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Monday, May 23, 2022

First-timers' guide to a perfect vacation in Bali

First timers guide to a perfect vacation in Bali

Stunning beaches, beautiful temples, cultural landmarks, and shopping trips make Bali a true paradise for travellers. Located in the Indian Ocean, this is one of the most famous islands among the 1700 islands of Indonesia.

Also Read - 4 Unusual Activities to Try on Your Next Trip to Europe

However, individuals planning to visit Bali for the first time might not be aware of certain particulars like which places to visit, where to stay, etc. They should also consider securing their vacation by opting for travel insurance online. This policy covers expenses resulting from unfortunate events like baggage loss, personal belongings theft, etc.

Thus, first-time travellers must consider following the guide below for a perfect Bali trip.

Your ultimate beginner's guide to the perfect vacation in Bali

A travel enthusiast experiences many challenges while planning a complete vacation in Bali, especially when it comes to deciding the places to visit and travel routes to take.

Here is a complete guide for beginners planning a vacation in Bali.

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1. Choose the places you want to visit

First-time travellers will be interested to know that Southern Bali is the most touristy area on the island. It comprises the capital city Denpasar along with Ngurah Rai International Airport. Additionally, individuals looking to spend time in posh cafes, serene beaches, and fancy restaurants will find this area to be an ideal destination. Here are some of the best places to visit in South Bali:

● Uluwatu Temple
● Nusa Dua Beach
● Tanah Lot
● Nyangnyang Beach
● Cabina Bali
● Kuta Beach

2. Know the best time to visit Bali

Located to the South of the equator, Bali has a tropical climate throughout the year. So, there are predominantly two seasons here- the dry and the rainy season. From November to March, this area experiences rain making it less convenient for a vacation. Around July and August, Bali remains crowded due to the national school holidays in Indonesia. However, an ideal time to visit Bali is May, June, or September. The climate is pleasant during this period, and the beaches will be less crowded.

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4. Check reviews

Before planning a trip to Bali and deciding the places to visit, one should refer to the online reviews. First-hand experiences will give an idea of how to make a Bali vacation perfect. Furthermore, individuals might choose to do an activity that does not have good reviews and waste time and money. To avoid this, one should check out the reviews of these places and save expenses.

5. Plan a budget and itinerary

It is vital to fix a budget before planning a trip to Bali to avoid future hassles. Setting a budget will also help a traveller plan an itinerary. Besides including mandatory expenses while calculating a budget, keeping some additional cash available for any emergency is crucial.

6. Know the travel routes

As there are several places to visit in Bali, one should know the travel routes for a seamless vacation. An initial idea of travel routes will allow individuals to consider the conveyance fees in their budget checklist. One can opt for public as well as private transportation in Bali. However, public transportation is not very convenient as individuals would not be able to travel as per their timing and availability.

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7. Get travel insurance

First-time travellers must obtain a well-rounded insurance plan from a reputed provider to secure their Bali trip. There can be some mishaps during a vacation resulting in substantial cash outflow. Additionally, loss of baggage, visa, passport, etc., can also change a planned itinerary as travellers will need to spare time waiting for their belongings to arrive. To avoid inconvenience and reduce financial liability, one should purchase a travel insurance plan.

8. Plan your Visa

Tourists traveling to Bali for less than 30 days will not require a visa. It is applicable to only 170 countries, including India. However, if the travel duration is beyond 30 days, one needs to obtain a Bali visa for Indians on arrival at the airport. To apply for a Visa on Arrival (VoA), travellers must visit the immigration offices at least a week before the first 30 days are over and request an extension.

So, before planning a vacation in this postcard-perfect place for the first time, one should be aware of the points above. It will help them in making the trip successful and convenient.

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Monday, May 16, 2022

Simtokha Dzong: Bhutan’s Stunning Castle Monastery

Monk studies inside Simtokha Dzong, Bhutan

Bhutan as a destination is a travel perk for the Indian citizen. Not only is it one of the top easy visa international destinations for Indians, it is also very light on your wallet. A great attraction on a fabulous day trip route covering Thimphu –> Dochula pass –> Punakha valley is Simtokha Dzong, a 17th century castle monastery. Simtokha Dzong is the first of its kind monastery in Bhutan. It is an important historical monument, a former Buddhist monastery and it houses one of the premium Dzongkha language learning institutes.

One of the first things you will notice as you enter this castle monastery is young monks hovering over books or discussing subjects with other students. And that is what makes the Simtokha Dzong special.

Simtokha Dzong - one of the oldest Dzongs of Bhutan

Located on the approach road to the panoramic Dochula pass, the lush Punakha valley and the rest of central and Eastern Bhutan, Simtokha Dzong is strategically built on a projecting ridge that overlooks the entire Thimphu valley. This strategic location also adds to its beauty quotient as it towers in the middle of lush greenery and mountains. As you enter the dzong, you will be awed at its size, just like most of Bhutan’s other dzongs. But, the thing that will catch your attention here are the student monks and if you speak some Hindi or English, you can strike a conversation with any friendly monk student and get to learn more about the monastery, their life in general and their education.

Apart from the size of the dzong and the monk students, the highlight of the Simtokha Dzong has to be unique Himalayan mural paintings painted in the assembly hall and the lhakhangs. The murals of the four guardian kings protecting the four cardinal directions – Vaishravana (North), Dhritarashtra (East), Virudhaka (South) and Virupaksha (West) greet you as you enter the dzong. The dark murals inside the lhakhangs and the walls that are adorned with embroidered thangkas are the other highlights of this place that one should not miss.

Monk prays at Simtokha Dzong, Bhutan

Simtokha Dzong is a great location for a day trip from either Thimphu or Paro or as a pit stop on a trip to Dochula pass, Punakha and the rest of East Bhutan. The experience becomes much richer when you start chatting with the student monks. I recommend this stunning castle monastery of Bhutan with multiple thumbs up!

Buddhist monks in deep study at Simtokha Dzong, Bhutan

How to reach there:

Simtokha Dzong is about 6 kilometers from Thimphu’s city center. It should take you about 15 to 20 minutes from Thimphu depending on traffic. Getting around Bhutan is fairly simple. You can hire a cab from Thimphu if you wish to be comfortable. If you are traveling on a budget, you can either opt for a shared cab or take a bus headed towards Punakha.

Simtokha Dzong - Thimphu's oldest Dzong

Best season to visit:

Simtokha Dzong is accessible and open all year round. Each season adds its beauty to the landscape around the Simtokha Dzong. However, if you want the absolutely best months to visit Simtokha, I would recommend the months between November and February as this is when the weather will be very pleasant and the days will be bathed in bright sunshine.

Where to stay:

The closest place to stay would be Thimphu. But, Paro isn’t too far away from Simtokha Dzong. And both cities have a decent array of accommodation. Hence, you can stay at either Thimphu or Paro depending on your trip itinerary.

However, in terms of sheer proximity and access to more parts of Bhutan, Thimphu would be a better option. Hotel Tandin in the center of the city is a great budget hotel that serves lip smacking Indian food.

Buddhist Monk studies at Simtokha Dzong, Bhutan

Where to eat:

The best place to eat would be the capital city of Bhutan as it offers close proximity and a wide variety of restaurants, cafes and bakeries. If someone is very hungry, then they should find small dhabas on the highway that serve basic food items like rice, chapati, bread omelette, tea, coffee, etc.

Buddhist Monk sits at the entrance of Simtokha Dzong, Bhutan

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Kyichu Lakhang: Bhutan’s prettiest temple

2) Taktsang monastery: Icon of Bhutan

3) Trongsa: The heart of Bhutan

4) Valley walk from Punakha to Wangdi Phodrang: Rustic Bhutan at its very best

5) Punakha: Bhutan’s gorgeous valley town

6) The rich valley of Paro: A surreal Himalayan experience

7) Thimphu: Bhutan’s bustling capital

8) Bumthang: Switzerland of the East

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Saturday, May 07, 2022

4 Unusual Activities to Try on Your Next Trip to Europe

Cliff jumping in the UK

Do you prefer to term yourself a traveler rather than a tourist? Do you crave new adventures and activities you won’t find in any guidebook? Is your idea the perfect holiday one in which you experience different cultures, try novel things and make unforgettable memories?

If you answered yes to those questions, it’s quite likely you’re continually on the hunt for engaging and innovative destinations, complete with unusual pursuits to fill your schedule. Thankfully, you’re in luck – we’ve compiled a list of some of the lesser spotted and lesser practiced activities from across Europe to keep you busy on your next trip.

Go coasteering in the UK

This is one for the adrenaline junkies out there. Coasteering is a new and increasingly popular pastime which combines elements of climbing, swimming, abseiling and, most notably of all, cliff jumping. Face your fears and leap into coastal waters to access hard-to-reach caves and remote nooks and crannies. Although born in the UK, coasteering can be practiced anywhere really – just make sure the water is of sufficient depth and the tides aren’t too strong before taking the plunge.

Stay in a former military prison in Slovenia

Lovely view of Ljubljana, Slovenia

The Slovenian capital of Ljubljana is simply bursting with color, culture and exquisite cuisine… but one of the most eye-catching attractions here is a former military prison-turned-hostel. Celica Art Hostel boasts a variety of different cells, each of which has been decorated in its own unique style. For those who don’t fancy the claustrophobia of a barred room for the night, there are several “regular” dormitories to choose from too, while the bar is a hub of activity even among those not staying behind bars.

Take in a cricket game in Eastern Europe

While you might not normally associate cricket with Eastern Europe, the sport is fast growing in popularity across the continent. Once confined to places such as the British Isles, Australia and India, it’s now not uncommon to see big crowds flock to see breakthrough names such as Ramesh Satheesan hit his opponents for six and keep up to date with the ECS T10 live scores in person. Having already visited Bulgaria and Romania this year, the European Cricket Series will no doubt land on other Eastern European shores soon.

Go ice fishing in Finland

Ice Fishing in Finland

While winter might not strike you as the ideal time to plan a trip to Europe (let alone the northern part of the continent), there are plenty of attractions at this time of year. Skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing are among the most popular, while indulging in a sauna or taking a husky ride are also widespread. But there are few activities more traditional and typical than finding a good spot on a frozen lake, drilling a hole in the ice and waiting for a bite on the end of your line. You can even cook your catch over an open fire (though not on the lake itself, of course!).

The next time you’re gearing up for a trip to Europe, why not set aside time in partake in one of these unusual pastimes? We’re sure you’ll be glad you did.

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Thursday, April 21, 2022

Sanliurfa: The Ancient Gem in South Eastern Turkey

Bird's eye view of Urfa city

This city has recorded history from the 4th century BCE, but it may date back at least to 9000 BCE. About 12 kms from it, is the famous Neolithic site of Gobekli Tepe, the world’s oldest known temple that was founded in the 10th millenium BCE. It is located near to the ancient Mesopotamian settlements of Harran and Nevali Cori. It is nicknamed the ‘City of Prophets’, owing to its association with Jewism, Christianity and Islam and because of the belief that it was the hometown of Abraham. I am talking about Sanliurfa, the historical city, located in South Eastern Turkey and not too far away from the Syrian border.

Abraham Cave and Urfa Landscape

Known in ancient times as Edessa, the city of Sanliurfa is made up of a beautiful mix of Turks, Kurds and Arabs. Most tourists to Turkey hardly make their way down to this south eastern part of the country. May be, they are worried about border conflicts or may be it is just too far away for them. Either ways, they are missing on a beautiful Middle Eastern city with a gorgeous flavour of culture and architecture. The locals are warm, super friendly and eager to strike a conversation with you.

Sanliurfa locals ready for a pose     
History, culture and local food are on the top of must-experience attractions in Sanliurfa. A Sanliurfa experience starts with a visit to the Cave of Abraham that is home to many mosques and Balikligol (a holy fish pond). It is here that you will see the Mevlid-i-Halil mosque, built next to the site where prophet Abraham is believed to have been born. And a short walk away is the 9th century Urfa castle from where you can catch a bird’s eye view of Urfa city. As you meander in different directions from the Cave of Abraham, you will pass through colourful atmospheric bazaars, Turkish baths, traditional Urfa houses, Rizvaniye mosque, Ayn Zeliha, the great mosque of Urfa, Sanliurfa museum, Golbasi garden, Urfa Armenian Protestant church, the Syriac orthodox church of St Peter and St Paul and the ruins of the ancient city walls.
Balikigol in Urfa old city     
And when you head a little but out of the city, you have the 11,500 year old temple at Gobekli Tepe, the temple of Nevali Cori (Neolithic settlement dating back to 8000 BCE), the Euphrates river, the fortress of Rumkale near the Euphrates river and Attaturk dam. If you are really into ancient history, I am pretty sure that you will unearth many other hidden gems by talking to locals or sticking with people with interest in archaeology.
Inside a scarf store at Sanliurfa old city     
Sanliurfa is that beautiful mix of offbeat culture, rich ancient history, authentic Middle Eastern experience and friendly locals. It takes a while to reach this part of the country and having experienced it first hand, I cannot stop recommending it to you. If you like history, lazy city walks, chatting with locals, exotic locale and vibrant markets, this place is for you!    
Sanliurfa city and mosque as seen from the castle
Best season to visit:    
Summers are very hot at Sanliurfa and are best avoided. The best season to visit would be the cooler months between October and February. Days can be warm even during this time, so it will be best to wear a headscarf, hat, sunscreen and sunglasses.   
Famous hand made leather shoes of Sanliurfa

How to reach there:

You can either fly into Sanliurfa or get in by road. Sanliurfa has daily flights from Istanbul and Ankara, but the number of flights are low. If you don’t have a lot of time at hand, you should fly. If you have time on your hand, I would recommend traveling via Mardin or via Ankara so that you can visit some of the lesser visited destinations of Turkey.   
Sanliurfa's Abraham Cave

Where to stay:

There are many village homestays, traditional guest houses and hotels to choose from. The Yuvacali village home stays are best if you wish to experience rustic life along with rich Kurdish hospitality.

Street Moment from the bazaar of Sanliurfa, Turkey

Where to eat:

You can eat at your place of stay or at one of the many restaurants in the local bazaar. The iconic dishes to try out are cig kofte or raw kebabs, pistachio Kunefe desserts, Lahmajun (Turkish Pizza) and Liver kebabs. Zahter Kahvalti is a great place to eat some traditional local food.

When I was there at Sanliurfa, I stayed at the Aslan guest house, a traditional looking house that welcomes backpackers and that is located right in the heart of the city and close to all the main places.

There is also a Hilton in town if you wish to splurge.

Holy fish pond of Urfa

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Gobekli Tepe: The oldest temple in the world

2) Mardin: Gateway to Mesopotamia

3) Gaziantep: The city that is famous for the iconic baklava

4) Harran: A major ancient city in upper Mesopotamia

5) Karacadag: See rural life here that hasn’t changed much since biblical times. You can still see nomads in their yurts and this is where wheat first originated about 8,800 BCE

6) Lycian way: A 550 km long scenic trek that is home to sensational beaches, great architectural ruins, rich Greek history and stunning views

7) Kayakoy: The Ghost town of Turkey

8) Aphrodisias: Offbeat Greek culture trail in Turkey

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

10) Hierapolis: The ancient Greek spa city

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Monday, April 11, 2022

Why Hotel Security Matters, and How to Improve It

Why Hotel security matters

Security is something hotel owners and operators must take seriously. If you want people to stay in your hotel, you need to have an impeccable reputation. Security incidents can poison public opinion about your establishment, and then you’ll have to fight hard to turn that around.

We’ll talk about some hotel security measures you can implement right now, and we’ll also cover in more detail why you need to have these measures in place.

A Hotel Should Feel Like a Sanctuary

You will likely find there are many ways to improve hotel security, but before we get into some of those, we should explain why a safe hotel matters so much. If you run a hotel, you might have travelers from places nearby, but you may also have some from all across the world. You never know who’s staying there and why they chose your hotel.

Whether your average guest is from close by or some international locale, they will want to feel secure when they enter your lobby. They might feel exhaustion or jet lag. Maybe they just came from a crucial meeting or a funeral.

You have no way to tell whether business or pleasure drew your guest to you. Whatever the case, they should not worry once they’re checked in and headed up to their room.

Your hotel should be a kind of oasis for travelers. If you can’t provide that for them, they will not enjoy themselves, and you can be sure they’ll leave you a poor review when they get a chance.

Your Hotel Represents You

As the hotel’s operator or owner, you should also understand that your hotel is like an extension of yourself. If you’re a fastidious person, your hotel’s neatness should reflect that. A hotel where someone can walk around at will without checking in won’t feel safe, and you wouldn’t want to stay at such a place yourself.

Your hotel’s security should make you feel proud of it. You’re representing not just yourself but the city or town in which you operate. You want someone visiting to get the right impression, regardless of whether they’re from a few miles away or the other side of the world.

Some Ways to Improve Hotel Security

Now that we’ve talked about why your hotel’s security matters, we’ll go over some ways that you can make it better. Making sure you check in each guest when they arrive should be first.

You can have signage telling your guests to approach the front desk as soon as they arrive. If they do that, you can be sure that they have legitimate business there.

To better facilitate this, you can have someone who you place close to the front doors. They can either stand outside or inside. If you can afford it, you might have someone standing in both places.

Once someone arrives and your front desk attendant checks them in, they can give the guest their room key. That key should only open the door to their room and no others. You should also make sure to check each person’s ID who enters the hotel. They must prove their identity to stay there.

Other Ways to Improve Your Hotel’s Security Protocols

You should also have working cameras in the lobby and on every floor. Ideally, you want multiple cameras that can show you various areas.

You can look at those cameras to see if you have any blind spots. You can’t have cameras in every person’s room, but you should have them positioned to watch over every public or shared space.

You can also have roving security guards who can walk around the property and check to make sure everything is quiet and calm. They should have radios so they can keep in touch, and you should have a central security hub where they can communicate with a supervisor.

The guards should know various codes they can use for scenarios that might come up. They don’t want to say something that might cause a panic if a dangerous situation arises.

You should also know the nearest police station and fire station and have their numbers handy. If anything comes up that your staff can’t handle, you’ll want them to contact the authorities immediately.

The larger and fancier your hotel, the more security you will probably need. It might prove costly, but it’s worth it. You can show any guests that you’re taking the best possible care of them.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2022

The Colourful Samburu Tribe of Kenya: A Travel Photo Series

A Beadwork Samburu Model, Kenya

They are related to the famous Maasai tribe living in the Maasai Mara game reserve in Kenya. They are one of the more dominating tribes of north-central Kenya. They are semi-nomadic pastoralists who mainly herd cattle, but also keep sheep, goats and camels. I am talking about the colourful Samburu tribe who live north of the equator in Kenya and live in very diverse and beautiful landscapes that span high altitude forests, open plains, semi-arid grass and bush land to complete desert. One of their main settlements is on the fringes of Samburu National Park in North Kenya and this is where I met them. Experiencing the Samburu National reserve and the Samburu tribe becomes a beautiful one-two combo for a rich wildlife and culture experience.

This travel photo series aims to share with you the colourful personalities and traditional life of the beautiful Samburu tribal people. Hope you enjoy these vibrant visuals of these gorgeous tribal people of Kenya.

Above picture: The Samburu tribe is known for its colourful beadwork jewellery. Here you can see a Samburu woman wearing such colourful head and neck bead jewellery.

A Portrait of a Samburu Man

Above picture: Samburu men also adorn themselves with such colourful bead jewellery making them fantastic looking male models too.

Exquisite bead work on this Samburu woman

Above picture: Here is another Samburu tribal woman sporting colourful beadwork necklace, ear rings and head gear. The concentric rings on the necklace makes her look similar to the long necked Karen tribal women of Myanmar, but thankfully their necks have not been lengthened.

This game played with seeds and compartments is only played by the elderly men of the Samburu tribe

Above picture: Seen in this photo is a game with seeds and compartments played only by the elderly men of the Samburu tribe. This game is very similar to Pallanguzhi, a traditional ancient mancala game played in South India, especially Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

A rich dash of colour on all the Samburu women

Above picture: It is said that the more beads or necklaces are there on a woman, the more beautiful she is considered. Another point on the same line of thought is that, women wore more necklaces as they got richer. Therefore, the number of beads or necklaces indicate status in society, richness level and beauty.

Inquisitive Samburu looks

Above picture: The Samburu people speak the Samburu language, which is a Nilo-Saharan language. Their language is more or less similar to Maa (the language that the Maasai speak). The Samburu tongue is also related to Turkana and Karamojong and more distantly to Pokot and the Kalenjin languages.

Young Samburu Kids strike different poses

Above picture: Like all kids, the Samburu kids are also full of energy and innocent smiles. They can be seen wearing Western attire.

Samburu Elders huddle together under a tree to play a game

Above picture: The elders occupy a very important role in the Samburu society and all the power rests with them. They have a polygamous system where the elders decide who can marry and can have how many wives. This kind of control keeps trouble at rest or at least that is the belief.

The Samburu Warriors strike a pose

Above picture: In the Samburu tribe, the men take care of security, cattle herding and playing mock fight games to improve their warrior skills.

The colourfully decked Samburu tribals

Above picture: While the Samburu women take care of things like building houses, collecting firewood and food from the forest, cooking food, taking care of the young ones and in doing craftsmanship.

Wedding dance enacted by the Samburu men and women

Above picture: The Samburu love to sing and dance, but traditionally use no instruments. They have dances for various occasions of life. The men dance jumping and high jumping from a standing position is a great sport. Most dances involve the men and the women dancing in their separate circles with particular moves for each sex, but coordinating the moves of the two groups. A lot of their dances involve elaborate movements of their chest.

A Mean Samburu Warrior look

Above picture: Girls get married pretty early. Sometimes before they turn 18. Both boys and girls go through an initiation into adulthood, which involves training in adult responsibilities and circumcision for boys and clitoridectomy for girls. Ouch!

Samburu Women welcome the tourists into their village

Above picture: If you wish to marry a Samburu woman, all you have to do is give the chief of the village 2 cows. That is how weddings happen in the Samburu culture.

Women work much harder than the men in the Samburu community

Above picture: The hard working Samburu woman. She works in the forest, inside the house and in the manyatta or settlement.

A Samburu house made from wood, mud and plastic (for the roofing)

Above picture: A typical Samburu house is built by the wives of that house using sticks, mud, dung and plastic (for waterproofing).

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Saturday, March 19, 2022

Festival of Shivaratri from a Traditional Tamil Nadu Village

Shiva Utsava murti all decked up for temple pradakshinam on Shivaratri night

There is so much more to India’s rich festivals than wearing new clothes, eating good food and catching up with family and friends. While all of these are feel good factors of our festivals, there is so much richness and culture in our festivals. And unfortunately, this culture is not easily seen in our cities. To see this, we have to head to rural India where the people still keep this richness alive. 

Lighting the traditional lamp at the Kallidaikurichi Shiva temple on Shivaratri night

Luckily for me, I was at a traditional village called Kallidaikurichi in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu a few weeks back during the festival of Shivaratri. Unlike the festival of Pongal which is very vibrant in the villages of Tamil Nadu, the festival of Shivaratri is more subtle or at least that is the case during the day time. The day starts as usual with a bath in the Thamarabharani river, offering prayers at the nearby temple and then heading home. Most people either opt to keep a full fast or at least stay on a liquid diet. The whole day is spent chanting hymns of Lord Shiva, chanting Om Namah Shivaya, writing Om Namah Shiva or just reading his stories of Lord Shiva. The idea is to celebrate Lord Shiva in any way they deem appropriate.

Shivaratri celebrations that are muted during the day, pick up speed post 8 pm. The people take their evening shower, dress up in traditional attire and head to their nearest Shiva temple. Between 9 and 10 pm, the main festivities begin. The gods, shrines and the temple is well decorated. The devotees light up the temple lamps for the night long festival.

Shiva lingam all decked up for Shiva ratri night at Kallidaikurichi Shiva temple

The festivities begin with the alankaram and mangalarti during which the priest and devotees sing hymns and the temple bells keep gonging. Then, the utsava moorthy is loaded on to a chariot for a procession around the temple for 3 pradakshinams (circumambulation). Devotees follow the chariot of the utsava moorthy and sing praises to Lord Shiva. This process repeats every 2 hours till sunrise the next day, when the last mangalarti signifies the end of the Shivaratri festivities.

Ambal statue at Shiva temple, Kallidaikurichi

The whole night, the villagers stay inside the temple, reading holy verses or singing hymns dedicated to Lord Shiva. In spite of the lack of food and sleep, people are buoyant and feel joyous. There is a sense of elation after spending the entire night awake and most people who stay awake on Shivaratri at the Shiva temple have been doing it for many years.

To experience the Shivaratri festive fervour, you should spend at least a couple of hours inside the night, if not the entire night.

Utsava murthy Shiva all decked up

In addition to understanding the culture and traditions behind the festival of Mahashivaratri, you can also get to feel the energy of praising Lord Shiva, even if it is for a short while. Such is the charm of celebrating the festival of Maha Shivaratri at a traditional Tamil Nadu village. The rustic ambience, the rich culture on display and the energetic local people are just an icing on the cake.

How to reach there:

The nearest airport would be Tuticorin international airport, about 75 kms away. You would need to hire a taxi in advance to pick you up at the airport and drop you at Kallidaikurichi.

The nearest long distance railway station would be Tirunelveli, about 35 kms away. One can either take a connecting passenger train to Kallidaikurichi or travel by road (car or bus) to Kallidaikurichi. Tirunelveli is well connected with other large Indian cities like Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai.

Kallidaikurichi is well connected by road. The 4 lane Bangalore – Salem – Kanyakumari highway is just 30 kms away. About 50 kms towards West is the Kerala state border. Volvo sleepers, AC buses and state government buses ply these highways every day connecting major cities.

Where to stay:

It would be ideal to stay with a local family in their traditional home. If you do not have that option, try staying at Hotel Bhaskar Lodge, just a kilometer away from the Shiva temple, at the hotels in Ambasumudram a few kilometers away or at the much nicer hotels at Tirunelveli, about 35 kms away.

Preparing the temple lamp on Shivaratri night for Mangalarti 

Where to eat:

If you stay with a local family, you will definitely get treated to delicious local food. If you don’t have that option, there are a few small restaurants in Kallidaikurichi that dish out local tiffin items in the morning and evening. For a much better local dining experience, head to Hotel Ramanas at Ambasamudram a few kilometers away. They offer delicious traditional lunch and a wide variety of local snacks that change every day of the week.

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) 1000 year old Papanasanathar Temple: Where you can wash all your sins away

2) Karaiyar Dam: Offbeat wildlife and nature holiday destination in India’s deep south

3) The hidden gem called Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

4) Nellaiappar Temple: A 7th century cosmic dance wonder

5) Thamirabharani river delta: A motorcycle route full of rustic gorgeousness

6) Tiruchendur Murugan Temple: Sea Shore Magic

7) Courtallam: The herbal bath holiday destination of Tamil Nadu

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Saturday, March 05, 2022

The Most Scenic Places in the US Southwest

Inside the lower antelope canyon, Arizona, USA

If you’re gearing up to travel and you haven’t visited the southwestern region of the U.S., it might be a good time to consider it.

Whether you’re picking one spot, or you’d like to take a long-distance motorcycle trip or road trip, the southwestern part of the country has amazing scenery unlike anything else in the world.

The following are some scenic places in the southwest you might think about adding to your itinerary.

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is in Arizona. You can walk through the sandstone walls of the canyon, which were formed by erosion from flash flooding primarily.

The slot canyon includes five sections that are on the Navajo Reservation. These include Upper Antelope Canyon, Rattle Snake Canyon, Owl Canyon, Lower Antelope Canyon, and Mountain Sheep Canyon.

Antelope Canyon is one of the most popular spots in the country for photographers, thanks to the stunning orange and red tones. There are unlimited lighting changes and angles, so you can get images that no one will have ever captured before.

Since Antelope Canyon is inside sacred Native American land, the only way to see it is on a guided tour.

The Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon covered in snow, Arizona, USA

It’s impossible to talk about the scenery of the southwest without mentioning the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon attracts visitors from all over the world. This natural wonder has ribbons of colorful stones, and it shows some of the oldest geological history on earth. Plus, the sunrises and sunsets are amazing here.

Most people visit the South Rim, or you can go to the west entrance to try out the Skywalk. The Skywalk is a glass walkway that’s 2,000 feet above the floor of the canyon.

There are lodging options inside the park at hotels and campgrounds that give rim views and easy access, although they do fill up quickly, so book ahead.

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, USA

Horseshoe Bend is outside of Page, Arizona. There’s a river that tightly curves with a cliff that’s 800 feet above the canyon floor.

Visitors can reach the bend by taking a short hike on a sandy trail, bringing them to the edge of the canyon.

Zion National Park

Zion Canyon, Utah, USA

Many people say Zion National Park is their favorite of all the national parks and is the most scenic place in the southwest, if not the entire country. There are a ton of hiking options and colorful rock formations.

The Narrows lets you hike along a winding river through the narrow walls of the canyon.

You can also go to Angel’s Landing for a complete view of Zion.


Cathedral Rock, Sedona, Arizona, USA

A lot of the scenic places in the southwestern area of the country are pretty remote, but Sedona uniquely gives you access to shopping and dining, along with one-of-a-kind scenery. Located in the middle of the desert of Arizona, Sedona is known for its spas and resorts and for its red rock formations.

Some of the places most popular with visitors include Oak Creek Canyon, Cathedral Rock, and Bell Rock. The Red Rock Scenic Byway and Broken Arrow Trail are similarly popular.

Devil’s Bridge Trail is the largest natural sandstone arch in Sedona, and you can walk across it if you’re feeling daring.

The spiritual vortex sites and stargazing opportunities are other reasons people often visit Sedona.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon, Utah, USA

Bryce Canyon has the most spired rock formations in the world. They’re called hoodoos, and you can hike in and around the canyon to see them all.

Bryce Canyon is one of the most visited national parks in the country, and it’s not actually one canyon. It’s a set of natural bowls that are filled with hoodoos. Hoodoos are essentially tall rock columns.

You will have a long drive to Bryce Canyon. It’s around four hours from both Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

Havasu Falls

Havasu Falls at Night, Arizona, USA

Finally, Havasu Falls is located on the Havasupai Reservation. The water that flows from the falls and into the canyon below is a stunning shade of blue because of the mineral presence and the Havasu Creek that washes silt away. The contrast of the baby blue water against the orange canyon is incredible.

The only option to visit the falls is to get a three-day permit. You can’t do a day hike or anything shorter or longer. The permits tend to sell out immediately when they become available online.

The hike to the falls from the trailhead is 10 miles and easy to navigate. It’s mostly flat, but hiking out is pretty difficult.

Note: The photographs in this article are courtesy of wikipedia.org and have been borrowed under the creative commons license. Each photograph has been linked to its host page on wikipedia.org.

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