Friday, April 28, 2017

Hoysala Temple Trails for this Long Weekend?

Stunning carvings on the external walls of Channakeshava temple, Belur, Karnataka

The Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu, the Chennakeshava temple at Belur, the Chennakeshava temple at Somnathpur and the Lakshmi Devi temple at Doddagadvalli village are some of the living temple gems that the Hoysala kingdom of Karnataka has left behind as legacy for all history, art and temple lovers. Created by some of the finest artisans and sculptors of South India, all these temples rival each other for beauty in detail and joy in vivid story telling.

Side view portrait from Belur Chennakeshava temple, Karnataka

Not only are these places great summer getaways from Bengaluru, but they are also fantastic for those who love street photography or people photography. Personally, I am a big fan of all the Hoysala temple trails. There is so much to learn, see and imagine in these temples that is nothing short of pure joy for a visitor. Travel photographers who love taking portraits and street photos will love the colorful local attire, local mannerisms and the intricate detailing in the temple that make for great foregrounds and backgrounds.

The famous pillars of Hoysala architecture at Belur, Karnataka

Whether you are a travel photographer, a traveler or simply an art and temple lover, the Hoysala temple trails are bound to thrill you. May be, this upcoming long weekend could be your perfect opportunity to explore some of these temples.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Why should Hong Kong be your Family Getaway this summer?

Hong Kong Skyine by Night

Hong Kong! What do we typically associate with this world class city of the Orient? Financial hub? Sensational high rises? Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and the generation of Wing Chun and Kung Fu movies? Luxury and budget shopping? Hong Kong is so much more than these usual stereotypes. I have visited Hong Kong quite a few times in the past and I can comfortably say that it is a city that throws pleasant surprises at you. Be its easy paced life amidst the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong island, its rich natural surroundings, its amazing avenues for vegetarian food or the fact that it is a heaven for kids and family holidaymakers, I have always been surprised during my various visits to this lively city that is so full of vibrant character.

If you are looking for an international family getaway destination for the upcoming summer holidays, here are 10 interesting reasons to pack your bags and head with your family and kids to Hong Kong this summer.  The icing on the cake is the SMART deals and discounts being offered at most of these tourist attractions to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. This is in addition to the savings that you will get using the Octopus card, which you can use for all your transportation, entrance tickets and at supermarkets.

Peak Tram and the Iconic Hong Kong Skyline

Hong Kong Skyline and the Peak Tram

The Hong Kong skyline has been immortalized across various channels all over the world and hence it is no surprise that seeing this skyline from the peak is one of the top highlights of a Hong Kong holiday. But, it is not just the view, but the overall peak experience package, which includes boarding the 120 year old peak tram, the world’s steepest funicular railway and experiencing a 7 minute journey where you see the Hong Kong harbour, the skyscrapers of Hong Kong and the entire cityscape scenery at impossible angles.

Irrespective of the time of day or night, the Hong Kong view from the peak will never disappoint you. Once you reach the top, you can also walk on the peak trail, thus soaking in the views from different locations.

Lose yourself in Hong Kong Disneyland

Mickey Mouse Experience at Disneyland, Hong Kong

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If you are in Hong Kong with kids, there is no missing Disneyland. After all, no kid would want to miss out on Tony Stark’s latest inventions and heroic adventures at the latest Iron Man experience (first Marvel themed ride in Disneyland), the enchanted Mickey and the wondrous book, the technology effects of Disney in the Stars,  or be lost in space at the Star Wars: Tomorrow Land Takeover. Hong Kong Disneyland offers so many immersive and unforgettable experiences that all kids would love to dream and explore all of this. What’s even better is that you can combine a Star Ferry cruise and a trip to Disneyland by boarding the Star Ferry that takes you straight into the fantasy world of Disneyland. And while you are at it, you can discover more exotic adventures at Disney Explorers Lodge, the new hotel property slated to open on April 30.

Relish the Joy of Animals at Ocean Park

Rich Underwater Experience at Ocean Park, Hong Kong

Featuring a diverse selection of world-class animal attractions, thrill rides and shows, the Ocean Park offers an interesting mix of educational entertainment coupled with fun and adventure. Whether it is the scenic 1.5 km long cable car between the waterfront and the summit that offers panoramic views of Hong Kong and South China Sea, getting close to Red Pandas at the Giant Panda Adventure, feeding the dolphins, being penguin or panda keepers, watching hundreds of shimmering goldfish or enjoying kid-oriented rides at Whiskers Harbour, Ocean Park is the perfect family getaway for all animal lovers.

Soak in the Leisurely Tram Experience

Traveling by the iconic tram in Hong Kong

With more than 100 years of legacy, the British colonial era heritage tram is a great way to experience Hong Kong Island at a leisurely pace. This world’s largest fleet of double deck tram cars offer the perfect photographic opportunity in Hong Kong at a super affordable price. Adults only pay HK$ 2.30 per trip and for children under the age of three, it is free. Like the Star Ferry, which is on water, the Hong Kong tramways is a perfect way to go back in time and experience this bustling cosmopolitan from a different perspective.

Revel in the 360 Degree Views at Sky 100

With more than 7,600 skyscrapers, Hong Kong is a living showcase of the best in international contemporary architecture. What better way to see this than from the indoor observation deck of the 100th floor of Hong Kong’s tallest building! Nicknamed as Sky 100, you can reach here in a high speed elevator that transports you 100 floors in less than a minute. And once you reach the top observation deck, you can see the Bank of China tower, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, HSBC main building, Two International Finance Centre and other incredible views of the skyline and the Victoria harbour. One can also explore the observation deck’s state of the art interactive exhibition with a fascinating multimedia tour of Hong Kong’s history and culture.

Go Photo Crazy at the Trick Eye Museum

An absolutely fabulous place to take amusing selfies and photographs, the Trick Eye museum is a beautiful collection of 3D artwork and optically illusive paintings that seem to defy all laws of Physics. This place is so crazy that it not only brings big smiles to the faces of all visitors, but it seems to have an exponential laughter effect coupled with surprise when you share these jaw dropping pictures on social media.

Star Ferry and Victoria Harbour

A Victoria Harbor Cruise

Founded by an Indian Parsee businessman, the 130 year old Star Ferry is another affordable attraction and a great way to experience one of the world’s most photographed harbours. Rated by National Geographic as one of ‘50 places of a lifetime’ that one should see, there is no better way than to slowly chug from Hong Kong island to Kowloon while you soak in the beauty of the Hong Kong skyline, its business district and the gorgeous looking Victoria Harbour. The Star ferry offers a great opportunity to easily experience the hustle and bustle of Kowloon that is a far cry from the glamour of Hong Kong Island all within 30 minutes.

Experience Hong Kong from inside a Helicopter

Hong Kong view from inside a Helicopter

There is nothing more surreal than to see the iconic Victoria Harbour with all its boats and ferries and the famous skyscrapers of Hong Kong along with your family from inside a helicopter. Managed by celebrity pilot Michael Wong, this helicopter ride offers you the best seat in the house from possibly a local who knows Hong Kong skies better than anyone else. This is one of those Hong Kong attractions that make for a great option in case you are celebrating something like a birthday or an anniversary.

Go on a Shopping Spree

Mongkok Shopping Experience, Hong Kong

There is no trip to Hong Kong that is complete without indulging in some shopping. Whether you are indulging in some luxury designer labels at some of the fancy shopping malls in the city or going for budget shopping at one of the many street markets, such as the Ladies market in Mongkok, diversity is the norm in Hong Kong. As most of these street markets are vibrant with great local fanfare and festive atmosphere, everyone in the family, from young to old, will find something that appeal to them. And if you love gadgets, be it phones, tablets, cameras or accessories, what better place to look for than Hong Kong where you get the best gadgets for their true value prices.

Chomp on Delicious Vegetarian Food

A Chinese Hot Pot at Hong Kong

Typically, Indian travellers to Hong Kong don’t associate this city with vegetarian food, but based on my personal experiences I beg to differ. I am not just talking about Indian vegetarian joints in Hong Kong, which are an option, but a whole new world of Cantonese and Chinese vegetarian restaurants that offer the best of both worlds – local cuisine and vegetarian food. Be it mock meats, vegetarian equivalents and desserts, a vegetarian family in Hong Kong is pretty much spoilt for choice. From iconic hot pots made from eggplant to pumpkin soup, from the popular Dim Sum and tea at Lin Heung Tea House to ‘bo lo yau’, the yummy pineapple buns and from the famous egg tarts of Tai Cheong bakery to delicious concoctions of veggies, rice, soups and other desserts, vegetarians are truly spoilt for choice in Hong Kong. Personally, I am a big fan of Dim Sum and Hot Pot. I love the communal gathering that these foods bring along.

I am pretty sure that by now you are sold on the idea of Hong Kong as a fabulous family destination. All you now have to do is book your flight tickets and your pre-authorization for Hong Kong visa, pack your bags and make use of all the deals and discounts offered on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong SAR and experience an amazing summer holiday in Hong Kong with your family!

Photo Courtesy:
Some of the photographs in this article are courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Srirangapatna: Of river islands, a Vishnu temple and Tipu Sultan’s Capital

Beautiful ivory work on the doors of Gumbaz, Srirangapatna

Just a couple of hours from the busy metropolitan of Bangalore is located a tiny river island called Srirangapatna. Today, this town that is sandwiched by the Cauvery river, might be small, but in its hey day, it was an important part of the Ganga dynasty, the Hoysala empire, the Vijayanagara empire and last, but not the least, it was the stronghold of Tipu Sultan, one of the mighty rulers of Karnataka and whose battles with the British are an epic part of history.

For some reason, Srirangapatna is not so famous on the tourist trail or weekend getaway list from Bangalore. May be, it is because, there are other awesome getaways like Bandipur, Ooty, Mysore, Kabini, Coorg and Shivanasamudram nearby. While these destinations are fantastic getaways, I think Srirangapatna has enough history, natural beauty and old world charm to stand out as a holiday destination in itself.


The beautiful view of Tipu Sultan's tomb Gumbaz as you enter the premises in Srirangapatna, Karnataka

When someone mentions Srirangapatna, it is the temple and sacred river that usually comes to mind, but the true monument of Srirangapatna is the mausoleum that holds the ashes of its favorite son – Tipu Sultan. Built by Tipu Sultan as a mausoleum for his father and mother, this Persian styled monument is where one can offer their respects to Tipu Sultan and his family. After all, he was an integral part of India’s Independence movement from South India. The temple is surrounded by a Persian styled garden, a mosque and is located on the quieter side of town.

Daria Daulat Bagh

School girls takes a stroll at Daria Daulat Bagh, Srirangapatna

The Daria Daulat Bagh or the summer palace of Tipu Sultan is another iconic location. It would have been great if the government took better care of this monument and may be allowed clicking photographs without flash inside, but nonetheless, this 18th century palace built in Indo-Sarcenic style using teakwood is a sight to behold. The murals and the paintings inside the palace portray a lot of stories from the era, but they are not in the best of conditions.

The Walled City

Inticate work on Gumbaz, Srirangapatna

The cities ruled by Tipu Sultan were known for its walls, moats and other fortifications and that is why most of his cities are referred to as walled cities. Srirangapatna is one such city too and when you explore the city slowly, you will find garrison cemetery, deserted bungalows and houses from the colonial era, the fort, the dungeon, the cannons and many other elements in ruins from the glorious past.

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple

Entrance to Gumbaz, Srirangapatna

A medley of Hoysala and Viajayanagar styles of Temple architecture, it is the 9th century Sri Ranganathaswamy temple that lends its name to Srirangapatna. Along with Srirangam and Shivanasamudram, it is one of the most important Vaishnavite centers of pilgrimage in South India. And a great place to find some peace.

Pristine Nature

The river island of Srirangapatna and its surroundings is made up of lush green paddy fields, swaying coconut palms and sugarcane plantations. Even though Ranganathitu is known as a bird’s haven, Srirangaptna’s river banks too attract a lot of birds. The river side, the sangamam (the confluence of the holy rivers) and the entire town in itself is known for its idyllic look and feel and rich nature. If you feel like pristine nature and a view, then head to Karighatta viewpoint, which provides a spectacular view of Srirangapatna and Mysore from within gooseberry and tamarind orchards.

As you can see, Srirangapatna offers that perfect combination of idyllic countryside coupled with rich culture, history and beautiful rustic nature. And its proximity to Bangalore ensures that more of us Bangaloreans can explore this place at will during any weekend or on any other holiday.

How to reach Srirangapatna:

Srirangapatna Gumbaz shining in the setting sun

Srirangapatna is well connected by road and rail. Mysore at 15 kms away is the closest airport and large city hub, while Bangalore, about 115 kms away is the closest metropolitan and with the best connected international airport.

Where to Stay in Srirangapatna:

There is a Karnataka Tourism property called Hotel Mayura River View that is located by the river Cauvery and there are smaller hotels near the temple, bus stand and railway station, but if you are looking for nicer properties, Mysore or Bangalore would be better bets.

Attractions beyond Srirangapatna town:

Locals having a chat on the Gumbaz gardens, Srirangapatna

1) The Ranganathitu bird sanctuary (10 kms away) on the cauvery known for its rich collection of terrestrial and migratory birds. Also, popular place to see nests and young ones.

2) Channapatna (About 55 kms away) is the town of toys and one that makes for a stunning visit, especially if you are with kids.

3) Mysore is only 15 kms away and that means Mysore Palace, Chamundi Hill, Mysore Zoo and Brindavan gardens are pretty close by.

4) The gorgeous Hoysala era Chennakeshava temple of Somnathpur is only about 30 kms away.

5) The underground city of Talakadu is just 45 kms away.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Ma’in Hot Springs Resort and Spa: Rejuvenate yourself after your Jordan Adventure

Camels and their riders at the entrance to the street of facades, Petra, Jordan

The heritage city of Petra, the natural wonder called the Dead Sea, the Martian landscapes of Wadi Rum, the mosaic capital of Madaba, the beach destination of Aqaba and the bustling capital of Amman, Jordan is so full of amazing holiday destinations and attractions. Somewhere hidden amidst all this is another natural gem called Ma’in Hot Springs, a therapeutic waterfall that is tucked amidst spectacular mountain landscape. Along with the mud spa of the Dead Sea, the Ma’in Hot Springs is a fantastic place to rejuvenate yourself and return home a recharged and reborn person.

At the end of my Jordan holiday, I spent a couple of days soaking myself in the hot springs and giving myself the best of all of its therapeutic benefits. While I was here, I stayed at the luxurious Ma’in Hot Springs Resort and Spa. This review is based on this recent experience of mine and hopefully will help you choose your hotel property while you explore Ma’in Hot Springs in Jordan.

1) Like the Dead Sea, the Ma’in Hot Springs Resort and Spa is located about 264 metres below mean sea level and is surrounded by beautiful mountains, greenery and a hot springs waterfall. All the rooms at this property give you some sort of mountain view. If you prefer a waterfall view, do make sure that you ask for it.

2) One of the biggest perks of this property is the fact that you can enjoy the hot springs without having to go to the hot springs. The Ma’in Hot Springs resort and spa have thoughtfully converted a cave and a swimming pool into a hot spa experience where in you get the safety of a luxury property and a swimming pool and the therapeutic benefits of a hot springs. This hot spring pool faces the waterfall and the mountains and gives you great vantage points and a through hot spa experience.

3) Sometimes, too much of a hot spa can get to you and that is where the Olympic size pool (cold water) of the hotel comes in handy. For hot sunny days, this pool is like a god send.

4) The hotel has a classic decor and its library and even the benches under the trees appeal to all the book lovers. There is nothing like a hot spa followed by a read and a quick nap.

5) The hotel has a great assortments of restaurants and bars ranging from a cliff top Arabic restaurant, a restaurant overlooking the waterfall, a communal styled outdoor dining in a Bedouin tent to a thermal pool bar, a cellar for wine lovers and a terrace bar.

6) In addition to the natural hot spring, the hotel has an in-house spa that offers a unique steam cave, Dead Sea therapies and signature treatments to ensure pure rejuvenation.

7) All rooms at the hotel do have free Wi-Fi, but connectivity is patchy due to the remoteness of this region.

8) The property is located about 60 kms from Amman and about 30 kms from Madaba and is hence not too far away from civilization and fall enroute to top Jordan attractions such as the Dead Sea, Bethany and Petra.

If you are on your Jordan holiday and wish to spend some time totally relaxing and rejuvenating yourself, I would recommend that you look up Ma’in Hot Springs Resort and Spa and their natural hot springs.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Petra Guest House: Perfect Location for exploring Petra

Walking through the Siq of Petra, Jordan

A visit to Petra, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, is definitely a highlight of a holiday to Jordan and hence it is a no-brainer when you decide to keep a significant chunk of your Jordan holiday itinerary for it. As there is a lot to explore in the Petra archaeological park, also an UNESCO world heritage site, it is best to stay real close to the park entrance so that you don’t have to spend too much time in covering the top attractions.

During my recent visit to Petra, I stayed at the Petra Guest House and I hope that this review of my hotel experience will help you in choosing your Petra hotels for your Jordan holiday.

1) Petra Guest House is on the lines of a 4 star business class hotel. It has all the modern amenities taken care of. The rooms are a bit small, but otherwise top class. If you prefer a mountain view, do make sure that you ask for it.

Treasury - the gem of Petra, Jordan

2) The best part about this property is its locations. It is located just a couple of steps from the visitor center where you can get your tickets and make the grand entrance to the Petra archaeoogical park. As Petra by night is a must-see activity, being close to the entrance gate really helps. Due to this proximity, I could go for sunrise walks, post breakfast walks, sunset trips and even get to see Petra by night without having to plan anything else.

3) Breakfast served at the hotel is in buffet style. Cuisine was Mediterranean and continental and it was decent.

The rock beauty of Petra, Jordan

4) The original Nabatean Cave bar and its large piazza in the hotel is a must-experience attraction and it makes for a great relaxed getaway after a long day walking and climbing in the Petra archaeological park.

5) Free Wi-Fi is present in the hotel and the speeds are good. The hotel also provides the services of an in-house business center.

6) As the hotel is located right next to the visitor center, the Petra shopping area is not too far away and hence you can go souvenir hunting whenever you find time.

A restaurant near the Petra Monastery, Jordan

7) There are a whole bunch of restaurants that are located real close to the hotel in case you wish to try out some specific local fare.

If you are looking for a comfortable 4 star hotel for yourself and/or your family that is located close to Petra entrance gate, you should definitely look up the Petra Guest House.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Movenpick Resort and Residences Aqaba: Fantastic Luxury Property in Beach Resort Aqaba

Aqaba Harbour, Jordan

Aqaba, the beach resort of Jordan is one of the hot destinations of Jordan. Not only is it blessed with pristine white beaches and coral rich waters, it is a visa free and duty free zone, thus offering the best of all worlds in this gem of the Middle East. If you are planning a holiday to Jordan, Aqaba will definitely be an integral part of the itinerary. For the neighbours (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, rest of the Middle East and the pilgrims who are returning from Mecca), Aqaba offers a perfect weekend beach getaway. In case you fit into either category, you will definitely be interested in a good place to make your base during your Aqaba beach holiday.

Snorkeling in the azure waters of Aqaba, Jordan

During my visit to Jordan’s Aqaba, I stayed at the uber luxurious Movenpick Resort and Residences Aqaba, a five star hotel with rich traditional d├ęcor and fantastic customer service. The below hotel review is based on this experience of mine and hopefully it will help you in choosing your hotel property for your Aqaba holiday.

1) The Movenpick Resort and Residences has it own private beach that offers you the best access to the Red Sea. In addition to Mother nature, they also have 4 swimming pools that allow you to stay cool in the hot weather.

The beach resort of Aqaba, Jordan

2) This 5 star hotel offers an interesting mix of suites, apartments and rooms thus appealing to large size families. Most of these rooms come with a balcony, thus offering you either a view of the property or the Red Sea.

3) Designed in a combination of European and Arabic architecture, the hotel is plush and luxurious all around. From stunning mosaic work to tastefully done with marble flooring, one can find grandeur and luxury in every corner of the hotel.

4) From kid sized pools to a whole bunch of activities lined up for the young ones, this Movenpick property is pro kids and pro families.

5) Aqaba is known for its water based activities and the hotel travel desk arranges everything from scuba diving, snorkelling, sunset cruises, jet skiing, glass bottomed boat rides to para-sailing, fishing and so much more.

Boats moored at Aqaba Harbour, Jordan

6) The hotel is located real close to all the shopping centers, such as Souk by the sea, the traditional local market, the duty free shops and the shopping malls. All of them can be easily covered by walk.

7) Movenpick Aqaba has a variety of eating options that includes 8 restaurants and bars. From their Afro-Arabian restaurant to fine Mediterranean dining and the best of pastries and cakes, dining is absolute joy here. And don’t forget to dig into their iconic ice creams while you are staying with them.

8) The entire hotel property is fitted with fast wi-fi and that comes in handy for travel bloggers such as me who need to be connected all the time.

9) The hotel is located not too far away from the airport and in fact, it is not far from any of the attractions or destinations in the city.

If you are looking for a family-friendly luxury hotel in Aqaba that is located right next to the beach and one that caters to a wide variety of budgets, I would recommend that you take a look at Movenpick Resort and Residences Aqaba.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

9 European Holidays not to miss this Summer

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Indian travellers seem to have always an affinity towards European destinations. This could be due to Bollywood movie scenes shot around the spectacular European destinations, could be the ability of today’s India to spend more and travel farther or it could simply be the fact that the rest of the world loves to visit Europe and Indians wish to follow their footsteps.

Do you have such affinity towards Europe? Do you have any dream European holidays on your bucket list? Or even better, are you thinking of traveling to Europe this summer with your family and friends? Well, if you are, here are 9 of the best European holiday ideas for this summer and hopefully some of these can find their way into your European holiday itinerary.

Romantic Paris

The locks of lovers and Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

One of the world’s most visited cities, there is no better time to explore Paris than the summer months. Gorgeous weather and bright sunshine adds a jump to your step as you explore a city where art, creativity, fashion, food and wine merge into one. Whether you are walking by the banks of the river Seine as portrayed in the Bollywood movie ‘Befikre’, lost in the magical world inside the Louvre, partying at one of the many summer festivals, watching a live opera show at the opera house, feeling a sense of peace at the Notre Dame or Sacre Coeur churches, enjoying a fine dining session at one of the city’s famous restaurants or shopping for designer labels till you drop, a summer holiday in Paris offers all this and much more.

Fairy Tale South Germany

The world's largest cuckoo clock at Schonach, Black Forest, Germany

Think cuckoo clocks, mouth blown glass, the world’s first long distance automobile journey and the forest that gave the world some of its best fairy tales! South Germany’s Heidelberg, Black Forest, the Bavarian Alps, Lake Constance and Stuttgart are this and much more. Perfect for outdoor lovers, South Germany is a beautiful combination of outdoor adventure and fairy tale wonders.  And what’s even better is that the Indian heartthrob destination of Switzerland is just a short drive away.

Beaches of Spain

Spain offers a perfect combination of local culture, delicious food, vibrant nightlife, soccer lovers and pristinely beautiful beaches. If you are looking for a beach holiday in Europe, Spain will comfortably lead the way in all top lists. After all, it is difficult to beat the 200 km long white coast of Costa Blanca, the lush forests and spectacular beaches of Tenerife, the island life of Mallorca, the beach parties of Ibiza, the sea side resorts of Costa Brava, the quiet and sunny coastline of Costa del Sol, the mind blowing Canary islands and last, but not the least, the culture, nightlife and beaches of Barcelona, Spain’s 2nd largest and one of the most popular cities.

National Parks and Islands of Croatia

One of the hottest destinations in the world at the moment, Croatia, straddles the Adriatic Sea on the South and the West and the highlands and mountains in the north. This entire South East European country is steeped in rich culture, spectacular coastlines, lush green islands and some of the prettiest natural landscapes present on mother earth. Be it the heritage coastal city of Dubrovnik, the river valley of Krka National Park or the majestic Plitvice National Park, Croatia packs quite a serious punch.

Norway’s Midnight Sun

Stunning Norwegian Landscape

Tucked up in the upper reaches of the Northern Hemisphere, Norway is the place to witness the magical beauty of the Northern Lights. In the summer months, the aurora borealis is not much visible and hence the midnight sun is celebrated. With some of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls, gorgeous fjords, mighty glaciers, absolutely beautiful cities, a high happiness quotient, some of the world’s most green energy and an unbelievably easy access to the Arctic Circle, Norway deserves a special place in a European holiday itinerary. 

Liberal Amsterdam

A hot favourite with the younger generation due to the liberal smoking laws, this Venice of the North, is certainly a sight to behold. With year round lively festivals, lovely canals that criss cross the city, bustling coffee shops, the famous Red Light district, the heritage canal ring, heritage structures in windmills and medieval wooden houses and an amazing collection of museums, Amsterdam is definitely one of the top attractions of a European holiday and hence it finds a mention here. The best way to explore Amsterdam is on a bicycle just like the locals do.

Cultural Overdose in Italy

Gorgeous view of Florence

Home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world, Italy is like most of European holiday packages rolled into one. From delicious pizzas to lip smacking gelato, from trendy fashion to India like motorcycle mania and traffic and from a beautiful language to their famous hand gestures, Italy throws so many charms at you that you will definitely fall in love with her. The canals of Venice, the beautiful island of Sicily, the might of Rome, the food of Bologna, the Renaissance city of Florence, the heritage city of Naples, the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, the rocky coastline of Amalfi, the beautiful countryside around Lake Garda and the list just goes on. Italy deserves a special holiday just on its own and do make sure that you manage to get as long a break from work as you can, as Italy is totally worth it.

Best of Eastern Europe in Prague

Once a capital of Bohemia, Czech Republic’s capital Prague, offers a magical experience to all its visitors. Untouched during the world wars, the cathedrals, church towers, bridges, cobbled paths, castle and museums make for fabulous sightseeing during the day. And during the night, this city morphs into the perfect party destination. In fact, such is its popularity that it is often referred to as the top nightlife destination in Europe. A not to miss activity in this magical city is to watch the city go by from inside a boat on the Vltava River.

Natural Wonders of Iceland

Chasing Northern Lights in Iceland

Photo Credit: Iceland Tourism

If you love unusual yet fascinating nature, Iceland will definitely appeal to you. With massive waterfalls, sizzling geo thermal springs, innumerable volcanoes, lava forests, icebergs and glaciers, this Nordic country simply oozes raw appeal. A visit to Iceland is like seeing the raw beauty of mother nature’s creations. Whether you are driving to the mighty Gulfoss waterfall, watching the sunrise at Snaefellsjokull National Park or listening to the adrenaline junkie in you by doing glacier hiking, ice climbing, ice caving, volcano climbing, kayaking, river rafting or off-roading, the natural wonders of Iceland are sure to make you tick off all the adventure activities on your bucket list.

So, which of these holiday ideas are finding their way into your European holiday itinerary? Is it one or a combination of a few? While planning your European holiday, do ensure that you cover all bases such as a good travel insurance plan, a solid forex card, a comfortable airline given that the journey will be about 7 to 10 hours long depending on where you are located in India and last, but not the least, a proper Schengen visa.

Note of advice regarding the Schengen visa:
The Schengen visa is easy to get, but there is some protocol to be followed. You need to apply for your Schengen visa from the country where you intend to fly into or the country where you intend to stay the longest duration. This is pretty important to know. A lot of Indian travellers have been known to goof up here. Once you have selected your embassy, take an appointment with an approved agency like VFS with all the necessary documentation, flight tickets, hotel bookings and the all-important travel insurance for Schengen visa. If you have followed all the necessary protocol, you should get your Schengen visa on your passport soon and off you can go with your family and friends on your dream European holiday.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Hoysala Sculpting Magic at Halebidu, Karnataka

Intricate work like no other at Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid, Karnataka

Art, history and temple lovers will adore this place. It is small in size, but it packs a serious punch. From far away, it looks boring grey black, but up close, it unfolds stories of Hinduism from that era and that too with serious visual articulation. I am talking about the 12th century soapstone beauty of Hoysaleswara temple from Halebidu, the erstwhile regal capital of the famous Hoysala empire of Karnataka.

Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid - photographic wonder everywhere

One of the largest temples dedicated to Lord Shiva in South India, it took about 30 years of painstaking sculpting before it took the form that we see today. It’s real beauty lies in the sculptures that run along the outer wall and in its doorways. Each of these sculptures portray a story from Hindu mythology that good knowledgeable guides can explain to you. The work is so intricate that you need to have a keen eye, lots of time at hand and oodles of patience just to cover a few feet of these sculptures. That is how much work that has gone into this articulate monument from a glorious era.

Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu and Shiva-Parvathi on the walls of Hoysaleswara temple, Halebid

Even though the temple was sacked and damaged by Muslim invaders from northern India, the Hoysaleswara temple still stands tall to this day. When you touch these sculptures or even the smooth gigantic pillars inside the sanctum of the temple, you cannot stop yourself imagining how on earth the sculptors of 900 years ago managed such high levels of finish, polish and minute detailed carving without any of the modern machinery or some of the latest tools.

Halebid Hoysaleswara temple - amazing work of Hoysala Dynasty, Karnataka

The Hoysaleswara temple is truly magnificent in every way. I have visited this temple 4 times in the past, the latest being as part of a Golden Chariot luxury train journey across Karnataka and every time I have stepped foot into the temple enclosure, my jaw drops. This temple is not about size, like say the monolithic statue of Baahubali at Shravanabelagola or about the big vihara work like most South Indian temples, but it is about the detailed work.

Beautiful carvings on a statue at the Hoysaleswara temple, Halebid

Like the Chennakeshava temple of Belur, the Hoysaleswara temple is built on a raised platform and the shrines inside have lathe turned pillared pathways, while the outer walls have storey like structure depicting various stories from that era. The raised platform is also star shaped on each of its corners, while the temple does not have any towers. The inner sanctum sanctorum dedicated to Lord Shiva is simple in structure and right opposite it is a beautifully polished Nandi made up of black granite. Standing tall and majestic, the Nandi is connected to the main sanctum through a small pathway.

Detailed sculptured depicting stories from Hindu Mythology on the walls of the Hoysaleswara temple, Halebid

Like everybody else, my favorite part of this temple are its step by step layered sculpting of the outer walls that start with the elephants, then the lions, then the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata, then floral patterns and designs and finally the minute work of the Hindu deities. These Hindu deities could be the Sun god, Ganesha, Shiva Parvathi in seated position, Natarajar, the Tridev (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), the thousand head Raavana, Narasimha Avatar, Varaha Avatar and so much more.

A Hoysaleswara temple special at Halebid, Karnataka

As you can see from the pictures, this place is something truly special. It is definitely one of the top temple highlights of South India and certainly one of the gems of Karnataka. May be, you might want to include it into your itinerary of summer weekend getaways from Bangalore.

Inside the first room of the Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid, Karnataka

How to Reach Halebidu

Tridev - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in one statue at Hoysaleswara temple, Halebid, Karnataka

Halebidu is about 16 kms from Belur, 31 kms from Hassan and about 230 kms from Bangalore by road. The nearest train station is at Hassan, which is well connected with the rest of the country. The nearest airport is Mysore, though better air connectivity can be found at Bangalore.

Intricate carving on the external walls of the Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid

What else to see in the region

Varaha avatar sculpted on the walls of the Halebid temple of Hoysala kingdom, Karnataka

The Belur Chennakeshava temple, the off beat Doddagaddavalli temple, the Shettihalli rosary church ruins, the coffee estates of Chickmagalur, the Baahubali temple at Shravanabelagola or many other Hoysala temples spread all over this belt.

Dancing Shiva at Hoysalaeswara Temple, Halebid, Karnataka

What to buy from here

Stunning sculptures all over Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid

The soapstone from this region is special and inexpensive. You could either buy atrefacts made out of soapstone as decorative pieces and gifts or buy yourself a nice stone based hand pounder for your kitchen.

So many Hindu mythological stories portrayed on the walls of the Hoysaleswara temple, Halebid

Where to stay here

Halebid Hoysaleswara temple - blowing minds away

If you wish to stay close to the temple, you will need to make do with the simple guest houses and hotels at Belur and Halebid, but if you are mobile and don’t mind staying a bit away, the Hoysala Village resort just outside of Hassan or the homestays or luxury resorts near Chickmagalur make for grander and more comfortable stays.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

8 Top Holiday Experiences of South Germany

Ancient Art on the streets of Heidelberg Old Town

Western Europe is a perennial hot destination with international travelers from India. I would not be surprised if a lot of you have already planned your European holiday this summer with your family and friends. While most Indians plan for popular mainstream holiday destinations such as romantic Paris, bustling London, charming Barcelona or liberating Amsterdam, I would request you to visualize South Germany as the perfect off-beat summer holiday destination in Europe. Here are 8 reasons why I love South Germany and why I think you should experience it too and possibly include it into your europe packages.

1) Drive or Ride on the Route followed by the World’s First Automobile

Sports cars at Mercedes Benz Museum, Stuttgart

Are you an outdoor enthusiast who wants to re-live one of the most iconic moments of the modern world? Well, what better than to re-trace the route taken by Bertha Benz in her Mercedes Benz on the world’s first long distance automobile journey. This memorial route, about 194 kms long, takes you from Mannheim to Pforzheim across the dense Black Forest, the wine region of Baden, the Roman roads of the Upper Rhine plain and the Odenwald mountains in 2 different routes.

Whether you opt to drive, go on a motorcycle or a mountain bike, this iconic route is also one of the most scenic and apt routes in the summer months. It’s castles, farmhouses, waterfalls, brisk rivers, winding roads, delicious cuisines and peaceful countryside just add to the overall charm.

2) Mouth Blow your own glass work at Dorotheenhutte Wolfach Glass Factory

Mouth blown glass being created in South Germany

A lot of the world’s ancient mouth blown glasswork was designed in and around the Black Forest area and hence it becomes imperative that you experience this ancient history. There are places in the Black Forest where not only do they still practice this ancient art, but they also give you the opportunity to try your hand at it. One such place is the Dorotheenhutte glass factory where you can see this live action and even better try your hand or should I say mouth at it. I have a glass vase mouth blown by me as a souvenir. May be, you can also make one for yourself. This place also stocks some of the best glass and crystal work in the region.

3) Be Mesmerized by the Fairy Tale Kingdom of Heidelberg

Fairytale town of Heidelberg

Think of fairy tale movies and what you see in them is what you get to experience in real at the fairy tale kingdom of Heidelberg. Located by the Neckar river in the Baden-Wurttemberg region of Germany, a visit to Heidelberg is nothing short of pure joy. A majestic castle, baroque buildings, beautiful churches, many ancient bridges, cobbled paths, lots of statues and a view to die for, scenic Heidelberg is where the legends of Odenwald begin. Untouched by the world war, this university town’s Altstadt or old town area is full of amazingly beautiful experiences in the day and rich party action in the night.

4) Cycle along Lake Constance

Farm houses of Black Forest, Germany

Summer months and cycling seem to go hand in hand in Europe. If you wish for a truly outdoor holiday, cycle along Lake Constance, the third biggest lake in Central Europe and one that shares its border with Austria, Germany and Switzerland. It’s ferry crossings, its calm peaceful shores and the Konstanz city itself with its cathedral, ancient houses and shops makes for a great summer getaway. Apart from cycling, one can indulge in sunbathing, swimming and other water sports here.

5) See the World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock at Schonach

The World's largest cuckoo clock

Southern Germany gave the world cuckoo clocks. Master watch and clock designers of this region have created this marvel for centuries. And their largest such marvel can be found at Schonach where stands the world’s largest cuckoo clock. Be sure to watch this cuckoo clock both from the outside and from the inside where you can see the stunning gear work. Once you are done with the cuckoo clock experience, you can go for a hike in this beautiful Central Black Forest area.

6) Visit the Land of Cuckoo Clocks at Triberg

Triberger Waterfall - one of the largest in Germany

Located in the heart of the Black Forest region is Triberg, the pulsating home of the cuckoo clocks. Here, one will find cuckoo clocks of all shapes and sizes. Go here to experience the true history of this region from its cuckoo clocks to its music, attire and much more at the Black Forest museum. The house of 100 clocks is a top attraction. Apart from cuckoo clocks, Triberg is home to one of Germany’s highest waterfalls, the Triberger waterfall. There are a couple of hiking trails that lead to the waterfall and that is very much recommended if you are a nature lover. As this entire town is beautiful hiking country, you can also opt for a circuitous hiking route that takes you from the waterfall to all around the town, including its baroque churches and ancient homes.

7) Soak the Festive Atmosphere at Stuttgart

Colorful atmosphere at Stuttgart Spring Festival

The pulsating heart of South Germany, Stuttgart is definitely one of the richest cities in Germany. Known for iconic automobile brands such as Mercedes Benz, Porsche and Audi among others, Stuttgart is a beautiful German city that hosts the famous Stuttgart Spring festival. This is where fun, frolic, good food and big kegs of German beer come alive. Dressed in traditional attire, the locals love this festival. As a tourist, this is a great way to be an integral part of the local culture. When you are not taking part in the festivities, you can explore the wine country located around the city or the amazing automobile museums of Mercedes Benz or Porsche and learn a lot about the rich automobile DNA of this place.

8) Fall in Love with the Bavarian Alps

Gorgeous view of Stuttgart city

Considered to be one of the most beautiful landscapes of Germany, the Bavarian Alps bordering Austria is perfect for hiking in the summer months. Comprising of glacial lakes, thick fir tree forests and beautiful blue rivers, the Bavarian Alps home to abundant wildlife and stunning views. Those who don’t hike, prefer mountain biking or motorcycling on the steep winding roads of this gorgeous mountain country.

Colorful houses of South Germany

I hope by now you are sold on the offbeat charms of South Germany and will think about including it into your European holiday itinerary. Before finalizing your trip to Germany, do ensure that you apply for your schengen visa from the German consulate, find yourself a good currency converter to use your foreign exchange and money wisely, buy yourself a handy English to German translation book to tide with all language related problems in the German countryside and stock up on the adventure quotient to make use of all the outdoor avenues this summer in South Germany.