December 2011 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Upcoming Travel: Backpacking to Icy Cold Ladakh

I have been eagerly waiting for this trip for close to six months now. Planning began in late May, ticket bookings took place in July and gear purchases were made from Aug through December. Joining me on this trip are three other close friends and fellow travellers. All four of us leave for Delhi today and are headed into Leh tomorrow early morning. The next 2 weeks will be spent exploring the Ladakh region.

We do have an itinerary in mind, which involves 2 days of acclimatization at Leh, a 5 day trek in the Zanskar range and 5 days of exploring the scenic locations around Leh, namely, Pangong Tso Lake, Hemis High Altitude National Park, the Changthang belt (Tso Moriri Lake, Tso Kar Lake), Nubra Valley, Khardungla, Lamayuru and the city of Leh.

I am sure that we will not be able to visit all of these places, but we will pick n choose depending on weather and road conditions. Weather plays an instrumental role in Ladakh especially during winters as temperatures drop to as low as minus 40 degree Celsius in some places. Wind Chill is also quite severe here especially in the night and early mornings and this can lower the ‘Real Feel’ temperatures even further down. Ice sheets cover most of the terrain and most of the lakes, rivers and other water bodies freeze.

To tackle this tough weather, we have with us the following gear: ‘800 down’ sleeping bags, ‘800 down’ jackets, thermal wear, backpacking boots, moisture wicking alpine socks, woollen socks, fleece balaclavas, alpine skull caps, woollen mittens, gaiters and others. And we plan to take crampons, ice axes and ropes as need be on hire from Leh. But, I am sure that we will face the ladakhi icy chill in spite of all this. And that is part of the adventure we are going for.

On most of my previous travel trips, my followers and readers have complained that I don’t post updates while I am travelling. Hence, this time around, I will consciously attempt to post pictures and updates on my facebook profile page while I am exploring. Hopefully, I will have get some cell phone connectivity and my phone battery lasts a while in those low temperatures.

I am hoping this will be a great trip. My adrenalin levels have already risen, my heart is pumping wildly and my pulse is racing. I am really excited. Let’s see how it goes…

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Wildlife Photography: Sri Lankan Leopard

This summer when I was at Yala National Park in South East Sri Lanka, I had a good wildlife experience, but the leopard (known as diviya in Sinhala; don’t get misled by locals referring to it as Kotiya, which is Sinhala for tiger) eluded me. When I went there again post the monsoons, my luck changed. I was at Yala for an entire day and got treated to two leopard sightings.

Sri Lankan Leopard in monochrome 
The first one I saw was a young one perched on a tree in the early hours of the morning. I got to see him playing with twigs, climbing up different tree branches and glaring at us intruders. It was a wonderful experience to see this young leopard playing his antics.

I guess now he starts noticing us in the safari jeeps 
The second one was an adult male that was sitting on the jeep track in the late afternoon. Jungle safari jeeps had surrounded the Sri Lankan leopard on both sides of the road and all the tourists were going clickety-click with their cameras, but he continued resting. It was as if he had no care for the world around him at that moment. After all, he is king of Yala and is at the top of the food chain here.

Leopard perched on a leafless tree at Yala National Park 
After resting on the jeep track for 15 minutes and giving tourists on both sides a great photography experience, he walked slowly towards my jeep before heading into the bushes.

The Sri Lankan Leopard walks on the jeep track and towards us 
These two sightings of the Sri Lankan Leopard made this a memorable day for me at Yala National Park. There is something about the tiger and leopard. Their sheer presence can send your adrenalin pumping and pulse racing!!

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Little New Zealand of Sri Lanka

I haven’t been to New Zealand so far. In fact, it is one of the top places on my travel bucket-list given that it is an adventure travel paradise. But, I have seen a lot of pictures on the internet and books of the New Zealand landscape and I was stunned when I saw something similar in Sri Lanka. I was at Ambewala, a small hill station near Nuwara Eliya, the tea capital of Sri Lanka. This place is tucked in the central highlands of this island nation and falls enroute from Nuwara Eliya to the Horton Plains National Park. This hill station and its near-abouts is known for its milk and cheese. And on any given day, you will see large herds of cows grazing on this pristine green landscape.

The lush green countryside that helps these cows produce some of their best milk n cheese 
The misty surroundings, the wavy hills in the background and the never ending green landscape give this place a magical touch. And when you see the big white cows grazing here, you feel that you are in New Zealand’s countryside. No wonder, this place is called the ‘Little New Zealand’ of Sri Lanka.

One of Sri Lanka's best grazing pastures for the bovines 
While you are here, do pay a visit to the Ambewala and the New Zealand cheese farms and try out a hot cup of fresh farm milk. And if you wish you can buy some of their cheese and other milk products. Each cheese farm has a retail outlet to cater to the tourists.

Tuk-Tuk, our ride in the central highlands of Sri Lanka 
In terms of access, Ambewala is connected by buses from Nuwara Eliya that ply this route once every hour. The bus ride (one way) should take about 45 minutes.  But, if you wish for more flexibility, hire a tuk-tuk (3 wheeler taxi) from Nuwara Eliya. A return trip on the tuk-tuk from Nuwara Eliya should cost you about 800-1500 LKR depending on tourist demand.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shopping in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is primarily known for its 3 Ts (Tea, Textile and Tourism). In fact, this forms the base of the country’s GDP. But, if you are visiting this tropical paradise, then you can take back much more than just memories. At a high level, tourists typically stick to the gift stops in their hotels or souvenir shops in the main city market to buy souvenirs back home. But, if you really explore, you will find great variety and excellent quality at good value for money.

To start with, Ceylon Tea is Sri Lanka’s most famous export. If you like tea without milk, try the Orange Pekoe and if you prefer your tea to be strong and with milk and sugar, then go for the broken Orange Pekoe. Every Tea estate at various locations in Sri Lanka (Kandy, Bandarawella, Nuwara Eliya, Ella, etc.) have their own flavour and one can get a taste of it right there. Do keep in mind that the Sri Lankan Tea is a milder, but more aromatic form of Tea when compared to the Indian varieties. The Long Leaf varieties are milder, but make a great hot cup of relaxing tea. Though, the Orange Pekoe makes for a great brew, my personal favourites are the Chinese Herbal Green Tea and the flavoured Long Leaf varieties (available in flavours such as Passion Fruit, Cinnamon, Lemon, Mint, Vanilla and others). You might tricked into buying low quality tea at some tea estates, but for the premium and authentic stuff, buy from a Mlesna, Tea Breeze or Dilmah outlet. Personally, I prefer Mlesna over the others.

Aromatic spices also make for great buys as they constitute the soul of the Sri Lankan cuisine. For special stuff, head over to the Spice Shop at Majestic City, Bambalapitya on Galle road, Colombo. Authentic stuff is also available at supermarkets like Cargills, which are located at many places around the country.

Cashew is another important cash crop in Sri Lanka. Plain or roasted cashews are sold all over the island. Young girls sell them on the road to Kandy from Colombo and nearly all the markets and street shops in the island sell them. For the best cashews, head to Expo Shoppe, Liberty Plaza Shopping complex in Colombo.

Buffalo Milk Yoghurt
Next on the list is buffalo milk yoghurt (curd). You may not be able to carry it to your home country, but you can sure enjoy it while you are holidaying in Sri Lanka. The buffalo milk yoghurt is famous in the South and South West part of the island and is sold in earthen pots all along the highway from Thissamaharama to Thangalle on the west coast.

A lot of global brands and spirit types are available in Sri Lanka, but those are not native to this island. If you wish to carry home the local spirit, then I would recommend Mendis Old Arrack (18 years old), Rockland Old Arrack and Rockland Red Rum (a local form of slightly sweet rum). Most of these spirits contain 37.5% alcohol. These can either be bought at the Bandaranayake airport duty shop or any of the large shopping malls like Crescat Boulevard at Colombo – 3.

The tropical paradise of Sri Lanka has had a long association with precious gems and this was even before its colonial times when smugglers used to bring them from the Far East and the Middle East. The assortment of gems found here is phenomenal, but the pick of them is the blue sapphire. Star sapphires and star rubies are also quite popular as people like them in their rings and pendants. Alexandrites, Cat’s Eye, amethysts, garnets, aquamarines and moonstones are some of the other popular stones available here. When it comes to buying these gems, please do exercise extreme caution as I personally know at least five people who have been cheated. Ensure to check for hallmarks, weight and proper bills. Shops in five star hotels would be your best bet in terms of quality, though the Aida Gems and Jewellery shop on Galle road, Bentota comes with a solid reputation.

The handicraft list is quite exhaustive with items like mats, masks, drums, coconut-shell dolls, porcupine-quill boxes, lace, reed, basket and bamboo-ware, lacquerware, wooden figurines, shell crafts and silver and brassware. Additionally, there are interesting low cost items like cushion covers, hand-woven cotton sarongs, colourful doorstops and floating candles. Apart from the village supermarkets that stock not so great quality products, the best places to buy these handicrafts in Sri Lanka would be Laksala (government handicraft shop), Lakmedura on Colombo 7 and Lakpahana on Colombo 7.

These batiks are something that every tourist will see right from the time they land at the Bandaranayake airport and walk out of immigration and by the duty free shops to every market and shop in the country. The varied representations of the Sri Lankan elephant is a hot favourite as they are available in different designs or are carved from ebony. Other colourful batik designs involve motifs of peacocks and Kandyan dancers. These can be seen in wall hangings, tablecloths and songs. The government handicraft shop Laksala is the most authentic place to buy these, though it can be tad expensive.

Sri Lanka is one of the worl'd’s low cost textile centres. Clothes made here are exported all over. Quality, thickness of cloth, colours, et al vary with cost. Interesting designs and colours can be found all over the island nation. But, if you wish to wear the best, then head to ODEL Fashions, the house of Sri Lankan fashion. I am personally am a big fan of their goods. In fact, such is their aura that I end up spending more than my prescribed budget. Their souvenirs make for excellent gifts for your family and friends. If I remember right, the main ODEL showroom is in Colombo 7, though other branches are in other parts of the city too.

If a tropical destination like Sri Lanka doesn’t pique your interest, then may be you should explore the Mediterranean, especially Morocco Holidays

Note: Most of the places selling touristy goods have a built-in commission structure, so do learn to bargain hard even in big shops and start at 25% of the quoted value of goods for the road-side ones. Shops are generally open from 10 am to 6 pm, though the shopping malls are open for slightly longer. And these are Colombo timings. Shop times at other locations may vary slightly.

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Guest Post: Top 5 Luxury Travel Destinations

Today’s luxury travel offers an exclusive plethora of unique pleasures, from the splendours of private tours of world-famous vineyards to the rush of adrenaline afforded by heli skiing in remote regions of British Columbia.

Here are 5 Top Unique Luxury Travel Destinations:

Revelstoke, B.C.— An elite destination for heli skiers for over 4 decades, Revelstoke, British Columbia is the cradle of heli skiing. Luxurious Bighorn resort will arrange a bespoke ski trip for you and your traveling companions complete with your own private helipad so you can experience the ultimate in heli skiing. Bighorn features eight opulent staterooms, a pool and movie theatre to unwind after a long day on the slopes. Your own private chef will prepare your favourite gourmet delights.

Turks & Caicos Islands – Experience private candlelight beachfront dining on what Conde Nast Travel calls one of the “10 Best Beaches in the World”. The luxurious Grace Bay Club will see to every custom detail. During the day, you can swim up to the world’s first infinity edge bar or borrow a complimentary Hobie Cat or kayak for a water excursion to a private cove for a more active holiday. Serious divers will want to explore the newly discovered coral reefs and walls surrounding the islands. And, if you visit between December and April, you can take a private sailing tour and see every Humpback Whale in the Atlantic—all 2500 of them—make their way to Mouchoir Bank just south of Turks. Of course, you can always explore Provo’s tucked away paradises via some of the 50’-80’ yachts that can be charted during your stay with the on-board crew and private chef you will sail and dine in pure pleasure.

Aspen, Colorado — From skiing to designer label shopping, Aspen offers the discerning traveller a wealth of activities. Stay at the St. Regis where you can fully explore the ski scene or spend the afternoon relaxing in their exclusive spa. If you really want to get your heart beating, you can book a heli skiing adventure with Telluride Helitrax.

Napa Valley – Your gastronomic pursuits will reach new heights in Napa. From Alice Water’s famed Chez Panisse to the Culinary Institute of America, Napa Valley offers gourmet dining amidst the beautiful setting of vineyards at every turn. Book a stay at the Auberge du Soleil in the heart of wine country. The Michelin-starred restaurant is well worth a visit and your concierge can book you a VIP tour of Napa’s finest wines. Between meals prepared by world famous chefs, you can rejuvenate with a Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Massage sourced with local ingredients or enjoy the valley from above as you sip 1987 Screaming Eagle Cabernet during your private hot air balloon ride.

Cabo San Lucas - Enjoy castle life at the iconic Mi Ojo. This cliff dwelling villa overlooks the Pacific and defines the Careyes style – a blend of Mexican and Mediterranean architecture with a lavish rooftop terrace. Take the hanging bridge, suspended 90 feet above the cliffs and ocean, to a private island perfect for meditation or yoga in the botanical garden. Cabo San Lucas Villas will arrange every detail of your exclusive trip, from golf excursions with the local pro to water sports in a private cove.

From tropical islands to snow capped mountains, these 5 destinations offer a new level of luxury and exclusivity for today’s elite travellers. 

This guest post was provided by Avantair, a leading provider of fractional aircraft ownership, leases and flight-hour card programs. With a focus on customer service, safety and comfort, Avantair’s fractional jet ownership program is the solution to your private travel needs. Fractional ownership provides all of the advantages of owning your own private aircraft without the hassle and maintenance. Whether you are interested in jet ownership, jet leasing or jet cards, Avantair has a program that’s right for you!

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Guest Post: Vacation with just a single carry-on bag!

If you have parked your car at or near the airport and taken the shuttle service to the terminal while lugging your golf clubs, skis and luggage, you just haven’t fully enjoyed that stress-free vacation. In the age of the exorbitant airline baggage fees, when you add basic fees, possible overweight costs and the assistance of redcaps at your departing and arriving locations, as well as your return, you can save real money and a great deal of personal aggravation by sending them on ahead.

Parcel Shipping
Shippers like FedEx, UPS, DHL and others will pick up your luggage right from your home and deliver it directly to your hotel, resort or cruise ship. Parcel shipping companies generally limit your packages to 150 lbs. and 165 inches in length and width combined.

Freight Shipping
Freight shippers use the same type of trucks as a parcel shipper but may be less expensive since you pay for the total weight of the shipment rather than by individual item. If, for example you are shipping two sets of golf clubs (typically 30 to 40 lbs. each) and 3 or 4 heavy suitcases (approximately 50 to 60 lbs. each), shipping your luggage by freight would save you money.

Proceed Directly to the Gate
Plan ahead and select a shipper in advance who can arrange to ship your luggage 2 to 5 days ahead of your departure. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go straight to the gate with just your carry-on necessities, avoid the hassle of baggage check-in or the free-for-all of pickup and have your luggage waiting for you when you arrive?

This guest article was provided by Steve O’ Driscoll of Transit Systems, Inc. (TSI), a residential and commercial shipping service and freight company. TSI specializes in shipping furniture and can assist you with both large and small moves. For more information about TSI, visit their website or follow TSI on Twitter @TransitSystems.

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Friday, December 02, 2011

Upcoming Travel: Ride to the Mocha Mountains!!

Tomorrow morning, five of us start our weekend ride to the coffee hills of Coorg. It has been a while since I last went on a motorcycle ride. Its been so long that I don’t remember the last ride. Well, coming back to this upcoming trip…4 bullets and one pulsar plan to take the Bangalore –> Maddur –> Mandya –> Srirangapatna –> Hunsur –> Kushalnagara –> Madikeri route.

We hope to reach Madikeri for lunch. And then spend a relaxed afternoon. The plan is to see if we can visit Madikeri fort, Abbey Falls and the city centre. And may be other interesting places or spots that we may come across. For the night, we will check into some budget hotel.

The next day, we plan to take it easy and do sightseeing till early lunch. Post lunch, we plan to take the scenic Madikeri – Virajpet road that winds its way through coffee plantations, paddy fields, tropical forests and mountain streams. This route passes through Siddapur and Kakkabe and is one of Kodagu’s most beautiful spots. From Virajpet, we plan to take the Gonigoppal route to Hunsur and Srirangapatna and then back to Bangalore. We aim to be back in Bangalore latest by 8 pm.

More on this when I am back.

P.S. I know that my pictures from Sri Lanka and Tadoba Tiger Reserve are being waited for and I promise to roll them out in a week or two.

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Guest Post: Top Theatres of the World

Iconic, unique and often stunningly beautiful, theatres are often some of the most impressive buildings to visit in a city, and can mark the highlight of a tour or holiday. Whether it's because of innovative or artistic design, or compelling history, here is a selection of some of the must-see performance venues from across the globe.

Minack Theatre, Cornwall
Carved into the cliff side in Cornwall, this open-air theatre stages plays from May to December against the dramatic backdrop of the Atlantic ocean. Although Romanesque in style, this impressive arena is the triumph of one Rowena Cade, a local woman who carved and constructed the stage and seating area by hand. Just four miles from Land's End in Porthcurno, this breath taking venue is perfect for catching a magical moonlit summer production.

Teatro Amazonas, Brazil
An opulent jewel in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, this palatial opera house recalls a prosperous time in Brazilian history, with its Murano glass chandeliers, ornate Parisian furnishings and magnificent painted ceilings. The exuberant exterior dome, a stunning feature of the Renaissance-style construction, is decorated with 60,000 ceramic tiles painted with the colours of the Brazilian flag. Guided tours and free performances take place regularly for visitors and this architectural masterpiece in central Manaus is easily accessible by plane or boat.

Herodes Atticus Theatre, Athens
Situated on the south slope of the Acropolis, this incredible amphitheatre is the main venue of the Athens Festival, which runs from May to October. What better way to experience a classical Greek tragedy than under the night sky in these majestic surroundings, steeped in ancient history? These impressive ruins have been restored using marble to enable an audience capacity of 5,000 for live outdoor performances.

Palau de la Musica Catalana, Barcelona
If beauty is what you're looking for, you won't do better than the sumptuous artistry of this Catalan concert hall. A conspicuous gem on an otherwise dreary street, this is indeed a palace, richly embellished with floral designs, enamelled tiles and imposing sculptures. Enjoy some Basque tapas beneath the breath taking stained glass illuminations, or head to the second floor lounge for the best views of the elaborate mosaics on the exterior columns.

Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Probably the best known opera house in the world, this neo-classical venue exudes grandeur and prestige, with its plush red velvet and lavish gold ornamentation. Ticket prices may be sky-high, so try a tour, where you'll get to view the tiered private boxes, as well as historical opera costumes, set pieces and instruments. This majestic venue is a must-see destination for opera lovers, and if you do manage to get tickets, don't forget to wear your finest frock — it is the city of fashion, after all.

Royal Albert Hall, London
Situated in swanky South Kensington, the home of the annual summer Proms is a bit of a British national treasure, with its recognisable red-brick facade and wrought iron dome. The auditorium is home to the largest pipe organ in the UK, as well as a series of space-age mushroom-shaped fibreglass discs on the ceiling that diffuse the acoustics and prevent echoes during performances. Visitors can catch some lunchtime jazz in one of the many cafes or take in one of more than 350 performances per year from classical concerts to high-profile pop shows.

Sydney Opera House, Sydney
No-one could fail to recognise this iconic landmark which is one of the busiest performing arts centres in the world. The overlapping concrete panels gleam white against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour, creating an imposing effect. These striking 'shells' house a concert hall, separate opera and drama theatres and a playhouse. For the ultimate experience, enjoy an Opera High Tea before exploring the Royal Botanic Gardens, or watch a jaw-droppingly beautiful sunset over the city at the Opera Bar, boasting the 'best beer garden in the world'.

China's National Grand Theatre, Beijing
The National Centre for Performing Arts defies belief with its space-age exterior — a futuristic ellipsoid made of titanium and glass in the centre of a man-made lake, like an enormous sci-fi pod. Visitors enter the building through a transparent subterranean walkway, leaving the curved, partially transparent, outer surface of the building entirely unbroken. Most impressive at night, when the glass section of the building lights up, this astonishing venue houses three major performance halls as well as an urban district.

Melbourne Recital Centre and MTC Theatre
Melbourne's Southbank arts venues are the epitome of design chic — a mixture of geometric motifs, asymmetrical steel, neon beams and vivid honeycombed-patterned glass. The MTC's auditorium includes a back-lit wall of words made up of famous quotes, while the Melbourne Recital Centre is designed specifically for clarity of sound, with pine panels fashioned to resemble the back of an instrument. Indulge in a pre-show drink in one of the bars, where you can sample some of Victoria's finest beers.

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Built by the animation magnate's late widow, this sweeping stainless steel structure shines out from the LA concrete like the sails of a silver ship. Designed by Frank Gehry with state-of-the-art acoustics as the first priority, the hall has been praised extensively for its quality of sound. Home to the LA Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as US chef Joachim Splichal's fine dining establishment, this spectacular construction provides a great vantage point from which to view LA's landmarks, including the Hollywood sign.

This guest post was written and provided by Show and Stay, the UK theatre break providers.

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