2021 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

5 Must Visit Offbeat Destinations in Gujarat

5 Must Visit Offbeat Destinations in Gujarat

There is more to Gujarat than what meets the eye. There is more to this vibrant state than the Statue of Unity, kite festival, White Rann, Gir National Park, Somnath, Dwarka, Rani Ki Vav, Champaneer-Pavagadh Archaeological park and the UNESCO World heritage city of Ahmedabad. There are so many hidden attractions in this rich state that it will blow your mind. All you have to do is meander along its many offbeat trails to discover these lesser known gems.

Below are 5 such must visit offbeat destinations in Gujarat that span wildlife, art, culture, architecture, handicrafts, temples and more.

1) Blackbuck National Park, Velavadar

'V' for Blackbuck; 'V' for Velavadar

As the name suggests, the Velavadar Blackbuck national park is one of the best places to sight the stunning looking blackbuck antelope. It is also a great place to sight two rare predators, the Indian wolf and the striped hyena. And it is also home to the highest number of lesser floricans in India.

Tucked between two seasonal rivers and with the Gulf of Khambhat to its south, this national park ranges from grassland, shrubland, saline land to tidal mudflats, which attracts a lot of winter visitors, especially harriers, pelicans, demoiselle cranes, Eurasian spoonbills, pied avocets. In total, Velavadar is home to over 120 species of birds.

My favorite experience here has been to the sight of the black male blackbuck with his shimmering coat and spiralling V shaped horns set amidst the golden grasslands.

Best season to visit: The winter months from November through February

Nearest airport: Bhavnagar, 45 kms away

Nearest railway station: Bhavnagar, 45 kms away

Other nearby tourist attractions: Bhavnagar, Diu and Gir National Park

2) Sun Temple, Modhera

Modhera Sun Temple - rich Indian heritage

It precedes the gorgeous UNESCO world heritage site of Konark Sun temple by a good 200 years. And it looks every bit as ornate as Konark Sun Temple, if not more. Built in the 10th century under the reign of the Chalukya kingdom, bears testament to our rich past where we were technologically advanced, excelled in engineering, vaastu, design, astronomy, optics, geography, physics, water harvesting and so much more. Built directly on the Tropic of Cancer, the Modhera Sun temple and the Surya Kund are a treat to the eye, even after over 1000 years. It’s 365 elephants at its base, 52 intricately carved pillars in the sabha mantapa, the 12 statues of the sun god and the different vasstu devatas for each direction, each pay homage to the sun god, the directions and the solar calendar that we follow today. You need to spend a few hours just to come to terms with it.

Best season to visit: August through February

Nearest airport: Ahmedabad

Nearest railway station: Mahesana, though Ahmedabad would have the best connectivity

Other nearby tourist attractions: Rani Ki Vav, 900 year old Patan Patola Saree, 130 year old paper carving heritage

3) Artisan Village of Nirona

Rogan art - the art form kept alive by the Khatri family

One of the handicrafts from this village was gifted to a sitting President of the United States in the White House by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This tiny village located between Bhuj and the White Rann dabbles in two things – agriculture and handicrafts.

Creativity seem to be in the blood of the people of this village. Nirona is not just home to the 300 year old Rogan art painting that was gifted to then president Barrack Obama, it is also home to traditional lacquer artisans and toy makers, family schooled sound engineers who turn scrap material into musical instruments, jewellery artists, wood artisans and more. Each handicraft tells you a beautiful story with a rich history. It is a must visit offbeat destination in Kutch.
Best season to visit: October through February

Nearest airport: Bhuj

Nearest railway station: Bhuj

Other nearby tourist attractions: Bhirandiyara, White Rann, Rann Utsav, Gandhi nu gram,

4) Heritage Town of Siddhpur

Beautiful homes of Heritage Siddpur town, Gujarat

This heritage town was an important part of the Chalukya and Solanki empires between the 10th and the 15th centuries. Its merchants and traders did excellent business with the far east and the west and this riches can be seen through the beautiful homes with Hacienda architecture, the exquisite clock tower in the middle of the bazaar and many other buildings with elements of Hindu, Islam and Hacienda deisgn elements in its architecture.

In addition to these heritage homes and buildings, Siddhpur is also a spiritual destination and a pilgrimage site. There is the 12th century ruins of the Rudra Mahalaya temple that in its hey days boasted of a multi level intricately carved palace temple. Then, there is Bindu Sarovar, a tank mentioned in the Rig Veda, a sacred place to offer Matru-Shadh.

In sum, walking through the lanes of this town transports you into a different era and that feeling is truly special.

Best season to visit: November to February

Nearest airport: Ahmedabad

Nearest railway station: Siddhpur

Other nearby tourist attractions: Rani Ki Vav, Patan

5) Wild Ass Sanctuary, Little Rann of Kutch

The Asiatic Wild Ass at Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India

The Little Rann of Kutch is not as promoted as much as the Greater Rann of Kutch, but it is a treat for wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers. While the shallow waters of the Rann and the nearby lakes attract millions of birds during the winter season, the bets (hillocks) and the hard mud flats of the Rann are home to the Wild Asses, a cousin of the African Zebra. Said to touch speeds of 70 kmph, the wild ass finds its home in these inhospitable conditions of the Wild Ass Sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch. Lesser flamingos, houbara bustard, the Great Indian bustard, harriers and many other gorgeous and rare species of birds can be found here.

In addition to the rich wildlife, one can experience the salt pans and the life of a salt farmer and a star studded sky, especially in the dry winter months.
Best season to visit: October to February

Nearest airport: Ahmedabad

Nearest railway station: Surendranagar, Dhrangadhra, Halvad, Santalpur and Radhanpur (depends on which side you intend to explore)

Other nearby tourist attractions: Greater Rann of Kutch, Bhuj, Velavadar Blackbuck National Park, Ahmedabad heritage city

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Thursday, June 10, 2021

Hong Kong Visa for Indians: Pre-Arrival Registration (PAR) Slip

Hong Kong Visa for Indians - Pre arrival registration PAR Slip

There was a time when Indian citizens would get free visa on arrival to Hong Kong. Even now, some Indian citizens could get such a visa on arrival, but it depends completely on the immigration officer in front of you. Today, Indian passport holders require a pre-arrival registration (PAR) slip prior to their arrival at Hong Kong else there is a chance that they might be sent back.

Below is all the information about the pre-arrival registration (PAR) slip for Indian passport holders and how Indian passport holders can use this to plan their trip to Hong Kong and may be Macau or mainland China if they intend to travel via Hong Kong.

What is this Pre-Arrival Registration (PAR) Slip?

The pre-arrival registration is something like an electronic authorization or e-Visa. Indian passport holders need to apply for this pre-arrival registration (PAR) online before arriving into Hong Kong. If you wish to apply or wish to know more, you can read further about the PAR on Byevisa.com.

What are the minimum requirements for this PAR?

The PAR Hong Kong visa requirement for Indian citizens is fairly simple. All you need is a passport that is valid for at least 6 months, 3 empty pages in it, travel and accommodation details.

What is the validity of this PAR?

This Hong Kong PAR travel document will allow you to visit Hong Kong multiple times for 14 days each during its 6 month or 180 day period. This is ideal for those who are planning short trips to Macau, mainland China or Taiwan keeping Hong Kong as a base. This way, you can keep returning to Hong Kong from the different destinations and need not apply for a new PAR as you are allowed multiple entries within a 180 day window.

However, if you change your passport or if the 180 day window has passed, you will need to apply for a new PAR slip.

How do I apply for this PAR?

If you have access to the internet, you can fill the pre-arrival registration for Indian nationals form on the Hong Kong immigration department website. You could go via a travel or visa agency in case you do not have access to the internet or if you wish someone else to handle it on your behalf.

This form entails the following details:

1) Information of registrant: Name, nationality, sex, marital status, date of birth, place of birth, residential address in India, contact telephone number

2) Information of passport: Passport number, date of issue, date of expiry, place of issue

3) Previous travels to Hong Kong

4) Previous visits to foreign countries or territories

5) Occupation

6) Details of coming visit: Purpose of visit, proposed duration, address of accommodation, address of local connection (if any)

7) Others

8) Identification question

You will need to confirm the details once you have filled all the details. Do ensure that all the information matches the information mentioned in your passport.

How long before I receive the PAR slip?

You will receive your PAR slip (if approved) immediately upon confirming your details in the form mentioned above. In case your PAR slip does not get approved, you could try applying for a Hong Kong visa at the nearest consulate or may be call them and see when you can apply for this PAR again.

You can take a print out of the PAR slip, sign it and keep it with your passport. You can store a soft copy of the PAR slip as a PDF copy on your phone as a back up in case you lose the print out.

What documents do I need to carry before I arrive into Hong Kong?

These are the following documents that you need to carry with you when you arrive into Hong Kong:

1) Valid passport

2) Printed copy of the PAR

Do remember to carry your PAR slip with you at all times wherever you are traveling within Hong Kong.

So, now that you know how you get your pre-arrival registration (PAR) slip for Hong Kong, all that you have to do is complete your covid-19 vaccination, wait for the international borders to open, book your flight tickets, get your PAR and enjoy a great holiday in Hong Kong.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2021

10 Top International Holiday Destinations for less than 1 Lakh Rupees

View from the John Suwan view point of Koh Tao, Thailand

I know that this may not be the best time to travel. But, once we are all vaccinated and the international borders open up, we can hope for a slow return to normalcy. And this includes going on those international holidays that we have dreaming of for the past two years when we have all been indoors or inside our respective cities. And to make it special for you, I have come with a unique list of 10 international holiday destinations that Indians can visit for less than 1 lakh (100,000) rupees.

Such a holiday would be for a couple traveling from India to one of the below mentioned 10 destinations for a period of 7 days and 6 nights and would include their flight tickets (return), visa charges, 3 or 4 star accommodation, food, logistics and entry fees. This international holiday would not only be customizable as you get to choose the itinerary, but it will also not burn a hole in your pocket.

1) Thailand

This country is the eternal favorite of the Indian traveler. This cultural hotspot with its ancient kingdoms and colourful temples, bustling shopping avenues, pristine beach holiday destinations and lush mountains and forests has been charming international travelers for many decades now. Add to its affordability, delicious Thai cuisine and traditional massages and you have a dream holiday destination.

How to get the visa: The Thailand Visa process for Indian passport holders is fairly simple. One can get an e-VOA (e-Visa on Arrival) at the airport in Thailand, an e-visa (normal or express mode) valid for 15 days before you depart from India and a Thailand stamp visa that is valid for 60 days. One can choose the visa type depending on duration of stay and ease of application.

My favorite part of the country is: The islands of Koh Tao and Koh Lanta, the meandering mountain roads between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son and its capital city – Bangkok, which is also referred to as the Venice of the East.

2) Bhutan

Punakha Dzong at the confluence of Mochu and Pochu rivers

This Himalayan kingdom also happens to the happiest nation on our planet. It’s friendly people, rich Buddhist culture, vibrant temples, colourful festivals, snow capped Himalayan mountain vistas, lush valleys, fast flowing rivers and its multiple avenues for adventure and relaxation will appeal to all kinds of travelers. Unlike citizens of other countries who have to spend USD 250 per day to explore Bhutan, Indians do not have to pay any such fee. And we can drive in our own vehicles. I think this is one of the best perks of the Indian passport.

How to get the visa: Indian passport holders do not need a visa to visit Bhutan. All they need is their passport or voters id card and documents for their vehicle if they are going on an overland journey.

My favorite part of the country is: The trek to Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s nest), shopping for woollen products at Chumey valley, relaxing in the gorgeous Bumthang valley (which is also referred to as the Switzerland of the East), the cantilever and hanging bridges of Punakha and sunrise over the snow capped mountains seen at Dochula pass.

3) Sri Lanka

A Sigriya sunset view as seen from the top of Pidirangala Rock, Srilanka

This pearl in the Indian Ocean packs a lot of action for its visitors. From ancient temples and Buddhism trails, coastal getaways and lovely beaches, hill stations and tea estates, rainforests and wildlife sanctuaries to adventure sports and shopping, the island of Sri Lanka has it all. The smiling people, the rich use of spices in their cuisine and their lush green environment make this country even more appealing.

How to get the visa: Indian passport holders can apply for a Sri Lankan e-Visa or ETA (electronic travel authorization) on the Sri Lankan immigration and emigration website. All you need are confirmed return tickets and proof of finances.

My favorite part of the country is: The ancient civilization of Sigriya, the heritage train ride from Colombo to Nanu Oya, the amazing wildlife of Yala National Park, the beaches around Trincomalee and the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.

4) Malaysia

Batu Caves - the famous Hindu murugan temple near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A popular destination with honeymooners from India, Malaysia is famous for the markets and other shopping avenues in its capital Kuala Lumpur, the beach paradise of Langkawi, the lush surrounds of Cameron highlands, the jungles of Malaysian Borneo and its gorgeous islands that are known for its clear waters and rich wildlife. In addition, Malaysia offers a lot of duty free shopping, access to unique nature, delicious food and a rich array of tropical fruits.

How to get the visa: There are 3 options to get a tourist visa to Malaysia. One is a eNTRI visa that allows you to stay in Malaysia for 15 days, but it only works if you enter from India, Singapore or Thailand. The second option is the eVisa that allows you to stay in Malaysia for upto 30 days, it is valid for 3 months and is good for multiple entries. The third option is to get the sticker visa from your nearest consulate in India.

My favorite part of the country is:Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary in Sabah (Borneo), seeing the orangutans up close at Sepilok, trekking inside Gunung Mulu National park and seeing the Rafflesia flower at Royal Belum National Park.

5) Indonesia

A door in Tirta Empul Temple, Bali, Indonesia

This largest archipelago is home to so many attractions that one trip is not even going to be enough to scratch its surface. It has some of the world’s best marine sites, best surf, most active volcanoes, rich wildlife, unique tribal cultures, amazing cuisines, great coffee, thousands of pristine beaches, rich Hindu and Buddhist temples so much more. The world over knows about the popularity of Bali as an island holiday destination. Now, add to it a few more hundreds of islands with a much richer experience and you have an unforgettable holiday package.

How to get the visa: Indian passport holders get a visa on arrival when they arrive in Indonesia. The visa is free and all you need to show are your return tickets and proof of funds.

My favorite part of the country is: Swimming with baby sharks at Karimun Jawa, watching the sunrise over Mount Bromo, trekking upto the top of Gunung Merapi to watch the molten lava flow in the dead of the night, tropical rainforest called Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and the cultural hotspot of Tana Toraja.

6) Dubai

Mountain biking in Dubai

Another perennial favorite with Indians is Dubai. It’s skyscrapers, shopping malls, year end festivals, luxurious accommodation and fine dining is well etched in the hearts and minds of Indians thanks to the Indian movie industries. Add to it umpteen adventure activities, a rugged landscape, bustling local markets and luxurious dhow cruises and you have a dream luxurious holiday in Dubai.

How to get the visa: Getting a Dubai Visa is fairly straightforward. All you need is your passport, passport size photograph and return ticket. If you happen to be flying via Emirates, you get a 96 hours transit visa. And if you wish to stay longer, you can apply for the 14, 30 or 90 day tourist visa. Each of these visas come with a regular and express mode.

My favorite part of the country is: Mountain biking in the Hajar mountains, dune bashing on the various desert trails, taking the local abra boat and engaging with the locals, watch the Dubai landscape from the top of Burj Khalifa and soak in the hustle and bustle in the various souks of Dubai.

7) Nepal

Peatn Heritage Zone, Nepal

Nepal offers a beautiful mix of adrenaline rush, panoramic vistas, culture, spirituality and adventure. It is not just a country for mountain climbers and trekkers, but it is for everyone. Patan, Bhaktapur, Kathmandu and Lumbini are the cultural hubs. Chitwan National Park is their wild heart. Pashupatinath temple and Muktinath temple are its most popular spiritual destinations. Pokhara, which is famous for its surreal Himalayan views is a gateway to the cold desert of Jomsom and the trek to Annapurna base camp and peak. And on the opposite site of the country lies its most popular trail, which leads to Everest Base camp and peak. In between, there is ample amount of nature, culture, good food and great people.

How to get the visa: Indian citizens don’t need a visa to visit Nepal. All they need is their passport or government authorized identification card.

My favorite part of the country is: The trek to Annapurna base camp, the temples of Patan and Bhaktapur, the evening aarti at Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, staying in the tea houses near Jomsom and walking in and around the lanes by Kathmandu’s Dubar Square.

8) Laos

Crazy Jumping Stunts at Vang Vieng's Blue Lagoon

Laos is the ideal country if relaxation is on your agenda. It has lush nature, a very slow pace of life, it is cheap (which means you can stay for a long while), it has delicious food, great culture and very helpful people. It has quiet fishing towns, a 1000 islands on the one of the largest rivers in the world, a lush plateau, a great mountain side, a fairy tale city, rich forests and many underground caves and rivers, all offering great avenues for adventure. In between all of this is the opportunity to use your feet, soak in the sunshine, relish the local cuisine and recharge your batteries.

How to get the visa: Indian passport holders get visa on arrival at most Laos borders. All you need are 2 passport size photographs, a return flight ticket and proof of funds. You can also apply for the same at the nearest Laos consulate. The visa offers a stay of 30 days that can be extended by a further 15 days.

My favorite part of the country is: The fishing hamlets of Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi, Motorcycling through the lush forests of Bolavan plateau, chill at the riverine islands of Don Det or Don Khon and explore the culture in the fairy tale city of Luang Prabang.

9) Cambodia

The Lovely Long Beach of Koh Rong Island

Cambodia is home to Angkor Wat, the largest Hindu temple in the world, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most visited destinations in the world. While Angkor Wat should definitely be in your Cambodia holiday itinerary, there are many more tourist attractions in this tropical country. It is home to gorgeous islands, pristine beaches, a lake that is an ecological hotspot, its heart wrenching killing fields, a lush tropical atmosphere with many spots to unwind, relax and rejuvenate.

How to get the visa: Indian passport holders can easily get an eVisa for Cambodia or they can go via the Cambodian consulate and get the stamp visa. Both options are fairly straightforward as you all need is your passport, proof of funds and return flight ticket.

My favorite part of the country is:Prasat Bayon, one of the temples part of the Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap, the floating world of Tonle Sap, Koh Rong’s white sandy beaches and emerald waters and relaxing in the laidback riverside town of Kampot.

10) Vietnam

Mui Ne - where sand dunes and the sea meet in Vietnam

The last destination in this list also happens to offer a great bang for the buck. It is also a place that offers many charms. You can fire guns and rifles at Cu Chi Tunnels near Saigon, you can surf down sand dunes at Mui Ne while looking at the South China Sea, you can float down the Tam Coc river while surrounded by paddy fields and limestone karsts, you could indulge in mountain treks at SaPa and you can explore the Hindu trails of the Champa kingdom at My Son. Then, there are the eternal favorites of Vietnam – a Halong Bay cruise, the cultural hub and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An and shopping in the local markets of Ho Chi Minh.

How to get the visa: Unlike the other countries, the Vietnam visa is not as straightforward. You can either apply for an e-visa, get the approval letter and get your visa on your arrival in Vietnam. This evisa is valid only if you fly into the approved airports and they don’t work for land borders. You can also get the stamp visa from your nearest Vietnamese consulate. The pre approved stamp visas will work at all borders.

My favorite part of the country is: The cultural hub of Hoi An, the Tam Coc river cruise, dune surfing at Mui Ne and trekking in the terraced rice fields of Sapa.

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Thursday, June 03, 2021

Belur Chennakeshava Temple: The Grandest of all Hoysala Temples

The famous pillars of Hoysala architecture at Belur, Karnataka

The temples built during the reign of the Hoysala kings of Karnataka happen to be some of the most intricately designed temples in all of India. Their lathe turned pillars, beautifully carved sculptures, ceiling work, reliefs, friezes, iconography, inscriptions and history are some of the best in the business. Out of the 1500 temples that were built during their reign, the 12th century Chenna Keshava temple at Belur happens to be the grandest of them all.

Dedicated to the handsome lord Keshava, this 12th century temple marvel and an important pilgrimage site in Vaishnavism was built over three generations and took 103 years to finish. It was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana in 1117 CE on the banks of the Yagachi river in Belur, also called Velapura, an early Hoysala empire capital.

A colorful moment from Chennakeshava temple, Belur, Karnataka

It was attacked and plundered many times by Muslim invaders and was always rebuilt. The Vijayanagara kings took over the mantle of temple management and restoration upon the end of the Hoysala era. The large gopuram, a gold kalasa, smaller shrines and other elements were added during the reign of the Vijayanagara kingdom. But, the main temple, its sculptures and design elements are still from the original Hoysala era. And boy are they are a treat for the eyes.

Photographs and videos hardly do any justice to this temple. While the large sculptures, the relief panels and the friezes on the external walls of the temple are simply outstanding, it is the different design elements of the temple interiors that make your jaw drop. May be, that is why they don’t allow you to take photos of the temple interiors. You have to come and see for yourself.

Side view portrait from Belur Chennakeshava temple, Karnataka

This ekakuta temple that is built using soapstone started with the temple architecture template of Western Chalukyan artists and then added the Hoysala flavour to it. As with temple architecture, things get more intricate and ornate with time. So it is simpler when you compare it the Hoysaleswara temple at Halebid and the Chenna Keshava temple at Somnathpura, but what Belur enjoys is size that is matched with intricacy and design. It has the largest navaranga of all Hoysala temples and nearly all of the famous Hoysala artists have left their mark here.

The three pillars of Belur Chennakeshaava temple - elephants, lions and horses

The ideal way to visit this temple is by making yourself free for at least three hours. Sunrise or sunset would be perfect to see the temple sculptures dazzle in the golden light. You start with a simple pradakshina of the external wall before heading inside to admire the real beauty. And once you are done with all your history, art and culture exploration, you can find a nice comfortable place and watch the devotees, tourists and temple priests go about their visit. I always find this interesting and sometimes it makes for great photographs. Finally, you can head out of the temple, search for a good local restaurant and top your visit with some local food and coffee.

There are many ways to explore and enjoy this temple, but irrespective of who you are and where you are from, you will end up being dazzled by the prospective UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best examples of Hoysala temple architecture.

A selfie moment at Belur Chennakeshava temple, Karnataka, India

How to reach there:

There are two routes to reach Belur. One is via the Bangalore – Hassan highway and the other is via the Bangalore – Shimoga highway. Below is the full route map.

1) Route 1: Hassan highway: Bangalore –> Nelamangala –> Kunigal –> Channarayapatna –> Hassan –> Belur

2) Route 2: Shimoga highway: Bangalore –> Nelamangala –> Kunigal –> Yediyur –> Turuvekere –> Tiptur –> Arsikere –> Banavara –> Javagal-> Halebeedu –> Belur

The nearest railway stations are Kadur and Birur. The nearest large bus station would be either Banavara or Hassan.

The nearest airport would be Mangalore international airport, but the one with the best connectivity would be Bangalore international airport.

Narasimha Avatar of Vishnu as a sculpture at Chennakeshava temple, Belur, Karnataka

Temple timings:

The Belur Chenna Keshava temple is open every day between 7: 30 AM and 7: 30 PM. Mangalaarti is held once every morning and every evening. If the garbha griha is closed during lunch hours, you might want to wait or call the priest beforehand for darshan. Darshan and mangalarti timings might vary on certain festival days or other events.

Stories of epics picturized on the walls of Chennakeshava temple, Belur, Karnataka

Best season to visit:

The Belur Chennakeshava temple is open all year round, but it looks the prettiest during the rains and right after it as this is the time when all the sculptures are freshly washed in the rains, the surroundings are lush green and there is drama in the skies above.

Ornate elephant sculpture at Belur Chennakeshava temple, Karnataka

Where to stay:

KSTDC and a few other hotel properties offer good quality budget accommodation in close proximity to the temple campus. If you seek a luxurious stay, head to the Hoysala village resort on the Belur-Hassan highway.

If you are looking for farm stays or plantation stays, you should head to the coffee estate town of Chickmagalur.

Deep in thought - a Devotee at Chennakeshava temple, Belur, Karnataka

Where to eat:

Belur has a lot of eateries, shops and restaurants to choose from. While none of them offer any premium services, one can definitely find a wide variety of food. If you wish for a luxurious dining experience, you should head to Hoysala village resort on the road from Belur to Hassan.

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

Other nearby Hoysala temples:

1) Hoysaleswara temple at Halebid

2) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Javagal

3) Veeranarayana temple at Belavadi

4) Lakshmi Devi temple at Doddagaddavalli

5) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Nuggehalli

6) Sadashiva temple at Nuggehalli

7) Brahmeshvara temple at Kikkeri

8) Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahalli

9) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Hosaholalu

10) Chenna Keshava temple at Somnathpur

11) Chenna Keshava temple at Aralaguppe

12) Chenna Keshava temple at Turuvekere

13) Ishvara temple at Arsikere

14) Chenna Keshava temple at Anekere

15) Mallikarjuna temple at Basaralu

16) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Haranhalli

Side entrance to the Belur Channakeshava temple, Karnataka

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Shettihalli rosary church ruins in the Hemavati reservoir

2) The hill station and coffee estates of Chickmagalur

3) The wide Hemagiri falls on the Hemavati river

4) The temple town of Melukote famous for its Iyengars and puliyogare

5) The Jain pilgrimage site of Shravanabelagola that is home to the mighty Baahubali statue

6) The hill station of Kemmangundi

7) The beautiful Hebbe Falls surrounded by coffee estates

8) The absolutely photogenic Mysore palace

9) The butterfly forest of India called Bisle Ghat

10) Bhadra tiger reserve known for its tigers, river terns and leopards

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Monday, May 24, 2021

Is Working with a Travel Guide Worth It?

Is working with a travel guide worth it

Before the internet became most people's travel information destination, many sought help from a travel guide company. These companies would help plan out everything from travel to hotels to getting around in the city.  Some would even help with discounts for groups!

The thing is, these guides still exist!

Although they're less commonly used, these travel specialists have the deals and details on the best ways to come and go: but is it worth it?

How Many People Are Going?

Think about how many people you're inviting to go with you on this trip? If it's just you and your partner, that's not so bad, but if you're asking your mom and your closest six friends to look at Banff homes for sale with you: you’re going to need better planning. The more people there are, the more schedules, flights, and planning will have to go into the trip.

Although you could do this on your own, figuring out what deals you qualify, and how to get them can be a nightmare many aren’t ready for.

How Long Is The Trip?

Are you staying out of town for a weekend, or is it closer to a couple of months? You may think you know what you're doing, but inclement weather, poor timing, and simple bad luck can throw off everything. Most travel agencies will quickly work with you to reschedule and figure out the issue, and although you can do that yourself, it's brutal out of town! Spending a long time away is less stressful when you have someone you can count on.

How Many Locations Are There?

How many different legs are on the trip? Are you just making one stop and then flying straight back, or are you stopping in many locations along the way? The more places you have, the more compartmentalized your trip will need to become. You may think of it as one extensive trip, but if you have as many island and country stops as the average cruise line, you might need help.

Have You Planned Trips Before?

Planning an extensive trip is a lot of stress! If you have a keen eye for detail, and you think you can pick it up based on guesswork, there's a high chance of you getting highly stressed out. Instead, consider hiring a travel guide who can show you through the steps. This takes the strain of planning and possibly falling off of your shoulders and allows you to sit back and enjoy your trip like everyone else gets to.

What’s Your Budget?

How much can you afford? Although the easier planning, more flexibility, and possible discounts are all alluring: if your budget is too tight to afford them, it's time to figure out how much you can afford and if that allows you to fit a guide into your trip.

If not, you can be your travel agent by researching everything thoroughly and price comparing. If a deal sounds too good to be true, don't be afraid to look at reviews and find one that says legitimate.

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Friday, May 14, 2021

How long does it take to overcome Jet Lag?

How long does it take to overcome jetlag

Travel allows us to see the world, experience new cultures, and make incredible memories along the way. However, one of the drawbacks is the notorious jet lag you may encounter when you reach your destination. Jet lag is a temporary sleep problem that affects those quickly traveling across multiple time zones, typically by plane.

Jet lag results from a disruption to the body’s circadian rhythm, an internal clock that regulates our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. So, if you leave Los Angeles at 5:00 in the evening and arrive in New York City at 10:00 pm, your body still thinks that it’s on LA time. Jet lag typically worsens the more time zones you go through and when you’re traveling East since you’re losing time rather than gaining it.

Jet Lag Symptoms

Regardless of whether you’re traveling for vacation or work, the effects of jet lag can hinder your experience.

1) Insomnia or excessive tiredness - Sleeping more than usual or trouble falling asleep is a common symptom of jet lag.

2) Daytime fatigue -Travelers may also feel fatigued during the day as a result of their jet lag.

3) Trouble concentrating - Difficulty concentrating is another possible effect. This could be especially bad for business travelers who need to be alert for work.

4) Constipation or diarrhea - Another potential downside to jet lag? Stomach problems. Travelers heading abroad may experience constipation or diarrhea. For those dealing with constipation, experts suggest drinking water, getting exercise, using the bathroom immediately when you need to, and eating more fiber-rich foods. To control diarrhea, you must be mindful of the foods and beverages you’re consuming. The University of California at San Francisco provides a detailed nutritional guideline to help those experiencing diarrhea. Although you’re likely eager to indulge in local cuisine, it’s important to ensure your stomach is well before you try out new foods that could exacerbate these symptoms.

5) Feeling under the weather - While you may not have a full-blown cold, jet lag could cause you to not feel like your best self. The Mayo Clinic describes this as a general feeling of not being well. Furthermore, a lack of sleep can impact your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illness, which is why it’s good to take as many precautions as you can to stay healthy during your trip.

6) Mood changes - The tiredness you feel from jet lag could also cause you to feel more irritable. Research shows that poor sleep is closely linked to negative emotions and stress.

How Long Does Jet Lag Last?

How long does jet lag last

Jet lag can affect anyone, regardless of age, though older adults may need a longer recovery time. According to Harvard Health, it usually takes roughly a day per time zone to fully get over jet lag. In that case, traveling over five time zones means your jet lag should last about five days.

However, if you experience jet lag symptoms for two weeks or more, you may have another underlying sleep condition and should consult with your doctor.

Travel Tips for Minimizing Jet Lag

Getting better rest while traveling mainly comes down to being as prepared as possible, and the good news is that there are ways to help reduce the effects of jet lag.

Gradually adjust before your trip

You don’t have to wait until you hop on the plane to start preparing for your new environment. Ahead of your upcoming journey, gradually move your meal, bed, and wake-up times to that of your destination.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration can intensify symptoms of jet lag, leaving you more tired than usual, and airplanes have low levels of humidity while in the air, further fueling your chances of becoming dehydrated. To prevent this, you should drink lots of fluids - particularly water - before, during, and after your flight. It’s also a good idea to purchase a water bottle or fill your own up in the airport terminal so that you’ll have enough water on hand, especially for those longer flights.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine

You may think caffeine is the answer to help you stay awake or that a glass of wine will help you doze off, but health experts warn that both foster dehydration. In addition, caffeine and alcohol can negatively impact your quality of sleep once you reach your destination.

Move around during the flight

Experts suggest that periodically stretching and moving about the cabin is also good for jet lag and helps keep your blood flowing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, travelers seated for prolonged periods are at risk of developing blood clots, and that moving should help reduce that risk.

Bring products to help you sleep on the plane

If sleeping during your flight will help you adjust to your new time zone, do everything you can to make sure you get some shuteye.

An eye mask should keep out light, while earplugs can help block out noise. Dress in cozy clothes that are easy to sleep in and bring a blanket or ask a flight attendant for one if that helps you feel more comfortable.

You may have noticed other travelers carrying a U-shaped pillow with them. Not only can these give you something to rest on, but they should also help prevent any neck pain from developing while you sleep by keeping your spine in good alignment.

Immediately get on the local schedule after arriving

Once you arrive at your destination, it’s vital to get on the local schedule immediately. If you arrive during the day, stay up until it’s time to go to bed. For those arriving late at night, go to bed immediately but avoid sleeping in the following day.

Don’t take naps

You may take one look at that comfy hotel bed, and thoughts of napping begin to fill your mind. However, experts say it’s essential to avoid them in order to get on a good sleep schedule and curb your jet lag - no matter how tired you are.

Get Sunlight

Heading outside and getting exposure to light should also help your body modify to the new time zone. This is because light is one of the primary triggers for the body’s internal clock, and can regulate melatonin production. Sunlight can also help give you an energy boost if you need help staying awake until you’re fully adjusted.

Is there a cure for jet lag?

Is there a cure for jet lag

Unfortunately, there’s no simple, fool-proof method to eliminate jet lag, which is why trying to minimize it is the best thing you can do. By reducing the effects of jet lag, you should have an overall better travel experience and avoid wasting time on your carefully planned trip.

Photo Courtesy: All the photographs have been borrowed from pexels.com under the Creative Commons license. Each photograph has been linked to its host page on pexels.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Kunzum La: Scenic mountain pass connecting Lahaul and Spiti Valleys

Kunzum Mata temple, Kunzum pass, Himachal Pradesh

Rohtang La, Lahaul valley and the highway to Leh lie to one side of it and to its other side lie the beautiful high altitude villages of Spiti valley. Standing tall between all these spectacular destinations lies Kunzum La, a 14, 931 feet high mountain pass in the Eastern Kunzum range of the Himalayas. The most special attribute about Kunzum pass has to be the journey to reach the top of the pass. If you are coming from Kaza, you will have to cross the semi-arid cold desert landscape of Losar and if you happen to be coming from Gramphoo, you will be crossing the treacherous Chenab river valley before you start the steep ascent from Batal.

Chandra Taal Lake - Paradise in the Himalayas

Unlike the other mountain passes in the region, the Kunzum pass is the one that offers the toughest road conditions. Mountain streams overflowing onto the roads, huge boulders falling on to the roads, umpteen landslide zones and overall steep and rough terrain greet you on this route. Add to it the absolutely gorgeous Chandra Taal lake enroute and you have a dream rugged road trip.

Kunzum la, Himachal Pradesh

Although it is not recommended to spend a lot of time on the top of high mountain passes, especially ones like Kunzum La, one can spend enough time to explore the Kunzum Mata temple, a small stupa like temple structure on the top of the pass. Visitors on this route usually stop their vehicles here for a short while to seek the blessings of the Kunzum Mata for a safe journey. One can also explore nearabouts and indulge in some photography. If you are one of those adventure lovers and if you have already acclimatized to the high altitude atmosphere, you can embark on the 15 km trek from Kunzum La to Chandra Taal lake, one of the more beautiful high altitude treks of Himachal Pradesh.

Kunzum pass is one of the more rugged, yet beautiful mountain destinations in India. If you can handle a bumpy road trip with raw nature around you, then Kunzum la is the ideal mountain holiday destination for you.

Note: Only thing to remember here is that the roads are at the mercy of mother nature here (floods, landslides, snowfall, falling rocks, etc.) and it is best to check in with the local authorities about the current state of the roads before embarking on your journey.

Stupa on top of Kunzum pass, Himachal Pradesh

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Chandra taal lake: A magical family camping destination in the Himalayas

2) Keylong: Paradise for walkers in Lahaul

3) Rohtang pass: One of the most famous mountain passes in Himachal Pradesh

4) Kibber: The village of the snow leopard

5) Langza: The Himlayan village that is known for fossils of marine animals

6) Komic: One of the world’s highest villages with road connectivity

7) Dhankar: Prettiest village of Spiti

8) Pin valley national park: A spectacular mountain national park that is home to the iconic Pin Parvati peak

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Sunday, March 21, 2021

Lakshmi Narasimha Temple at Javagal: 770 year old offbeat Hoysala temple gem near Bangalore

Venugopala, Amaranarayana and other sculptures at Javagal Lakshmi Narasimha Temple

It is a 13th century Hoysala era temple gem that is located just a few hours away from Bangalore. It is located in a small village that is associated with one of Indian cricket’s fast bowlers. I am talking about the offbeat Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple that is located in the pretty little laidback village called Javagal, the ancestral village of Indian cricketer Javagal Srinath.

Indra and Shachi on Airavat at Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, Javagal

This trikuta temple is one of many such lesser known gorgeous temples built during the reign of the Hoysala kingdom. Like most Hoysala era temples, the Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Javagal stands on a jagati (raised platform), beautiful moulding friezes and sculptures on the outer walls and lathe turned pillars, sukanasi and garbha griha on the inside. Where it differs from the other temples is that even though it is home to three shrines, it has only one shikhara. And its outer wall panel sculptures, reliefs and friezes are folkish in character and much different from the other Hoysala temples where the work is more intricate, well planned and laid out.

Entering Lakshmi Narasimha Temple at Javagal, Karnataka

The main deity of this temple is Sridhara. The other two shrines are dedicated to Venugopala and Lakshmi Narasimha. As the main deity of this temple is Sridhara, some people also refer this temple to as Sridhara temple. This temple does not come under the archaeological survey of India and hence does not see much in terms of grants and regular maintenance, which is very sad, as it is an integral part of our country’s rich heritage. The main temple enclosure is full of thorns and weeds and a lot of restoration work is unscientific, but thankfully most of the original temple is still standing, even though it is a bit weather beaten.

The lathe turned pillars of Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, Javagal, Karnataka

It is a working temple and daily puja, mangalarti and archana is offered. Most people visiting this temple are pilgrims and you will hardly see any art, culture or temple lovers. That is how offbeat this temple is on the cultural circuit.

A typical visit to this temple would start with entering a mantapa with two elephant balustrades that were built in the Vijayanagara period. Then, you are greeted by a Garuda sthamba, two dwarapalas Jaya and Vijaya and then the ranga mantapa with the lathe turned pillars. From here, you can enter the main temple complex and its three shrines. If you stand in the vestibule, straight ahead would be the sukanasi and the garbha griha of Sridhara, to your left would be the shrine of Venugopala and to your right would be the shrine of Lakshmi Narasimha. The sukanasi and the vestibule connecting the 3 shrines have beautiful carvings, ceiling work and sculptures.

Now, coming to the outside of the temple, as you take a clockwise pradakshinam (circumambulation), you will notice the six equal width rectangular moldings or friezes close to your feet. Staring from the top, these friezes depict hansa (birds), makara (crocodiles), Hindu epics and other stories, leafy scrolls, horses and elephants. Right above these friezes, you will see close to 140 beautifully carved sculptures that include Chaturvimsati murtis (24 different aspects of Lord Maha Vishnu), Hari hara, Brahma, Goddess Parvati, Tandav Ganesha and more. Most of these sculptures were sculpted by the famous Hoysala temple artisan Mallitamma.

Entrance to Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple at Javagal, Karnataka

The Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Javagal is perfect for a Sunday day trip from Bangalore. It offers a beautiful mix of offbeat Hoysala temple, village atmosphere and a lush green landscape. It doesn’t matter whether you are an art, temple or culture lover, a student of archaeology or just a regular joe looking for a weekend getaway close to Bangalore, Javagal’s Lakshmi Narasimha temple and its surroundings are bound to appeal to all. I love such hidden gems and would recommend it with many thumbs up.

Tandav Ganesha at Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, Javagal, KarnatakaTandav Ganesha at Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, Javagal, Karnataka

Temple timings:

The temple is usually open from 6 AM to 7 PM. However, in case the temple is closed, you could either ask anyone for the house of the temple priest Narayana Swamy or you can try calling him on his mobile +91 94488 94575. If the temple priest is available and free, he will open the temple premises for you.

As this is a working temple, mangalarti takes place in the morning and evening. And may be a few more times on specific festival days or when the crowd is higher.

The intricately carved Lakshmi Narasimha Temple at Javagal, Karnataka

How to reach there:

There are two routes to reach Javagal. One is via Hassan highway and the other is via Shimoga highway. Below is the full route map.

1) Route 1: Hassan highway: Bangalore –> Nelamangala –> Kunigal –> Channarayapatna –> Hassan –> Halebeedu –> Belavadi –> Javagal

2) Route 2: Tiptur – Shimoga highway: Bangalore –> Nelamangala –> Kunigal > Yediyur –> Turuvekere –> Tiptur –> Arsikere –> Banavara –> Javagal

The nearest railway stations are Kadur and Birur. The nearest large bus station would be either Banvara or Hassan.

The nearest airport would be Mangalore international airport, but the one with the best connectivity would be Bangalore international airport.

13th century Lakshmi Narasimha Temple at Javagal, Karnataka

Best season to visit:

It is good to visit Javagal all year round. You might have to visit early in the summer months as the days can get pretty warm.

Monsoons and post monsoons are best to see the surroundings covered in lush vegetation.

Entering the mukha mantapa of Lakshmi Narasimha Temple at Javagal

Where to stay

Basic budget accommodation can be found at Belur and Halebid.

For something more luxurious, look up Hoysala Village resort that is located between Belur and Hassan.

For something set amidst nature, look up the plantation stays and resorts located in and around Chickmagalur.

Lakshmi Narayana statue at Javagal Lakshmi Narasimha Temple

Where to eat:

You can get tea/coffee or biscuits at Javagal. Nothing more. If you are looking for restaurants that serve decent food, you will either have to head to Banvara, Halebid or Belur.

The best bet would be Belur as it has more choices available. Hoysala village resort that is located between Belur and Hassan would be the most luxurious option.

Lakshmi Narasimha Temple at Javagal, Karnataka

Other offbeat Hoysala temples nearby:

1) Veeranarayana temple at Belavadi

2) Lakshmi Devi temple at Doddagaddavalli

3) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Nuggehalli

4) Sadashiva temple at Nuggehalli

5) Brahmesvara temple at Kikkeri

6) Panchalingeshwara temple at Govindanahalli

7) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Hosaholalu

8) Chenna Keshava temple at Somnathpur

9) Chenna Keshava temple at Aralaguppe

10) Chenna Keshava temple at Turuvekere

11) Ishvara temple at Arsikere

12) Chenna Keshava temple at Anekere

13) Mallikarjuna temple at Basaralu

14) Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Haranhalli

Lakshmi Narasimha and other carvings at 13th century Hoysala temple in Javagal, Karnataka

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Shettihalli roasary ruins in the Hemavati reservoir

2) The hill station and coffee estates of Chickamagaluru

3) The wide Hemagiri falls on the Hemavati river

4) The temple town of Melukote famous for its Iyengars and puliyogare

5) The Jain pilgrimage site of Shravanabelagola that is home to the mighty Baahubali statue

6) The hill station of Kemmangundi

7) The beautiful Hebbe falls surrounded by coffee estates

8) The absolutely photogenic Mysore palace

9) The butterfly forest of India called Bisle Ghat

10) The world famous Hoysaleswara temple at Halebid

11) The world famous Chenna Keshava temple at Belur

12) Bhadra tiger reserve that is known for river terns, tigers and leopards

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Monday, March 15, 2021

Hierapolis: The Ancient Greek Spa City

The mighty amphitheater of Hierapolis, Turkey

Turkey is a holiday destination with amazing experiences. It’s unique location on the cusp of Europe, Asia and the Middle East makes it a melting pot of cultures, home to an amazing array of landscapes and a land of delicious food. One such gem in Turkey is the ruins of the ancient Greek city called Hierapolis. Founded in early 2nd century BCE, Hierapolis is a UNESCO world heritage site that in its hey days used to exist as a spectacular spa destination.

This ancient Greek spa city, located on natural hot springs in southwestern Anatolia, was home to spectacular baths, a massive amphitheatre, temples, grand gateways, markets, sacrophagi and much more. Today, its ruins give us a glimpse into its rich past.

Pamukkale Travertines and Hierapolis Ruins

It all started when the Phrygians built a temple in the first half of the 7th century BCE, which was used by the people of the nearby villages and towns. Then, in the 2nd century BCE, Hierapolis was founded as a thermal spa. It started as a healing centre, before people started to migrate here to spend their last days in relaxation and peace. With time, Hierapolis or the holy city expanded from being a health centre into a city with numerous temples. In 133 BCE, Hierapolis became the part of the Roman province of Asia after the death of King Attalus III. Then onwards a couple of earthquakes damaged the city and it was entirely rebuilt in the Roman style with imperial financial support. By now, Christianity had made its presence felt in this city.

Then came the golden era of the city starting 129 ACE when the theatre was built for a visit by the emperor Hadrian. And when the Roman Emperor Caracalla visited in 215 ACE and bestowed upon it the title of neocorus, Hierapolis entered the peak phase of this golden era. Roman baths, gymnasium, temples, fountains and markets were built. Hierapolis became one of the more prominent Roman cities in the field of art, philosophy and trade. The citizens started getting richer and the city thrived. All was well till the early part of the 7th century when the town was attacked by Persian armies and then by an earthquake. Thus began the decline of this once great spa city.

Main street way of Hierapolis, Turkey

As you walk through the ruins of this ancient city, you cannot stop admiring its massive size, be its baths, amphitheatre, temples or just its building columns. Not only are the structures of Hierapolis big, but they were tastefully built with a lot of utility functions. All the remaining stones and ruins tell you a story and each vantage point gives you a majestic view of the landscape that is made up of rocks, stones and white travertines.

You can either take a taxi to Hierapolis, explore the city by foot, enjoy a dip in the thermal waters and walk your way down to the town of Pamukkale through the travertines and waterfalls or you can walk your way up from Pamukkale through the different travertines, exploring every bit of it in the cooler morning weather, then exploring the ancient Greek city of Hierapolis and then walking all the way back to Pamaukkale through a different route in the travertines. Either ways, you are bound to enjoy the ruins of Hierapolis and the travertines of Pamukkale. Throw in a paragliding adventure, a relaxed soak in the hot water springs and a deliciously cooked local meal and you have a dream Hierapolis and Pamukkale holiday experience.

Ruins of Hierapolis Temples

As I had mentioned earlier, Turkey is a holiday destination with many amazing experiences. All you have to do is book your tickets and Turkish visa and you are all set to have a dream vacation that includes the ancient Greek spa city of Hierapolis and many other magical destinations.

Tourists enjoying the hot waters of Pamukkale's travertines

How to reach there:

The nearest airport, train station and bus station would be Denizli. Mini buses or dolmus (share taxi) will take you from Denizli to Pamukkale in about 20 minutes.

The well connected and also the cheapest option to reach Denizli would be by bus.

Best season to visit:

Summers tend to be very hot at Pamukkale and Hierapolis. Hence, they can be best avoided. The rest of the year would be ideal to visit Hierapolis and Pamukkale.

Winters can be a bit challenging as you will have to walk barefoot through the freezing waters of the travertines.

Things to keep in mind:

1) Do carry with you a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes against the heavy reflections coming from the chalky cascades

2) Do carry with you a cap/hat, sunblock, good pair of boots, a bottle of water to protect yourself from the elements

Admission fee:

The entrance fee is 80 Turkish Lira. This includes both Pamukkale travertines and the Roman ruins of Hierapolis

Entrance gates to Hierapolis

Where to stay:

Pamukkale would be the best place to stay as it offers close proximity to the travertines and to Hierapolis. There are many family run pensions near the travertines for those looking for something more upmarket, while the town has hotels and hostels catering to a wide range of budgets.

Where to eat:

You could either eat at your place of stay in Pamukkale or you could try the delicious street food in the city.

There are also a few restaurants near Hierapolis, where you could get some basic food.

The mineral world of Pamukkale's Travertines

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Pamukkale: A UNESCO world heritage site known for its travertines with mineral rich thermal waters&

2) Cappadocia: One of the most magical places in the world

3) Ephesus: An ancient Greek city founded in the early 10th century BC on the west coast of Turkey

4) Aphrodisias: Offbeat Greek culture trail in Turkey

5) Kayakoy: The ghost town of Turkey
6) Lycian way: A historic trail with sensational beaches, architectural ruins, rich Greek history and stunning views

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