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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

31 Vibrant Visa on Arrival Holidays for Indians

For us international Indian travelers, getting a visa is one of the biggest items to handle for our holiday. And at most times, they cause so much head ache that we end up differing that holiday. And that is why I have been putting up helpful visa articles that will come in handy when you plan your international holidays. My last article detailed 9 exotic visa free countries for us Indians and this article talks those countries where we get easy visa on arrival. These visas could either be free or paid. All we need is a valid return ticket (could be back home or to the next destination), visa to the next destination (in case you are not returning home) and proof of enough funds to support yourself in that country for the entire duration of stay. Some countries are strict with these rules, while some go very easy on them.

Here goes the complete list of those 31 vibrant countries where we can get a visa on arrival:

Bolivia Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

This exotic South American country is one of those rare gem-like holiday destinations that offers bio diversity hotspots, Inca history, Andean mountains, the mighty Amazon river, Lake Titicaca, pure native American ancestry and some of the largest salt flats in the world.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians are eligible for a visa for a maximum stay of 90 days against a payment of USD 52 and 1 passport size photograph if they are holding a valid return ticket and sufficient funds to cover their stay.
  Burundi

Fishermen on Lake Tanganyika, Burundi

Burundi is one of the poorest countries on planet Earth, but it also offers a sensational off beat trail in tourist heavy East Africa. Sharing Lake Tanganyika, one of the deepest lakes in the world with its neighbours, it offers an incredible opportunity to get close to the native people and also get close to wildlife. If I were you, this would be my top volunteering getaway.

Visa on Arrival Process: Visa on arrival is provided if you arrive by air at Bujumbura airport and hold a pre-approved entry authorization approved by Burundi immigration.

Cambodia Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The kingdom of wonder is one of those South East Asian countries that offers many things from white sandy beaches to Angkor Wat, the largest temple in the world. While all the attention is centered at Siem Reap and the temples around it, it offers you the opportunity to indulge in one of the largest river systems in the world through the Tonle and the Mekong rivers. And Cambodia’s offshore islands are legendary.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians get visa on arrival against a payment of USD 30 at certain overland and all airports. Also, ACMECS joint visas for Cambodia and Thailand are accepted too. e-visas are also possible and cost USD 37. Both the  visas are single entry and are valid for 30 days.

Cape Verde A view of Monte Cara from Mindelo, Cape Verde

If you are thinking of a remote beach holiday in West Africa,  Cape Verde has to be it. These cluster of islands off West African mainland offer a heady concoction of hiking, game fishing, kite surfing, canyoning and other adventure activities in one of the most liberal countries in Africa.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians get a single entry visa on arrival offered against a payment of 25 Euros.

Djibouti Lake Assal Area, Djibouti

Want to see those lunar-esque landscapes from the Planet of the Apes, head to Djibouti, the country located on Africa’s North Eastern corner and jutting out into the Gulf of Eden. Be it true African culture, maritime trade, scuba diving, deserts or salty lakes, this country has it all.

Visa on Arrival Process: It is easy to get a visa on arrival to this north east African country. Pay USD 90 and get a single entry visa valid for 30 days or pay USD 120 and get a single entry visa valid for 60 days.

Ethiopia Semien Mountains, Ethiopia

One of the oldest countries in the world, Ethiopia is famous for its ancient Christian traditions. In fact, it is said that it is the second oldest Christian country is the world. Go here if you are interested in the Rift valley, unique cultures and wildlife parks.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians get a visa on arrival for 30 days if they fly into Addis Ababa and pay a fee of USD 20. Overland visas are difficult to get.

Guinea-Bissau Bissau Guinean Landscape

This former Portuguese colony located in West Africa is famous for its carnivals, beaches, offshore islands, forests, Chimpanzees and waterfalls. The Bijagos archipelago is one of the top highlights here.

Visa on Arrival Process: Visa on arrival is given for a max stay of 90 days against a payment of 85 Euros.

Guyana Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

This small country located in South America’s North East is famous for its rainforests, big mountains, rich marine life, tall waterfalls and cuisines. The highlights are the 250m tall Kaieteur Falls, Iwokarma Rainforest reserve, turtle nesting area of Shell beach and the Merume mountains.

Visa on Arrival Process: Tourists can get a visa on arrival for a maximum stay of 30 days against a payment of USD 25 if they produce a letter of invitation from the sponsor or host, contact details of sponsor, hotel or host and two passport photos.

Indonesia
Mount Semeru and Mount Bromo, Indonesia

The largest archipelago in the world offers so much to all kinds of travelers. From stunning surf to white sandy beaches, from active volcanoes to tropical islands filled with rich coral reefs, from rainforests to rich potpourri of tribal cultures and from diverse wildlife to interesting cities, it offers so much diversity that there is absolutely no reason for you not to prolong your holiday plans to this sensational destination. And of course, India’s hot favorite ‘Bali’ is located right in the middle of this country.

Visa on Arrival Process: Fairly straightforward visa on arrival for a max stay of 30 days against a fee of USD 35. The tourist visa can be extended once. You can also get a visa for 7 days against a payment of USD 20.

Jordan Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world at Jordan

An exotic Middle Eastern country that has been immortalized through many movies, it is home to the mighty Petra ruins, the Dead Sea, a bustling middle eastern city in Amman, the desert of Wadi Rum, the scuba diving sites off the Red Sea and so much more. It is a jewel in the heart of the Middle East.

Visa on Arrival Process: For independent travelers, visa on arrival is sketchy, though on paper they say visa on arrival is given for a max stay for 14 days against a fee of 40 Jordanian Dollars if you hold a return ticket and USD 2000 (USD 1000 if you have paid for all your hotel accommodations). If traveling through a Jordanian tour operator, the visa is free of charge and there are no specific conditions.

Kenya Elephants at Amboseli National Park, Kenya

There are 2 things that make this East African country a hot holiday destination. One, its wildlife and second, its tropical beaches and islands. If you ask anyone to choose one wildlife destination in the world, they would pick Kenya and that says a lot about the sheer wildlife capacity of this East African holiday destination. Go here for the migration at Maasai Mara, the views of Amboseli, the desert landscapes of Lake Turkana and the flamingos of Lake Nakuru.

Visa on Arrival Process: Till Sep 1, 2015, Indians can get a visa on arrival when you fly into Nairobi. This visa allows you to stay in Kenya for a max of 90 days and you pay USD 50 for it. From September onwards, Kenya will be offering an e-visa instead of the sticker visa offered on arrival.

Laos Lao dancers during New Year

This South East Asian country is my hot favorite for a relaxing holiday. I dig all of its river getaways especially Don Khon, Nuong Khiaw and Nuong Knoi. From the fairy tale town of Luong Prabang in the middle to the Planet of Jars and from the relaxed capital city of Vientiane to the 4000 islands on the Mekong river, this country offers so many top relaxing holiday destinations.

Visa on Arrival Process: Visa on arrival is fairly easy and available at all important land and air border controls. This visa allows you to stay in Laos for 30 days and the fee is USD 30.

Maldives White Sandy Beaches of Maldives

A honeymooner favorite across the world and one of the most popular international romantic destinations from India, Maldives offers a rich tropical island holiday to you. Be it stunning resorts located on emerald or turquoise colored lagoons or pristine beaches on other local islands, this island paradise has it all.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians get free visa on arrival into Maldives provided they are staying on a resort island or carrying USD 30 per day to cover their stay in Maldives. If you do not book a resort island package, you are limited to Male and nearabouts. Though, once you are there, you can connect with local hosts and get them to invite you to their island. It takes a day or two, but it is fairly straightforward.

Madagascar Ring Tailed Lemur, Madagascar

The world refers to it as the 8th continent. This fourth largest island in the world and located in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa offers a stunning highlight of wildlife, landscapes, beaches, marine life, people and much more. And since Mauritius is close by, it can offer a great African beach holiday coupled with Mauritius.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians get visa on arrival for free if they are visiting as a tourist and staying less than 30 days. If you stay longer, you pay for it. MGS 100,000 for 60 days and MGA 140,000 for 90 days.

Mauritania

Adar Mountain Desert Landscape

This country is about the desert and ocean. The mighty Sahara desert and its never ending dunes dictate the landscape of this North West African country. The highlight for travelers here is the desert in Adrar and the ocean in Banc d’ Arguin, a natural reserve with dunes ending in the sea and a UNESCO site.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indian visitors get free visa on arrival at the airport.

Mozambique

Traditional Sailboat of Mozambique

Located in South Eastern Africa, Mozambique is famous for its 1000 km long coastline. It’s combination of this vast coastline with African wildlife and a rich native culture makes this country a huge draw. It is especially popular with scuba divers, fishermen, sailors and beach holidayers.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians get visa on arrival for a maximum stay of 30 days against a fee of USD 66. However, be prepared to show proof of your stay and funds.

Niue

Coral Chasm in Niue

If a remote island holiday is on your agenda, it can’t get any better than Niue. This island located in the Oceania is famous for its forests, marine biosphere, chasm, caves and limestone karsts. Be it hiking, scuba diving, snorkeling, caving, kayaking, cycling, fishing or hiking, this pacific island offers this and more.

Visa on Arrival Process:
Visa on arrival is given free of cost to Indians if they have valid return tickets and sufficient funds to cover stay. However, they charge NZ$34 as a departure tax while leaving.

Palau

Aerial view of limestone islands, Palau

Located to the South East of Philippines, the Oceanic island country of Palau offers a surreal beach holiday. If you are into adventure or water sports, you are bound to love this island. Offering a great many diving and snorkeling sites, this marine rich biosphere offers a stunning close up view of jelly fishes in its famous jelly fish lake.

Visa on Arrival Process: You can get visa on arrival for a maximum stay of 30 days against a fee of USD 50 provided you show funds to cover your stay (USD 200 per week)

Saint Helena

Jamestown - the capital of Saint Helena

A territory of the United Kingdom, Saint Helena is one of the most isolated islands in the world. It is great for its green mountains, steamy forests and scenic bays. There are lots of churches and museums too to cater to the art lover.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians get visa on arrival for a max stay of 183 days against a payment of 17 GBP. Medical insurance is compulsory.

Saint Lucia

A view of Soufriere, Saint Lucia

A Caribbean delight, Saint Lucia is famous for its twin Piton peaks, drive in volcano, the rainforests, stunning sandy beaches and sulphur springs.  Outdoor activities like sailing, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, rainforest hiking and mountain climbing are extremely popular here.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indian nationals can get a visa on arrival for a max stay of 6 weeks against a fee of USD 50.

Samoa

Falefa Valley, Samoa

This Polynesian island that is located in between Hawaii and New Zealand is blessed with picture perfect beaches. Salammu beach, Falefa valley and the Farmer;s market on Sundays is a highlight. However, most of the beaches here are sensationally beautiful sandy beaches that have all the ingredients for a perfect beach holiday.

Visa on Arrival Process:
Indians get free visa on arrival for a max stay of 60 days.

Senegal

Fishing Boats at Dakar, Senegal

This West African country is famous for its soccer, music, native culture, wildlife and national parks, offshore islands and steamy forests. Its main highlight is its rich history and culture that dates back 350,000 years.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indian citizens get a visa on arrival free of cost for 3 months if they fly into Dakar.

Seychelles

Mahe Island, Seychelles

Immortalized through beauty pageants and movies, Seychelles is a group of islands located to the east of Africa and in the Indian Ocean. It is known to be a top class beach holiday destination offering breathtaking beaches, watersports, landsports, nightlife, outdoor adventures and much more.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians get free visa on arrival into Seychelles if they hold a valid return ticket, proof of accommodation and USD 150 per day of stay.

Somalia

Jubba River, Somalia

Famous for its bad ass sea pirates who seem to be almost always in the news, the stable part of Somaliland offers a great opportunity to see original native African life, off beat African wildlife trails and stunning beaches on the East coast. Mogadishu is a dangerous yet a vibrant capital city that makes for quite an experience. Right now due to its fighting, the risk factor to visit this country is fairly high, though independent Somaliland is safe to explore.

Visa on Arrival Process: You can get a visa on arrival for Somalia if you pay a fee of USD 50 and provide an invitation letter from your sponsor that has been submitted to the airport immigration department at least 2 days before your arrival. This visa allows you to stay in Somalia for a max of 30 days and it can be renewed once.

Tanzania

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

This East African jewel is teeming with wildlife, is home to the mighty Kilimanjaro mountain and has some of the best marine life off the East African coastline. The Ngongorogoro volcanic crater is an iconic place that offers possibly the best wildlife view in the whole planet. The city of Zanzibar offers a great getaway for those interested in culture and history. 

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians get a visa on arrival that allows them to stay in Tanzania for a max of 90 days after they pay a fee of USD 50.

Thailand

640px-Pathum_Wan_District,_Bangkok_2013

This South East Asian country is insanely popular with Indians. With its delicious cuisines, beautiful beaches, rich culture, omnipresent shopping avenues, sizzling nightlife and heady Bangkok city, Thailand is a dream destination for most Indians.

Visa on Arrival Process:
Indians get visa on arrival into Thailand at all airports and most land and sea crossings. The visa is single entry, valid for 14 days and cannot be extended. Fee is 1000 Thai Baht.

Timor Leste (East Timor)

Mountains in Aileu, East Timor

Located to the East of Indonesia, East Timor offers everything that Indonesia offers from long stretches of sand to some of the best surf in the world. Its native culture is also definitely worth exploring.  Home to possibly some of the best scuba diving sites in the world, East Timor is also known for its mountain hikes, birds of paradise, coffee and Portuguese culture.

Visa on Arrival Process: Pay USD 30 and get your visa on arrival for 30 days. You can get this visa extended too.

Togo

Traditional Taberma Houses, Togo

One of the nicest countries of West Africa, Togo offers a beautiful mix of beaches, wildlife, people, forests and nature. Tamberma valley, Fazao Mafakassa National Park, and Kien national park are the main highlights. Coffee plantation hikes, Lake Togo and the ocean are other highlights.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians get free visa on arrival for a max stay of 7 days if the hold a valid return ticket and 3 passport photos.

Tuvalu

Funafuti Atoll Beach, Tuvalu

This fourth smallest country in the world, Tuvalu is a group of islands in the Pacific. It offer a relaxed island and beach holiday along with close connections with the local culture. Scuba diving and snorkeling are possible in this island habitat.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians get free visa on arrival for a maximum stay of 30 days.

Uganda

Mount Kadam, Uganda

Famously referred to as the Pearl of Africa, Uganda is known for its mountain gorillas. However, it is also known for its chimpanzees, rich bird life, mountain trekking in the Rwenzoris, Lake Victoria and the origin of the River Nile. The Bwindi Impenetrable national park is the main highlight here, though there are other national parks where you can sight the highly endangered mountain gorilla.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians get visa on arrival for a maximum stay of 90 days against a fee of USD 50. You can also apply for a East Africa tourist visa in advance for USD 100 and get multiple entry for 90 days against a fee of USD 100. However, you can apply this only at the embassies of Kenya or Rwanda.

Vietnam Halong Bay, Vietnam

One of the gems of South East Asia, Vietnam offers stunning diversity from the Mekong Delta to the mountains in the north. In between, there are bustling cities such as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, there are offshore tropical islands, there are UNESCO World heritage cities like Hoi An, there are natural wonders like the limestone karsts of Halong and delicious Vietnamese food.

Visa on Arrival Process: Indians can get visa on arrival if they fly into an international airport of Vietnam and show a pre-approved authorization letter from a Vietnam tourist agency. Then, you can get single or multiple entry visa for USD 45,/65/95.

If you need to know more about visas for the Indian Passport, look up this comprehensive visa guide for Indians.

Note: The images in this article have been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons license. Each photo has been linked to its original page on wikipedia.

While this article is primarily targeted for people looking for a tourist visa, those looking for work permits, business visas and jobs can look up the Search Jobs Abroad website.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Plan Your Stay at Luxurious Hotels in New Delhi

Whether you travel for business or pleasure, a luxurious hotel stay can make your travels pleasantly relaxing. Modern conveniences, great locations, and competent staff all go a long way in making a trip a good one. Add to all of that, sleek décor, delicious food, and complimentary extras, a stay at an Imperial hotel will make you feel like royalty. Today’s hotels are much more than just a place to rest your head at the end of a busy day of work or site seeing! They have become a part of the total experience of traveling. But, to be truly great, a hotel has to go beyond the standard amenities, to include something extra for guests. The best hotels do this with style.

Staying in New Delhi hotels

Why Stay in New Delhi New Delhi is one of the best cities to visit in all of India. Not only is it the beacon of government procedures, making it more convenient for businesses to obtain permits and documentation, it is also a large metropolis that bustles with commerce and entertainment. In addition, TripAdvisor explains that New Deli is also rich with culture, history and social beauty. From the peaceful beauty of religious sites like Gurudwara Bangal Sahib and the Swamanarayan to the historic grandeur of the India Gate and Humayum’s Tomb, there are interesting places to see throughout the area. In addition to it’s many conveniences and popular tourist destinations, New Delhi is also easy to get to as it is not far from India’s primary international airport, the New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport as well a having train, bus, and rental car services explains the Delhitourism.gov.in.

Rooms and Facilities
Imperial luxury hotels in New Delhi are located in the heart of the dynamic city of New Delhi. TripAdvisor has hundreds of reviews extolling the many virtues of the Imperial hotels in New Delhi. Customers state that the building facilities and rooms are the high of luxury. The spacious rooms are furnished with plush bedding, rich fabrics, and sleek modern designs that are infused with Indian flare. In-room furnishings include a comfortable bed, night tables, and a business desk. Some rooms even include sitting areas. All rooms have modern conveniences that include flat screen televisions and satellite TV service. The buildings are outfitted with meeting rooms, a business center, a fitness center, and swimming pools for the pleasure and convenience of guests. Another favorite with customers of Imperial hotels are the many food and drink options available. From the bar and lounge to the fine restaurants and tea houses, there is something to please the palette of every guest. The facility also has lush landscaping and peaceful walking paths that where guests can forget that they are in the midst of a bustling metropolitan area.

Extra Amenities
In addition to the many facilities offered, Imperial hotels also have extra services to make guests’ stay that much more luxurious. There are self-laundry as well as laundry services that allow you to leave the chores to the hotel’s well trained and professional staff. Guests also have access to free Wi-Fi internet, so they can stay connected to work, family, and friends. The is also shuttle service offered to and from the airport: some rooms include the service for free, but it is available to all guests at a chargeable rate. Concierge services also add a little luxury to your stay at an Imperial hotel because the staff will provide you with guidance to the best places to eat, site see, and find entertainment-even helping to arrange tickets to live shows on your behalf; you’ll feel as though you are the lord of a great manor with the great attentions that will be paid to you by hotel staff.
There is something innately luxurious about staying at a richly decorated, high end hotel. And when you can have that feeling at a low cost, the experience is even better. Imperial hotels in New Delhi offer gorgeously decorated, modern rooms with technological conveniences. The facilities include extra conveniences like on-site eateries, beautifully landscaped gardens, and fitness areas. In addition, the hotel’s location puts guest right in the heart of one of India’s most diverse cities. The city has a combination of contemporary businesses and entertainment venues as well as historical gems and religious havens. Other attractions to the hotel include it’s proximity to a major international airport as well as its situation close to other regional tourist and business attractions. While many hotels claim to offer luxury, it is the reviews of customers who have experiences their services that really attest to the truth of what is offered, and reviews of the Imperial hotel are overwhelmingly positive. No matter your reason for traveling to New Delhi, your stay will be a memorable one at the Imperial hotel.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

10 Handy Tips to Breeze through Airports

Have you ever faced a situation where you swore obscenities at how airports are such a big pain in the wrong places? I have got mightily pissed so many times. Just thinking about those long airline counter and airport security queues gives me the shudders.

It is not just time that we waste at airports, but we end up getting tired and start off our holiday or business trip on a wrong note. We all know that air travel cannot be avoided especially if time and distance are of essence and hence I thought be helpful if I put together a list of simple tips and tricks that will allow you to breeze through airports. These simple and handy tips are based on my personal experience with airports and air travel. I hope they help alleviate some of your travel worries.

Online Check-in please!

Airline Counter Queues at Delhi international airport

If you are traveling by a low cost airline, you might be already doing this to save on money, but if you are traveling in a full service airline, you should still make use of the online checkin facility. You could do this on your computer (a printout of the boarding pass will suffice) or mobile (a QR code of your booking will do).  You don’t have to stand in those long queues. All you have to do is drop in your bags at the baggage counter.

Get Smart! Install those Smartphone Apps!

I would recommend that you install at least 4 apps:

1) The app of the airline you are flying with – to help with mobile check-in, emergency contact information, customer service, frequent flyer details and more.

2) The app of the airport you are flying out of or into – to help you with airport navigation (terminals, gates, lounge rooms, ticket counters, food court, duty free shopping and more).

3) Seat Guru or other similar apps – to help you choose the right seat before you select one during your online checkin. Different aircrafts have different seating arrangements and this comes in handy to help you choose that seat with more leg room or that aisle or window seat.

4) Gate Guru or other similar apps – to stay on top of your flight timings and gate. Sometimes, flights get delayed or the gates get changed and you might be busy doing some duty free shopping. If you have this app, neither do you have to stand next to those TV monitors to search for your latest flight information nor do you have to keep your ears open for the latest announcements. If you have this app, you can relax in your lounge, do your shopping or simply find a cosy spot and do your reading or work.

Choose a Convenient Cabin Bag
Waiting area at London Heathrow Airport

Whether you carry a duffel, a backpack or a suitcase on wheels, choose one that allows you easy access. Personally, I prefer at least 3 easily accessible compartments or pockets in my cabin bag:

1) To keep your passport, other ID, boarding pass, wallet and mobile phone – comes in handy while dropping your bags at the airline baggage counter and while clearing security.

2) To keep all your electronics (laptops, cameras, tablets, kindles, phone battery backups, camera batteries and others) – comes in handy to remove all your electronics while going through airport security.

3) To keep everything else – You don’t want to spill these things while you remove your electronics, ID or liquids. If you do, then it will be a nightmare putting it all back together.

In my mind, this is one of the most important things to look into while traveling. The best part is that you can pick up a type of luggage that suits your needs, personality and taste. And you can look at this article on airline luggage to start the search for your perfect cabin bag.

Don’t Forget to Carry your Pen

As silly as it may sound, do carry a pen (no fountain pens please) with you when you travel and make sure it is in your carry on case. This is one thing that most travelers forget, but it comes in so very handy for filling immigration and visa forms and you don’t have to borrow a pen from other travelers. Everyone is in a rush and sometimes, it becomes quite difficult to get a pen in time.

All Liquids in Transparent Plastic (Zip-loc) Pouches

Immigration Line at Beijing International Airport

Assuming that you are carrying liquids and gels in internationally accepted sizes, do ensure that you carry them in one transparent zip-loc pouch. If you have any liquid elsewhere in your bag, the airport security will make you take everything in your cabin bag out and that is just a recipe for disaster, especially if you wanted to make use of the time before your flight. This applies to perfumes, gels, moisturizer, creams, nail polish, lip balms, lotions and more.

Comfortable Clothing and Slip Ons

Normally, I wear comfortable clothing for air travel, which means pants with elastic bands, no belts, no metallic items on clothes, T shirt and slip-ons (loafers, flip flops, etc.). This allows for minimal stripping and a miniscule number of minutes to get fully dressed again.

But, I do understand that you cannot always do this, especially if you are on a business trip, traveling in colder weather or simply wish to save on your luggage weight. In which case, you should remove your boots, belts, any metallic accessories, watches, sunglasses, jackets, hats and any jewellery before you go through the body scanner machine. The last thing we all want is to be told to step out of the line and be given a full body search.

Leverage Frequent Flyer Benefits

This is one thing that a lot of travelers lose out on. If you are a frequent flyer or traveling business or first class, you get a lot of perks. These could be priority access at airline counters, priority security clearances, priority immigration, priority boarding, discounts at shops or restaurants and/or a relaxed time at the premium lounges. Not all of these are offered to all frequent flyers at all airports. But, priority service is definitely a blessing at airports. So do make sure you are enrolled in the right frequent flyer program or even become a TSA member if you are from the US. Depending on your airline, origin and destination, you might gain on some precious time and enjoy some preferential treatment.

Weigh your Bags and use TSA Locks
This is not the most important thing for light travelers, but is an issue if you are either a new traveler or traveling with family. It is always prudent to weigh your bags at home so that you can avoid re-juggling weight at the airport and/or pay additional fees for extra baggage weight. And do remember to use TSA locks on both your check-in and cabin bag so that airport staff don’t damage your bags while conducting their random searches for suspicious items.

Know which Airport and which Terminal

This might sound crazy, but I know countless number of travelers who landed at the wrong terminal and sometimes even a wrong airport. This generally leads to panic led running and/or missing a flight.

Most of the larger cities across the world have one more than one airport. Generally, one is for international or full service airlines and the other one is for domestic or low cost airlines. In addition, these airlines have many terminals each spread quite a distance apart and sometimes taking as much as 30 minutes just for the simple commute. I am not even talking about time taken to clear airport security between terminals. The terminals of London’s Heathrow airport are one prime example.

In such a case, you might want to know which airport and which terminal your flight leaves from, else you might be kicking yourself for being stupid.

P.S. I am assuming that you are all sensible travelers and don’t carry firearms, inflammable goods, sharp tools or other banned items on your person or in your bags and hence haven’t bothered to talk about those in this article.

Note: The pictures in this article are courtesy of wikipedia.org and have been used under the creative commons license. Each photo has been linked to its original page on wikipedia.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

6 Top New Zealand Adventure Holidays

The ‘Paradise of the Pacific’ and the most recently populated place on the planet, New Zealand is one of those places that can offer you a sensational adventure holiday. Be its active volcanoes, rolling mountains, roaring rivers, picturesque fiords, pristine beaches, large glaciers or beautiful lakes, you are never far away from Adventure in the Kiwi islands. You could indulge in anything from glacier trekking, mountain biking, motorcycling, kayaking, volcano climbing, hiking, trout fishing, rock climbing, sky diving, canyoning, jet-boating, bungee jumping to so much more. This country is what I call the ‘living mecca’ of adventure. If you are an adrenaline junkie or wish to test your limits, this is the place you go to for your adventure holiday. And below are my 6 top adventure destinations that you can add to your Kiwi holiday itinerary.

Tongariro National Park – Hike to the Lava


Tongariro_Mahuia_River_n

New Zealand’s first national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tongariro is famous for its alpine crossing that offers interesting experiences both in summer and winter. It offers hiking in volcanic terrain, views of colorful lakes and sensational craters and a peak. The winter hike offers greater difficulty due to heavier snow and poor visibility.

Wanaka – Snow Boarding Paradise


people hiking to the summit of treble cone, wanaka

The gateway to Mount Aspiring National park, Wanaka is a snow boarding and skiing paradise located in the South Island of New Zealand. Apart from conquering the world renowned skifields of Otago, one can indulge in other outdoor adventure like rock climbing, sky diving, Waterfall abseiling, trail hiking and much more, especially amidst the beautiful canyons of Matukituki valley and the Rob Roy glacier of Mt. Aspiring National Park. Making a lord of the rings tour is also quite a popular exercise here.

Queenstown – The Adrenaline Zone
Kawarau Bridge, Queenstown, New Zealand

Popularly dubbed as the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown is a scenic mountain town that is surrounded by the Southern Alps and is decorated by Lake Wakatipu. You name the adventure activity and this place has it. Be it bungee jumping, mountaineering, luge, sky diving, river boarding, snow boarding or zip lining, this place offers lots of adrenaline rush amidst insanely scenic terrain. And since Queenstown is quite the town with the party atmosphere, you can indulge in some sizzling nightlife and online entertainment while you are taking a break from outdoor adventure.

Aoraki Mountain Cook National Park – Glacier Kayaking and More

The Main Divide with Mt. Sefton and The Footstool, view from Hooker Valley.

New Zealand’s highest mountain offers an incredible number of adventure activities. Be it kayaking on the Mueller glacier, day skiing on the Tasman glacier, heliskiing in the Ben Ohau ranges, technical climbing on Mount Cook or walking and tramping through the national park, you are never far away from making your heart race. And when you feel like taking a break from adventure, you can take a scenic flight tour over the scenic mountains and glaciers.

Nelson – Top of the South

Abel Tasman National Park

Blessed with the highest sunshine hours of the country, Nelson is the place to go if you are a motorcycle enthusiast. With the wind in your hair and the views of incredible coastal and mountain scenery in your eyes, this oldest city of South Island is perfect motorcycling country. And if you are into tramping and sea kayaking, the Abel Tasman National Park is just a short drive from the city. And did I happen to mention that one of the best ski diving places in the world is here. You jump over snow capped peaks and land amidst views of marshes and the Pacific.

Rotorua – Geo Thermal Wonderland

Prince of Wales Feathers and Pōhutu geysers erupting in Rotorua, New Zealand

With some of the best off road biking in the world, Rotorua offers a heady mix of volcanoes, geo thermal springs, hot water geysers and mud springs. Surrounding these rugged landscapes and smoky terrain are many white water rafting, fishing and boating avenues.  Okere waterfalls and the Waimangu Volcanic valley are top choices.

Photo Courtesy: All photos have been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the creative commons license. Each photo is linked to the photo page on wikipedia.org.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Why you should travel solo too?

I travel solo most of the time and I guess most of you know that. But, what you might not know is why I travel that way! In fact, this is one of the common questions people ask me. Why do you travel alone? Don’t you get bored? Don’t you feel scared? Who will take your pictures? And there are many other questions that a lot of curious people ask me.

Well, the answer is simple. I started traveling solo because of necessity and today, I travel solo because I totally love it. Solo travel has helped me evolve as a person and as a traveler and here are reasons from my personal experience on why you should travel solo too. And I believe that this works irrespective of age, sex, marital status or family status.

You lose your fear
Roaming free amidst the rocks of Cappadocia, Turkey

A lot of us do not travel alone because we are scared. There is some level of fear in all of us about the unknown. I was scared on my very first solo trip. But, you know what, right on the first day, I learnt to let that fear go. Over a period of time, I faced many situations and learnt to improvise and adapt. Over a period of time, I forgot about being scared. If you travel solo, you will lose your fear and travel the way you like. And over a period of time, it helps boost your confidence levels too.

You learn to break the ice
Catching up with a Turkish friend whom I met initially in Malaysia

With friends or family, we always have a comfort factor. Sometimes, this comfort factor makes us stay inside our cocoons. If you travel solo, you learn to interact, you learn to improvise and you learn to break the ice. After all, we humans are social creatures and need to talk. This opens the path to friendships, richer experiences and a better understanding of the local culture. Not to say, you might find ways to save on cost too.

You can travel your way
In front of Eiffel Tower, Paris

Each of us have so many whims and fancies and when you travel together or in a group, these whims and fancies multiply and force you to travel in a way that is unlike your true style. Sometimes, people buckle and do it under pressure. Sometimes, people like others to show the way. Sometimes, people get into arguments. Budget, dates, travel style, activities, destination and so many things get affected by this.

If you want to take up that volunteering program in Africa, if you want to take cooking classes in Thailand, if you want to go diving in the Red Sea, if you want to do that shoe string backpacking trip in Europe or any thing else that you want to do, travel solo.

You can travel whenever you want
At the Golestan Palace in Tehran, Iran

In this fast paced world, all of us are making the run between work, home, family and friends. When it comes to planning a holiday between people from different worlds, we almost always have a scheduling nightmare. This was one of the main reasons why I took to traveling solo and this is one that I hear a lot of my readers crib about. When you travel solo, everything runs on your schedule. You have a deadline at work, you don’t travel. You can get that 3 week leave from work after you finished your project, you can travel. It is as simple as that. When you travel on your own, you are the master of your calendar. All you then need to worry about is getting leave and getting the best tickets to that destination.

You will make new friends
Making new friends in Iran

One of the biggest perks of traveling solo is making new friends. To save costs, you find a travel partner or a room mate. To get company, you will start interacting, get out of your skin and meet people. For group activities, you will come across so many new people. You will find interesting company for your dinners. You will meet a boy/girl and might ask them to be your date. You will make new acquaintances during your bus/train/plane travels. Well, we can make new friends even when we are traveling with others, but when you travel solo, the need to interact is higher and hence the percentage chance of making new friends is significantly higher.

In my days of solo travel, I have made friends from all over the world. When I travel to their country, we make sure to catch up, have a beer or a meal or sometimes even end up traveling together. At other times, they come and visit me when they are exploring India. And thus the friendship remains in touch.

You will get smarter
My motorycle - my best travel partner

This is one of the underlying truths of traveling solo. You become smarter. Period. You learn to stay safe. You learn how to make the best use of resources. You know it is important to learn a language. You know how nice it is to immerse in a local culture. You know what you should do to control your finances. You learn how to survive as a vegetarian. You learn how to interact with people from different parts of the world. In simple terms, you become a global citizen. And all of this is fast tracked as you are forced by your situation to learn quickly. You can call it expedited learning or fast school! (Wow, that sounds cheesy!)

You learn to trust strangers
Drinking Hot Sahlep on a wet cold day in Istanbul

We miss our people the most when we are in trouble. We think…Wouldn’t it be nice if I had someone close to take care of me when I am sick or a shoulder to cry on when something bad happens.

There are a lot of good people out there who want to do good and help people. When you travel solo, you will learn to identify such people and start to trust them. And you will find it extremely handy when you fall sick and/or are in need to serious help. Sometimes, you might lose your passport. At times, you might lose your way. Or you might be stranded in the middle of nowhere. If you can learn to trust strangers, you will always find a way out.

Some disadvantages
Traveling solo is not always rosy. It does have some disadvantages.
 
You yearn to speak your language
This is one of my main problems of traveling solo. I hardly ever get a chance to speak in my native tongue or any other Indian language that I speak. All I have to make do is speaking to family and friends over Skype or on the phone. At many times, I wish I had someone who could speak my native tongue.

You spend a bit more Unless you find yourself a partner, you will always end up spending more. This could be for accommodation or for that hired taxi. But, then hostels and places with shared accommodation always come in handy. And if you are older, you can find yourself singles holidays for over 50s. There are so many ways to offset that cost.

But, trust me, you will never have any trouble taking selfies. I don’t use any selfie sticks, but I always manage to find someone who is kind enough to click my picture.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Hoysala Allure: Off-Beat Culture Trails

One of our best spent Saturday in 2013 was a day trip from Bangalore to visit two Hoysala temples between Mandya and Channarayanapatna. We had been speaking about it at home for a while, the discussion centering around the fact that there was Somnathpur on one side and there were Belur/ Halebid on the other - so what lay in between the 80 odd kilometers in between . We felt we were probably missing some lesser known Hoysala gems.

Some searches on the internet and after a round of discussion , the consensus was to journey to Nagamangala and Basaralu. After an early bath + breakfast, and a packed picnic lunch of puliyogere and curd rice, we drove out on the Bangalore-Mangalore Highway NH48. After the toll gate at Belur cross, at Nelligere , we took a left onto SH19 towards Nagamangala . Roads were in top condition and in 2 hours , we were in Nagamangala.

BasaraluFriezes-1

Nagamangala is home to the "serene" SaumyaKeshava temple. The main idol of Lord Krishna which is 6 feet in height is a beauty to behold . So are the other idols inside the main sanctum - Krishna with Rukmini Sathyabhama and Narasimha. We were captivated by the roof of the closed mantapa which is supported by lathe turned pillars (a standard feature in Hoysala architecture). These pillars divide the ceiling into squares (four central pillars create 9 squares in the closed hall) that are exceptionally well sculpted. The center square on the ceiling hosts a beautifully carved serpent (the Adi Sesha). People come from around the area to appease him to put them out of their big and small problems. Another interesting aspect is that we saw two distinct style of temple architectures.. the temple built on a raised platform in typical Hoysala style with a surprisingly austere gopura above the sanctum sanctorum and the outer structures and the Raja Gopuram at the main entrance in the Vijayanagar style.

BasaraluFriezes-2

After admiring around leisurely (and devouring our picnic lunch), we started out to our second stop of the day. We had to ask around a bit until we were directed on the correct road leading to Basaralu. However, the roads were good and in about 40 minutes we reached our destination. The first sight that greeted us was a rundown compound overgrown with weeds , but peeping out were parts of a tiny well sculpted temple from within with the Hoysala crest visible . Somehow we were sure that we were looking for something big and grand. After all, we were looking for the famous Mallikarjuna temple of Basaralu. At the village market , we were redirected back to this same compound. We were a bit disappointed and were wondering if it was really worth all the praise. At the entrance we saw the ASI notice board announcing it as a protected monument. The boy next door ran up to us and offered take us around. What a fantastic guide he turned out to be and what an incredible temple . We spent hours - actually until sundown going round and round just plain mesmerized.

A_Ceiling_inside_the_shrine_in_Saumyakeshava_Temple_at_Nagamangala

The outer walls has friezes upon friezes from Ramayana, Mahabharata, other mythologies .. each one vying for attention. Since no poojas ere being conducted inside the temple, we could have a real close look at the Shiva Linga, Nandi and all sculptures inside the temple. Its a treat for the eyes .. each tiny detail starting from the crown until toe nails is so well designed and executed with soapstone . Our guide pointed out the other usually unnoticed features on Hoysala architecture - the cork screw based descending spires, interlocking stones , secret hiding places and many more. Just look into the Chandikeshwara shrine and you will understand what we mean by “detailing” on the sculptures.

Many photographs and flights of imaginations later, we were forced to leave due to fading sunlight.

We chose to return to Bangalore via Mandya and the crowded Mysore road... but nothing could hamper our spirits - at least for the rest of weekend!!

PS: Inspiration to write down a tripologue was triggered by an article in The Hindu in early January.

About the Author: A female traveler from Bangalore, the author digs ancient cultures and is keen on discovering off beat destinations. All the pictures in this post were taken by the author.

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