Monday, June 30, 2014
This is one of Toronto’s main highlights. At 1,815 feet, it is the tallest building in Canada and one of the tallest buildings in the world. If you seek adventure, you can try the hands free walk on the outside ledge of the tower. And if you are the normal type, you can take the elevator to the observation deck, stand on a transparent floor and see some spectacular views while dining and shopping here. Irrespective of your type, you can be rest assured of a fabulous and thrilling experience.
One of the great natural wonders of the world, the Niagara Falls is located at about 90 kms from Toronto. Millions of tourists make this trip from Toronto to Niagara to see this massive volume of water tumble down a cliff. If you wish to indulge in this location a bit more, you can go to days inn and find yourself a hotel close to the waterfall location itself. You can see the waterfall from the top, get drenched by standing behind the waterfall and next to the curtain of water or from a helicopter. Whatever your method be, you are bound to be captivated by this mighty waterfall.
If you wish to see culturally diverse acts in Toronto, this is where you should go. Home to many theatres, studios and art galleries, the Harbourfront Centre hosts musical concerts, dance performances, plays, cultural events, kid’s shows and more all year around. And to top it, you get to experience the other amenities available around this waterfront.
The Distillery District
This historic district is located right in the middle of Toronto’s downtown. But, it is so unlike a typical downtown experience. Instead, it is a well preserved village of Victorian industrial architecture. This pedestrian only village promotes arts and culture through its Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Soulpepper Theatre Company and many more similar buildings.
Like most Chinatowns the world over, the ones in Toronto (there are 3 in total) are also fiercely popular with locals and tourists. It offers an unique mix of bargain shops and restaurants and cafes that can dazzle you with its culinary fare. Cuisines here range from authentic Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian and some other Asian fare. It’s proximity to the Eaton center gives it some more brownie points.
Note: The photographs in this post have been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the creative commons license. Each photograph has been linked to its respective page on wikipedia.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
For me, I was really mesmerized by its white and gold color theme. While the prayer halls of the mosque are grand and luxurious, the corridors are simple and yet a treat to the eye. The white corridors and their pillars with the golden date palm design are pretty special. In this photo, I was lucky to capture an Emirati lady walking these corridors. While, we are not allowed to photograph Emirati women, I got this frame when I was taking pictures of this corridor. Thankfully, the woman was not looking into the photo frame as that would become an illegal photograph.
Saturday, June 28, 2014
This train journey allows you to get a feel of Canada’s mighty size while traveling from Toronto to Vancouver across 4,400 km and 4 days of travel. VIA Rail, Canada’s rail organization runs ‘The Canadian’ and this train journey crosses Canada’s mighty cities, pristine alpine forests, beautiful lakes, snow capped rugged mountains and expansive prairie grasslands. This top train journey crosses four time zones on its way from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast.
The Rocky Mountaineer is Canada’s flagship train journey and is one of the top highlights during the Canadian summer. There are many train journeys within the Rocky Mountaineer itself and its most popular ones are the ‘First passage of the West’ from Calgary to Vancouver and the ‘Sea to Sky Climb’ from Whistler to Vancouver in British Columbia. These train trips take you through snow capped mountains, glaciers, rivers and canyons. On these trips, you travel by day looking at scenic Canada go by and at night, you stay in a nice cozy hotel in Canada’s rugged countryside towns or at mountain resorts.
VIA Rail, Winnipeg to Manitoba
This train journey organized by VIA rail offers you some of the best attractions of the subarctic, which include polar bears, beluga whales, the northern lights, midnight sun, beautiful northern landscape and First Nations culture. This 1,700 km train journey from Winnipeg to the subarctic region of Manitoba runs all year around, but it is the late Autumn and early Winter months of October and November when you can see the polar bears. This train journey takes two days and you can opt to break your journey.
Polar Bear Express
This train tip in the far north is equally loved by both adults and children. This scenic summer train journey takes you 186 miles from Cochrane in Ontario to Moosonee on James Bay and connects you with the people and landscape of Northern Ontario. It offers a traditional train experience that is off the beaten path and retraces the culture of the First Nations.
VIA Rail, Montreal to Halifax
This train journey, popularly referred to as ‘The Ocean’ joins East Canada’s Montreal and Halifax and it is a great way to sample Canada’s train experience and some gorgeous scenery in a journey that is less than 24 hours. This 1,346 kilometer train ride starts at Canada’s European culture hub of Montreal and ends at Halifax, one of Canada’s thriving port cities that is known for its maritime hospitality.
Note: All the photographs in this post have been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons license and each photograph has been linked to that respective page on wikipedia.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
I understood a bit more about the Khanjar during my recent trip to the sultanate of Oman. The ‘Omani Khanjar’ holds iconic status here. Every luxury tourist wants to carry a rare bejeweled piece back home. Even the Sultan of Oman in his public appearances and in his photos across the country is known to carry a royal looking khanjar on his hip. Omani men do carry it in the country side, but most of them carry on when they present themselves for traditional events. Like most such tools, the Khanjar was also historically used for self-protection, providing its worth as a tool in cutting, sharpening, etc. and also a status symbol.
Monday, June 23, 2014
I am very excited about this trip to Abu Dhabi and look forward to having an interesting time. Do stay tuned for photographs and lots of interesting stories from my visit to the UAE.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
It is a Happy Sunday for me!!
Economic Times, one of the leading dailies of India, have mentioned me and my thoughts on the travel industry in today’s (June 22, 2014) edition of their newspaper. The article is about ‘Affluent Indians opting for unconventional holiday destinations” and it talks about how the new breed of Indians are looking to go off the beaten path and travel with a purpose. It has been written by Ishani Duttagupta.
To read the article online, click here. For a sneak preview, look at the screenshots below. And for the best read, pick up a copy of today’s Economic Times newspaper.
Screenshots from the print version
Screenshots from the online version
Saturday, June 21, 2014
Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya
The great wildlife migration takes place here when millions of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle cross the Grumeti and Mara rivers every June in search of greener pastures. And since there is abundance of prey, the predators like lions, leopards, cheetahs, jackals and the crocodiles are not very far away. Hence, you can say that it is like a wildlife bonanza and you can see millions of animals during the migration season. Even during the leaner months, you will still see abundant wildlife.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
This part is the equivalent of Kenya’s Maasai Mara and holds iconic status in East Africa. Like the migration from Serengeti to Mara in June, there is reverse migration from Mara to Serengeti and this happens in the months of October and November. Thus, this is also the place where you can see millions of wild animals. Lot of prey, predators, hunts, birds and much more can be seen here.
Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Amboseli is famous for 2 things. One, for its elephants and their mighty tusks and the second, for the lovely view of Mount Kilimanjaro from Amboseli. This park can be an ideal place to stop before you continue further into Tanzania from Kenya. The Big five, lots of big elephants, great birdlife and plenty of scenic sights can be seen here.
Ngorongoro Conservation area, Tanzania
This UNESCO World heritage site and conservation area is also home to a large volcanic crater, which seems to attract a lot of wild animals. The entire area is so special that it has been considered by some as one of the ‘7 natural wonders of Africa’. A wildlife enthusiast can see tons of animals here that include ungulates, hippos, giraffes, elephants, lions, African Wild Dogs, Leopards, Cheetahs and lots of lions.
Samburu National Reserve, Kenya
The Samburu park situated in the arid desert of North Africa is home to some unique species of wild animals and birds. The Grevy’s zebra, the Beisa Oryx, Reticulated Giraffe, Impala, Grant Gazelle and many others are seen here in large numbers. In addition to these rarely species of birds and animals, you can also see huge herds of elephants and lots of lions and leopards. The beautiful landscape of the Samburu landscape is an added bonus.
Friday, June 20, 2014
The rule of the thumb is to get a local sponsor for you. This can either be a hotel or a local travel agent. But, if you go through either DVPC or Marhaba, this is taken care of. The process per se is common across both channels. You need the following documents:
1) Original Passport with 2 blank pages
2) Copy of Passport front and back pages
3) 2 passport size color photographs as per UAE size requirements
4) 1 copy of the completed visa form
5) Copy of return tickets
6) Travel insurance for the duration of your trip (this is not enforced, but UAE requires all tourists to carry travel insurance during their trip)
7) Income tax statements of 2 years (each showing a minimum of 2 lakhs earning) or bank statement that shows more than 5 lakhs in cash plus investments (Note: You don’t require to show this proof in case you have traveled to or hold a valid visa of any of the following countries (USA, Canada, Japan, Singapore, UK, Germany, Switzerland, France and some other European countries). All you have to so is provide a copy of your visa or stamping pages.
If you are flying to UAE via Emirates:
1) Go through DVPC, partner of Emirates
2) Follow the above process
3) Pay fees of INR 5100
If you are flying to UAE via Etihad, Air Arabia, any Indian airline or other low cost airlines:
1) Go through Marhaba visa services
2) Follow the above process
3) Pay fees of INR 6300
And in 3 to 4 working days, you will get a copy of your e-visa that is valid for a period of 59 days and allows you a single entry into UAE for a duration of a maximum of 30 days.
Do remember that some airlines require a ‘OK to board’ message mentioned on your ticket. Else, they will not allow you to check in. Hence, do inform your travel agent to submit your visa information to the flight company before you head to the airport.
Note: Some local travel agents might charge a higher fee as they might in turn be going through Marhaba to get your visa. Multiple entry visas are also available, though they are difficult to get and cost more.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
This air-conditioned ground level market located by the Corniche area and surrounded by many mosques and old buildings is full of vibrant colors and rich aroma. At every nook and turn, you will be offered to test the local perfumes. And above this, you will catch the smell of the burning frankincense wafting through the entire market.
Then, there is the dash of rich colors through lovely Kashmiri and Turkish carpets, bedazzling Mundoos’es (jewel boxes), the sparkle on the iconic Omani Khanjar, colorful local clothes and lots of Omani handicrafts and art crafts.
As you weave through the different lanes of the Mutrah souk, you will notice a very interesting and nice attribute of this market, which is non—persuasive shop keepers. Unlike other markets in this part of the world, the shop keepers give a lot of space to the shoppers and only start talking about their products when you ask them.
The Mutrah Souk is also the best area in Oman to pick up traditional tourist souvenirs like fridge magnets, postcards, Mundoos boxes, Perfumes, Dish Dasha, Khummah, Dates and much more. Do remember to bargain here as prices are typically quoted double if not more. A healthy bargain is appreciated by all shopkeepers.
The ideal half day in this part of town would be to have lunch and then spend shopping in the post afternoon session in the air-conditioned lanes of Mutrah Souk. And on sun down, grab yourself a nice glass of cold fruit juice and then head to the Corniche area for a walk by the sea with the evening breeze blowing in your hair.
This might sound surprising to you. In fact, it did to me before I left for Oman. But, once I tasted the vegetarian food options in Oman during my recent trip, I was bowled over and can safely say that if you are a vegetarian, be prepared to enjoy your food in Oman.
The reason for this rich offer of vegetarian food is the unique mix of Middle Eastern and Indian food cuisines into the Omani food palate. Apart from having authentic Omani food, one can find food from South India, North India, Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Irag, Syria, Israel and Iran.
Some of the yummy vegetarian fare available in Oman include:
Pita Bread: Famous wheat bread of the Middle East
Lebanese Bread: Flat and slightly sweet wheat bread from Lebanon
Hummus: Ground Chick Peas served in a paste with olive oil and seasoning
Tabouleh: Assortment of parsley, tomatoes, mint, onion, other veggies, olive oil and seasoning
Fatoush: Pita Bread Salad made with greens and vegetables
Falafel: Deep fried patty made from chick peas and fava beans
Moutabel: Spicy Eggplant dip from Lebanon
Baba Ghanoush: Levantine dish of cooked eggplant, onion, tomato, olive oil and seasoning. This is similar to India’s Baigan ka Bharta.
Vegetable Biriyani: Basmati rice cooked with vegetables and seasoning
Food from North India like Roti, Kulcha, Naan, Paneer Butter Masala, etc.
South Indian food like South Indian Thali, Idli, Dosa, etc.
You can taste the above dishes at most of the Middle Eastern restaurants and Indian restaurants, which will be easily accessible in Muscat or anywhere else you are travelling to in Oman.
If you are interested in vegetarian desserts that are originally from Oman, then you should give Baqalawa, Date Halwa, Kanafa, Khabeesa and Umali a try. These dishes are extremely tasty and I can personally vouch for them. But, they are also high on calories. In case you wish to indulge in healthy vegetarian foods, give the lemon nana and pomegranate juice a try. They are ideal for the hot and dry weather of Oman.
This town located in the Lincolnshire district is home to a very long stretch of sandy beach. It is situated close to other holiday resorts such as Ingoldmells, Mablethorpe, and Sutton-on-sea, which makes it even more promising for tourists as they are spoilt for choices when it comes to activities, resorts and much more. Most of the accommodation options here are like guest houses, self-catering apartments, bed and breakfast hotels and others, which aim to give a cozy home like feel and thus a huge hit with big families. In simple terms, you can easily find affordable bed and breakfast in Skegness for you and your family.
The top attraction in Skegness is its beautiful sandy beach that has been voted as the cleanest beach in the whole of UK. And its famous donkey rides on the beach are a huge hit with the kids. The Natureland Seal sanctuary here is also liked a lot by families with kids as this place provides tourists with entertainment and knowledge on conservation.
One can also enjoy race action through monster trucks and stock car racing at Skegness stadium and knuckle rides at Fantasy Island. The other key attractions in Skegness are its boating lake, fairy dell paddling pool, Gibraltar point nature reserve, Church farm museum and Botton’s pleasure beach.
Overall, the rich green countryside look and feel, the laidback lifestyle and charm, lots of shopping options, the steam railway of the Lincolnshire World Railway, the sandy beaches, the theme parks, the museums, and the castles offer a relaxed beach holiday for your family at this iconic beach destination of the UK.
Note: The images in this post have been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons License.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
In the last month, I have made some changes to the blog that you will appreciate. These changes will give you a slightly better visual experience, a newer home page with lots of helpful functionality, better readability, faster search results and ability to easily locate content on the blog.
You can see a teaser preview in this post and for a live feel, you can go directly to the home page.
Refurbished Home Page
The earlier homepage was a summary of the latest posts. The current homepage has lots of pictures, allows you to read content by country, find the latest posts and read according to your area of interest. The older top navigation bar has been retained as it was well received by many of you. I intend to make it more helpful.
The idea was to make the homepage more visual and to bring out the beautiful world travel photos. As a future traveler, you can get to know the story behind the photo by clicking on it. To make this happen, I have put in two photo containers so that you get to see lots of gorgeous travel photos.
You can also selectively read content and see photos by country. This feature was there earlier, but it remained hidden. Now, it is right on the homepage. The top 3 latest blog posts can also be seen in this section.
If you have been reading my blog posts regularly, you will know that I typically write on 6 broad focus areas. These are ‘Travel Tips’, ‘Visas for Indians’, ‘Adventure Travel’, ‘Vegetarian Food’, ‘Wildlife Holidays’ and ‘Unique Cultures’. Earlier, this content was fragmented. Now, everything has been categorized into these 6 broad areas that double up as the blog focus areas and my areas of interest. If you connect with them, you can directly read content under those respective headers.
To read the latest posts on these areas of interest, all you have to do is hover on the respective header. You can continue to read more by clicking on ‘More’.
Faster Search Results
We all know the importance of a good search feature. Keeping that in mind, I have made my earlier search much faster and more accurate. This will help you easily search within my 1500+ blog posts that I have been writing over the last 5 years. It continues to remain on the top right. Do give it a try and discover more of my blog’s hidden treasures.
Cleaner UI for Blog Posts
Earlier, there used to be some clutter in my blog posts with overcrowded side bars and lots of Ads. This time around, I have tried to make it cleaner and give you more interesting content instead of Ads and other trash. The font sizes have gone up, the color theme is uniform and the right side bar shows information that you might be interested in, such as. ‘Related Posts’, ‘Currently Trending Posts’, ‘All Time Favorites’ and the likes.
Request: I would really appreciate if you could give my refurbished blog a look and a try. And do let me know if you have any positive or negative feedback for me. I will try to incorporate those feedback into my next blog update.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Machu Picchu, Peru
Set on a mountain top and surrounded by stunning Andean scenery, Machu Picchu is a beautiful example of Inca citadel architecture. Machu Picchu remained lost in the mountain undergrowth for hundreds of years until it was re-discovered in 1911. The citadel maintains its air of mysticism, and it's not hard to see why it has remained so popular amongst visitors to Peru. The construction of the temple is extraordinarily advanced, hand-carved stones inter-locking with astonishing precision make up the walls, and it remains a sprawling masterpiece of vision and construction. One of the most important agricultural and residential settlements in the Inca Empire, Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most renowned sights.
Christ the Redeemer, Rio, Brazil
Christ the Redeemer is one of the most renowned structures in the world, to the extent that any movies or TV series based in Rio inevitably use it to set the scene. However, nothing compares to seeing the statue for yourself. Standing at a substantial 98 feet tall and spanning 92 feet, the Redeemer - which was completed over 11 years by French-Polish artist, Paul Landowski - is a noted symbol for the country's Christian population. Those visiting the statue on Corcovado Mountain will also be able to enjoy stunning views across Rio’s beautiful landscapes and visit the on-site chapel, which was set up in 2006 in order to allow Catholics to hold baptisms and weddings beneath the sculpture.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil
Though less well known than some of the other attractions on this list, Iguazu Falls is a genuine natural wonder (indeed, it was number 1 on the list of New Seven Wonders of the World). Truly a sight to behold, it is located on the border between Argentina and Brazil, surrounded by lush rainforest. The waterfalls and cataracts drop between 60 and 82 metres across a course of 2.7 kilometres and it is twice as wide as Niagara.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
It might be cheating slightly to classify an entire city as a 'tourist attraction', but there's no denying that Buenos Aires is a must-visit. Substantially shaped by its European heritage, Buenos Aires is steeped in Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Neo-Gothic architecture. Florida Street, located in the downtown area of the city, is a wonderfully vibrant shopping district filled with the hustle and bustle of shoppers, live statues and a variety of tango dancers, singers and even comedy acts. If you want a taste of European style mixed in with the South American culture, Buenos Aires is the perfect location.
The Amazon Jungle, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia
The Amazon jungle is vast, dense and almost impenetrable (to a point). Considered the most bio-diverse place on earth (with an astonishing 90 different micro-climates), the wildlife statistics of the jungle are remarkable: it is home to 1,200 different types of butterfly, 2,000 different fish and 50,000 plants, amongst many other species. Obviously, an experienced guide is essential, but visiting the Amazon remains an once-in-a-lifetime experience unlike any other in the world.
Patagonia, Chile and Argentina
Forming the southernmost tip of South America, Patagonia remains an extremely popular tourist destination, receiving around 100,000 international visitors each year. A mosaic of dramatic landforms, snow-capped mountains and vast ice fields, the region attracts everyone from hikers enjoying the glories of Torres del Paine National Park to adventure sport fans trying their hand at ice-climbing in Los Glaciares National Park. The Perito Moreno Glacier, in particular, is stunning. Covering 100 square miles of land and reaching nearly 60 metres in height, watching the glacier calving huge icebergs into the lake below is truly breathtaking.
The Nazca Lines, Peru
Dating back to between 300 and 500 AD, the Nazca Lines remain a true historical enigma. The lines - which depict a number of animals including monkeys, fish and spiders - are best observed from the air, but they remain an absolute must see for anyone visiting Peru. The most curious portrayal of the lines is a spaceman (complete with a bubble helmet) that was carved into the desert plains at the same time as the others.
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
For those that love wildlife, the Galapagos offer a chance to see animals that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. The collection of 13 large islands was left untouched for millions of years, with species on the islands developing their own unique characteristics thus forming the basis for Darwin’s ground-breaking ‘Origin of the Species’. The number of endemic species is substantial, and includes marine iguanas, the Galapagos giant tortoise, blue-footed boobies and the Galapagos sea lions. Like many of the sights on this list, the Galapagos Islands are truly unlike any other place in the world.
Lake Titicaca, Peru
Lake Titicaca remains another must-see in Peru. Straddling the border of Peru and Bolivia, the lake is the highest navigable lake in the world. It is steeped in mythological belief and considered to be the birthplace of Inti, the Sun God. The Uros islands located in Puno Bay are an astonishing work of creativity, woven entirely from reed found on the shores of the lake and consisting of structures from boats right the way up to whole buildings. The lake itself is a harmonious, peaceful destination that everyone in the world should spend some time in.
Easter Island, Chile
Located 2,180 miles off the coast of Chile, Easter Island is famous for playing host to 887 monolithic statues known as Moai. Believed to have been created by the Rapa Nui people between 1300 and 1500 A.D, the statues are a representation of deified ancestors and gods, and for any discerning traveller they remain a must-witness. The highest statue - which is known as Paro, stands at almost 10 metres high and weighs approximately 82 tons.
About the Author: Helene Cooper is a passionate traveller who is keen to travel all corners of the world. From South, central and North America to South East Asia, China and Hong Kong, Helene has been able to explore the majority of countries people would place on their bucket lists.
Photo Courtesy: All the photographs in this post are courtesy of Imaginative Traveller.