April 2015 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Australia Zoo on Sunshine Coast: Great Family Getaway in Queensland

Normally, I am not a big fan of zoos due to the way the animals are treated there, but I was so impressed by the way animals were taken care of at the Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, that I decided that I should write about this sensational place.


Home of the famous crocodile hunter , Steve Irwin and run by the Irwin family, the Australia Zoo is one of the best zoos I have ever entered and it aims to be the best in the world. Here, the animals live freely in a tropical habitat. The place is unbelievably clean, tucked right within lush green nature and managed by passionate and caring people.

Feeding of Saltwater Crocodiles at Australia Zoo
This zoo is home to species that are from Queensland and Australia and also species that have been brought from other parts of the world. But, that is the not the best part. The best part is that while taking good care of their animals, they make it an educational experience for the people who visit this zoo, which in turn creates visibility about the gains of protecting wildlife.

Hold Cuckatoos, parrots and exotic birds at Australia Zoo, Sunshine Coast, Australia
I absolutely loved their wildlife shows, where along with other kids, I also morphed into one. Be it a saltwater crocodile, a raptor, a mighty python or even the beautiful macaws, the interactions with these animals during the wildlife shows are an absolute delight and great education. For me, it was total value for money experience.

Kangaroo from Australia Zoo, Sunshine Coast
In addition to the educational wildlife shows, I loved the experience of feeding the kangaroos, holding exotic snakes and the cuddly Koala and getting closer to the young reptiles.

Saltwater Crocodiles - one of the star attractions of Australia Zoo, Sunshine Coast
Everything was such an awesome experience and I was smiling like a Cheshire cat all along. If I as an adult, felt like that, I am sure the kids would absolutely go berserk with excitement.

Scarlet Macaw at Australia Zoo, Sunshine Coast
Since it is just a 90 minute drive from Brisbane and 60-90 minutes from the popular beach holiday destinations of Noosa and Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast, it has great access.

All in all, Sunshine Coast’s Australia Zoo has all the ingredients to make for a great day trip and I think it is a fabulous family holiday destination.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Schengen Business Visa for Indians through Germany Consulate

Are you planning on applying for the Schengen Business visa through the Germany consulate? Well, if you are, you would be happy to know that I recently applied for mine and got it easily. The process was fairly simple and straightforward as long as you have the documentation.

All you have to do is fill up the online form, take print outs of it,  keep all documentation ready, submit all the papers at your nearest VFS office, pay the fees and wait for your passport to be stamped.

Schengen Business Visa for Indians 

I applied for mine at the VFS office in Bangalore and got my visa in 2 days through the German consulate in Bangalore. All transactions take place through VFS, who is the authorized visa service provider. Even if you go through a travel agent, they in turn will go through the applicable VFS office.

The duration and validity of visa depends on the embassy’s discretion and varies from case to case.

List of Documentation 

1) Original Passport with 6 months validity and 2 blank pages

2) Invitation Letter

3) Duly completed and signed Application Form

4) Flight Tickets

5) Trip itinerary

6) 2 Photographs as per format

7) Bank Statement for the last 3 months

8) Income Tax return for the last 3 years

9) Travel Insurance policy for the entire duration of the trip (Minimum 30,000 Euros and apply only from authorized travel insurance provider)

10) Hotel vouchers for the duration of the trip

11) Travel Insurance Declaration Form if you are applying for multiple entry visa

12) Photocopy of Passport data (front and back) pages

13) Covering letter from your office or yourself on your overall plan and mentioning all the documents that you have attached with the application.

Visa Costs

Visa Fee = INR 4100.
VFS Fee = INR 1011
If you opt for passport to be couriered, courier charges = INR 258

Visa Processing Time
Generally, they say 7 to 15 days, but one usually gets their visa in 3 days at Bangalore. 

All payments need to be made by cash at the VFS office. Once you have paid, you get a tracking number through which you can track the status of your application. If it is ready, you can either collect it from VFS or wait for it to be couriered to your address.

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10 Top Experiences in Turkey

Straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey is a hot holiday destination that offers a potpourri of sights, smells and cultures. From its sensational Mediterranean and Aegean coastline to its rich Middle Eastern culture in the South East and from the sensational city of Istanbul to the mountains of Cappadocia and Kars, Turkey has this and much more.

Bird's eye view of Urfa city

If you are interested in this country or if you are planning a vacation to Turkey, you will be interested in reading about the top 10 experiences of this sensational country where the East meets the West. These are based on my personal experiences and come highly recommended.

1) Feel the energy of Istiklal St

This has to Turkey’s busiest street. With over one million visitors every day, Istiklal St in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district is a hotspot for music, dining, partying, shopping, nightlife and much more. It is an iconic part of Istanbul. Home to the city’s oldest train service, the beautiful Galata tower, Taksim square and many buildings from the era gone by, this place certainly has an architectural charm. It even has a better charm when it comes to food as be it desserts, restaurants, coffee shops or shisha joints, this place has the works. The street musicians are just an icing on the cake. This is place to hang out in Istanbul every night. That is what the locals do.

2) Indulge in a Raki Sofrasi

Raki Sofrasi - national pastime of Turkey
Raki, an anise flavored alcoholic beverage is Turkey’s national drink. While the drink might take a bit to get used to, I absolutely love the way it brings together people in a celebration called the Raki sofrasi. People shouting ‘Serefe’, chomping on delicious mezes, making laughter and communal eating is what this Raki Sofrasi is all about.  The locals swear by it. If you have local friends, you will get to enjoy it in all probability. If not, make an attempt to at least be a part of one.

3) Trek the Scenic Lycian Way

Oludeniz view at the start of the Lycian way
With sensational beaches, great architectural ruins, rich Greek history, stunning views, the Lycian way is 550 kms of pure trekking bliss. Starting in Fethiye and going till Antalya, it tests your physical endurance all right, but it gives you an unparalleled high too. You see small villages, you connect more with locals, you see historic sights like the Olympus torch, you see some of the best beaches on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast and most of all, you have the pride of walking on an extremely historic trail.

4) Absorb the Sanliurfa Market Atmosphere

Communal Eating in the bazaars of Sanliurfa
Sanliurfa for me is the middle eastern heart of Turkey. While most of Western, Aegean, Central and Mediterranean Turkey is very westernized, the south Eastern region still feels like the true Middle East. It is close to Syria, but it is perfectly safe, but the world thinks it is not and that is why you will hardly see any tourists here. Its atmospheric markets, its religious and friendly people and its great food together with a sense of being stalled in time make this place a traveler’s delight.

5) Chomp on Delicious Baklava

The delicious Gaziantep Baklavas
The Baklava is one dessert that will almost always give you a food orgasm. A trip to Turkey is not complete without tasting its iconic dessert. But, be aware that it will give you a serious sugar and energy rush. If you are crazy like me, you might want to go to Gaziantep, the true home of the Baklava and have the pistachio Baklavas there. If you are a foodie, you will definitely like Turkish food on the whole. This is my vegetarian story in Turkey and my special gastronomic experience in Istanbul to entice the foodie in you a bit more.

6) Be Amazed at the Greek Ruins of Aphrodisias

Lovely amphitheater of Aphrodisias, Turkey
Turkey has a rich Greek past. It’s tryst with Roman history is so dated that sometimes I wonder if it is the true Greece.  Aphrodisias is one of Turkey’s historical gems and the beauty is that a lot of people give it a miss and head to Ephesus, which is nice, but in ruins. In Aphrodisias, you can see 2000 years of history still very much intact. It is perfect for a history, art or culture lover. But, even if you are not like me, you will simply be amazed at the engineering, scientific, religious and other marvels that were common place 2000 years ago.

7) Set your sights on the World’s First Temple

Sensational Rocky world at Zelve, Cappadocia
Did you know that mankind built his first temple in the 10th century BC? Mind boggling right? Well, that is what the archaeologists say when they dug up a mountain sanctuary at Gobekli Tepe in South Eastern Anatolia. It is believed oldest religious site discovered anywhere in the world. It is also belived that may be, the modern wheat was first domesticated here. Located close to Sanliurfa, this place along with Mount Neemrut is one of the top historical delights of Turkey.

8) Lose yourself in Cappadocia

Quad biking through Love Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey
When people think of Cappadocia, they think of the hot air balloon rides. Well, the views are definitely surreal and must do at least once in your lifetime, but for me, the true thrill of Cappadocia lies in its various trails. You could either walk through them, ride them on a mountain bike or even on an All terrain bike,  but one thing will remain common among all these modes of commute. And that is you will come real close with the true essence of the rock outcrops of Cappadocia, its ancient cave houses, its cave churches, its underground cities and much more. And only you would know how these rocks change in color during the day.

9) Give yourself a Health Treat at Pammukale

Paragliding at Pamukkale, Turkey
I think the hot springs and travertine of Pamukkale are a true natural wonder. I have never seen anything like them. It is special because it makes you stare in awe at mother nature’s creation and the fact that just above it is Hierapolis, one of the successful Greek cities of the past. So, not only can you enjoy a soak in the hot water springs of Pammukale, you can also enjoy the ruins of Hierapolis and all this while you walk through the white travertine, hot water and waterfalls.

10) Go back in history as you walk the narrow lanes of Mardin

Tobacco Store in Bazaar of Mardin, Turkey
Mardin is insanely popular with the locals of Turkey. For some reason, foreign tourists give it a miss. May be, that’s how well the locals have safe guarded one of their best destinations. A desert city in the land called Mesopotamia, Mardin used to be an integral part of the famous Spice Route. The one thing that you will immediately fall in love with are its narrow lanes and stone architecture, but you will also appreciate the Syriac Orthodoxy in this homeland of the Syriacs. With a secular population that consists of Assyrians, Turks, Kurds and Arabs, Mardin has an equal mix of churches and mosques to discover and did I say that this place is a eating and shopping paradise too.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Nepal…Hang On!!

The devastation caused by the earthquake in Nepal is such sad news. My heart goes out to each one of the lovely people of this gorgeous mountain country. Nepal, you are in my thoughts and prayers!

Nepali gentleman with India and Nepal flags
People, Let’s try and support the earthquake victims in any way we can. There has been a lot of devastation especially in the Kathmandu valley and surroundings. And even the avalanche at Everest Base Camp has caused lots of damage. Some of the places that I visited on my recent trip to Nepal are history. That has been the effect and magnitude of this earthquake. Nothing can stand in front of mother nature, but I am sure our support can offset the problems and speed the recovery.

Krishna Temple and the Patan Heritage Zone
After hearing about the news on TV and after checking the safety of all my friends there, I looked up some of my pictures from my Nepal trips and I was deeply affected when I found out that some of these places had become rubble.

Hindu Buddhist Temple in the Bhaktapur Heritage Zone
I am not sure if some places can be returned to their original charm, but I am sure we can do our level best to put back the smiles on the faces of the friendly people of Nepal. Let’s do our best!

Lighting of Butter Lamps at a temple in Kathmandu
Nepal…Hang On!

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Friday, April 24, 2015

5 Easy Ways to Stay FIT while Traveling

Travel is unhealthy! The one thing that my friends in the gym complain the most is ‘travel’ and how it comes in the way of their fitness. All the effort that we put in the city (in the gym, outdoor activities or exercise classes) is nullified during our travels. Is that what we want to hear? Wouldn’t it be nice to travel and ensure out fitness and shape doesn’t get affected? Wouldn’t it be great to know secrets to nullify the effects of too many beers or delicious desserts.

Be it business travel or a leisurely holiday, most of us blame ‘travel’ for gaining weight, losing fitness, losing muscle mass, losing stamina and even losing flexibility. Travel is an integral part of our lives these days and hence we have to find a solution instead of giving excuses. I used to be one of them too till I decided that I couldn’t keep complaining, but had to find a solid solution if I wanted to continue traveling the way that I have been traveling.

Trekking in the Western Ghats of India

Whether you are going on a short relaxing holiday, a business trip, a work assignment, a long backpacking trip, a gap year or any other types of travels, you will discover in the below pointers based on personal experience and experiences from fellow traveler friends, 5 easy ways to stay fit during your travels.

1) Get Cardio in any form

Be it your hotel swimming pool, open ocean, lake or river, you can swim absolutely any where. It is refreshing, fun and helps you increase your work output.

The one thing we do more while traveling is walking. With so much to discover and explore, we invariably walk a good bit and this is good.

If you are staying at a place for more than 2 days with no access to a gym or a swimming pool, it is best to find the closest park where you can go for a run or a jog. All you need is your running shoes with you. And it is a great way to make friends and live like a local.

Personally, I like running and walking to cycling, but I am sure a lot of you out there like to be on 2 wheels.  Exploring the world from on a cycle is also special and it definitely gives you a good solid workout.

Adventure Activities
Kayaking on river near Cola Beach, South Goa

Scuba Diving, Kayaking, Mountain Climbing, Rock Climbing, Rappelling, Trekking or any other adventure activity is high on burning calories. With such activities you address 3 needs at once: adrenaline rush, loads of fun and increasing physical output.

You can still burn lots of calories even inside your hotel room. Sex feels great and is a great full body workout.

2) Yoga

Yoga is one of my absolute favorites to stay fit while traveling. There was a time when different forms of travel (flight,train, bus, etc.) and sleeping on different hotel beds would have a bad effect on my back. But, once I took to Yoga all that disappeared. Instead, my back and should I say my core started strengthening and all that travel stiffness vanished.

Just 5 minutes of yoga every day in the confines of your hotel room goes a long way in keeping you fit. My favorite yoga asanas are Adho Mukha Svanasana, Ardha Navasana, Spinal Twists (all types), Ardha Matsyendrasana, Balasana, Bhekasana, Bhujangasana, Dhanuasana, Paripurnanavasana, Rajakapotasana, Salabhasana, Salamba Sarvangasana, Simhasana, Suptavirasana and Urdhvamukhacvanasana. These are easy to learn and practice yoga positions and help with strengthening your core, increasing body flexibility and burning calories. If you are comfortable with these, you could even move to the advanced yoga positions for say 5 to 10 minutes every day.

You could do your yoga indoors or in any beautiful outdoor location. You could join a yoga class if you are staying in a place for long, especially if you are headed to yoga focused destinations such as Rishikesh, which offer those 200 hour Yoga teacher training classes that you will take your knowledge to the advanced and super experienced level.

3) Push Ups

Snorkeling in the coral reefs of Lakshadweep Islands, India
After yoga, push ups are my next best way of staying fit. They help keep my upper body strong and are a great workout in themselves. The best part is that we can do it absolutely anywhere as it doesn’t need any special accessory. The floor and your bed is good enough to do a variety of push up exercises.

4) Those Strong and Beautiful Abs
It is this part of the body that most of us are worried about as all our sins (drinking and eating) seem to reflect here. More than the fat sitting on the waistline, it is the abdominal core that is more important as those abdominal muscles are an integral part of our body’s core strength. I follow an abdominal exercise routine that includes 3 broad exercises. You could do all of it in 5 to 10 minutes or you could simply alternate exercises every day.

Scissor Abs
These can be done on the floor. Help in core strengthening, workout the upper and the lower Abs and even the obliques. A great workout that can be done almost everywhere.

Ab Stabilization
A great exercise to prevent your stomach from distending outwards. It is great for core strengthening too.

Ab Wheel
I totally recommend the Ab wheel if you are traveling for more than 2 weeks. You could either carry your own Ab wheel or buy it at your destination. Either ways, it is a super small accessory. It is a solid Abdomen and core workout and its effects are amazing.

5) Dancing and Partying

Dancing and Partying at Goa

The best tip has been saved for the last. While the above 4 were great ways of staying fit, dancing and partying is possibly the most joyous. It helps you burn the ill effects of beer, helps you bond with the people around and basically allows you to let your hair down and enjoy.

In addition to the above 5 ways of staying fit, you could always join a local gym, a local training environment (dance studio, yoga studio, etc.) or join an outdoor activity group (like trekkers, cyclists, mountaineers, etc.).

I hope you find these tips helpful and are able to enjoy your travels while staying fit and healthy. No more complaining about how travel is unhealthy!

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Guide To Travel In London

As one of the world's most popular tourism destinations, London is a city in which it's hard to go wrong with your travel activity. Whether you spend your time visiting main attractions, attending special events, or simply relaxing and mingling with locals, you're in for a memorable experience. But to help you narrow your focus and choose a few priorities for what to see and do on a trip to London, here's a brief guide to tourism in the area.

One high priority for any trip to London is see some of the incredible buildings, monuments, and attractions that exist throughout the city. Yes, sightseeing will make you feel very much like a tourist, and in some cities you're better off abandoning the beaten path and pursuing lesser known thrills. But in London, the iconic sights and postcard images really are worth seeing in person. PlanetWare.com wrote up a nice list of some of the most impressive attractions, including the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, and The London Eye.

We'd also note that among these attractions, so many of which are absolutely beautiful from the outside, many are best experienced through indoor tours. Westminster Abbey, for example, is an architectural wonder from the outside. However, by walking through its chambers and alcoves, you get a true sense for the immense amount of history associated with the building. Similarly, the British Museum is a lovely building to look at, but only by spending an afternoon among its exhibitions can you understand why it's considered one of the best museums in the world!

London Travel Guide

Another outstanding aspect of London travel that many people overlook is the vibrant sports atmosphere that exists almost all year throughout the city. The first sport that comes to mind is probably football, and that's fair enough. London is home to Arsenal, Chelsea, and a number of other top-tier clubs, and their matches are some of the most exciting annual events in the city. Additionally, stunning Wembley Stadium hosts the FA Cup championship every spring.

But even beyond football, London is one of the world's greatest sporting cities. BritishAirways.com even goes so far as to point to the city's rugby scene as a reason to travel there in the autumn, offering specific travel packages designed to get visitors in on the action. Indeed, the public gets very excited for professional rugby matches, and attending one as a tourist is a unique thrill. The city is also home to various outstanding once-a-year sporting events such as Wimbledon tennis and the Oxford vs. Cambridge boat races on the Thames.

Bouncing back and forth between city attractions and sporting events makes for a fairly busy vacation, however, and it's also worth pointing out that London's simpler pleasures also rank as great sources of entertainment. In particular, the food and shopping throughout the city are regarded by most as top-notch.

While England itself isn't known for its cuisine in the same way that nearby neighbours like Spain and France are, the country does have an aptitude for producing wonderful comfort food. These include traditional dishes like shepherd's pie or fish and chips, which you can find at any old pub or restaurant. However, London has also become known for its impressive variety of top-notch international cuisines. If you're really curious about individual establishments, Londonist.com has a nice listing of highly ranked restaurants for a variety of cuisines. But we'd recommend seeking out Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cuisine to experience some of the city's best.

As for shopping, your destination will depend somewhat on the sort of items you're looking for. But if you just want to experience what London has to offer overall, areas like Mayfair and Bond Street, Oxford Street, Regent Street and King's Road are known for great stores and enthusiastic crowds of shoppers. Each of these destinations can be an experience in itself.

And of course, there's far more to London than all this. There are artistic exhibitions and performances, cultural attractions, amusing crowds of people, city tours. Even beyond the city limits, there are incredible regions and other cities within reasonable driving distance should you wish to explore beyond London for a day or two. But if you're looking for some highlights for a vacation to this beautiful city, this guide should serve as a good start!

As for accommodation, there are quite a few options available to you. London has some of the world's finest luxury and boutique hotels. You can find them and compare prices using sites like Trivago and Expedia.

If you want a more local and authentic experience, you can find ready-to-use flats in London through websites like Homelike that cater to people of various budgets and requirements.

We recommend reserving your place of stay in London at least a month before your trip because things can be booked up if you try at the last minute.

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Indirect need not be avoided

When it comes to some destinations, you sometimes don’t have much choice in the matter when it comes to flying indirect. If you’re going long-haul, maybe to New Zealand or Australia, stop-offs are a common occurrence, as well as many other destinations, but don’t let this put you off travel, because it sometimes only adds a few hours onto your journey, and the final destination is more than worth it. For flights to places that are more common during the summer months, you will probably find that heading there in the winter may only give you results that are indirect – this is simply the joy of winter flying!

Getting close to a koala at the Australia Zoo, Sunshine Coast

It’s not all bad news, because as long as the connection waiting time isn’t more than a couple of hours, it simply gives you time to stretch your legs, and doesn’t pile much extra time onto your journey. I’ve done it several times, and I would certainly do it again if I had to. Obviously direct is more desirable, but if needs must, then I’d go for it.

You may worry about missing your connection in the event of a delay, but if you book your entire journey with one airline as a round trip, you won’t have any worries. To alleviate concerns, make sure your travel plans are insured. You will need to look at the small print of your policy to find out what exact cover you have, but its peace of mind, and that’s something that money can’t buy. Single trip travel insurance policies are cheap enough and only take a short time to organise, so there’s really no excuse.

Green Island from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Adding extra time onto your journey need not be a bad thing, and I’d suggest turning it into a positive. If you have an early flight, book yourself in at an airport hotel and enjoy a real relaxation before you fly. You could easily use the excuse that you have a longer journey ahead of you, so of course you deserve it! I did this recently and used the Hilton Gatwick, which I would definitely book again. Airport hotels have a range of advantages, not least an earlier start to your break, which I think is a must wherever possible!

On the whole, indirect flights are generally cheaper than flying direct, so if you’re looking to save a bit of cash, this is an option you could go for. Again, if you book your journey with the same airline as one journey then you generally won’t need to pick up your luggage and check in again for your connection flight, as most airlines will check you in for both legs at your initial attendance, and your luggage will automatically be forwarded on – this alleviates concerns about time in-between flights.

If indirect is the way you have to go, don’t see it as a negative, instead look forward to your destination, and remember that every mile is worth it.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Top 10 Summer Weekend Getaways from Bangalore

Even though we Bangaloreans got a lot of rain these last 7 days, summer has arrived here in tropical India. Schools have started to shut down and it is time for that long summer vacation. This is the time for those family holidays. It is also the time for holidays with friends and for couples as long weekends are coming up soon. In fact, a lot of my friends and family have already been planning their summer getaways. And I happen to be their travel advisor, which is when I thought, why not share a list of some of the best summer weekend getaways from Namma Bengaluru so that all of you can enjoy great summer weekends and long weekends with your friends and loved ones. Here is my top 10 list of summer weekend holidays from Bangalore. The premise behind this list is cooler weather, great holiday destinations and avenues to have lots of fun.

Kabini National Park, Karnataka 

Tusker in musth at Kabini Tiger Reserve

happens to be my favorite wildlife destination in the state. It is one of those rare places where you will always end up sighting a leopard and sometimes if you are lucky, a Royal Bengal Tiger. And did I say huge herd of elephants, packs of wild dogs and lots of bird life. Summer is famous at Kabini as the increasing temperatures and receding water levels of the Kabini reservoir attracts a huge number of elephants who come to eat the grass that grows on the banks of the reservoir. This grass is like a delicacy for the elephants. Between the jeep safari drives and the boat safari drives, you will always spot lots of wild animals and birds. The calm ecosystem also offers great relaxation therapy.

Go For: Wildlife and Birdwatching

Ideal For: All types of travelers

Budget: Medium to High

Preferred Places to Stay: Jungle Lodges and Serai Kabini

Distance from Bangalore: 220 kms

Detour Options: Kuta Coffee Estates, Lakshman Teertha Falls and Bylaguppe Tibetan Monastery 

Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka

Wildlife Safaris at Bandipur Tiger Reserve

Another wildlife hotspot of Karnataka, but a much drier one, which makes it a great place to spot tigers is Bandipur Tiger Reserve. It is one of those places with a huge number of tigers in India. In addition to tigers, you will spot bears, elephants, gaurs, deer and many other animals. This place is great for wildlife, but mid day here might be a tad too warm and is best spent indoors either relaxing or playing indoor games. Summers are the best time to visit this tiger reserve and hence it comes heavily recommended by me.

Go For: Wildlife and Birdwatching

Ideal For: Wildlife lovers

Budget: Medium to High

Preferred Places to Stay: Jungle Lodges

Distance from Bangalore: 240 kms

Detour Options: Ooty, Red Hills and Gopalswamy Betta   

Valparai, Tamil Nadu

Green Western Ghats, Waterfalls Galore and the Kerala side all visible from the Nallamudi Pooncholai View Point

One of my favorite tea estates in tropical India, Valparai is a great hill station that is located right in the middle of dense greenery and wildlife. It has a very laidback charm and is a great destination for relaxation. You could go for walks in the tea estates, explore dams and view points or even spot some lion tailed macaques and gaurs in the tea estates around you. And did I say that it is one of the top places in South India to see the beautiful hornbills.    

Go For:
Tea Estates, Relaxation, Cooler Weather and Birdlife

Ideal For: All types of travelers, especially couples

Budget: Budget to High

Preferred Places to Stay: Monica Garden Bungalow of Woodbriar Bungalows

Distance from Bangalore: 460 kms

Detour Options: Athirampally Waterfalls and Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary 

Kabinnakad of Coorg, Karnataka

World is dressed in fresh green

Coorg is a hot destination with most Bangaloreans, but not all places in Coorg are summer friendly. Only the densely forested and mountainous areas near the Thadiyendamol peak offer cooler climes. A very scenic and calm part of Coorg, the Kabinnakad area of Coorg is great for its coffee estates, hikes, Rudraksha trees and good ‘ol relaxation. The local Pandi curry, homemade fruit wines and local coffee are just the icing on the cake.

Go For:
Relaxation, Cooler Weather, Coffee Estates, Hiking, Bird Watching

Ideal For: All types of travelers. A bit of physical fitness is preferred. Great for Romantic Holidays too.

Budget: Budget to High

Preferred Places to Stay: Honey Valley and Tamara Coorg

Distance from Bangalore: 260 kms

Detour Options: Thithimathi Elephant Camp and Iguthuppa Temple  

Kodanad, Tamil Nadu

Nilgiri Holiday at Kodanad

In that belt, Ooty, Coonoor and Red Hills are very popular destinations, but these places have been beaten to such an extent that they face traffic jams and water problems in the summer months, which is why I have mentioned Kodanad here. Kodanad, Ooty and Coonoor are like 3 points on a equilateral triangle. It happens to one of the quietest spots in the Nilgiris and is also the relaxed getaway of Ms. Jayalalitha, Tamil Nadu’s chief minister.

Go For: Hill station relaxation, Cooler Climes

Ideal For: All types of travelers. Great for Families.

Budget: Budget to Medium

Preferred Places to Stay: Home Stays

Distance from Bangalore: 320 kms

Detour Options: Nilgiri Toy Train Railway   

Kudremukh, Karnataka

Rolling Greens of Kudremukh

One of the greenest parts of Karnataka, Kudremukh faced a lot of trouble due to naxalites. But, now that there is no naxalite trouble, this is one of the top places to discover in Karnataka. Ideal for campers and trekkers, this place is also great for families. Between the Hanuman Gundi Falls, the Botanical Gardens, the Sludge dam and oodles of greenery and mountains, this place offers many avenues for a thrilling weekend.

Go For:
Nature and Outdoors

Ideal For: Campers and Trekkers

Budget: Budget to Medium

Preferred Places to Stay: Home Stays

Distance from Bangalore: 330 kms

Detour Options: Gomateshwara Jain Statue at Karkala

Kodaikanal to Munnar, Tamil Nadu and Kerala

Misty blue mountains

Both Kodaikanal and Munnar are famous hill stations and hence have been beaten to the core, but in between these 2 hill stations, there are lots of places where you can still enjoy solitude and the Blue Mountains in its pristine form. Berijam Lake, Eravikulam National Park and Top Station are some of my favorites. But, if you are adventurous kind, I would definitely recommend trekking the 75 kms from Kodaikanal to Munnar through the forests or cycling the 120 kms of mountainous roads between these 2 hill stations.

Go For:
Hill Station, Cooler Climes

Ideal For: All types of travelers. For adventurous getaways, medium level of fitness is required. Couples, families and kids will all enjoy here.

Budget: Budget to High

Preferred Places to Stay: Outdoor Camping

Distance from Bangalore: 470 to 500 kms

Detour Options: Periyar Tiger Reserve 

Dandeli, Karnataka

Kayaking - an adventure sport you can indulge in at Dandeli, Karnataka

If you feel like river rafting and kayaking in the summer months, this is your best bet in South India.  Due to the hydroelectric power project, the mighty Kali river always sees a lot of water in the summer months that offer great fun and adventure for those rafting enthusiasts. For those not interested in rafting, they can indulge in coracle rides on the river, visit the local tribes of Dandeli or go on jeep safaris to the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary and spot the elusive Black Panther. Or you can choose from any of these top things to on your Dandeli holiday.

Go For: River Rafting, Kayaking, Tribes and Wildlife

Ideal For: All types of travelers, though medium physical fitness is required for water sports

Budget: Budget to Medium

Preferred Places to Stay: Home stays and Tree Houses

Distance from Bangalore: 470 kms

Detour Options: Anshi National Park, Gokarna

Bhadra Tiger Reserve, Karnataka
Rich wildlife experience at Bhadra tiger reserve

Situated along the Bhadra river and surrounded by Shola forests and the pristine Western Ghats, the Bhadra Tiger Reserve is one of the of the best places in tropical India to see river terns and sometimes even the elusive tiger too. I would go here more for relaxation than for wildlife, though between the boat rides and the jeep safaris, you will see enough wildlife and bird species.

Go For:
Relaxation, Wildlife and Birdwatching

Ideal For: All types of travelers

Budget: Medium to High

Preferred Places to Stay: Jungle Lodges

Distance from Bangalore: 270 kms

Detour Options: Jog Falls, Linganamakki Reservoir, Agumbe and Sringeri

Kemmangundi and/or Chickmagalur, Karnataka

People look like toys in front of this massive water falls that is nestled deep in the western ghats

Kemmangundi is a poor man’s hill station, while Chickmagalur is a rich man’s holiday destination. Both places offer cooler climes and great greenery amidst the Baba Budan hills. Kemmandundi is more forests, while Chickmagalur is a mix of forests and coffee estates. Easy walks, Kalhatti Falls, Hebbe Falls, lots of relaxation and Mulayangiri, the highest peak of Karnataka are on the agenda here.

Go For:
Relaxation and Coffee Estates

Ideal For: All types of travelers

Budget: Budget to High

Preferred Places to Stay: In a coffee estate

Distance from Bangalore: 250 kms

Detour Options: Belur and Halebid Hoysala Temples, Sringeri.

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People Photo: Shoe Shine Man from Selcuk, Turkey

Interacting with the local people is one of the most interesting components of travel for me. You learn local culture, history, language, food, problems and much more. Turkey, as a country is developing fast, but it still faces a gap between its rich and poor. There are people who still survive on a meagre wage. And some of them work really hard like this shoe shine man whom I met at Selcuk in Aegean Turkey. He walks around the town looking for shoes to shine and sometimes sits outside tourist attractions to earn some quick money from curious tourists who have never seen a shoe shine man before in their life.

Shoe Shine Man at Selcuk, Turkey

I had seen a lot such shoe shiners in Istanbul, but never got around to interacting with them. And which is why I opted to get my backpacking boots shined even though it hardly needed a shine. I found out that my shoe shiner was from the Van region of Turkey and that he had a tough time making his ends meet. But, what brought a smile to my face was the fact that he was happy to know I was from India (Hindistan) as he knew Bollywood movies and our famous song and dance numbers.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Trekking in Ladakh: What You Should Carry

Trekking is a journey of self-exploration of the beauty that surrounds you and the beauty that lies within. In India, the Himalayan region is famed as the ultimate destination for trekking among enthusiasts. The Himalayas offer breath-taking vistas and several challenging trekking routes that can test the mettle of even expert mountaineers. Each year, millions find their way to the colossal mountains to embark on a life-changing expedition. One such expedition is the Zanskar Frozen River Trek; located in Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir), the ‘CHADAR TREK’, which means blanket in Hindi, promises an unparalleled experience for those who dare to step into the wilderness of the bleak mountains. Sure, the thought of walking on a frozen river surrounded by mountains with no food or sign of civilization is terrifying.

Frozen Zanskar River and the Western Himalayas

In this article, I will talk about some essential gear you would need to carry with you if ever plan to take on the frozen river.

Winters can be harsh and numb you to the marrow if you aren’t prepared. For a typical -15°C temperature, it is common sense to add layers of clothing that won’t let the freezing wind to penetrate and to prevent the cold blood from paralyzing your system.

An ideal example of six layer clothing would include:

1 Thermal Inner

2 T-shirts

2 Full-sleeve Sweaters

1 Hollow-fill Jacket

1 Woollen Cap

1 Water Proof Gloves

2-3 Pairs of Woollen Socks

1 Scarf (to cover the neck and some part of the face)

However, you can customize your own version of six layer clothing; whatever keeps you warm. But don’t forget during the day, when the sun is shining, it can get really warm with all those layers of clothes on. So it makes perfect sense to wear dry synthetic T-shirts instead of cotton as your first layer.


The second most important gear to keep in mind is the shoe. You should go for a sturdy pair of hiking shoes which protect you from snow while it offers a firm grip. You don’t want to risk slipping now. . . Do you?

You might want to consider carrying with you a pair of gaiters which are synthetic sleeves for your legs that act as non-penetrable shields for your lower pant leg and ankle area when you’re knee deep in the snow.


Now this is one of the most important things to consider when planning your trek. A backpack should be lightweight, sturdy and have enough space to accommodate all of the things you would need on your trip. You wouldn’t want to carry with you that stylish tote bag which hardly fits a water bottle and a pair of socks. Likewise, a big and heavy bag can increase the amount of weight you are carrying and can result in disastrous results (especially when you’re walking on a thin sheet of ice, yikes!)

Trekking poles are the quintessential hiking and mountaineering equipment. They can help reduce the pressure on your legs, knees, ankles and feet resulting in lower fatigue while trekking. They also allow you to establish and maintain a consistent rhythm, which can increase your speed.

Don’t even think about it!

Sunglasses add a cover around your eyes. Use good quality sunglasses preferably with a large frame to protect your eyes from damage due to the suns’ harmful UV rays and the fast blowing winds.

Use a sunscreen of at least 15 SPF to protect your body parts exposed to the sun during the day if you have sensitive skin.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Aphrodisias–Off Beat Greek Culture Trail in Turkey

As a culture and history lover, we look for places where history comes alive. We look for places where we can stop and admire in awe at the sensational past of the place. On such place is Aphrodisias that existed even before the birth of Christ and was one of the earliest, richest and most evolved Greek settlements in Turkey.

Beautiful Sacrophagus lying on the lawns of Aphrodisias, Turkey
It even predates Ephesus, the most popular Greek ruins in Turkey, but while Ephesus is in ruins, Aphrodisias still exists more or less intact. And the best part is that, Aphrodisias is located deep in Aegean Turkey and on an offbeat trail, which ensures that not many people visit it or even know about it.

Lovely amphitheater of Aphrodisias, Turkey
Set amidst lovely mountains and lush valleys, pomegranate fruit orchards, almond and poplar trees and other farms, this settlement that predates 3rd century BC was named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. It is the unbelievable architecture and marble work that will stun you on your visit here.

Carvings on the temple walls at Aphrodisias, Turkey
How could someone build a stadium that could seat 30,000 people 2,500 years ago? Even till date, we only have a handful of such high capacity stadiums in the whole world. How could someone build amphitheaters with sound acoustics? How could someone build reservoirs and irrigation techniques? How could one build hammams (bath houses) with cold and hot water facilities?

Gorgeous Aphrodisias Landscape
Did you know that 2,500 years ago, they used to have rooms like our corporate conference rooms where they used to discuss township planning, strategy and all of that good stuff? All this sounds hard to believe and that is precisely why I remained dumb and awe struck as I ambled along this historic site.

Pythagoras from Aphrodisias Museum, Turkey
The size of the pillars of Tetrapylon (the main entrance gate to Aphrodisias) and that of the main temple of Aphrodite make me wonder how they moved around such monoliths. Did mammoths exist those days or did they possess some kind of engineering that we don’t know of? Whatever it is, I am simply at a loss for words.

Scenic South Agora of Aphrodisias and its irrigation reservoir
The life like forms, the rich sculpting, the visually appealing stories portrayed on the walls, the sacrophigi and most of all, the size of everything is something you could gape at. May be, they wanted to show off or may be, they had the best artisans. Either way, their work is so good that these artisans and their bloodline became some of the most famous sculptors in the entire Roman period.

Stunning Sacrophigi of Aphrodisias
If you ever make a visit here, you will visit the Stadium, the museum, the Temple of Aphrodite, the Agora, the Bath and Hadrian, the Sebasteion, the Odeon Palace, the Bishop’s Palace, Tetrapylon, the amphitheater, the Tetrastoo and the Bath theater and other smaller places. You will find information about all of these on other sites and through pamphlets when you arrive. I would recommend taking an audio guide or the services of a recognized and knowledgeable tour guide to understand the place well.

Another beautiful sacrophagus from Aphrodisias
My favorites from Aphrodisias have to be the following:

Aphrodisias stadium with capacity of 30,000 people

1) Stadium: I sat on top of one of the stadium seats and imagined that I watched an animal fight or gladiator event along with 30,000 other spectators. 2,500 years ago, to have such a facility was super cool.

2) Bath Houses: There was cold water and hot water hammams. Meetings were held at these bath houses. It was more like informal town planning used to take place in what was like a massage parlor. I sounds so much like a today’s spa.

Sculptures from Aphrodisias Museum, Turkey
3) Sebasteion: Some of the best sculptures of Aphrodisias can be seen here. Greek gods, greek stories and greek mythology can be seen in life like forms here.

4) Amphitheater: A massive acoustic amphitheater where we could see performances and plays 2,500 years ago is super cool. Try singing here and you will see what they meant by acoustic engineering.

Tetrapylon - entrance gateway of Aphrodisias, Turkey
The Aphrodisias Museum also has very well preserved sculptures from that era. Some of them exist here and some in esteemed museums across the world. But, whatever exists here is bound to keep you captivated.

Greek letters on stone near Temple of Aphrodite, Aphrodisias, Turkey
How to get here

It is located at about a 2 hour drive from Denizli. Places to stay here are very minimal, though camping is an option. The best way to explore Aphrodisias is through a hired vehicle or tour from Pamukkale. That way, Aphrodisias can become a great day trip while you can continue with the rest of your Turkey holiday. If independent travel is your thing, you could either do self drives or a combination of hitchhiking/walking and public transport to get here.

Stone Sculptures that still exist at Aphrodisias after 2000 years

: 15 TL per person.

Recommendations: Take the Audio Guide. Visit in the first half of the day. Carry some food and water with you. Any season except the peak of summer would be great.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sofitel Broadbeach: Stunning 5 star on the Gold Coast

Gold coast is one of those top destinations of Australia where indulgence and luxury are totally worth it. On my recent trip there, I stayed at the Sofitel Broadbeach Hotel and the below review is based on my recent experience of staying here.

Gorgeous Gold coast 

1) This is one of those 5 star hotels that is truly 5 star class. Everything about it is luxury and top quality. Be it rooms, service, food, amenities, location, view or others, it comes up trumps.

2) My favorite memory of this hotel was the gorgeous view of the surf and golden beach from my room balcony. If you are looking for a room with a view, you should specifically ask for such a room and I am sure you will not be disappointed. They have rooms that offer both river and ocean views.

3) The hotel has prime location. Located on broadbeach, it is away from the busy Surfers Paradise, but just a couple of tram stops away if you want to zone in onto the action.

4) There is a fully functional shopping mall right under the hotel and that makes for great shopping access. If you carry your room access card, you will get your own private hotel entrance and exits.

5) The hotel has 2 great swimming pools. One on the roof that is great for views and night parties and the one at ground level that is bigger and more suited for fun and frolic.

6) The restaurants in this hotel dish out great food. In fact, some of the best vegetarian food I had in Australia was at this hotel.

7) In case, you are planning for a Gold Coast dream wedding, this hotel has some outstanding wedding rooms and roof top access.

If you are looking for pure play luxury on the Gold Coast, the Sofitel Broadbeach has to be one of your top options.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Travel Photo: Travertine Hot Springs of Pamukkale, Turkey

This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of mother’s nature’s best wonders. Over many years and earthquakes, rivers changed course, cold flowing water became hot water springs, rivers deposited mineral mountains and still kept flowing over it. These mineral mountains are the white travertine hot springs of Pamukkale. They are fed by hot water springs, which are believed to be medicinal in nature. While the waters may have medicinal value, the sight of this travertine is definitely medicinal as they calm our hearts with such sensational beauty. They form streams, waterfalls and ponds as they make their way downhill.

Pamukkale - a must visit place in Turkey

It is best to visit this place on a cold day like how I visited so that you can enjoy the hot water springs and hot bath even more. Do carry your sunglasses and swim wear if you are headed there. And remember, no shoes or any kind of foot wear is allowed here.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

SkyPoint: Gold Coast’s Adrenaline Rush

The Australian Gold Coast is popular for its high energy activities that range from surfing to sailing, theme park rides to jet ski rides, but the one that stands out for me with its sensational adrenaline rush is the SkyPoint Q1 climb.

270m high adrenaline rush on the gold coast
At 322.5 metres high, the Q1 is the 25th tallest building in the world and is the region’s most iconic residential tower. But, the one piece of statistic that gives you an immense sense of pride is that it is Australia’s highest external building climb and is comparable to similar climbs at Macau Tower, Macau and CN Tower, Toronto.

Canal System of Gold Coast, Australia
The adrenaline rush begins right from the time you buy your tickets at the bottom of the building. The rush is not due to you buying tickets, but from the fact that you cannot see the top of the building from the bottom. Then, a super fast elevator takes you to the observation deck on the 77th floor in about 42.7 seconds.

Conquering SkyPoint - Australia's highest external building climb
This is where you can learn about the history of this building, Surfers Paradise and the Gold coast in general. You will be given instructions and given a body harness and other safety equipment. At the observation deck, one can also see the 360 degree, but from behind thick glass windows.

First view of the gold coast as I embark on the SkyPoint Climb
This will change as you start climbing above the observation deck onto a metal staircase with a strapped on metal railing. The high wind speed, the outside temperature, the lack of glass, the height and the sensational views all together start increasing the flow of adrenaline into your blood stream.

Gold coast view from SkyPoint Q1
As you climb up to the main deck, you get a 360 degree view of the Gold Coast, from its golden beaches to its green hinterland, from its supreme canal system to its high rises and from its emerald ocean waters to the dark waters of the canals.

Gorgeous Gold coast from the top of SkyPoint
The fact that you can sense the sheer drop below your feet adds to the excitement and to some, a bit of fear. But, do not be worried as there are enough safety measures in place. All you have to do is enjoy yourself, soak in the views and take gorgeous photographs while the safety mechanism and the instructor take care of you and your safety.

Phew! What a view of the Gold Coast
From the time you leave the observation deck to the time you re-enter it, it is a 90 minute journey where you are suspended roughly 300m above sea level where the cars below look like toys and the people look like ants.

SkyPoint Q1 - scenic climb on the gold coast
The sheer vertical drop is a pure adrenaline rush and one of my favorites from this climb. I would be lying if I said, I wasn’t nervous or if my heart wasn’t beating wildly, but that was precisely why I opted for this climb. I am sure adrenaline junkies will agree with me.

SkyPoint shadow and deadly view
The thrill of scaling one of the world’s highest external building climbs was simple and pure motivation for me. The sensationally fabulous views of Surfers Paradise, the canal system that is longer than that of Venice and the sight of one of Australia’s insanely beautiful landscapes were just the icing on the cake. If you go to the Gold Coast, you have to do the SkyPoint Q1 climb. You will miss out on a whole lot of excitement if you don’t!!

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Traveling Turkey in Fashion with Nautica

When I first started traveling, I used to travel like a true backpacker with minimal utility driven clothes that would turn to tatters by the time my trip finished. But, over the course of my travels, I have learnt that carrying a good set of fashionable clothes always comes in handy. Whether you are going on a date or you are meeting friends, whether you have been invited by a local family or whether you want to dine at an up-market restaurant, it is  nice to be well dressed. It is even better if you look fashionable. The fashion meter rises in certain cities like Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, Sydney, Istanbul, London, New York, etc. And if you are visiting these kind of fashion focused cities, fashion in travel becomes like a no-brainer.

With the Cappadocia landscape in the background

In addition, these days with the increasing selfie mania, fashion in travel is on the rise. After all, nobody wants to look at their worst to their friends on Facebook, twitter, instagram and/or pinterest. Rather, everyone wants to look presentable and even better fashionable. Clothes and accessories are as important as the location in a travel selfie photo these days.

Posing on the rocks of Cappadocia

Last winter, I went on a month long trip to Turkey. On this trip, I decided that I would make in an extra effort to look fashionable and hence carried an extra set of clothes in my backpack, but still ensured that the baggage weight remained the same. To look fashionable, I opted for the Fall and Winter collection of Nautica, an international fashion brand that caters to a younger audience. While, they are specialists in beach wear and underwater gear, they also design great lifestyle clothing for young men and women. And for their quality, range and design, they don’t put a huge dent on your wallet like the other designer brands.

Dinner at a local's house in Istanbul, Turkey

As the weather in Turkey was on the colder side, I opted for 2 V-neck sweaters, a dress shirt and a full sleeve polo T shirt from Nautica. And like I do with most of my travels, I mixed and matched these clothes with different silk scarves, head wear, a pair of blue jeans, sunglasses, a watch and a pair of boots. The idea was to keep the utility of my travel gear intact while increasing the fashion meter.

Selfie with the Kurdish Turban at Sanliurfa, Turkey

My choice of clothes from Nautica were comfortable, looked fashionable, kept me warm admirably (which I appreciated a lot) and they were easy to wash and maintain. And I felt good while I took those various selfie shots at  Istanbul, Cappadocia, Mardin, Sanliurfa, Ephesus, Pamukkale, Fethiye and at other hot destinations across Turkey. And I was happy that I looked presentable when I visited local families, had dinners with friends and dined at nice places.

Dinner with a Turkish Friend at a Mardin Restaurant

What more do we need as travelers? We see dream destinations, experience beautiful cultures, look fashionable, take great photos (including selfies), make lovely memories and may be make friends for life.

I tried Nautica once and am so happy that I will definitely keep trying out their different collections for my future travels. I have my eyes on their Spring and Summer Collection. Have you tried them out as yet?

Disclaimer: All the Nautica Fall and Winter Collection portrayed and mentioned above were provided to me courtesy of Nautica India. But, all the views in this post are honest review and feedback from me based on my experience of using them across one month of travel in Turkey. Nautica India isn’t responsible for my views in any way.

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