

Tea estates of Valparai
I call it
: Wild Tea Estates

There are many tea estates and hill stations in India, but nearly all of them have lost their beauty quotient and oomph levels. Valparai has somehow managed to stay hidden. Located in the rich tropical evergreen forests of Anaimalai tiger reserve, the tea estates of Valparai co-exist with the wild of the Anaimalai tiger reserve. What this means is that, you will see elephants, leopards, hornbills, lion tailed macaques and other exotic wild animals without having to step inside a wildlife sanctuary or national park. If you are lucky, you will see some of them from the lawns of your colonial bungalow while you sip on a hot cup of locally made tea. And did I say that the Niagara of India, the Athirapally Falls in the Chalakudy area of Kerala is just a short drive away. And if you want more, there are tons of green vistas, dams, scenic locations and temples.

Ideal for: Wildlife Lovers, Nature Enthusiasts, Tea Estate Experience, Tropical Evergreen Forests, Isolation

Luxury Level: Medium to Luxury

Best Time of the Year to Visit: All year round. Even the monsoons offer lots of charm.

Nearest Airport Location: Coimbatore

Havelock Island, Andaman

Sunset at Radhanagar beach, Havelock
I call it
: Diving at India’s only Active Volcano

This island located in the Ritchie’s Archipelago of the Andaman is home to some of the top beaches in Asia. It is also India’s top scuba diving hub as the waters around this island and nearby ones are home to some stunning marine life. The Radhanagar beach (or Beach No. 7), the other beaches, the tropical forests and deep sea fishing make for interesting experiences, but the top experience of Havelock is to go on a Liveaboard diving trip to Barren Volcano, India’s only active Volcano. Before you embark on this trip, you can get your scuba diving certification on the island. And like most tropical islands, there are those romantic sunsets, candle light dinners on the beach and much more.

Ideal for: Beach Lovers, Underwater Enthusiasts, Tropical Forests, Liveaboard Scuba Diving, Deep Sea Fishing

Luxury Level: Medium to Luxury

Best Time of the Year to Visit: All year round except for the monsoon season

Nearest Airport Location: Port Blair

Leh, Jammu and Kashmir

Ladakh Himalayan Vista
I call it
: Cradle of Adventure in the Western Himalayas

Leh, Ladakh. This place is extremely popular in India and brings images of mighty Himalayan peaks and serene Buddhist culture. Well, in that case, you might be wondering why it figures in this off beat list. Well, to start with, the post summer season is the fruiting season in the apple, pear, peach, walnut and apricot orchards in and around Leh. Staying in such a fruit orchard and exploring the mountain beauty is a different experience altogether and the crowds are also much lesser around this time. And then, the Ladakh area is so vast that you can keep Leh as your base and disappear into any of the mountain ranges nearby. River rafting, mountain biking, motorcycling, trekking, Bactrian Double Humped Camel rides in the desert, high altitude mountain lakes, nomadic tribes and much more are there for the taking. You can take your pick.

Ideal for: Mountain Lovers, Himalayan Treks, Buddhist Culture, Festivals, Adventure Enthusiasts

Luxury Level: Medium to Luxury

Best Time of the Year to Visit: March to April and August to October are recommended for the spring and the orchard fruiting season. But, May to July is also a good time, though crowds will be much higher.

Nearest Airport Location: Leh

Shillong, Meghalaya

Cherrapunji's scenic waterfalls
I call it
: Gateway to the Wettest Place on Planet Earth

A beautiful city with very fashionable people, Shillong is blessed with green nature and colonial architecture. It offers great access to the wettest place of the world in the Cherrapunji district, the cleanest village of India and the unbelievable living root bridges. In between, you can see these mighty waterfalls, stunning landscapes and if you feel like hiking, you will be spoilt for choice. And the city of Shillong in itself is popular for its restaurants and nightlife. But, the highlights will be the living root bridges and the Cherrapunji district.

Ideal for: Nature Lovers, Tropical Hill Station, Tea Estates, Waterfalls, Living Root Bridges

Luxury Level: Medium to Luxury

Best Time of the Year to Visit: All year round

Nearest Airport Location: Shillong 

Binsar, Uttarakhand

Scenic Himalayan sight
I call it
: Picturesque Himalayan Hamlet

Located in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, this scenic village offers stunning sunrise views of snow covered Himalayan peaks. Its pristine ecosystem is home to some rare species of animals, birds, butterflies and flowers and make it a trekker’s paradise. The thin mountain air and a bit of nip in it make it perfect for lots of hot brews and together walks in the beautiful forests filled with oak trees and rhododendrons during the spring season. It is said that on a clear day one can also sight the holy shrines of Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath from here.

Ideal for: Mountain Lovers, Himalayan Treks, Nature Enthusiasts, Birdwatching, Isolation

Luxury Level: Medium to Luxury

Best Time of the Year to Visit: March to December. May and June can get busy.

Nearest Airport Location: Pantnagar   

Gangtok, Sikkim

Misty scene from Gangtok
I call it
: Himalayan Kingdom

Gangtok is slowly becoming a busy hill station of India, but it still offers a lot of off beat charm at its fringes. The view of the mighty Kanchendzonga, river rafting on the raging Teesta, a rich array of Buddhist monasteries, high altitude lakes, snow capped mountains and umpteen waterfalls make Gangtok a great choice. All kinds of adventure lovers, nature enthusiasts and even shoppers seem to dig this place. It is no wonder that this place is called the ‘Himalayan Kingdom’. Sikkim honeymoon packages can offer great value for money and time.

Ideal for: Mountain Lovers, Buddhist Culture, Nature Lovers, Shoppers, Trekkers, Birdwatchers, Adventure Enthusiasts

Luxury Level: Medium to Luxury

Best Time of the Year to Visit: All year round except for the monsoon season

Nearest Airport Location: Bagdogra airport near Siliguri  

Spiti, Himachal Pradesh

Snow covered Spiti valley
I call it
: Untouched Himalayan Villages

The highest villages of the world exist here. Some very famous high altitude lakes call this place their home. It is also Himachal Pradesh’s rich fruit orchard region. Bordering China occupied Tibet, it is steeped in rich Buddhist culture and is home to some very lovely smiling people. The only down side is that the infrastructure is medium to basic here and does not have any luxury tones to it. If you like an adventurous mountain honeymoon holiday, you should look at this place. The famous Pin Parbat and the valley is located in Spiti and if you are lucky, you might spot the extremely rare snow leopard.

Ideal for: Mountain Lovers, Himalayan Treks, Buddhist Culture, Nature Lovers, Isolation

Luxury Level: Medium

Best Time of the Year to Visit: March to November

Nearest Airport Location: Kullu

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Singapore and Food: Made for each other!!

Did you know that Singapore has a food culture that is deep-rooted in all of its denizens? Well, even if you didn’t know, it will not take long for you to figure that out once you arrive in Singapore as you will see this frenzied food culture everywhere. Food centers, communal eating, personal and business meetings planned over food and a live to eat culture are very much an integral part of Singapore.

Chinese Food Shop at Maxwell Food Centre, Singapore
And the multi-cultural nature of this city ensures that there is no dearth of cuisines. You can enjoy a Lebanese meal with at Arab street, an Indonesian meal at the Malaysian quarter, a South Indian meal at Little India, a Hainanese Chicken Rice meal at Chinatown and many other global culinary offerings. And this culinary experience runs from inexpensive street stalls to moderately priced food centers to top of the line boutique restaurants.

Healthy Chinese Vegetarian Meal at Singapore
You don’t need to look hard to find a good restaurant here in Singapore and the best part is that the variety is tremendous and the taste is really very good. And even vegetarians have a lot of options here. I am a vegetarian and I simply loved this food culture.

Maxwell Food Centre in Chinatown, Singapore
And the icing on the cake is that this food culture does not end with food, but continues into the night with a great drinking and party scene. Starting with Zouk to the many clubs, bars and lounges on and around orchard road and other happening spots of the city, the food and drink culture lives on. The famous Singapore Sling drink is an icon in this circuit.

Teh Aliyah and Masala Vada at an Indian Malaysian Shop in Arab Quarter, Singapore
Even a tourist gets be a part of this food culture due to 2 main reasons. One, this culture is very infectious and second, Singapore being a small city, every place is very accessible to everyone. This food and drink culture is definitely one of the top things to do in Singapore for a visiting tourist. The locals will anyways be indulging in it every time.

The Food lovers of Singapore
So whether you are meeting a business associate, you are catching up with friends in the evening, a food lover and simply a tourist, Singapore’s food circuit will surely keep your mouth watering all along. Singapore relaxes over food and drink. This is the culture of this city country. 

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Handy Tips to find the Best Travel Coupon

Before online shopping, the word ‘coupon’ meant something quite different to what it means now. In the past, ‘coupons’ were pieces of paper cut out of magazines or newspapers, that you would take to a store to redeem a discount against your purchase. Today, this traditional form of coupon has evolved sensationally, and entered into the world of online shopping too (so much so, in fact, that paper coupons are becoming a thing of the past). Coupon tracking websites have transformed the world of online shopping, as they hunt down the best coupon deals from the web and aggregate them on one web page for you. While these coupon tracking websites collect coupons across all categories, I’m more interested in the travel side of things: airlines, hotels, holiday packages, trains, buses, rental cars, travel merchandise and much more.

I am always looking for ways to reduce my travel budget, and these travel coupons offer the perfect avenue to reduce that travel spending. To give you an example, these exclusive Myles coupons gives me a great discount on my rental car hires. Other coupons offer impressive discounts on my hotel bookings, or even great deals on my flights. Some of them offer small savings, whilst others offer significant price reductions.

In order to ensure you make the biggest savings, the key is to find the right coupon partner. Your choice might be due to the great discount deals they offer, or maybe because they work with all the service providers you engage with. Once you have decided on your coupon partner, sign up for their email newsletter, along with any alerts if you are tracking a specific deal or product. This will ensure that you are alerted to coupon deals as soon as they go live. In the world of couponing, timing is paramount, as coupons almost always come with a limited time span: Alerts and sign-ups reduce this time issue. A favorite money-saving habit of mine is to couple a coupon with an existing deal on the service provider’s website. That way, you get double the savings – particularly when my service provider is throwing in great deals.

However, the couponing industry is of course never faultless – occasionally, you might find that a coupon code doesn’t work. To avoid this happening, try to keep an eye out for their expiration dates, and always check out their terms and conditions to ensure the discount is applicable to your purchase.

By following these handy tips, you’ll be able to save your hard-earned cash, allowing you to travel further or travel in perhaps in increased comfort – whichever you prefer. Do remember though those exclusive coupons from top coupon sites have a limited timescale, so be sure to make the most of them to help you cut your travel costs.

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Beyond Big Ben: Off the Beaten Track in London

When you think of London, what images does the English capital throw up?

Feckless sightseers dressed from head to toe in union jack clothing? Japanese tourists desperately hoping the queen will peek out from behind Buckingham Palace’s curtains? Big Ben? Jellied eels?

While it’s easy to dismiss the city as a cliché ridden, smog filled tourist trap designed to relieve you of your rubles or rob you of your rand, there’s so much more to London than meets the eye.

Away from the usual attractions such as Madame Tussauds, London Zoo and St Paul’s Cathedral, the discerning sightseer can enjoy a different side to London.

Would you be interested in such a whistle-stop tour? Leave your car with the parking experts at Stansted meet and greet, hotfoot it to the center of the city and let’s begin our journey.

Alexandra Palace 

Brixton Farmer’s Market
First, we’ll hop on the tube and take a short journey to Brixton to discover a real slice of urban London. Home to more hustle and bustle than you can shake a piece of falafel at, Brixton Farmer’s Market runs every Sunday between 10am and 2pm and offers a huge selection of artisan breads, cakes and other goods guaranteed to get your mouth watering.

Alexandra Palace Come on, let’s go, we need to head north for a wander around Alexandra Palace. Affectionately named “Ally Pally”, it’s actually quite remarkable the building is still standing. After all, it’s caught fire twice. It’s been rebuilt now, though, so you can drink in its splendor with a trip to its tower to take in a stunning view of the city.

The Ten Bells You’re probably extremely thirsty by now, right? Good. It’s time for a visit to The Ten Bells – a pub close to Spitalfields Market, it’s been in the same place since the mid-1700s and has a significant connection to Jack the Ripper. If Victorian murderers aren’t your thing, however, simply have a beverage and enjoy the grand decorations and murals adorning the walls.

London Film Museum Finished your pint? Good, let’s go! We’re off to the London Film Museum, which is just off Covent Garden and right behind the London Transport Museum. It’s a fairly new tourist attraction, but its state of the art facilities are truly breathtaking and the current Bond in Motion exhibition offers film buffs –and non-buffs – the chance to view the largest collection of original James Bond vehicles.

Phew!

Admittedly, the ideas above simply scratch the surface of things to do in London, but with a little research and plenty of stamina, you’ll be thinking like a native in no time.

Note: The picture in this post has been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the creative commons license and has been linked to the respective wikipedia page.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Singapore River Cruise: Get a different perspective

Singapore might be a bustling and busy business empire of the world, but even in this happening metropolis, you can get an old world colonial charm and at a much more leisurely pace. Surprised? Well, you will not be surprised anymore when you climb on one of Singapore’s iconic bumboats and take a cruise on its river.

A different view of Singapore from the river
This 40 minute long river cruise starts at all of the waterfront jetties that includes Merlion Park, Marina Barrage, Clarke Quay, Boat Quay, Fullerton, Esplanade, Promenade and many more. And during these 40 minutes, you can lazily watch most of Singapore’s top attractions and iconic buildings go by.

Boat cruise on Singapore river
These include the famous River valley, the River view hotel at Robertson Quay, the riverfront restaurants, bars and G-Max river bungy of Clarke Quay, the Read Bridge, the riverside walk at South Bridge, the sensational skyscraper views from Boat Quay, the iconic Fullerton hotel, the colonial Anderson bridge, the Esplanade theatres on the bay, Merlion Park – the famous landmark of Singapore, Marina Bay Sands, the downtown view of Singapore, the Helix, Singapore Flyer and Gardens by the Bay at Marina Barrage.

Explore Singapore through a boat cruise
And while you see these sights, you can enjoy a cup of tea of coffee and listen to the commentary provided by the tour guide of this boat. This boat cruise is perfect for three kinds of travelers. One, who are are on a short trip and need to optimize the usage of time and see as many attractions as possible. Second, for photographers who wish to capture different views of Singapore. And the third kind are people who wish for a laid back and different experience to the same Singapore.

Singapore Downtown from on the bay
These cruises are held throughout the day and offer half price tickets for kids. One can get in and get out at any jetty point to explore the attractions at length and can then rejoin a different tour. Below are more pictures of the attractions as seen during the boat cruise.

Singapore skyline as seen during the boat cruise

The colonial Anderson bridge on the Singapore river

The famous Marina Bay of Singapore

The popular nightlife hub of Clarke Quay in Singapore

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Nizwa: Historical Heart of Oman

Nizwa is one of Oman’s older cities and used to be its capital between the 6th and the 7th century. Situated at the base of the mighty Hajar mountains, it used to be a center of trade, religion, education and art. Today, Nizwa is a very well developed city that has kept its historical heritage intact.

Beautiful Jabreen Castle near Nizwa, Oman
At about 150 kilometers from Oman’s capital city of Muscat, Nizwa is a pretty popular spot on the Oman tourist trail. Apart from soaking in the rich history of this place, the tourists visit other popular attractions situated close to Nizwa.

Bird's eye view of Nizwa town, Oman
These include the beautiful mountain getaways of Jebel Akhdar and Jebel Shams - the highest peaks on the Hajar mountain range, the oasis city of Al Hamra, the beautiful coastal city of Sur and the sensationally flowing dunes of Wahiba Sands. As the road infrastructure is of good quality, all these destinations are within 2 to 3 hours from Nizwa city. Tourists can either opt for day trips from Nizwa, if they are in a hurry or make overnight halts at these other destinations.

Elderly Omani Man at the entrance of Jabreen Castle, near Nizwa, Oman
Nizwa has extremely dry weather throughout the year except for some rains during the winter months. It is very hot in summer and has pleasant to warm weather for the rest of the year. This makes for great sightseeing as you are generally blessed with blue skies and bright sunshine.

From the top of Jabrin Castle, Oman
Nizwa is a famous marketplace for this part of Oman and hence its traditional souk and its goat market are very popular with both the locals and the tourists. It is also a huge date growing area and hence the dates here are in much demand. You will get a good idea about this when you walk the various aisles of the date souk of Nizwa.

Large and Beautiful Mandoos for sale at Nizwa Souk, Oman
The Nizwa souk is also an ideal place for tourists to pick up some local souvenirs. Each shop in and around this souk showcases enough items to keep you enthralled and interested. And then there is the famous spice market with saffron, rose petals and much more. The entire souk experience is one of the highlights of a Nizwa holiday.

Lots of date palms as seen from the top of Jabrin castle, Oman
Nizwa’s historical trail begins very much in its city center at the famous Nizwa fort. This part of Nizwa, which includes the fort and the souk has retained much of its traditional outlook and forms a great spectacle for the tourist.

Nizwa mosque and town as seen from the top of Nizwa Fort
The tour of Nizwa fort will take you deep into its history, the Arabic language, the trade routes, the evolution of religion here and much more. My favorite part of the fort is the top from where you can see the entire view of the Nizwa city and the mountains beyond.

Old Arabic Script inside Jabreen Castle, Oman
Once you are through exploring the fort and the souk, you will go to the world heritage site of Falaj Daris, one of the most important irrigation systems of Oman. Then, you will head to the 17th century Jabreen castle, located just outside of Nizwa city. This beautiful castle offers a great preview of of Omani craftsmanship.

Pot on the roof of Jabrin Castle, Oman
An audio tour transports you back into the era of Al Immam BilArab bin Sultan Al Y’aribi, for whom this castle was built. You can weave through its many rooms, see its artifacts and cannons, climb up its stairs and see the landscape beyond and feel the history. The audio tour is very detailed and descriptive and helps you appreciate the beauty of this place.

Watch tower at one corner of Jabreen Castle, Oman
In sum, there is a lot of historical heritage and market frenzy in Nizwa and a lot of natural beauty around it. Make sure this historical heart of Oman is in your itinerary on your next Oman holiday.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Brilliance of Bryce

The USA is home to no fewer than 59 national parks, stretching from Alaska to Florida and from California to Virginia, as well as taking in the Pacific island chains of American Samoa and Hawaii, so there's undoubtedly plenty of choice for those planning singles adventure holidays.

While each has its selling points - Yosemite's towering granite mountains; the snow-capped peaks of Denali; the spectacular lookouts of Zion - none of the 59 is quite like the geological marvel that is Bryce Canyon in Utah.

The prime reason folks make the trip to this remote part of western USA is to gawp at Bryce's magical forests of stone - huge swathes of red rock that have been shaped into thousands of gnarled pillars called 'hoodoos'.

It's hard to believe the scene in front of you - a sea of jagged rock fingers standing sentinel under an endless sky, with not a hint of human interference as far as the eye can see.

This must have been how the first astronauts on the moon felt, you ponder, as you survey the lunar-like landscape and take the photographs that will confirm that it wasn't all a dream.

Amid the interminable vista sit fantastically named landmarks. Thor's Hammer, a ten-storey-high club-shaped rock fit for the Norse god to wield and the park's tallest hoodoo;  the Wall of Windows, a precipitous cliff shaped by Mother Nature into the form of a mighty Gothic cathedral; and Natural Bridge, a giant archway so massive that a highway could pass beneath it.

Although these forms were carved out by natural processes over many millions of years, visitors need only stay for the sunset to watch the landscape change before their very eyes, as the sedimentary layers morph from bright red and orange into deep purple.

Even as the sun disappears, the wonderment is only just beginning, for once the last vestiges of yellow light have slipped beyond the horizon, the bright white of 10,000 stars turns your attention from the terra firma to the heavens.

For many, this is the first time they've seen the majority of these stars, obscured as they are from most locations by the nuisance of light pollution. The sparkling ribbon of the Milky Way forms an arch just as spectacular as Natural Bridge - the heavens mirroring the Earth like the reflections in a great lake.

Other rare sights in the national park include the three wildlife species which live in Bryce that are listed under the Endangered Species Act - the Utah Prairie Dog, the California condor and the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Alongside these threatened creatures are 100 other species of birds, dozens of mammals and more than 1,000 plant varieties, all of which are thriving in the lofty park's three distinct climatic zones.

Some of the most majestic of these include the elusive mountain lion - North America's largest cat. Naturally wary of humans, you'll be extremely lucky to spot one of them in the vast expanses of the park, but you may well come across their huge paw tracks.

From hoodoos to galaxies and from rare cats to rare dogs, Bryce Canyon has much to tantalize and tease the visitor. It's a unique place, where you'll create unforgettable memories and if you visit only one of the USA's 59 national parks, make it this.

"Interested to come to the US? Getting a visa is not easy, especially if you are based in some parts of Europe, as there are good options to get a 'ESTA' online".

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Top things to do in Rajasthan

Rajasthan is one of the most exciting, colorful and hospitable states to visit in India, being home to beautiful buildings like the Palace of the Winds, bustling cities such as Jaipur and imposing forts like Mehrangarh. With so much to do and see, it can be hard to work out where to turn first, so we have compiled a quick list of Rajasthan's most unmissable attractions.

Sunset on sand dunes is indeed a very pretty sight!!
See Hawa Mahal

Also known as the Palace of the Winds, Hawa Mahal is one of the most spectacular buildings in the Pink City of Jaipur. Famous for its honeycomb-like structure of windows, this building was designed to allow women to observe life below without being seen themselves - something that's known as remaining in purdah.

Visit Mehrangarh Fort
Rajasthan is home to its fair share of forts, and this one is, arguably, the most imposing. You'll find it in Jodhpur, where it stands on an 120 meter high hill, towering over the city. Head up here and you'll be able to admire the sheer scale of the building up close, not to mention take an informative audio tour that'll let you in on the fort's secrets.

Try dal baati churma
Of course, trying local food is a big part of any authentic travel experience, so make sure you treat yourself to a few Rajasthani dishes. Among the best is dal baati churma, which is a dish of spicy lentils, wheat rolls and chutney - delicious!

Admire the sand dunes at Jaisalmer
Visiting Jaisalmer is a must, and not only to see the spectacular fort of the same name. You see, Jaisalmer is home to some stunning desert terrain which is thrilling to explore - especially if you do so on a 4x4 tour!

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Shopping in Oman’s Traditional Markets

A traditional Middle Eastern shopping experience is quite special. The place where it all starts is a souk, the local name for a traditional market. While such souks used to be omnipresent all through the Middle East once upon a time, today, they are seen in pockets. Thankfully, they are still quite popular in Oman, unlike its neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, who have evolved from traditional souks to air conditioned shopping malls.

Spices on sale at Nizwa Souk Spice Market, Oman
Your Oman shopping experience would begin in its various souks located in its different cities. These souks are bound to dazzle you with their color, aroma and rich variety. If you ask me, I will tell you that the rich mixture of smells is what is special about a Omani souk.

A moment at Nizwa Souk, Oman
Frankincense burns everywhere and as you inhale the smoky smell, you fell like you have been transported to the frankincense trade route of the olden days. The smell is so strong that you can find them on your clothes even a day later. And then there is the famous Aitr of Oman, the locally made perfumes. Each perfume seems stronger than the other and the salesman will keep offering you more and more bottles to sample, until you can differentiate no more between the various fragrances.

A Frankincense shop inside Mutrah Souk, Muscat, Oman
Both the frankincense and the Aitr have a lot of importance in a Omani’s life. Every household in Oman burns frankincense as an air freshener and every Omani man and woman wear Aitr every day. Not only do both these items make excellent souvenirs, you can also say that you are carrying back a bit of the local culture.

Lot of Omani Souvenirs on display at Mutrah Souk, Muscat, Oman
Then, we have the super famous Omani Khanjar, the iconic dagger seen on the waists of Omani men. These khanjars either come in plain tones or come bejeweled. Both varieties make for great buys, but the bejeweled one will cost you a bit more. This is one of the most popular souvenirs to carry back home and some tourists have been known to spend insane amounts of money to carry the special khanjar back home.

The insides of a Nizwa Souk Crafts shop
Even the local dresses of Oman make for great buys. I absolutely adore the dish dashas (flowing man dresses) and the stylish head gear. The head gear comes in 2 types. One of them is a kummah, a narrow skull cap and the other is a muzzar, a turban either in white or in a variety of colors. This dress is for the men and should definitely be worn at least once while in Oman. While the dish dasha might not make for great wear outside of Oman, the head gear can make for great accessories.

Traditional Clothes and Headgear on sale at Mutrah Souk, Muscat, Oman
And who can forget the famous spices of Oman. The entire Middle East has had this long history with spices. Some come from India, some from Salalah, some from Yemen, some from Morocco and so on. The spice markets are quite a wholesome experience in themselves. If you have no use of such spices back home, at least give the rose petals and rose water a try. They are naturally refreshing and make for great room fresheners. And they are a specialty of Jebel Akhdar, the highest mountain range in Oman.

Traditional Souvenirs designed by Bedouin Women of Wahiba Sands, Oman
A middle eastern shopping experience is not complete without any antiques. The Mandoos or the jewel box and the Quewah jars (coffee jars) stay on top of the list of such artifacts. But, there are a whole bunch of other items that have so much antique value and look very beautiful too, but when I was there, I was so lost that I just gaped at them. I did end up picking up a mundoos and some handmade bedouin souvenirs.

Man from Nizwa selling Khallas and Fard dates at Nizwa Date Souk
How can we forget the lovely dates of Oman. The Khallas variety is my favorite here for its succulent sweetness. Most of the souks have a date section and you can go on a sugar overdose here while trying out the different varieties.

Whatever you end up buying at these souks in Oman, you are bound to have a sensational shopping experience. Such an experience will be very hard to come by even in the fanciest of shopping malls. I hope these traditional markets keep  surviving in Oman.

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The Great 48

We all know the USA consists of 50 states and, if your cartographical knowledge is fairly sound, you'll be aware that of these, just two - Alaska and Hawaii - do not share a land border with another state.

What's the significance of this? Well, for those dreaming of embarking on a road trip somewhere in the world, what could be more epic than driving through all 48 states of the contiguous USA?

Luckily for you, singles holiday abroad specialists TrekAmerica have just such a trip on their books, which they call 'The Great 48'. Here's a taster of what you can expect from 80 days on the road in the US of A:

Ever-Changing Scenery
Being a vast country, thousands of miles across, the USA is home to a spectacular range of scenery. As you eat up the miles, the vista outside your window will be ever-changing. Deserts, mountains, forests, lakes and cities await as you traverse from east to west, and undulate from south to north and back again to ensure you're crossing every state line along the way.

Climate Change
No, not the threat of floods and famine posed by global warming, but the natural variation you'll experience as you travel from as close to the equator as 24.5 degrees north in Key West to as close to the North Pole as 47.6 degrees north in Seattle - a difference of 1,600 miles. Not to mention that between these two points - one as far south-east as possible, the other as far north-west - you'll encounter many other unique climatic zones, from lush valleys to arid deserts. You'll certainly need to pack a few different outfits in your suitcase.

City Break
The USA is home to some of the greatest cities on Earth, but most people only experience a handful in their lifetimes. Hit up all 48 states, however, and you get to enjoy the lot - New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and many more. By the time you're done, you'll have seen more landmarks than you can remember, so don't forget your camera to capture it all.

National Parks
America is far from a concrete jungle, however, and you'll also get the opportunity to explore some of the finest national parks on the planet including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite, where the scenery is on as epic a scale as the Great 48 road trip itself. If you thought the skyscrapers in New York were big, just wait until you catch your first glimpse of El Capitan in Yosemite - a huge lump of rock that represents the ultimate climbing challenge - or peer down into the depths of the Grand Canyon, which could swallow a whole city.

New Friends
Of course, travelling isn't just about seeing new places, it's about meeting new people too, and you'll have plenty of time to get to know your fellow travellers during almost three months on the road, not to mention all the locals you'll encounter along the way. Creating memories and friendships to last a lifetime is what road trips are made for, and asphalt adventures don't come much bigger than visiting 48 of the 50 US states in one go.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Winner of a Travel Contest

I am happy to let you all know that I won a travel contest hosted by Prrem’s – The Winter Wear Store. As part of the winnings, I got a winter jacket from this Mumbai based online retail store. If I remember right, the contest was about finding a ‘traveller at heart’ and I was nominated by Mridula of Travel Tales from India. Thank you Mridula for being such a sweet heart.

Won a winter jacket in a travel contest
Apart from awarding me the winter jacket, Prrems have also featured a short interview about me on their blog. This interview is mainly about me, my travel side, my vegetarian self and some tidbits from my South East Asia Backpacking trip. I hope you enjoy reading it.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Inverted Boat Houses of Tana Toraja

Tana Toraja in the Sulawesi island of Indonesia is home to very interesting and unique culture. This community of people who follow a mix of Christianity and animism as their religion build their houses like inverted boats. Some say it is tradition. Some say, they were sea-farers from the Philippines and used their boat to build their first houses when they found land and the tradition followed. Their community is special for their extremely different burial rites and death ceremonies. They are so different that your eyes will pop out when you see them and it will defeat every bit of your intellect when you analyze it. They are also known for their hanging graves, cave craves, spirits for graves, rock graves, cliff graves and much more. They are also known for their animal slaughter. And they are known to celebrate their funerals very hard.

Inverted Boat shaped houses of Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia

And to top all this, they are located in very scenic and lush terrain, which makes for a great holiday. If you are interested in knowing more about this unique culture and wish to see a lot of their spectacular countryside, do stay tuned for my articles, videos and photographs.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

35 Random Things about Abu Dhabi

Last month, I spent close to a week at Abu Dhabi. During this time, I got to explore a lot of the Abu Dhabi city, its islands and its oasis city of Al Ain and get a good feel of the local way of life. Based on this experience of mine, I have put together 35 very interesting things about this Emirate that you would have not known. I hope they make for an interesting read.

Beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi
1) The emirate of Abu Dhabi occupies more than 80% of the land mass of the United Arab Emirates.

2) All of Abu Dhabi’s roads have date palms and other trees by their side. This is to prevent sand dunes from forming on the roads.

3) 50 years ago, Abu Dhabi was a proper desert where nomadic tribes used to live.

4) Abu Dhabi is the richest emirate of UAE. It owns a good chunk of the world’s oil and natural gas reserves.

5) One can find more than 100 varieties of dates from across the Middle East at Abu Dhabi’s date market.

At a cafe inside Abu Dhabi's Central Souk
6) Even though all the 7 emirates are governed by the rules of the country, each emirates can offer different perks to its citizens. For example, Emiratis of Abu Dhabi can own 3 cars per person, but Emiratis of Dubai can only own 2 cars per person. Overall, the people of Abu Dhabi get better perks.

7) Abu Dhabi is the most expensive of all the 7 emirates of UAE. Standard of living and cost of living are both very high when compared to other emirates.

8) Expats are not allowed to own property in Abu Dhabi.

9) Immigrants can become UAE citizens only after spending 30 years in that country and that too under very special conditions.

10) Abu Dhabi is home to more than 200 islands.

11) The largest mosque of UAE is located in Abu Dhabi. It is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Grand Chandelier inside Sheikh Zayed Grand Modque, Abu Dhabi
12) Since Abu Dhabi is the largest Emirate, the head Sheikh of UAE will always be from Abu Dhabi.

13) The visionary Sheikh Zayed who transformed Abu Dhabi and the UAE hails from the oasis city of Al Ain. This oasis city is located in the Abu Dhabi emirate.

14) Abu Dhabi is the greenest of all the seven emirates.

15) The fastest theme park ride in the world runs at Abu Dhabi’s Ferrari world.

16) The only Formula one Grand Prix circuit in the UAE is at Abu Dhabi. It is the Yas Marina circuit.

17) Abu Dhabi drives on the right side of the road and overtakes from the left.

Holding a Falcon at the Falcon Hospital in Abu Dhabi
18) Abu Dhabi is home to the only five star hotel in the world that straddles a Formula 1 track. In fact, the race track passes from under the hotel. This is the Yas Viceroy hotel.

19) The expat population in Abu Dhabi is significant. People from South Asia make up most of the labor force.

20) Abu Dhabi is aiming to become the future cultural capital of the world.

21) Even though, Abu Dhabi has a lot of skyscrapers, construction and infrastructure development can be seen in full swing at many of its areas.

22) The speed limits on Abu Dhabi’s roads is 120 kmph.

23) Abu Dhabi, like Dubai is obsessed with being the best. It holds many tags like ‘world’s largest’,’world’s biggest’, ‘world’s richest’, etc. Examples would be the super rich Emirates palace, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, its shopping malls, unique buildings and much more.

Painting of Sheikh Zayed at the Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum, Al Ain
24) Abu Dhabi is planning to build the world’s largest shopping mall.

25) The Sheikhs of Abu Dhabi use falcons as their hunting partner, take good care of them and even buy them a separate seat on the air plane when flying.

26) The world’s first and largest falcon hospital exists in Abu Dhabi.

27) The famous empty quarter of the Middle East passes through Abu Dhabi.

28) Unlike Dubai, Abu Dhabi is more traditional and hold importance to their culture.

29) Fuel prices are kept high in the United Arab Emirates even though they can opt to price it much lower as they have more supply.

The Holy Quran inside Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
30) Abu Dhabi wants to position it as a top quality international destination. Hence, it has opened up its economy (very much like Dubai) to foreign investors and is encouraging companies to come and set up their businesses here.

31) The citizens of Abu Dhabi, like the other emirates, get free education, free land and money to build a house on that. They also get many other perks from their government.

32) Abu Dhabi is home to some very interesting buildings. Some of them look like a pineapple, a coin, wings, golf ball on the roof and much more.

33) Commute within Abu Dhabi is mainly by road. There is a bit of water based commute.

34) Public transportation infrastructure is minimal in Abu Dhabi. Most of the commute is either private cars or cars on hire.

35) Distances in Abu Dhabi are huge due to its big land mass. But, when commuting no one talks of distances. Instead, they refer by commute time.

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