Outlook Traveller https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/ Outlook Traveller en 2018-02-22 00:52:31 The Source at Sula https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/The-Source-at-Sula.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/the-source-at-sula/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/the-source-at-sula/ 2018-02-21T19:10:20+05:30 article Travellers in Nashik high on wine but thirsty for nice accommodation have an excellent new option in The Source at Sula. And its in the As I took in the sprawling expanse of the heritage winery and the neat rows of grape vines from the balcony of the Tasting Room, I mentally kicked myself. What had taken me so long to get to Sula? But the glass of wine I was nursing complained about being neglected, and I didnt ponder the question for too long.

It was just as well that I had waited. The Source at Sula, their tasteful, new accommodation offeringwhich could fit right into a village in Tuscany if it had towas open, and they were launching a brand-new varietal that evening.

The Source at Sula is a culmination of sorts, a labour of love and a well-deserved pat on the back for a company that taught Indians how to drink wine and taught the world that Indian wines could be drunk. Built at the very spot where the originaland, until recently, working winery stood, and retaining a large part of the structure, I could see that it was making Monit Dhavale, Vice President, Hospitality at Sula Vineyards, wistful. As he showed us around, his conversation was peppered with statements like The excise guy used to sit here and This is where the grapes were crushed (not with the feet as is popularly believed, though, in the right season, they do offer visitors an opportunity to stomp grapes for fun).

Since they did not wish to tear down the original structure, building the Source presented some interesting engineering challenges and has resulted in each room being unique in some way. I was ensconced in the duplex Tower Suite, which, located at the very centre of the faade, lends it its characteristic look. It does entail a lot of trudging up and down stairs, but when youve had a drink too manyand with such fine wine at hand this isnt hard to doyoull probably appreciate a room you can lurch up to rather than one which is a drive away.

At the vineyard, I kept running into people who had joined the profession largely because of their passion for wine, and none more so than Chief Winemaker, Karan Vasani. I think he used to be a CA, but, youll understand, after the wine tasting and varietal launch he presided over that eveningand of which I was the most enthusiastic attendeethe details are hazy.

In a winery operation as massive as Sula, new wines are launched constantly but the launch of a new grape variety is rarer, not least because of the unique challenges our climate poses. The grape in question was the Grenache and the wine being launched a ros (a growing market, I was told). Pleasant as the wine was, more interestingly, it was part of a new product lineThe Sourceand Sulas cheerful sun logo was missing from the low-key label. But then Sulas corporate culture encourages thinking out of the bottle.

Since it would be unacceptable to sit in a vineyard and drink only one kind of wine, almost every Sula wine in existence was uncorked and poured out. Karan helped channel our inner oenophile and I made mental notes of my preferences in anticipation of my next trip to the theka. Spittoons were placed on every table but the one on mine went unsullied. I dont believe in wasting good wine. Of course, given the quantity of wine Sula bottles every year, theres no way this vineyard can fulfil its requirements, so now there are larger vineyards in multiple locations. Its still a working winery though, and once you throw in a behind-the-scenes tour, Sula makes for a great weekend stay.

While the main building of The Source assiduously tries to transport you to Tuscany, more immersive in nature (and with superb vineyard views) are the cottages on stilts (although they like to call them treehouses).

There are two restaurants: an Italian one which is pure vegetarian and an Indian one which does superlative kababs. The Tasting Room offers competent finger food. The spa does excellent treatments, especially one with grapeseed oil, but it really needs its own standalone space rather than being tucked away in a corner of The Source.

For something still more intimate and tranquil, theres Beyond by Sula, a few kilometres away. On the banks of the Gangapur Lake, it consists of seven Lakeview rooms as well as the minimalistic three-bedroom SkyVilla.

The legendary, and legendarily shy, Rajeev Samant, who started Sula, made a cameo appearance. Or perhaps we accosted him on the lawns. A Masters from Stanford, he chucked up his job at Oracle and backpacked around the world for a year, before settling down at the family farm in Nashik and growing fruits. Then he planted some grapes, including varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, which had never been grown here before. That was 20 years ago. Its a wonder what a little wine can do.

The information:

Location: Sula Vineyards, Gat 36/2, Govardhan, Gangapur-Savargaon Road, Nashik 422222; 3.5hr drive from Mumbai via NH-160

Accommodation: A variety of options, including treehouses, rooms and suites

Tariff: From ?7,000 per night (for a courtyard-view room), including breakfast, winery tour and wine tasting, taxes extra. The Tower Suite costs ?10,000 per night

Contact: +91-7875555735, sulawines.com

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How to Spend 24 Hours in Munich https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/feature-1.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/spend-24-hours-munich/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/spend-24-hours-munich/ 2018-02-21T10:00:41+05:30 article From art to culture, food to architecture, the Bavarian capital has a lot to offer tourists One of the easiest ways to visit Germany from India is to take a direct flight to Munich from Delhi. I dont know about you, but direct flights and I have a long-standing love affair. Every time I decide on a destination, the first thing I look for are the availability of direct flights.

So there I was an eight-hour direct flight from the Indian capital later and I was standing in Munich, ready to begin my European adventures. The thing is, though Munich is absolutely lovely, my intentions were to spend a day in the Bavarian capital and then head off to the Netherlands. So the question was how to maximise my 24 hours in Munich?

If youve faced such a dilemma, fret not. Heres a quick guide on how to spend 24 hours in Munich:

Delve into contemporary art at AltePinakothek

One of the oldest museums in the world, it has paintings by the old masters from 13th-18th centuries. Located in the Art District, the best way to soak in some art is to visit the other two Pinakotheken museums - NeuePinakothek and the Pinakothek der Moderne too. Together, they house about 800 paintings and serves as a journey into the history of art.

Behave like a local at Viktualienmarkt

Viktualienmarkt is Munichs outdoor farmers market. The various stalls sell flowers, fruits, game, spices, cheese, beer, sausages and so much more. I had some of the freshest strawberries from a small fruit seller here, all reasonably priced. You can spend hours here as you take in the aromas and your stomach grumbles after a visual treat.

Stroll through the Englisch Garten

The man-made 18th century Englisch Garten is massive, even larger than Central Park in Manhattan. The garden has birds, fields and beer! The flowers and trees along the path make the stroll all the more enjoyable!

Let Nymphenburg Palace impress you

The Nymphenburg Palace is an impressive sight. The gardens are modeled after those in Versailles and include two small lakes and four smaller mansions. The construction began in 1664 under Prince Ferdinand Maria. It was later expanded and used as the Wittelsbachs summer residence. King Ludwig II was even born here.

Look up Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson has always been loved in Munich and a massive memorial has been built for him below the statue of the Renaissance composer Orlande de Lassus. The memorial of the beloved singer is visited by many fans each day.

Enjoy the Bavarian food and beer culture

Germans love their food and beer. Munich is filled with beer gardens, with many even having playgrounds for children. In fact, the world-famous Oktoberfest is celebrated in the city for which millions descend, just to drink beer! With the beer, munch on local delicacies or traditional German food such as sausages, pretzels, sauerkraut and schnitzels.

Tip: If you have more time on your hands, head to Neuschwanstein Castle on a day trip. The castle inspired Walt Disney and makes for stunning photographs. The castle is easily accessible so one can do it individually or with a tour group.

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Peace By The River https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Parmarth1_FI.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/ot-getaway-guides/peace-by-the-river/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/ot-getaway-guides/peace-by-the-river/ 2018-02-20T15:45:44+05:30 article Pilgrims can find a clean, pure and sacred atmosphere at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram When you think of a wellness holiday, the first ideas that usually pop into your head involve pricey retreats in exotic locations, spas with an array of international therapies or health farms that closely monitor your diet and exercise regimen. But what if holistic wellness can be achieved without burning a hole in your wallet? What if a stay at an ashram can give you peace of mind (isnt that what were all after?) and in turn nurture your body? Intrigued? Well then read on and find out how I recharged my batteries over the course of a week and learnt that wellness need not necessarily involve fancy accommodation, luxury treatments or specially prepared meals.

In 2016, I travelled to Rishikesh to cover the International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan Ashram. Although I attended just three days of the week-long festival, I was hooked. I was determined to return the following year for all seven days. One year later I was back, with two friends in tow.

Set against the backdrop of a mountain and laid out amongst manicured lawns, fountains and shady, tall ashoka, eucalyptus and rudraksh trees, Parmarth Niketan is very welcoming. As clich as it sounds, the sense of peace here is pervasive.

Founded in 1942 by Pujya Swami Shukdevanandji Maharaj (190165), the ashram welcomes all irrespective of nationality, gender and religious beliefs. One of its core values is to promote and offer religious and spiritual teachings for the development of spirtual values and character.

We arrived at the ashram after an hours drive through Rajaji National Park from Dehraduns Jolly Grant Airport. There was a flurry of activity wherever we looked participants from all over the world were pulling up in taxis and unloading their luggage, rishikumars in bright saffron dhoti-kurtas were greeting everyone with welcoming smiles, festival organisers dressed in white were rushing around the grounds, busy overseeing final preparations. Adding to the melee were the resident monkeys, who are completely harmless as long as you dont interfere with them. I recognised quite a few faces from the previous years festival as we made our way to the registration area, which was on one of the lawns. The registration went smoothly with separate counters for each step of the process. Once done we were given a goody bag containing a schedule of classes and events over the next week, a stainless steel cup and water bottle, a pen and pad, and our room keys. We were then free to do as we pleased until the festival officially began the next morning.

The sound of the Ganga flowing past the ashram will be a constant during your stay at Parmarth Niketan. The river here is untainted by the pollution prevalent further downriver, so you can take a dip without any worries. We rushed down the steps of the ghat to stand in the icy water, cooling our tired feet and watching the sights around us men and women taking holy dips, friendly dogs playfully chasing each other around the area where the daily evening aarti takes place and the locals of Rishikesh going about their lives, oblivious to the biggest Yoga festival about to commence under their noses. Do remember to watch the sun set from the ghats while youre here. It is strangely peaceful to gaze at the giant orange ball dip further down the horizon, while temples on the opposite banks light up and small earthen lamps float by on the river in small boats made from leaves. Personally, the best part of my evenings on the Parmarth ghat was getting to play with and pamper the friendly resident pack of street dogs. These 45 dogs amass new fans every year amongst the festivals participants.

A massive rain storm lashed Rishikesh very early the next morning, causing concern amongst the organisers especially for the outdoor venues. But somehow despite the wet tents and chilly breeze, all the classes scheduled from 4.00am that morning carried on thanks to the positive attitude of teachers and students alike. Thats the beauty of such an event. Although I was tempted to snuggle under my quilt after realising it was raining, my friend didnt let me laze around. Out of the various classes on offer at 6.30am, wed decided on the traditional Hatha Yoga class. We hurriedly freshened up and made our way to the venue. Our teacher, Sadhvi Abha Saraswati, has been living at the ashram since 2003 and teaches Yogasana, Yoga Nidra, Nada Yoga and Vedic chanting. By the end of her class I was throughly warmed up and ready for the rest of the day. The effectiveness of the first asana class of the day was evident from the way everyone made a beeline for the food tents. The food served throughout the festival is simple and only mildly spiced, in keeping with sattvik traditions and also to cater to the many Western palates present.

I must mention here that the resident macaques, although never aggressive towards humans, get bolder during meal times. So its best not to leave your plate unattended if youre sitting in the outdoor eating area. I had a jolly laugh one afternoon when a cheeky adolescent jumped up on a table and grabbed a packet of bread, then ran off into the trees with his loot while the owner of the bread had her back to the table, talking to other participants.

The rest of the day flew by with various asana classes and lectures. At 6.00pm we all gathered by the Ganga River, to attend the Ganga aarti, a beautiful ceremony to give thanks for the many blessings we overlook in our daily lives. The yellow and orange robes worn by the young rishikumars coupled with the bright lights at the ghat seem to bathe every person present in a warm glow. Prayers, singing and a brief sermon by Pujya Swamiji and sometimes by Sadhvi Bhagawati are the usual features of the daily Ganga aarti.

While looking at the schedule one morning I noticed a couple of Tai Chi classes, which were to be taught by renowned Yoga and martial arts guru Sandeep Desai. Apart from seeing people practise it in parks in Hollywood movies, I had next to no experience of this ancient Chinese martial art. Curiosity got the better of me and I attended the class. For one hour, our very calm and soft-spoken teacher led us through a series of slow movements, reminding us time and again to focus on our breathing and keeping our spines straight. Although initially developed as a method of self defence, Tai Chi has developed a slower style, which, when practised faithfully, helps alleviate stress in practitioners.

One afternoon, while my two friends decided to go to a class together, I wandered around and found myself at the Yoga ghat where Tommy Rosen was just beginning his class. An experienced Kundalini and Hatha Yoga teacher, Tommy has used his knowledge of Yoga and recovery from drug abuse to create a holistic healing program for recovery from all kinds of addiction. While his class started off slowly, with a series of measured, deliberate cow-cat poses with a lot of concentration on breathing, we soon found ourselves seated in lotus pose, moving our arms up and down for 1015 minutes accompanied by energetic music, with Tommy urging us not to listen to our protesting muscles. It got to a point where I was grinning like a nut, ignoring the pain in my shoulders, soaking in the amazing energy that seemed to be pushing us on. It is moments like this one that will keep drawing me back to Parmarth Niketan Ashram over the years to come.

On the last day all three of us made our way down to the Yoga ghat to attend Jules Febres class. Jules has been practising Jivamukti Yoga since he was six years old. He also spent time in Mysuru learning Ashtanga from Sri Pattabhi Jois. Over the course of his career hes worked with homeless shelters and underpriviledged children. In order to work with the latter, he developed an asana class which incorporated hip-hop dance moves as a way to connect with youngsters. As he himself said, if he walked into a reform home and began singing bhajans, hed be beaten up, his iPod would be taken away and the kids would load hip-hop music on it. While he kept us in splits over one and a half hours with his own brand of humour, he also made us work very hard, which made us forget the chilly morning breeze sweeping across the ghats.

The 2017 festival drew 1,750 partipants from 101 countries, the biggest till date. Each year as news of the festival spreads even more, the biggest challenge faced by the organisers is creating a schedule that doesnt overwhelm participants with its offerings and variety but at the same time gives them the opportunity to experience many different schools of Yoga ranging from Hatha and Ashtanga to Yin Yoga and Kundalini Yoga and wellness/spirtual traditions such as Tai Chi, Reiki and Aromatherapy as well as listening to lectures from persons renowed in their fields of study such as Dr Bruce Lipton and Rujuta Diwekar. Accommodating the ever increasing number of Yoga gurus from around the world, who want to teach at the event, and creating more venues where their classes can be held is another challenge. Ultimately our goal is to have a festival of union of cultures, colours and creeds; the real recognition that were all one, says Sadhvi Bhagawati, President of the Divine Shakti Foundation at Parmarth Niketan. Sadhvijis words couldnt have rung more true when participants from Israel and Iran sat at the same table in the food tent, talking and sharing jokes with each other.

Other Activities

Although the International Yoga Festival has thrown the ashram under the spotlight for the last couple of decades, it does offer other practices such as meditation, sound healing, Chakra-dance, Panchkarma, Ayurvedic massage and therapy. Beginner and intensive Yoga courses and Yoga teacher trainings are also organised here on a regular basis. People can volunteer at the ashram, but have to put in a minimum of three months. They can contribute their skills to the many programmes Parmarth Niketan is actively involved in such as Project Hope, which provides ecologically sustainable relief and restoration in times of natural disaster, and the Divine Shakti Foundation, dedicated to the holistic well being of women and to Mother Nature and Mother Earth. Sevaks (volunteers) are encouraged to have their own personal sadhana (spiritual practice). Ahimsa (non-violence) and self-discipline are key values that all volunteers are expected to follow besides silence from the hours of 10.00pm to 6.00am. While we might not feel the immediate benefits of volunteering, giving back to the Universe as thanks for all that you have will only do you good in the long run.

Accommodation Options

Parmarth Niketan Ashram (Tel: 0135- 2434301-02; Tariff: ?8001,600) has around 1,000 clean and simple rooms, equipped with modern amenities. Most rooms have attached Western-style bathrooms with hot running water. Charges are waived in case of full-time volunteership.

Hotel The Great Ganga (Tel: 2442243, 2438252; Tariff: ?4,000 9,800) 1.5km from the Bus Stand, is right above the Badrinath Road in Muni-ki-Reti and offers panaromic views of the Ganga. Pure Inn (Delhi Tel: 011-22753151; Tariff: ?3,500, with two meals), also in Muni-ki-Reti, is another good option.

GMVN has three large and comfortable guesthouses. Bharat Bhoomi Tourist Complex (Tel: 2433002, Cell: 09568006685; Tariff: ?9902,500, dorm bed ?200) is close to the railway station. Rishilok Tourist Complex (Tel: 2430373; Tariff: ?970 2,090) at Muni-ki-Reti, has similar facilities. Ganga Resort Tourist Complex (Tel: 2438651, 2122098, Cell: 09568006683; Tariff: ?3,200 4,200, dorm bed ?350), also at Muni-ki-Reti, has the best location, on the banks of the Ganga. Amongst the budget options is Green Hotel (Tel: 2431242, 2434948, 2440242, Cell: 08171077111; Tariff: ?9003,800) near Ram Jhula.

Meals at the Ashram and Around

During the International Yoga Festival participants can eat all three meals in the food tents within the ashram premises. At any other time the ashram canteen serves simple sattvic meals to visitors and volunteers.

The Chotiwala Restaurant serves traditional food. The German Bakery has a small open-air seating area and offers some interesting dishes such as yak cheese sandwiches and fruit pan-cakes. Try Madras Caf for south Indian staples. Ramanas Organic Cafe grows organic vegetables and fruit, which feature in their delicious salads and soups. They also bake mouthwatering cakes and pies.

FAST FACTS

When to go 17 March for the International Yoga Festival. Apart from that anytime of the year, but the town sees fewer crowds in the winter months.

Contact

Parmarth Niketan Ashram PO Swargashram Rishikesh, Tel: 0135-2434301/ 02, Email: info@internationalyogafestival.com, W parmarth.org W internationalyogafestival.org

How to book The best way to book your place at the festival is to register via the official festival website. For all other courses and activities check the ashram website.

Caution The ashram is not to be treated as a resort/ retreat. It is a place of spiritual healing, quiet contemplation and learning new philosophies. Please dress conservatively.

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest airport: Jolly Grant, Dehradun (30km/ 45mins) is connected to Delhi by daily flights by carriers such as Air India, Jet Airways and SpiceJet. Taxis to Rishikesh cost approx ?1,600

Rail Rishikesh Station, connected to Jammu Tawi, Chakki, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Ambala, Saharanpur

and Haridwar by the daily Hemkunt Express. For other cities, Haridwar Junction is the nearest railhead (25km/ 1hr). Take a bus (1hr) or taxi (?1,2001,500) to Rishikesh

Road Rishikesh is connected to Delhi by NH334 via Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Roorkee and Haridwar Bus Uttarakhand Roadways (Tel: 011-22158641) has daily bus services between Delhis ISBT Anand Vihar and the Rishikesh stand (Tel: 0135- 2430076), and from Faridabad, Gurugram and Amritsar

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Heading To Cyprus Now Easier For Goa Residents https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/cyprus.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/cyprus-visa-goa-residents/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/cyprus-visa-goa-residents/ 2018-02-20T10:18:37+05:30 article New VFS Global centre in Panjim accepts visa applications on behalf of Cyprus Dear Goa residents, taking a vacation in Cyprus got just that much easier. You can now apply for your visas at the brand new VFS Global centre in Panjim instead of travelling to a neighbouring state. The centre was inaugurated by Demetrios A. Theophylactou, High Commissioner of Cyprus to India.

Key features of the Cyprus Visa Application Centre:

Professional staff with local language capability, dedicated to handle visa queries

Dedicated website to provide information on visa categories, fees and other application related details

Call Centre and email support to answer queries

Online tracking of application status

Convenient and secure courier return of visa documents to an address of choice

Where: Gera Imperium 1, 3rd Floor, Office No. 301, Patto Plaza, Panjim, Goa

For more information: +91 832 2438700/Info.cyprusin@vfshelpline.com/

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Bengaluru: Whitefield Art Collective https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/bengaluru-whitefield-art-collective/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/bengaluru-whitefield-art-collective/ 2018-02-20T10:16:00+05:30 article The 3rd edition of the Whitefield Art Collective was recently held at VR Bengaluru. If you found yourself in Whitefield, Bengaluru, the last couple of weeks, you'd have come across the third edition of the Whitefield Art Collective at VR Bengaluru. The space outside and inside the mall was beautifully decorated with art installations, made with every material one can think of, for three weeks about.Not only were the pieces attractive asselfies were the order of the day, but it gave young artists from the various art schools,including MSU Baroda, JJ School of Art & the Delhi College of Art,a much-needed chance to showcase their creations.

The travelling art show will now move to Chandigarh, Surat and Chennai in the coming months. So if you find yourself in the above-mentioned cities, you'll know where to go!

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The Hyatt Regency Lucknow https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/featured-4.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/hyatt-regency-lucknow/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/hyatt-regency-lucknow/ 2018-02-20T10:00:33+05:30 article Hyatt raises the bar with its new property in the City of Nawabs. Awadh will never be the same again Lucknow never fails to captivate. Back in the city after an unpardonably long spell, I was happy to observe that this fine city of nabobs and kabobs had retained its essence, although there were noticeable civic improvements (and who in India can complain about that?). Gomti Nagar is where all the action is now, and this sub-city across the Gomti is exploding in every conceivable direction. The possibility that it will one day extend all the way to Barabanki is no longer unrealistic.

One arena in which there has been welcome change is hospitality. While earlier top-notch hotels were few and far between, the customer is (almost) spoilt for choice. The Hyatt Regency Lucknow may well be the best of the new bunch.

Dont let the modern faade fool you, for the Regency is steeped in the flavours and spirit of Lucknow, starting from General Manager Kumar Shobhan, for whom its a homecoming. With around 200 rooms, the hotel feels just about right, neither too small nor too large. Inside, floors are sensibly organised by function: meeting rooms, restaurants and wellness offerings (spa, gym and pool) all have dedicated floors. A nice touch are the Family Rooms which open directly on to the pool. The Regency Club rooms and suites are all on the same floor and have exclusive access to the Regency Club, which serves complimentary breakfast, hors doeuvres and cocktails to Club members.

My suite was spacious, of course, but the rooms arent cramped either. The aesthetic is modern, expressed in soothing tones, and theres a lot of natural light. With 18,798 sq ft of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space, including a 4,200 sq ft Regency Ballroom, the hotel is betting big on events and weddings. In fact, the space divisions make it eminently suitable for Muslim weddings as well, the hotels Marketing Communication Manager, Fatima Abbas informed me.

The hotels other big bet is F&B, where they may well be ushering in a quiet culinary revolution. While there are winds of change, Lucknow is still a traditional city, so it may take some time. Beginning life as an Italian restaurant, their all-day diner Rocca has had to bow to market forces and quietly introduce a bunch of Awadhi dishes. Where theyve refused to compromise is Lukjin, their Asian restaurant named after the Thai-Chinese community from which the chef helming it hails. This dinner-only joint serves authentic Thai and Chinese delicacies, including a refreshing pomelo salad, an eclectic selection of dim sum, a killer tofu and mushroom soup, proper Thai curries, and spring rolls that I, for once, liked. And its a beautiful restaurant, decorated with painstakingly sourced teapots, great for that special night out. Then theres UPs, the lounge bar, with a signature cocktail menu steeped in the spirit of the land. Moradabadi Mule, Kakori Mary, Banarasi Tonic and Bareilly ka Jhumka are just some of the drinks they serve here. Incidentally, none of these spaces have any doors and seem to meld seamlessly into each other.

But the best is yet to come. Chef Subhash JanaHyatt could not have chosen a better chef than this enthusiastic, talented and pleasant mannered man to head their F&B operationswill be launching a progressive menu at the rooftop martini bar anytime now. Fresh from a stint in Ireland, hell be serving exotic-familiar delights (my coinage; exotic enough to inspire interest, but not so challenging as to send diners scurrying). I sampled a fewpaneer stuffed with porcini, pea and brie tikkis, panko-crusted prawns with nutella mayo, chicken tikka with peanut butterand can vouch for their scrumptiousness.

None of the same old, same old on the wellness front either. At the Hyatts Siddh Spa, only the second outpost of the brand (the first is at the Hyatt Regency Chennai), my therapist Phuntso administered an interesting and bold therapy that combined ancient Indian therapies with western techniques and hot stones. Most spas offer therapies across a gamut of disciplines but rarely do they offer such a commingling of East and West.

Tearing myself away from the royal treatment was difficult, but I did take time out to revisit the sights. Some random observations from my day out: People crib about Mayawati but every regime has attempted to leave its mark, as evidenced in the massive park that Mulayam Singh Yadav built and the even larger one his son Akhilesh commissionedthe Janeshwar Mishra Park, touted to be Asias largest. You may not agree with their politics, but these are monumental public works and generations of Lakhnavis will enjoy them. The Akhilesh Yadav government has done more heritage restoration than any previous one. Chowks character is timeless. Tunday is as cheap and good as ever. Lucknow chaat is way superior to anything youll eat in Delhi (no, seriously). New discovery: Rahmat Ali, purveyors of the best halva this side of the Bosphorus since, oh, only 1865 (their jauzi halva is highly recommended). La Martiniere has a new coat of paint.

The highlight of my Lucknow visit was undoubtedly tea with Nawab Jafar Mir Abdullah, a descendant of the third nawab of Awadh. Sitting in a room creaking with antiques, the sophisticated Nawab, at ease in both English and Urdu, turned out to be a time traveller of sorts. With the slightest turn of phrase, he can transport you to that glorious age when Lucknow was one of the most beautiful and cultured cities in the world. He introduced me to the delights of Kashmiri chai, a syrupy-sweet pink concoction into which you have to crush flakes of kagazi samosa, stir in balai (cream) and drink with a spoon. Thats what I like about Lucknow. It always leaves a sweet taste in the mouth.

The information

Location: Vibhuti Khand, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow 226010. Located in Lucknows central business district, 25km/20min from Chaudhary Charan Singh International airport, approx. 11.5km from both Lucknow Charbagh and Lucknow Junction railway stations; 4min from the High Court

Accommodation: 206 guestrooms including 17 Regency Suites and 2 Regency Executive Suites

Tariff: Standard rate from ?6,100 per night, taxes extra; advance purchase rate from ?5,100 per night

Contact: +91-522-4261234, lucknow.regency.hyatt.com

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The Last Lions of Gir https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/featured-image-6.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/last-lions-gir/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/last-lions-gir/ 2018-02-20T10:00:21+05:30 article Gir is the only place where you can see Asiatic Lions in the wild. Now you can do it in the lap of luxury The four-hour drive from Rajkot to Sasan Gir is predictably dominated by talk of lions and the possibility of sightings. As we cross the Nawabi city of Junagarh, the road turns into a single lane and the speed limit comes down to 20 kmph. Its a short stretch through a reserve forest which opens out at Sasana small town which serves as the main gateway to the Gir National Park and the majestic lions that reside within. Pondering on the likelihood of seeing one in the wild, I enter Woods at Sasan (WAS), the flagship property of the 1000 Island group. It is situated on the fringes of the park, amid the quiet setting of an eight-acre mango orchard with over 280 mango trees, interspersed with many more seasonal fruit trees. In an area replete with possibilities, this eco-friendly boutique resort promises a one-of-a-kind experience. I am here to test that claim.

I am greeted by the front-office manager Lovesh Villayat with a refreshing drink of aam panna. The reception itself is open and informal with the main artwork here based on three materialswood, stone and cotton. Stylish beadwork panels line the entrance wall, inspired by the torans of Saurashtra, the region we are in. Every piece of furniture in the property has been designed in-house and made on the property itself, mostly using reclaimed wood, says Lovesh. The wood is sourced from Alang in Gujarat, one of the largest ship-breaking yards in the world.

The minimalist design of the property, imbued with Gujarati art and craft traditions and moulded to a modern finish, lines every nook and cranny of the property. Handcrafted and curated by an in-house team of artists, architects and designers, just about every fitting and fixture at this resort is bespoke.

After a brief tour of the property, Lovesh turns the buggy towards my living quarters: a boutique pavilion, one of 12 standalone units that line the property besides a smattering of studios and a villa. The pavilion is based on the high plinth concept and is open on three sides. The wooden porch in the front, replete with a jhula (another Gujju home staple) and a sit-out in the greens beyond, provides an ideal connect with the lush surroundings. An open rain shower in a stone-paved enclosure at the back further adds to the wilderness touch. There is a well-appointed indoor bath as well, with good salts, for a lazy soak. I am quick to pull up the banana rope curtains of my glass-paned windows. The high air quality index is not lost on me as I refresh my polluted city lungs with clean crisp air. The temperature is perfecta balmy 20C, far removed from the cold of Delhi that I have left behind.

There is nothing like a good massage to get rid of travel weariness, and I welcome the suggestion to indulge in one. Som Spa enjoys a secluded spot at the far end of the property lining the forest. The open spa has five individually crafted therapy units, placed far apart from each other, overlooking the surrounding greens. The treatments promise a restorative experience for the mind and body, and after a brief consultation with the spa manager Jiten Bhatt, I settle for the Signature Wood Massagea combination of Swedish and deep tissue therapies. Bamboo chik curtains, grass mat ceiling, light strains of music and the whiff of scented oils is welcoming as I step into the therapists lair. The scent of eucalyptus and rosemary in a base of sesame oil uplifts me instantly, and the firm pressure and long gliding strokes of the therapist deliver the promised energising effect.

On a heady high, I visit the open library for high tea and a lesson in pottery with the local kumbhar. One encounters many firsts in my profession and I am delighted when my effort at the potters wheel produces a feweven if lopsidedodds and ends of earthenware.

Early next morning, I head for a nature walk in a stretch of forest lining the Hiran Riverthe lifeline of Sasan. To call my naturalist guide Jeetendra Murari a passionate birder would be an understatement. His hawk-like vigil and keen ear for bird calls lets him predict the appearance of a bird with uncanny precision as we witness several resident and migratory species gliding along the river bank. Flycatchers, lapwings, stilts, wagtails, and a couple of kingfishers and moorhens later, we break into banter on pesonal favourites. The black-naped monarch comes top on his list, a bird responsible for giving him malaria as he lay in wait to photograph it. Just then, as if answering his call, a dash of blue zooms overhead. We make eye contact and run into the thicket behind it. Slim and agile, the bird is mainly pale azure blue with a black nape around its neck. Murari manages to get his perfect shot, after long years of waiting. He is overwhelmed and tears of joy flow down his cheeks.

I return to Woods at Sasan for breakfast and settle for the poolside al fresco dining area serving an array of samplers, post which I am headed for the Somnath temple. Somnath, believed to be the first among the 12 Jyotirlinga sites of Shiva, is a highly revered spot on the western coast of Gujarat, 40 kilometres from the resort. While the structure, built in Chaluka style of temple architecture, is new, a peek into the old excavation photographs is a window into the antiquity and relevance of the site. The temple itself enjoys a beautiful perch along a rocky spot of beach along the Arabian Sea. I walk in the bylanes outside the temple and sip on fresh coconut water as I look out to the serene waters of the sea.

Being a pescetarian proves to be a treat at WAS. With fresh produce from the nearby fishing port of Veraval, handpicked by chef Sanjay Bhowmik, I feast on fresh grilled and tandoori pomfrets, jumbo prawns, kingfish and a lobster over the next few days. Garden fresh salads and soups accompany the meals; sometimes, I give in to the scrumptious desserts on offer. When Im not at WASs multi-cuisine restaurant Terracotta, I indulge in the Gujarati thali at Swadesh, the Indian restaurant. Swadesh features mudwork walls inspired by the tribes of Sasan and the chundana tattooing of the Rabari community. The elaborate Gujarati thali is normally reserved for special occasions and I can only pick at the 32 items that are a part of it. Besides, the spice content is a bit high for my tastebuds. The desserts are greatdry fruit basundi and mohanthal (moong halwa), and I take a great liking to the humble khichdi accompanied by the tangy sweet sour kadhi, a staple of every Gujarati home.

Later that evening, the Siddi Dhamal dance is performed by the Siddi tribals of Jambur village of Saurashtra. These feisty people are descendants of the Buntu tribe from the African great lakes region and were brought down by the Portuguese as slaves for the Nawab of Junagarh at the the end of the 17th century. Having fully assimilated with the local culture and traditions, little trace of their origins remain. One of their traditions that has been preserved is the Dhamal dance, an exquisite performance that reflects their passion for hunting. The dance used to be performed by the males of the tribe after a successful hunt and has retained that flavour. With painted faces and shell necklaces adorning their heads, the men swing rhythmically to the sound of drums and loud jungle cat calls, mimicking fierce animal expressions accompanied with frenzied dance movements and fire-breathing antics.

The evening promises to be one of endless music. At Terracotta a little later, a versatile vocalist and composer from Ahmedabad, Rahul Prajapati, belts out soulful renditions of devotional and popular Hindi songs.

Being situated on a secluded spot makes Woods at Sasan the ideal ground for stargazing. For a telescope we have the Astromaster 114 EQ. With lights turned down, the clear sky throws up a wide gamut of sparkling gems. Loveshs stargazing phone app Sky Maps helps us identify a host of lesser known constellations and stars.

Finally, the big day of my jungle safari dawns. Relaxed and unwound, I am in top form to make my aquaintance with the king of the jungle. We drive the short six kilometres to the Sinh Sadan entrance in a 1990s red Contessa classic. The resort offers vintage cars to guests on rent for short day trips around the resort.

At the park office, we transfer to an open-air gypsy for our foray into the reserve. My pulse begins to race as we enter the park. Gir is the only place outside Africa where a wild lion can be found today, and our small group of three from WAS has been banking on some good old luck to score a sighting.

Gir is a conservation success story like no other. From near extinction, the lions have seen a 16-fold rise and now stand at 650. There are a total of seven tracks here and each GPS-monitored jeep is randomly assigned one. We are on a 40km route on track six breezing through the dry deciduous forest when a park ranger going past signals at us. Dhanjot, our driver, steps on the accelerator and we whizz ahead.

We find three young lionesses lounging under a teak tree behind some scanty bushes. They are the hunters of the tribe and have been on the prowl all night. It is siesta time for them and all I can see are their bellies sprawled in the shade, till one lioness lifts her head and peers through the bush directly at me. I am held transfixed by her predatory gaze. A mixture of primal fear and excitement well up as I lift my camera to freeze the stare.

The information

Getting There
>The Rajkot airport (167km from Sasan Gir) is serviced by daily direct flights from Delhi and other places while the Diu airport (100km) is serviced by four flights per week from Mumbai only. Woods at Sasan will send you a pick-up on request.

>The nearest railway station is situated in Veraval (40km). The station is located along the main line which connects it with major cities. Woods at Sasan is situated 6km ahead of Gir National Park.

Where To Stay
There are 19 Woods Studios (from ?12,000), six Woods Studios with Terrace (from ?14,000), 12 Woods Pavilion (from ?18,000), and one Woods Villa (three bedrooms with pool, from ?64,000) at Woods at Sasan (WAS). These rates include three meals but not taxes. Room service, activities and spa cost extra. The rates are not valid from Dec. 23, 2017 to Jan. 2, 2018. For more details, see woodsatsasan.com.

What To See & Do
WAS offers scores of activities and nature walks. It caters well to families. Kids play areas, bicycle trails, special kids menus and a vast infinity pool are some of the in-house offerings for children.

There are several excursions that the resort organises like Junagadh heritage tour, Mount Girnar trip to the highest point in Gujarat and a forest train ride which goes through a section of the Gir forest.

If you have time, a day trip to Diu can also be organised.

Their Mango bar lining the pool serves excellent mocktails. Gujarat is a dry state; however, guests can bring upto two bottles per person and also buy liquor in the government-approved shops by producing a valid ticket and address proof. Consumption of liquour in open areas is prohibited throughout the state.

Safaris
There is an online booking sytem for permits for the Gir wildlife sanctuary which you need to book in advance. Permits are given three months prior to visit dates.Tourists are expected to report at the Sinh Sadan Entrance along with a copy of e-permit and identification document in original at least 45 minutes before the time slot allotted to the permit-holder. Fee for guide service, vehicle and camera are payable separately at the park reception. Some pre-planning is essential as last-minute bookings are difficult especially for the prime slots. Four people allowed per jeep. Find out more at girlion.in.

If you dont manage to see lions in the park, you can visit the Devalia National Park. This is a designated fenced forest where you can see leopards in captivity and lions in the open which are closely monitored by park guards. Closed Wednesdays. Charges ?200 a person.

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Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Andamans https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Taj-Andamans.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/taj-exotica-resort-spa-andamans/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/taj-exotica-resort-spa-andamans/ 2018-02-19T17:01:09+05:30 article Taj sets an example with its commitment to conservation and sustainable luxury in its newest property in the Andamans Occupying 46 acres on the famed Radhanagar Beach at Havelock Island, Taj Exotica Resort and Spa, Andamans is a luxurious gateway to a globally significant biodiversity hotspot in the Bay of Bengal. Fringed by strip of mangroves and a river overlooking the beach, the resort is a homage to the secluded Andaman and Nicobar archipelago stretching for 700 kms from the southern tip of Burma towards the north of Sumatra; a magical medley of rainforests, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, unspoilt beaches and ancient tribal cultures.

Not a single tree was felled during the construction of the 72 beach villas that pay homage to the style of the indigenous Jarawa tribes pitch-roof stilted huts. Guests can rest over the massive buttresses of an Andaman Padauk tree, ruminate by the water lily pond after a lavish massage or hit the treadmill at the fitness centre built around a majestic Mahua tree that soars up one level to the Olympic-sized infinity swimming pool. Wi-fi at the lobby ensures connectivity, while the silent and intuitive service creates a bespoke atmosphere for privacy and romance interrupted only the sound of kingfishers and emerald doves.

Tajs commitment to conservation and sustainable luxury in the archipelago is at the core of the resorts impeccable facilities and services. Along with their own biogas facility, water bottling plant, a reservoir for rainwater harvesting and partial solar energy, the resort has partnered with the Pollution Control Board to keep the island plastic free while developing a plastic collection centre on the mainland.

The resort offers a host of fun activities for children that engage them in the marine and terrestrial ecology of the island. Between picking mangoes, mud apples and mulberries at the bountiful orchards to jungle treks, beach picnics, supervised scuba diving and shell-craft lessons at the resorts vibrant Recreational Center with plenty of post-meal snoozes on villa decks, there isnt a dull moment for young and curious minds. Meanwhile, adults can dive into sensational dining experiences at the concept restaurants Turtle House, The Settlers or luxuriate in beauty and wellness treatments.

The island is an endless source of delight and discovery. Unravel the secrets of the outdoors and underwater life with exclusive experiences in game fishing, night kayaking in the mangroves, turtle nesting excursions, scuba diving and snorkelling. Whether witnessing a remarkable sunsets or savouring an exquisite meal at an amorous table for two in the mangroves, the Taj Exotica Resort and Spa, Andamans opens up the luxuriant secrets of this secluded Eden like never before.

The resort has a special inaugural opening rate of?25000+ applicable taxes, for two adults, inclusive of a poolside breakfast. Valid from February 14, 2018 to April 15, 2018

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Goa: The Project Cafe https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/featured-3.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/goa-project-cafe/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/goa-project-cafe/ 2018-02-19T13:13:54+05:30 article The charming Project Cafe in Goa is a unique living art gallery Your first taste of Goa is that salty sea smell that assails you immediately as you make your way out of the airport. But driving by the little villages gives you a sense of peacethese are often places of refuge, away from everyday routines, imbued with a sense of freedom cities can never offer. Away from the mostly-favoured sandy beaches, I headed to Assagao, a village that offered my mobile device no reception. It was the beginning of a magical detachment, of a new Goa experience?

While regular travellers to the state will bemoan its increasing commercialisation, Assagaos old-world bungalows with red oxide floors and balcos, and quaint mother-of-pearl windows still retain their charm. Its one of these Portuguese villas, over a century old, that hosts The Project Caf, an experiential design hotel. Everything you see on the propertyart, dcor, furniture, apparel, accessoriesis for sale. Its like staying in a living art gallery.

The Project Caf has collaborated with artists and architects, as well as product lines, who exhibit their wares all over the property. Take my room, for instance. I was greeted by a magnificent four-poster bed and high ceilings. Designed by architect Hiren Patel, the minimalism combined with contemporary designs and an antique feel made me fall into deep slumber with a smile. But a year from now, the space will be completely redesigned and patrons will be offered a new experience.

One doesnt have to stay the night to experience The Project Caf. Pick up one of the books on display (Roli Books) and park yourself on a comfortable armchair at the Gulmohar Lane lounge. Want to shop? The retail space is a heady mix of perfumes (Bombay Perfumery) and lilies, which entice you to come in and browse Runaway Bicycles clothing line on display. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in Jagrut Ravals art, inspired by the arresting Bismarckia tree on the lawn, which also serves as Aradhana Seths inspiration for the outdoor caf. The art experience isnt just confined to the wallsthe Garden of Sound showcases the Goa-based ceramist Thomas Louiss modified udu installation. I tried to play, but my musical capabilities lacked the requisite refinement.

Away from the noise of technology, I took a swim in the pool, each stroke making me hungrier than ever. The lunch spread that followed was the stuff of dreams. From steamed snapper to Goan chorizo, duck with plum sauce to prawns and guac, the flavours were bold and clean. Its just what I needed to recharge on a holiday with no connectivity (WiFi is available throughout the property but wasnt working while I was visiting). In between bites, I was left enthralled by beautiful handmade maps by Nidhi Khurana that hung all over the restaurant, derived from various maps of Goa.

No trip to Goa is complete without paying homage to a beach, and it was the journey towards Morjim that brought me back to reality. Emails and frantic texts flooded my phone, and I realised that though the accidental digital break had been the best detox, I was looking forward to getting back to the real world.

The Project Caf is at Amalia Villa No. 198, Mazzal Waddo, Assagao, Goa, an hours drive from the airport. There are six rooms (five functional), tariffs upwards of?7,670, inclusive of breakfast and GST, though the rates can change. Contact: +91-9284389271, +91-9663894406; theprojectcafe.in

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Indulge at the Atmantan Wellness Centre all March https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Atmantan.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/indulge-atmantan-wellness-centre-march/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/indulge-atmantan-wellness-centre-march/ 2018-02-19T10:02:46+05:30 article Special discounts and packages for women all through the month Its never too late to indulge and at the Atmantan Wellness Centre you have the perfect opportunity. The Centre is inviting all women to treat themselves to luxurious getaways all March with special discounts and packages. All ladies can avail a flat Rs 10,000 discount on their bill all of March. Additionally, on March 8, there is a free stay with fitness experts ensuring a holistic rejuvenation.

So ladies, treat yourself to detox retreats and yoga along with experiencing Atmantans luxury, service and quality with curated farm to table dining.

Offer Details:

Rs 10,000 off on the bill in the entire month of March for women.

Free stay on March 8 for women on a minimum of three day retreat falling on that day.

Offer duration: March 1-31, 2018

More information: atmantan.com

 

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Thailand: Dinner in the Sky https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Dinner-in-the-Sky-takes-off-in-Thailand.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/thailand-dinner-sky/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/thailand-dinner-sky/ 2018-02-18T10:21:32+05:30 article Enjoy the Bangkok skyline as you dig into a four-course dinner

You've read about it in Europe and other parts of Asia but now you have the chance to experience it in Bangkok! Yes, Dinner in the Sky has opened in Bangkok where you can take in the city skyline from a height of 50m as you enjoy a four-course meal.

The high-altitude dinner tableseats 22 patrons with specially equipped safety belts. The whole table is suspended by a 200-tonne European telescopic boom crane. Enjoy thefour-course gourmet dinner prepared by Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit as you take in the skyline from the sky!

Located between the Emporium Shopping Complex, the Benchasiri Park and Dinosaur Planet (right next to BTS Phrom Phong),reservations can be made online atwww.dinnerinthesky.co.thfor 4,990 Baht on weekdays and 5,390 Baht on weekends, inclusive of the meal. There are two flight sessions per day: Sunset at18:00and City Lights at19:30. The flight duration is 60 minutes.

Tip: There are direct flights to Bangkok from almost all major Indian cities.

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Bollywood Heritage Destinations https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Feature-Image_Riverside-view-of-old-town-Srinagar-from-one-of-the-bridges-across-Jhelum-river.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/bollywood-heritage-destinations/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/bollywood-heritage-destinations/ 2018-02-17T16:35:44+05:30 article Leave it to Bollywood to find the best heritage locales in the country West Bengal: Dol Jatra https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/featured-image-5.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/west-bengal-dol-jatra/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/west-bengal-dol-jatra/ 2018-02-16T14:57:45+05:30 article Explore the colourful rituals of West Bengal's doljatra The Festival of Colours, known as Holi in rest of India, is called dol-jatra in Bengal. In Bengal, it is celebrated on the full moon day (March 1 this year). Here are three places where you can enjoy the festival in different moods.

Amadpur
Head to Amadpur, tucked deep inside Burdwan district of West Bengal, if you want to celebrate Doljatra with a traditional flourish. The picturesque setting and a chance to play with colours with the local people adds to the festive fervour. The Chaudhuri family, the former zamindars (landlords), have not only beautifully maintained their nearly 400 year-old family home but also observe all the major festivals. The Chaudhuri home, which sits on the edge of a lake with a paved bank and steps going into the water, is fronted by four terracotta temples dedicated to Shiva and a dol mancha (a stage for celebrating doljatra). Radhamadhav, the family deity, resides in another old terracotta temple nearby. The temples, over two centuries old, reflect typical old Bengal architecture and contain carved terracotta panels on the outer walls. The Dol Mancha, also a reflection of typical Bengal architecture, backs on to the bank of the lake.

On the eve of Doljatra, the Lakshmi Janardan shaligram shila is carried to the Dol Mancha prior to the holding of the bonfire or the chanchor festival. After the festivals, the shaligram shila is taken back to the temple. On the day of Doljatra, the deities of Radha Madhav are carried in a procession to the Dol Mancha. Among several rituals performed here, one is the Deb Dol, where the deities are believed to play with coloured powder or abir among themselves. Subsequently, the family members and the local people offer coloured powder to the idols. It also customary to apply the coloured powder to the feet of any senior first. Then begins the play of colours in earnest. You may participate in the ritual or watch it from the safety of the Choudhuri home.

Amadpur, less than 100km by road from Kolkata, can be covered in a days visit. A part of the house has been converted to a heritage home stay (Baithakkhana Amadpur; 9831948634, 9831031183) but advance booking is must.

Bolpur
Noble Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore, the great visionary that he was, introduced season-based festivals, shorn of any religious association, to Viswa Bharati, the school and university founded by him in Shantiniketan in West Bengal. So on the day of Doljatra, Shantiniketan observes Vasantotsav or the Spring Festival.

The day dawns with students and teachers performing a prabhat feri or a morning procession singing songs penned by Tagore. Then students, teachers and other residents start gathering at the university complex. While men usually don white attire, women wear a yellow sari with red borders. Earlier, women would use the abundantly found red Palash flower to make floral ornaments but the practice has stopped over the past few years. Singing and dancing, to songs penned by Tagore, is the highlight of the day. The coloured powder or abir is first applied to the feet of elders and then everyone begins smearing each other with colours. As the day lengthens, the participants break into smaller groups and spend the day through more singing and dancing. Earlier, visitors too could join the celebrations but, according to some local residents, the rowdy behaviour by some visitors in the past has put an end to that.

Bolpur can be easily reached by road and rail from Kolkata. By road, it is about 60km and by train takes around 2.5 to 3.5 hours. Accommodation is aplenty but advance reservation is advisable because Doljatra is a popular festival here. If you are looking for a low-key holiday, there are several resorts and luxury homestays set back from the town (The Garden Bungalow, Raktakarabi Karuangan, Raater Tara Diner Rabi Guesthouse, Mark & Meadows, etc).

Or you can book a package to celebrate Doljatra/Holi in Tepantar, about an hours drive from Bolpur. Located at a place called Satkahania (near Panagarh), it is a sprawling eco-friendly theatre village set up on a four-acre campus and run by a commune of theatre activists. While the festival is celebrated by day, cultural programmes are held in the evening. For more details and booking, contact Tour East, the travel arm of Kolkata-based Banglanatakdotcom (toureast@banglanatak.com).

Nimdih

The little known village of Nimdih, located on the border of West Bengal and Jharkhand, has a predominantly tribal population. It is also your window to observe Dol/Holi celebration by the local people.

The most convenient way to visit Nimdih during Holi, especially if you are a solo female traveller or a womens group, is to avail a three-day package trip (starting 28 February and ending on 2 March afternoon) organised by Tour East (toureast@banglanatak.com; 8420106396 -- 10 am to 7 pm). Simple but clean accommodation is provided at the Loksevayatan complex located within the foothills of the Dolma range. Here too, while you celebrate Holi by day, the evening is devoted to cultural programmes by the local people.

Nimdih can be reached by road from Purulia (West Bengal) or Jamshedpur (Jharkhand) depending on where you are coming from. You may also ask to know more about the Loksevayatan institute that provides the economically disenfranchised, underprivileged children with education, and promotes local folk culture. The institute was established in 1948 in the memory of Mahatma Gandhi by freedom fighters Subodh Kumar Roy and his wife Basanti Roy.

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Zanskar to Ziro: No Stilettos in the Himalayas https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Zanskar-to-ziro.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/books/zanskar-ziro-no-stilettos-himalayas/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/books/zanskar-ziro-no-stilettos-himalayas/ 2018-02-16T10:02:55+05:30 article A decade of discovering and exploring the Himalaya Two women, ten years of discovering and exploring the Himalaya, and the love of adventure over a 10,000 km trail. This is the crux of travel writer and photographer Sohini Sens new book, Zanskar to Ziro: No Stilettos in the Himalayas. The book sees the author and her travel partner Sumita travel far and wide, from Jammu and Kashmir all the way to Arunachal Pradesh and even to neighbouring countries Nepal and Bhutan, in search of spectacular sunrises, local folklore, stunning Buddhist gompas and the monks who live there.

Travelogues on the Himalaya and personal experiences are found aplenty. However, what sets this particular book apart is the female narrationstories of how the author and her travel partner had to cope with being women on rugged terrain. They came across people who tried to take advantage, pushed the heaviest sofas against their hotel door at night, and always kept the tripod handy in case of intruders.

While Sens description of the Himalaya in Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh makes you want to pack your bags immediately, it also speaks soundly of the various dangers such as the reality of AMS (acute mountain sickness), mud slides, falling boulders and destruction. These events are entwined with beautiful discoveries of hidden gems. For instance, when they found themselves cut away from reality in picturesque Rakcham in Himachal Pradesh, and the time when they undertook a long journey to reach Langzain Spiti and came across a massive Buddha statue.

The book is divided into the various states or countries the two visited, and the places they went to or stayed at make up the chapters. There are eight main regionsJammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Nepal, Sikkim, Bengal, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. Each destination is well described with its local history and places, and, of course, foodfrom eating half-cooked momos in Ladakh to watery dal in Tabo for having angered the caretakers wife. But tea is a running theme throughout.

As the reader goes over the 400-odd pages, theres one bond that comes acrossthe love affair of the two women with the Himalaya. Its best read with a mug of hot tea by ones side.

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Readers Write: Sri Lanka https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Srilanka-featured-image.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/readers-write-sri-lanka/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/readers-write-sri-lanka/ 2018-02-15T10:30:18+05:30 article It's easy to get overwhelmed by the beauty of this island nation When I moved from Mumbai to Kolkata, I missed the sea the most. So, two months later, the prospect of visiting Sri Lanka got me excited about seeing the sea again.

Three and half hours in a Sri Lankan Airlines flight through the blue skies, dotted with cotton clouds, was a good trailer for the majestic views that the pearl country had to offer. The emerald-green Indian Ocean, the canopy of coconut and palm trees, stretches of farms by rivers, lakes and reservoirs, terraced farms and tea gardens on hill slopes, and vast expanses of forests were all in store for me and my friend as we landed at Bandarnaike International Airport.

Colombo, the capital city and our first stop, stands out for its tree-lined, clean roads that lead to open parks and grounds that host cultural functions every evening. One of the main shopping complexes of the city is set in the precincts of an old Dutch hospital.

I was already in love with the country, gauging from the view of the Indian Ocean from our hotel room. A view intermittently blocked by a train chugging along on the tracks that run parallel to the street on their left and the sea on their right. With a taste of crab soup, Sri Lankan coffee and a plate of milk rice and prawn curry, we started our journey towards Habarana, looking forward to a forest safari scheduled at the Kaudulla National Park and a 1,200-step climb up to the famous Sigiriya Rock, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

At Habarana, we stayed by a lake where elephants come to bathe and drink. After a sumptuous lunch comprising rice, jackfruit cooked in tamarind, beans cooked in grated coconut, a crab dunked in a spicy gravy, coconut sambol and loads of poppadum, we headed towards the Kaudulla National Park. After an hours drive in a jeep, we stood in front of 400 elephants grazing on the greenest grass spread over a stretch of 6,900 hectares. What a sight!

Next morning, we were set to ascend 1,200 stairs to reach the ruins of the palace of King Kasyapa, mounted on a stone lions claw. During the 90-minute climb, whirling winds, trees and hills gave us company on our way. At the top, we sat amidst the palace ruins, mesmerised by the views down below.

Our next stop was one of the most popular hill stations in Sri LankaKandy. Here, at the highest view point of the town, the last rays of the sun fell on the glistening water of Lake Kandy and the swans swimming in it, as lights flickered on in the distance one after the other, like stars turning up at dusk. After a cultural performance in the town hall, we bid adieu to Kandy and set off for Nuwara Eliya. But, on the way, we had another climba flight of 400 stairsto see another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dambulla Cave Temples and the Golden Temple. Sombre statues of Buddha in all the five temples here are steeped in artistic brilliance and showcase the historic and geographic confluence of Southeast Asia.

Charmed by the elegance and magnanimity of the cave temples, we travelled on the meandering roads to Nuwara Eliya. Through sun-kissed tea gardens, terraced farms, little huts by the road selling food, marigolds and banana flowers lining the street, the view resembled a painting made by a child. On reaching Nuwara Eliya, we spent the evening by Lake Gregory, soaking in the view of the sun going down at the horizon and consuming bowls of hot Maggi to beat the chilly winds.

A trip to Sri Lanka would have been incomplete without a train ride. Thus, on a foggy morning, we waited at the Nanu Oya railway station for the Sri Lankan Railways to take us to Ravanas village, Ella. If theres a tour of paradise, I am certain it is this.

Our next and last stop was Galle. We stayed inside the Galle Fort, a fortification that starts from the clocktower at one end and encircles the entire Dutch settlement till the lighthouse at the other end. An hour-and-a-half-long walk from the clock tower to the lighthouse with the sun setting into the waves of the Indian Ocean makes you wish that time would stand still.

Next morning, we headed out into the sea from the neighbouring village, Mirissa, to see blue whales. We ferried 15 miles into the ocean to see a sudden fountain-like burst in the middle of the sea. Once you spot the biggest mammal on earth, you just sit and stare, overwhelmed, at the giant coming up to breathe and diving back into the ocean.

As we drove to the airport, I stared at the green-blue sea and thanked God one more time for this wonderful trip.

The red soils of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau and the many ghats of Varanasi and Kolkata are the places where Supriya Dutta grew up. The bylanes of Bombay are where she honed her professional skills as a writer and social strategist before deciding to return to Kolkata earlier this year. On busy weekdays, she identifies the most fitting place to visit next. On weekends, she wanders in the gullies of Calcutta on a bus or a tram, capturing moments on her smartphone.

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PDT now in Hong Kong https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/PDT-Hong-Kong.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/cuisine/pdt-now-hong-kong/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/cuisine/pdt-now-hong-kong/ 2018-02-15T10:00:57+05:30 article The legendary New York cocktail bar opens at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Forget New York, head to Hong Kong! The iconic New York cocktail bar Please Dont Tell (PDT) has recently opened a stylish and intimate 25-seater space at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. PDT has been a New York favourite due to its secret phone booth entrance, distinctive interiors, and creative cocktails. PDT Hong Kong will be the first permanent PDT outside of Manhattan.

Located on the mezzanine above MO Bar, the hotels vibrant all-day-dining venue, PDT Hong Kong follows the tradition of the original: guests will enter through an entrance disguised by a phone booth at the top of the staircase. Designed by Nelson Chow, the interior maintains key elements of PDT NYC such as the copper bar top, herringbone patterned wood ceiling and taxidermy, but each asset has been given a playful spin.

PDT Hong Kongs drinks menu features 15 cocktails including a mix of PDT classics and new creations. These new offerings including the Big Fan, a refreshing shandy served with Cabeza tequila, lime juice, pink peppercorn, guava and Moonzen Fuijan radler; the Bad Hunter a John Collins prepared with Chivas blended Scotch whisky, Fernet Hunter, lemon juice, dragons eye and Mot Brut Imperial Champagne; and the Milky Tea Punch, a rich flip composed of Ron Zacapa Centenario rum, Hennessy V.S.O.P. cognac, Rickshaw tea, condensed milk, Tayouran egg and Angostura bitters. The cocktails are supplemented with a selection of regional beers, wines and non-alcoholic options.

PDT is open Monday to Saturday, 5pm onwards.

For reservations: +852 2132 0110/lmhkg-pdt@mohg.com.

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Krakow: Visit to the Dragon's Den https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/feature-krakow.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/krakow-visit-dragons-den/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/krakow-visit-dragons-den/ 2018-02-15T10:00:23+05:30 article Come face-to-face with a fire-breathing dragon in the former royal Polish capital The quaint city of Krakow, the former royal Polish capital, is home to many legends but none as exciting or intriguing as the Wawel Dragon! If you take a walk around Old Town, not only will you get to see one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe, but will come across thousands of stuffed toy dragons, in every colour and shade imaginable, at every souvenir cart. While the stuffed toy dragons look adorable with soulful eyes, snout noses, and little wings; according to the legend, the mythical dragon was quite a terror!

The legend goes that Wawel Hill, upon which the Castle stands today, was the lair of a ferocious dragon. The natural limestone formation is filled with caves where Smok Wawel (the Wawel Dragon) decided to live and terrorise the people, slowly consuming the sheep population and pretty maidens. The king of the land promised his daughters hand in marriage to anyone who could kill the dragon and thus enters the hero of the story-a poor cobbler called Krak. Where many knights failed, this young man succeeded. He managed to trick the dragon into consuming a dead sheep filled with sulphur that instantly reacted. The dragon ran to the Vistula and drank up almost all the water in the river before its belly went bust! And that was the end of the reign of terror as Krak was hailed a hero, married the princess, became king, constructed his castle on top of the lair and built the city of Krakow around it!

As I walked across the town square, a purple toy dragon caught my eye. It was so nice that there was this overwhelming need to purchase it immediately. Happy with the dragon under my arm and the other hand holding a bagel, I walked up to the castle to enter the Dragons Den (Smocza Jama in Polish)!

What is that you ask? Let me explain. The Wawel Castle has any attractions but the most popular is the Dragons Den. Its a cave situated in the western slope of the hill which is accessible from a winding staircase in a brick tower. Purchase a ticket and descend down the deep tower till you reach a part of the dimly-lit limestone caves. Walk through the damp interiors of the cave which are filled with stones and natural limestone formations. Shiver a little imagining the ferocious dragon breathing fire on the very path you walk along.

A long walk later as you emerge from the cave on the banks of the Vistula, a fire-breathing sculpted dragon greets you! The bronze dragon was sculpted by Bronislaw Chromy and breathes fire at regular intervals, much to the delight of camera-wielding tourists!

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Reader's Write: Monsoon Musings in Kurseong https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/kurseong-featured-image.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/readers-write-monsoon-musings-kurseong/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/readers-write-monsoon-musings-kurseong/ 2018-02-14T10:00:54+05:30 article Ditch the usual attractions and enjoy the subtle delights in the sights and sounds of this tiny hill station in the Himalayas As the car took the steep upward curve of Pankhabari Road in West Bengals Kurseong, a long-lost tune of the hills started to revisit me. My wanton imagination conjured up scattered images, and every little bend through the vast undulations of tea gardens, with the pattering of stray yellow leaves on the windscreen, had me feel as if I was back home. The hills are where my home lies, and everything within their expanse is much of my own.

I sat huddled with two other passengers in the front row of the cab. Kurseong beckoned hard this time. In my timeless visits to Darjeeling, this town that came on the way was merely treated as a stopover for momos.

From the cars speakers emanated the chords of a Nepali tune played on guitar, and we drove on, surrounded by a gradually thickening fog. The cars yellow fog lights pierced through the greyness of the road. A lady with countless filigree ornaments on her face was counting beads sitting beside me.

I hopped down with my backpack at a highway crossing. Nimesh, the owner of the homestay I was checking into, stood waiting for me at his doorstep. A delightful cup of caramel elixir was the unbeatable welcome drink. I found irresistible the lodgings second floor balcony overlooking the valley. A cup of Darjeeling tea was all that I allowed entry into my solitude.

Kurseong in monsoon was wrapped in the fragrance of the hill ferns. The morning light was hazy from my window. Trails of raindrops had made patterns on its fog-smeared glass overnight. And then there was the vast verdure of the rain-washed slopes that lay for miles in front of me. The horizon, where the green-carpeted tea gardens merged with the precariously hanging grey clouds, was misty. A cloudlet came floating in, companionless, only to wrap itself around a solitary rambler with an umbrella walking on the serpentine roads through the gardens. I ventured out of my homestay just to walk across the hills. I hiked, underneath the shade of an iridescent umbrella, to the steep Eagles Cragone of the higher points and the usual rendezvous of the lovebirds of the town. Standing on the watchtower, high above the surrounding valleys, I watched the merry hills and the coalescence of the clouds.

Leaving the place for nowhere in particular, I walked down the mountain slopes and found myself in a forlorn cemetery. Departed souls lay under the moss-covered burials, and the tall spikes of the red lilies still lit up a piece of abandoned earth. A few yards away, the flickers of flames on the false window of a small wayside Buddhist temple attracted my curiosity. A priest was chanting, oblivious of my trespassing, in a citadel of unbroken peace. A lady was busy lighting up the worship lamps. I sat still for sometime, without disturbing the proceedings, and then silently withdrew to move to someplace else.

The next morning greeted me with the most ethereal sight imaginable. I opened the door of my balcony only to find a line of majestic whiteness ripping apart the blue speckled sky. In peak monsoon, Kurseong had offered me a sight to die for. I kept capturing the effulgence of Thy Majesty, lest some wayward cloud came in to shroud it up.

My walk to Dow Hill was a walk into mystique wonderland. With the exception of a handful of locals, I was left blissfully alone and lost in the silence of the gigantic pine forest. The stately presence of Dowhill School was like a painting of gothic architecture. Since it was a holiday, I tipped the gatekeeper with kind words and took some snaps. Rambling in and out of the huge trees, and in the palpable wetness of the air, I felt the fog wrap around me, blinding my dazed eyes and casting me in a spell.

Then, I came down to the marketplace, which appeared to be bustling beside the toy train tracks, over which people sat lazily. Two nights having passed by in absolute serenity, I pulled my rucksack on and took my shared cab, bidding farewell to a curious girl looking out of the toy train window. The fumes of the steam engine billowed above the tall spires of the ancient church and the train gradually trailed out of my sight, though the sound of its lazy chugging kept resounding in my ears.

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Have a destination wedding in Sri Lanka https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Outdoor-Wedding-Cinnamon-Hotels-Resorts.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/destination-wedding-sri-lanka/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/destination-wedding-sri-lanka/ 2018-02-14T10:00:20+05:30 article Enjoy a specially-curated luxury wedding experience in Sri Lanka Destination weddings are a luxury and to be able to get an all-expense paid one is a dream. But, it just might become a reality if youre lucky. Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts has recently launched Cinnamon Island Weddings, a bespoke specially-curated luxury wedding experiences for destination weddings in Sri Lanka. As a part of the campaign, theyve also launched a contest with Sri Lankan Airlines where the winning couple will get an all expense paid dream wedding for 50 people in Sri Lanka organised by Cinnamon Island Weddings.

Applicants will have to send an image, and a written piece or a one-minute video clip on why they should win. The lucky couple will receive two business class air tickets and 48 economy class tickets for their friends and family, end-to-end local transportation covered in Sri Lanka, full board accommodation at four and five star Cinnamon resorts in Sri Lanka, a wedding reception with complete dcor, entertainment, bridal attire, a 5-karat sapphire ring and an exotic location to host the wedding. Photography for the entire wedding will be done by award-winning wedding photographer David Stanbury. The couple will also have an opportunity to explore more of Sri Lankas diversity with a seven nights honeymoon package courtesy of Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts.

Cinnamon Island Weddings also offers customised wedding packages in ten luxurious locations. So what are you waiting for?

More information: cinnamonislandweddings.com

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Bengaluru: Lip-smacking Anglo-Indian grub https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/FRAM-FRESH-SALAD-1.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/cuisine/bengaluru-anglo-indian-food-whitefield-arms/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/cuisine/bengaluru-anglo-indian-food-whitefield-arms/ 2018-02-14T09:13:26+05:30 article This pub in Bengaluru serves old classics but with a twist No matter how hard I try, I never manage to get the consistency of Mulligatawny soup right in my kitchen. Its either too thick or too thin and never flavoursome enough. As a steaming hot bowl of it was set in front of me at The Whitefield Arms, my eyes lit up. Having grown up having it and not-yet managed to master it, having it outside is my only option. The flavor certainly definitely didnt disappoint. With every spoonful a sense of happiness overcame me.

I was sitting outdoors at The Whitefield Arms on a bright sunny day in Bengaluru. Though situated at the VR Bengaluru, adjacent to The Waverly Hotel & Residences, I could near no noise from the roads or the on-going metro-line construction right outside. The pub and microbrewery serves delicious Anglo-Indian grub with a twist. We consulted experts when creating the menu, said executive chef Bharathan V.

Why Anglo-Indian grub you ask? Well, the pub is keeping to the Whitefield theme. For the non-Bengaluru audience, Whitefield was originally a settlement for Anglo-Indians and Europeans in the 19th century, granted land by the Maharaja of Mysore. The former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a patron at the erstwhile Waverly Inn and as I glanced over the cardboard menu at the pub, I found written that he still owed Rs 13 to the historic Bangalore Club! Its also rumoured he once courted the daughter of the then-Inn owner!

As the wonderful weather served as the best medicine to the cold I had carried with me from the capital, the hot soup was followed by the farm-fresh salad. The poached pears went beautifully with the greens, goat cheese and the pungent honey-mustard dressing.

The inside of the pub is massive and the colonial theme well incorporated. However, I personally love outdoors so given an option, will always prefer such seating. The picnic tables give the pub a casual feel and soon there were youngsters making themselves comfortable with beer pints.

The microbrewery wasnt yet operational when I visited but the food made up for it. The salad was followed by crunchy mushroom poppers and coconut-crusted lamb cutlets. The poppers were alright but the lamb cutlets were heavenly. Not really a fan of coconut, but if my stomach was endless, it would have gladly called for all the pieces. It was the first time I tried the combination and it gave me ideas to incorporate the flavours in home-cooking.

The pustole mince curry portion was massive. Five minced meat balls smothered in spicy gravy served with saffron rice was top notch but I failed to do justice to the serving. Two meatballs down, I had to give up as my stomach could hold no more food!

However, the icing on the cake (literally) was the chocolate sin and classic carrot cake. The fudge was ridiculously gooey and the ganache oh-so-rich while the cinnamon and carrots with cream cheese made for wonderful desserts. Together (the dessert sizes are meant for two), it was the perfect way to end a wonderful afternoon at the Whitefield Arms.

The Information

Where: VR Bengaluru,The Waverly Hotels & Residences,Whitefield main road, Bengaluru

Meal for two: Rs 1,500 + taxes

Timings:Noon to 11:30pm

Contact: +91 080 45128631

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Readers Write: Varanasi https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/GettyImages-495826603.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/readers-write-varanasi/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/readers-write-varanasi/ 2018-02-13T10:30:53+05:30 article There's poetry in the everyday sights of Varanasi The soothing murmur of water takes me back to a time where we listened to folk tales and learned some valuable lessons on self-discovery.

A portrait of Varanasi: the brimming water of Ganga; bobbing moored boats; mornings shrouded with fog; glistening dew drops; a misty, cool breeze; historical inscriptions on the walls and prayer bells in temples; hawkers selling chiming bells and gongs; priests with their ritual vessels smoking weed in pipe-like paraphernalia made of various materials; ghats full of people drawing water and bathing; holy scriptures; incantations and mantras; migratory birds in their full beauty; sorrowful faces of people who come to cremate the dead; children with kites in their hands; shops with their commercialisation of religion; procrastinating cows; chaiwallahs and their kadak chai; the spicy litti and chokha served with green chili and chutney (ah, the perfect combination!); narrow gullies submerged in silence; beggars all around in their tattered clothes; and a foreigner dressed in a gossamer, swirling robe.

A curved dagger hung at her waist, and I could have had an insightful conversation with her, but our guide stopped abruptly in front of an old, thatched building, and started describing the beauty of its past. The fragrance of incense drifted towards us. As time passed, a veil of hazy darkness covered us, casting her shadow upon us and bringing the temperature down. We eventually headed back to the hotel.

It is not possible to describe in words the beauty Varanasi possesses, but I know this: the city is soothing to all senses. Like a tight hug that comforts an ailment which no medication can heal. This city is like the smoke of a flickering earthen lamp, poetry dripping off the tongue like honey, someone foretelling good fortune in times of pain and exile.

Nikhil Bhardwaj is a social media writer and halfwit mechanical engineering student trying to escape the clutches of the neighbour aunty. He believes the world will make sense when witticism is considered a discipline. He wishes to pursue travel blogging, accompanied by some Charles Bukowski and Pablo Neruda works. Or maybe, Wilde.

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Kolkata: Paying homage to Tong Achew https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/3.-Lighting-the-incense-sticks-1.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/kolkata-homage-tong-achew/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/kolkata-homage-tong-achew/ 2018-02-13T10:15:52+05:30 article Dont miss this unique festival observed by the Chinese community of Kolkata on the Sunday after the Lunar New Year (which falls on February 16 It was the most drool-worthy sight. Tea, coke and exotic wines, fruits, cakes, biscuits, wafers, dumplings, dressed chickens an array of foodstuff was neatly laid on a long table. A thin veil of aromatic smoke hung over the place as scores of incense sticks burnt in decorative red holders. As more pilgrims arrived, the food pile got bigger and the smoke more intense. And through the haze, the idols of Khuda-Khudi looked on benevolently at the arriving pilgrims and their offerings. It was awesome to watch the unfolding of a day-long festival, the only one of its kind in the world, at Achipur, lying to the south-west of Kolkata.

Narrow roads, traffic jams, a bustle of residential houses, shops, schools and markets - at first glance, there is little to distinguish Achipur from its neighbours. But it is here that on the Sunday after their Lunar New Year, members of the Chinese community of Kolkata head to pay respect to Tong Achews grave.

According to many reports, Atchew or Tong Achew was the first Chinese to settle down in Calcutta (as Kolkata was then known as) in the late 18th century. An entry in the Bengal District Gazetteers: 24 Parganas says Tong Achew was given a grant of land by East India Companys Governor General Warren Hastings wherehe set up a sugar manufacturing plant.

In 1781, according to the Gazetteer entry, Atchew submitted a memorial to Governor General Hastings and members of the Supreme Council saying that his Chinese labourers were being enticed away by Chinese deserters from the ships to Calcutta. A notice was issued saying that Atchew was under the protection of the Government and the Board wished to grant every encouragement to the colony of Chinese under his direction and were determined to afford him every support and assistance in detecting him to and bringing to condign punishment any ill-disposed persons who inveigled away the Chinese labourers in his employ, who were under indentures to him for a term of years.

In a recent talk at the Indian Museum in Kolkata, Tansen Sen director of Centre for Global Asia in New York University, Shanghai said that Hastings had offered the parcel of land to Chinese trader Atchew (whose original name was Yang Dazhao) pleased with the latters consignment of tea.

Subsequently, Kolkata became home to a large number of Chinese people, who not only engaged in various occupations but also added a new chapter to the evolution of Chinese cuisine. Even though the number of Chinese have gone down in the past couple of decades, not only the people residing in Kolkata but also those who have migrated to distant cities, arrive to pay their respect to Tong Achew.

The first stop is the Temple of the Earth God and Goddess located in the middle of Achipur town, about 30km by road from Kolkata and near the town of Budge Budge.

The temple complex is easily identifiable by the decorative gate with the name of the temple inscribed on it. The low-roofed temple sits at one side of a field. It consists of the sanctum sanctorum housing the idols and is fronted by a quadrangle with a roof. Around the quadrangle are a couple of prayer halls and a long corridor. Chinese calligraphy adorn the walls. The table for food offerings and the elaborate incense stick holders are laid in front of the sanctum in the quadrangle.

Although little is known about the temple and the twin idols, it is believed that the idols were brought by Achew as guardian deities. With our eyes watering from the smoke, we could just about make out the two small idols in their typical Chinese hats, popularly known as Khuda Khudi or the Earth God and Goddess.

Prayers, burning incense sticks and candles, and laying out the food offering are the main rituals followed by the pilgrims. Some hit a drum hanging in front of the sanctum. Many pilgrims were folding envelopes with Chinese calligraphy on them. Later, these envelopes are consecrated to a flame burning in a corner; carrying the inscribed prayers to the deceased family elders, explained one of the pilgrims.

There is also a small shrine behind the main temple, apparently dedicated to some Hindu god but I could not find out more about it.

The food on the table is later collected by those who had offered them and consumed with families and friends. There were electric cookers where one could cook the food. While the senior members conversed or got busy preparing the food, many youngsters went out to burst fire crackers in the field.

From the temple, everyone visits the grave of Tong Achew on the bank of the Hooghly (Ganga) river. The road lies through a brick kiln. Little is known about the strange-looking grave a red horse-shoe shaped structure. Here too pilgrims follow the same routine of offering prayers, incense sticks and food, albeit on a smaller scale. The scenic river bank trills with the laughter of people as they pose for family pictures. The Chinese pilgrims are not averse to non-Chinese people visiting the temple or the grave, subject to maintaining discipline and not disrupting the rituals.

Getting there: Achipur is around 30km from Kolkata by road. One has to take the Budge Budge Trunk Road from Taratala, a suburban neighbourhood to the south of the city. But the journey can be a bit tedious with several crowded townships lying along the way and road construction work going on. Carry some snacks and drinking water as the local eateries may not always meet with required standards of hygiene. Washroom facility is available in the temple complex.

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The Sound of Music in Sri Lanka https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/The-Sound-of-Music-by-Andrew-Llyod-Weber.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/sound-music-sri-lanka/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/sound-music-sri-lanka/ 2018-02-13T09:39:48+05:30 article Watch the famous musical in Colombo this month If youve grown up watching Rodgers and Hammersteins The Sound of Music and know every word and lyric in the film, Sri Lanka has a treat for you. The Sound of Music musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ians Really Useful Group production, will be performed at the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre in Colombo from February 14-18, 2018.

With seven shows, including two Matinees over the weekend, all sets, production equipment and a total crew of 66 members from Broadway Asia to be flown in for the tour by Cinnamon Life, it will be a musical treat. Moreover, 12 children from Sri Lanka will have the opportunity to play the Von Trapp children alongside the plays award-winning international star cast.

To encourage more Indian tourists, Cinnamon has created exclusive packages, starting at just Rs 16316. The tariff includes two overnight stays with breakfast at any one of Cinnamons luxury properties and tickets to the show coupled with transfers. There are direct and stop-over flights to Colombo from major Indian cities.

For more information: www.cinnamonboxoffice.com

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Thailand: Family Package at Banyan Tree Samui https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Banyan-Tree-Samui_Beach-activities.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/thailand-family-package-banyan-tree-samui/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/thailand-family-package-banyan-tree-samui/ 2018-02-12T14:07:22+05:30 article Treat your family to a holiday amidst the lush jungles of Lamai surrounded by the azure blue waters of the Gulf of Thailand Overlooking the scenic Lamai Bay, Banyan Tree Samui, a luxury resort, inspired by traditional Thai architecture, is nestled in a series of cascading terraces on a private hill cove in the south-eastern coast of Koh Samui. Their latest offer is perfect for enjoying family holiday.

The Sense of Family Package allows guests to create memorable family vacation by offering a wide array of activities for children along with sumptuous dining experience to forge memories of a lifetime. The package includes daily buffet breakfast for the family, complimentary daily mini-bar (non-alcoholic), one time Thai set dinner for 4, a 60 min spa treatment for 2, unlimited access to the kids club and roundtrip airport transfer by van

Website: www.banyantree.com/en/ap-thailand-koh-samui

Validity: Until 22 December 2018

For bookings, contact: +91 124 430 9300or Email at reservations@thrs.co.in

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Why you should visit Dubai in 2018 https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/feature.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/visit-dubai-2018/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/visit-dubai-2018/ 2018-02-12T10:00:15+05:30 article From adventure to culture, these new Dubai attractions will make your holiday worth the while Dubai is always at the centre of something new. When you make your travel plans for this year, dont forget to include the city to your travel list. With fine-dining options, desert adventures and of course, shopping, Dubai has something for every kind of traveller.In 2018, the city is planning to introduce new attractions to the world which would set the city apart from any other. Also, with their newly-launched safari park and zipline facilities, the destination will attract animal and adventure lovers equally.

Heading to Dubai from India is very easy with direct flights from almost every major city.

Dubai Safari Park

The 119 hectare wildlife park with over 2500 animals opened its doors to the public in early December 2017. Open daily from 9am to 5 pm, the massive attraction is like a traditional African safari. Transport yourself mentally to Africa at the African Village where one can see reptiles and amphibians from the continent. Spend sometime at the Safari Village which is the main attraction. You can go the middle of the animals homes to take a closer sneak peak!

XLine Dubai Marina

If adventure sports is your dream, a visit to the longest urban zipline in the world should be on your bucket list. Set in Dubai Marina, it is the steepest and fastest zipline around the world with an incline of 16 degrees and an average speed of 80km/h. There are two ziplines running adjacent and are priced at AED 650 per person or AED 1200 for two.

Dubai Frame

The latest architectural landmark in the city is at Zabeel Park and is what is called the biggest picture frame in the world. The frame is 150 metres high and 93 metres wide. The two towers are connected by a bridge which has a glass panel in the middle to offer patrons a 360 degree view. Envisioned by architect Fernando Donis, the Frame has a museum on the ground floor which traces the history of the city.

Mohammed Bin Rashid Library

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Library is set to be complete by this year and will be in the shape of an open book. It will span 66,000 square metres and will be the biggest library in the United Arab Emirates. The library will house over 4.5 million audio, print and electronic titles.

The Opus by Zaha Hadid

It is the great late architects first and only structure in the city. Hadids hollowed-out project will open later in the month and house the first ME by Melia hotel in the Middle East. Its the only project the late architect designed personally, inside and out. The hotel will be on 19 lower floors while the upper floors will be residences and office spaces. The exterior will have a LED display, lit up at night.

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Valentine's Day Package at InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Valentines-Day-Package-Ima.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/valentines-day-package-intercontinental-chennai-mahabalipuram-resort/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/valentines-day-package-intercontinental-chennai-mahabalipuram-resort/ 2018-02-11T11:21:25+05:30 article This Valentines Day this resort in Chennai pulls out all stops to give patrons a truly memorable experience Make your loved one skip a heart beat this Valentines Day at the InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort with these exclusive Valentines Day packages.

The Cupid Floats Five Wishes package offer a classic getaway for two nights with couples spa, breakfast in bed and and a choice from activities such as a culinary masterclass with the Chef, a cocktail-making session by the beach and a complimentary bottle of red wine, a complementary chocolate cake or a complimentary dessert platter at Tao of Peng

Where: The Intercontinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort

When: 10th Feb to 28th Feb 2018

Price: ?19500++ per night

The Sea, Sand and Senorita package on the other hand includes a private dinner date in a beautifully decorated tent at the waters edge, under a starry night sky. The dinner will include a refined Dine by Design four & five-course indulgence crafted for two.

Included within the menu are dishes such as home baked italian focaccia, flavorful rasam, veg & non-vegetarian grills, oven roasted quail, nalli nihari, dal makhani, malbar paratha and saffron pulao. desserts include samplers of gulab jamun, elaneerpayasam and rasmalai.

Revel in the company of a loved one, nestled away from the world, and enjoy an authentic selection of International & local gourmand specially prepared for you by our award-winning chefs.

What: Sea, Sand and Senorita

When: 14th Feb, 2018

Price:
1) Bliss: Four Course Beach Dinner for two at ?15,000 plus taxes (Selection of Veg or Non-Veg menu+ two glasses of complimentary cocktail)

2)Surreal: Five Course Beach Dinner for two at ?30,000 plus taxes(Selection of Veg or Non-Veg menu+ Complimentary bottle of Red or White Wine+ Complimentary Cake)

3) Serendipity: Ultra luxe five course beach dinner for two at ?50,000 plus taxes (Handcrafted Chefs Special menu+ Complimentary bottle of Champagne+ Complimentary Cake+ Serenader on-request )

FOR ENQUIRIES: +91 44 7172 0101, info@icresortchennai.com

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Tram Travellers of Kolkata https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/featured-image-23.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/tram-travellers-kolkata/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/tram-travellers-kolkata/ 2018-02-10T10:30:54+05:30 article An evocative photo series captures nostalgia of Kolkata's trams The tram has been a part of Kolkata's cityscape for over a century. In this photo feature, photographer Nabarupa Bhattacharjee tries to show a picture where trams depict the motion of the city. The nostalgia connected with the tram and how it still remains a part of public transportation can be seen in these beautiful photos of tram and its travellers.

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Valentine's Day at Alila Fort Bishangarh https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Alila.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/valentines-day-alila-fort-bishangarh/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/valentines-day-alila-fort-bishangarh/ 2018-02-10T10:10:35+05:30 article Alila Fort Bishangarh has come up with exclusive deals for Valentine's Day Want to celebrate Valentine's Day in Rajasthan? Then head to Alila Fort Bishangarh as they have come up with exclusive offers for couples with specially curated activities.

Want to enjoy a gourmet dining experience? No problem as you dine under the stars in a romantic set-up. Want a bird's-eye view of the surroundings?A helicopter ride is perfect for you. Or would you rather experience a hot-air balloon ride with your special someone? Not to worry, you will even get an added tailor-made picnic lunch at the end.Spend two days in the luxury property as you enjoy Valentine's Day.

What Alila Fort Bishangarh is offering:

Gourmet dining - A menu tailored by the chef, dine under the stars or at a romantic set-up (Spa Garden, Havelli Terrace or Kachchawa Deck, overlooking magnificent mountain views) for Rs20,000 per couple

Helicopter tour -A scenic 50-minute helicopter tour offering spectacular 360-degree birds-eye views of the Fort and its surroundings. Soar above the Shahpura region, the Aravalli hills and Jaipur in an aerial adventure of a lifetime for Rs 80,000 per couple

Fly with the wind in a hot air balloon - Soar above in a hot air balloon and revel in the landscape.Sip on chilled champagne with your loved ones while floating among the clouds. Once back on the ground, guests will be driven to a beautiful spot for a private tailor-made picnic lunch to conclude this once-in-a-lifetime experience for Rs 80,000 per couple

Live like a royal - Stay for 2 nightsand more starting from Rs 37,500 per room per night to enjoy uniquely curated rich & cultural experiences which include return airport transfers, daily a la carte breakfast for two at Amarsar,unlimited spa services at Alila Spa,unlimited foodanddrinks, with a selection of alcoholic beverages at any ofthe dining venues,laundry services,historical tour of the Fort,complimentary wifi,24-hour gym facilities andAlila living bath amenities.

For bookings and reservations:bishangarh@alilahotels.com

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The Cardamom Club Thekkady by Niraamaya Retreats https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/featured-2.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/cardamom-club-thekkady-niraamaya-retreats/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/cardamom-club-thekkady-niraamaya-retreats/ 2018-02-09T15:21:29+05:30 article The all new wooden cottages on stilts offering exquisite mountain views add to the existing charms of this property in the middle of a spice Located in the southeast region of Idduki district in Kerala, the little town of Kumily in Thekkady has an interesting history. Once a part of an independent kingdom under the Thekkumkoor rajas, it came under the control of the Travancore kingdom when King Martanda Verma led his campaign towards this region. By the end of the nineteenth century, Britishers got hold of the land from local rulers and went on a plantation spree. Everything from cardamom, pepper to cinnamon, tea and coffee was grown here, gradually attraction workers from all over South India.

Thekkady had always been on my bucket list since it was there that my father, a tea planter, had started his career. Growing up in the tea estates of Darjeeling where my father moved later, comparisions between the tea cultures of these two regions were a part of everyday conversations. So when I finally managed to plan a trip to Kerala, a visit to Thekkady was inevitable.

The stunning scenery on the drive up to Spring Valley in Thekkady from Kochi kept me hooked to the car window. The Cardamom Club Thekkady by Niraamaya Retreats was my home for the next two days. Surrounded by forests and spice plantations, the cottages reminded me of typical plantation bungalows with spacious verandahs facing landscaped gardens. Apart from the cottages the property has a few remarkable enhancements like the wooden stilt cottages and the infinity pool which were the result of a recent revamp carried out by theexpert Indo-Italian architecture firm, Kumar La Noce.

The rooms have lovely floor-to-ceiling windows to savour the stunning views of the Cardamom Hills that surround the property. The interiors have been done up in muted tones with tiny pops of colour here and there.

The new Niraamaya Spa, again built on stilts, made with Bangkirai wood from sustainable plantations in Indonesia is the perfect combination of functionality and elegance. The design is simple and minimalistic, pavilion-style with a sense of openness to highlight the stunning tropical landscape. Spread across 1200 sq. ft., the spa features a lobby and fully-equipped therapy rooms with private outdoor sit-outs. The interiors follow a warm palette complementing the green backdrop.

Set amidst verdant forest canopy, the new 15 metre infinity pool overlooks the valley and the verdant mountains beyond. The terraced decks from the all-day dining restaurant, Caf Samsara lead to the pool and offer the perfect perch for an early morning Yoga session or to enjoy the lush green views of the forests. In the evening the deck beautifully transforms into an outdoor space to relish the pure mountain air.

The information

Location:Niraamaya Retreats Cardamom Club - Thekkady V&V Estates, Spring Valley, Kumily 685 509, Kerala, India

Contact: Front Office: Tel: +91 48 6922 3905 ; Reservations: Tel: +91 80 4510 4510
Email: reservations@niraamaya.in

Things To Do: Apart from Kathakali and Kalaripayattu performances in Kumily town, the resort also arranges ferry rides in Lake Periyar where you can spot a variety of wild animals. Other activities include visits to the tea factory and spice plantation tours

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New Delhi: Masterclass with Chef Attilio Di Fabrizio https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Attilio-featured.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/cuisine/new-delhi-masterclass-chef-attilio-di-fabrizio/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/cuisine/new-delhi-masterclass-chef-attilio-di-fabrizio/ 2018-02-09T12:52:35+05:30 article Executive Chef of Hotel Belmond Villa San Michele, Florence shares with us his special tiramisu recipe The lawns of San Gimignano Restaurant at The Imperial, New Delhi recently saw two legendary Italian chefs, Attilio Di Fabrizio and Roberto Gatto, work their magic. Both the chefs combined their passion and expertise to bring forth the secrets of Italian cuisine to the capital city. They presented their first look at an exclusive Italian Masterclass under the open skies at San Gimignano Lawns, featuring a few of their signature recipes from their respective regions. The session was organized in close alliance with Chef Prem K Pogakula, Executive Chef at The Imperial, to blend classic and contemporary Italian cuisine with progressive cooking techniques for the discerning audience.

Chef Attilio Di Fabrizio: Born in 1952 in the region of Abruzzo in Southern Italy, he attended the local Catering Institute of Villa Santa Maria, in a mountain village near Chieti.It was at this particular cooking school from where many of the best chefs of Italy learnt the secrets of Italian cuisine. In 2012 Forbes Magazine awarded the cooking school of Belmond Villa San Michele, managed by Chef Attilio Di Fabrizio, among the 5 best in the world.

Give your taste buds a treat with his Tiramisu recipe that he shared at the masterclass:

tiramisu

Ingredients (serves 4):

3 eggs; 250 gm mascarpone cheese; 150 gm sugar; 3 long expresso coffees; 6 ladyfinger biscuits ; cocoa to taste

1) Prepare the expresso coffee and put it in a bowl to cool. Cut the ladyfinger biscuits in half horizontally.

2) Separate the egg yolks from the whites and place them in separate 2 lt. size bowls.

3) Add 100 gms of sugar to the yolks and whip them up with an electric beater. When the mixture is frothy, add the mascarpone cheese and continue to stir for a couple of minutes.

4) Add the remaining sugar to the bowl with the whites and whip up until stiff with an electric beater.

5) Gently whisk together the contents of both bowls .

6) Take four small bowls about the size of a cappuccino coffee cup, possibly with the upper border more open than the bottom one. Put a layer of cream in the bottom of the bowl (filling about 1/4th of it). Quickly dip the ladyfingers one at a time in the coffee and place three of them over the cream mixture in each bowl. Cover with more cream and sprinkle with cocoa.

7) The tiramisu portions can be prepared in advance and placed in the refrigerator for a few hours until ready to serve. The cocoa should be added only moments before serving.

Suggested wines: Muffato, Castello della Sola, Marchesi Antinori

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New Delhi: Tulips and Roses at Mughal Gardens https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Mughal-gardens.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/new-delhi-tulips-roses-mughal-gardens/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/new-delhi-tulips-roses-mughal-gardens/ 2018-02-09T12:45:38+05:30 article Head to Rashtrapati Bhavan to see beautiful blooms Its time to head to Rashtrapati Bhavan for ones annual pilgrimage. More specifically, to the Mughal Gardens. Why? During spring every year the gates are opened to the public as they can come and marvel at the beautiful blooms. This year, the main attraction are tulips - about 10,000 of them in eight colours, brought from Holland. They are expected to blossom by the end of the month.

Apart from the Danish attraction, 70 varieties of seasonal flowers and over 130 kinds of roses, will also find favour with tourists.

The gates will be open to the public till March 9 between 9:30am-4pm, except on Mondays. The gardens will also remain shut on March 2 for Holi. So, if you find yourself in the capital this month, you know where to go!

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Assam: Guwahati Airport to Get New Integrated Terminal https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Guwahati_Airport-featured-image.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/assam-guwahati-airport-get-new-integrated-terminal/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/assam-guwahati-airport-get-new-integrated-terminal/ 2018-02-09T10:30:58+05:30 article The structure draws inspiration from Icarus and Origami The Guwahati airport will soon get a new and integrated terminal building. To be designed by Design Forum International, an award-winning architectural consultancy firm, it will draw inspiration from Icarus, the epitome of the human urge to fly, and traditional Japanese art of paper folding, Origami. Spread over 50 acres, the focus will be on sustainability and equip passengers with world-class facilities. The building will conform to GRIHA 4-star rating.

The crafts village will provide travellers with an immersive and engaging experience in the retail sector. An indoor forest will be another delightful experience for travellers which they will have to navigate before reuniting with their luggage. These elements will aim to highlight the rich heritage of the region to travellers.

The new terminal will have 64 check-in counters, 20 self-check-in kiosks, eight Immigration and custom counters, six arrival carousels and 20 aircraft parking bays among other facilities.

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Readers Write: Spiti https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Spiti-featured-image.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/readers-write-spiti/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/readers-write-spiti/ 2018-02-08T10:30:54+05:30 article There is peace, joy and humility in the mountains I have never seen the Table Mountain in South Africa; chances are that I wont. But a short drive from Tabo in Spiti district towards a village named Lalung made sure that I wouldnt worry about the Table Mountain of the Southern Hemisphere.

Cutting across the numerous twists and turns on the road, you reach a point where you can see the Table Mountain. This is not a regular tourist attraction, but the sight was breathtaking. A mountain with a flat top, it can easily give the famed South African attraction a run for its money. However, this piece is not about the Table Mountain, but the next 30-odd minutes I spent there and a few other things.

I was being driven around Spiti in September upon the insistence of my wife, who also accompanied me. I was enjoying the road trip. While on our way to Lalung monastery, we decided to step out of our car, take a stroll, smoke a cigarette, click a few pictures and be on our way again10 minutes tops. This was our usual routine on the road while travelling through Spiti. However, on this particular stop, something caught my attention on the side of the road, opposite the mountain.

Was it an ibex, a blue sheep, a squirrel or the famed snow leopard? You guessed wrong; it was nothing but a small group of peoplemostly women, and a kid.

I didnt know them. However, our driver shared an acquaintance with one of the few men in the group. He moved out, and I sought out different angles to make a frame. The setting was an undulating landscape in the middle of the day. Amid all this, I noticed the mirth of the group of travellers who had assembled on the road side. They were having a ball, and my wife had found herself a seat among them.

The little girl accompanying the group was a little bundle of joy, amusing everyone with her tricks. I was invited to join them. I had no idea what they were up to in the middle of nowhere. I chose to investigate the reason of such unbridled fun and frolic. My polite inquiries in broken Hindi revealed that they were heading towards Kaza for work. I asked about the nature of work: manual labour with the Border Road Organisation to fix the roads.

The man in me had to find why there were so many women and so few men headed for such a job. I put the question on the table. The answer was simple. BRO hires more women as they are more efficient. Humbled, I rested my case; no further inquiries.

The next few minutes were spent drinking Tibetan chaitea mixed with ghee and saltand simply being overwhelmed by the energy and excitement of my unexpected company.

Here I was, a city slicker trying to fathom the reason of such unadulterated happiness. How is it that a large group of disenfranchised, poor people migrating to the district headquarters for manual labour find so much enjoyment in each others company? So much so that it warrants a picnic-like luncheon in the middle of nowhere.

As a privileged middle-class man, I have nearly forgotten the sense of community and camaraderie. I only know about EMIs and my next escapade to break out of boredom. As we parted ways, I was gifted an apple by the group. I had nothing to give back.

Anirban is a 33-year-old IT professional currently based in Noida. He has been travelling across the Indian Himalaya for over a decade now. From treks to road trips and leisure vacations, his desire is to experience as much as possible. His hobby of photography keeps adding to his memories along with his companions.

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A Good Rann https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/featured-image-3.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/a-good-rann/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/a-good-rann/ 2018-02-08T10:30:42+05:30 article Uncluttered views, tent-living and the White Rann make for an unforgettable experience Untold years ago, the legend goes, an ascetic named Dhoramnath stood on a hill and undertook severe tapas or spiritual austerities for twelve years. Such a build up of power resulted that the gods began to worry. Anxious that his first gaze would wreak havoc, they arranged that he should first look upon the sea. He didand as the sea scorched, it left behind the Rann of Kutch.
The science is no less romantic. Every year, the monsoon tides from the Arabian Sea slosh over the region between the Gulf of Kutch and the mouth of the Indus. As the marsh dries up, what is left behind is a featureless expanse of white salt. Roughly 7500square km of it. Thats the White Rann for you.

Vast, inhospitable, harsh there would have been no easy way for the common traveller to experience this magnificence, but Gujarat Tourism makes it possible with Rann Utsav. A winter festival held annually between the months of November and March, this festival has grown exponentially since it started as a 3-day festival in 2006. Today, the arrangements include a Tent City near the village of Dhordhowhich, organisers say, is the biggest tent accommodation in India.

There are 380 tents of various types ranging from basic economy to the plush Durbari accommodation; there are large dining halls, live craft demonstration stalls, shops in fact, this is a massive enterprise. For the restless, there are many activities, including ATV rides, paramotoring and what not. Many day trips are possible: to the seaside town of Mandvi, to Kalo Dungro, the highest point in Kutch, the crafts village of Gandhi Nu Gaam as well as a tour of Bhuj.

At first, I found the city bewildering. Self-absorbed with guest lists, check-ins, check-outs, buses arriving, buggies plying, misplaced baggage, purposeful chatter on walkie-talkies, due dispensing of meal tokens it was a teeming place with a million wheels in action. Full of conviction in its minutiae, it seemed to dominate and confuse the senses. But no sooner had we driven out into the salt marsh than the landscape took centerstage. We reached close to sunset. The sun sank beneath the skyline and the crowds of tourists quickly dispersed, assuming that the show was over.

It wasnt. As day gave way to night, there was something unspeakably beautiful in that marsh. Underneath my feet, the salt was pockmarked by footprints of those before me, scars of brown soil showing up here and there. I walked on deeper into the Rann, to purer and purer white, till I came to an almost virgin sweep. Miles of white salt rolled out in every direction. The chill set in. As the light altered, so did the colour of the land. Seldom have I had the opportunity to look at a horizon so uncluttered. A point came when the greys met and I couldnt tell where the earth ended and the sky began, and an endless vastness stretched alive within me.

Rann Utsavs Tent City is located 85 km from Bhuj. See rannutsav.in for tariffs and packages.

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Airline Update: Fly Emirates to Chile https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/airline-update-fly-emirates-chile/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/airline-update-fly-emirates-chile/ 2018-02-08T10:30:36+05:30 article The airlines will operate flights to Santiago de Chile from Dubai Come July 5, 2018, the Emirates will operate flights, five times a week, from Dubai to Santiago de Chile via Sao Paolo, Brazil. Two Boeing 777-200LR aircrafts will fly this new route with 38 Business Class seats and 264 Economy Class seats. At present the airline operates a daily A380 flight from Dubai to the Brazillian city of Sao Paolo.

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The Den Bengaluru https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/featured-image-2.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/the-den-bengaluru/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/the-den-bengaluru/ 2018-02-07T17:10:21+05:30 article Eat. Work. Sleep. Play at The Den Bengaluru "You prefer city road or country ro...?"

"Country road", came my reply even before my driver could finish his question.

Bengaluru traffic was not going to be my first experience on my maiden visit to Bengaluru, the Silicon Valley of India. I had about an hour's time to meet and greet the city and I was going to savour that hour. The driver took the country road and we zoomed past coconut groves and some more. The scenery didn't change much for the first half of the hour, speckled with farms, trees, villages, huge anthills by the roadside and an open road. And then, just like that, we entered Whitefield. A bit abrupt I must say but there I was, in Whitefield, wondering why the name...

Whitefield, a neighbourhood established in the late 1800s by the Anglo Indians. It is now a major suburb. Smaller lanes, more vehicles and tall buildings have replaced the quaint countryside. And just like that my driver announced our arrival at The Den Hotel, Bengaluru. The hotelI looked up, took five steps back and looked up againstood tall. Arguably the tallest building in the area, The Den Bengaluru was shiny and imposing. A building with full glass facade,it was a pleasing sight to see. The door opened to a spacious lobby, all bright and dazzling. The Den is a luxury business hotel no doubt but it sure had a touch of traditional Indian art that gave an interesting twist to its contemporary concept. Curious geometric patterns caught my eye as I walked past the lobby, lift, all the way up to my room on the 7th floor.

I had the corner room and that meant a sweeping view of the neighbourhood down below. Punctuated by tree-lined roads, my eyes went far and wide, making sense of the place I was inthe business district of Bengaluru. Space is usually an issue in most city hotels. Unless the property is spread far and wide, one can't help but feel a bit claustrophobic in a city. That was not the case with The Den; the 2.8 acre property was a fine example of smart utilisation of space. For instance, my room, at first glance was one big room with a bed on one side and a spacious bathroom on the other side, separated by a sliding door. When not in use, the door/wall just slides to make the room more spacious and that's just convenient because you actually have an easy access to a wash basin, full length mirror and storage spacewith no hassle of a door.

The hotel is true to its nameThe Den. It's a wholesome stay option that takes care of Eat, Work, Sleep and Playthe hotel's motto. As I walked past the lobby, I came across The Delia full service bakery with the best of coffee, chocolates and baked goods. On the left there was The Creeka casual, all-day-dining restaurant that serves Indian and world cuisine ( traditional on special request). The folks at The Creek don't believe in a closed behind-the-door kitchen, because of which they have live cooking stations. You can see how your food gets prepared. As much as I liked eating looking right at the cooking counters, what closed the deal for me was their al fresco dining space. Bengaluru is known for its pleasant weather and what's better than the company of great food and the sound of babbling brooks? Yes, waterbodies. Pay attention to the names when at The Den. But I digress; the name The Creek came from the presence of water bodies surrounding the restaurant and the lawn. With a little help from technology, I felt like I was transported to a peaceful creek, enjoying a candle-lit dinner gentle waves.

Other side of The Creek is The Nesta trendy bar and a gaming zone. The laid-back decor of The Nest is just perfect for a casual time spent with friends and family. A pool table, XBox room, arcade games made the lounge area a real fun zone. Just few steps further was The Cave (and my favourite room at the hotel). This private cinema is true to its name, gives the feel of your own living room with casual comfortable seating arrangement where you can just relax and watch a movie or 10. I Netflix-ed.

From my room I could see The Poolside, the pretty pool area with cabanas and greenery. The pool sits snugly right on top of The Creek!

The location demanded a place that would also be a comfortable state-of-the-art work space. The Den has it; infact five! A separate entry takes you to the business side of the hotel where there can be five conferences/meetings at the same time. Three caught my attentionthe Forest, a perfect space for personal and professional gatherings that also came with an attached room and a bath and could be divided into two rooms in case of separate intimate events; The Astera classic boardroom with pristine and crisp decor; and The Arenaa 75-seater full-service auditorium suitable for lectures, workshops and other social events. The Amphian outdoor venue for events surrounded by green lawnsa place I chose to sit back, relax and enjoy the cool Bangalorean evening.

The hotel was my den for two nights and three days and I didn't feel the need to venture out for Eat, Work, Sleep and Play.

For more information, visit The Den

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The Aman New York https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Aman-New-York-Spa-Pool_Original_15491.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/aman-new-york/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/aman-new-york/ 2018-02-07T15:24:00+05:30 article The ultra-luxurious hotel has found a home in the neoclassical Beaux-Arts Crown Building in Manhattan The Aman New York will open its doors in 2020 and the ber-luxury brand will be offering an unmatched address in the city. The location? The neoclassical Beaux-Arts Crown Building in Manhattan which was the first home of the Museum of Modern Art. The luxury property will have 20 private residencesincluding a $100 million five-storey penthouse overlooking Central Park. The 10th floor doubleheight Sky Lobby will be dramatic while the 2,000 sq m Aman spa will be across three floors. Travellers can choose among 83 guest rooms across 22 floors, each with working fireplaces. The stylish Piano Bar, Wine Library, Jazz Club and two restaurants will make the hotel a New York destination in itself. aman.com

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Russia: City of Tsars https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Russia-featured-image.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/russia-city-tsars/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/russia-city-tsars/ 2018-02-07T10:30:45+05:30 article On Russia's enigmatic history and a rather peculiar local sense of humour How do you say I love you in Russian? asked the guide. I squinted with suspicion at his intentions; maybe all Russian men werent as stony as Putin. Yellow blue bus, he chortled, before settling back into his usual deadpan expression.

Its true. Russians are awkward in the humour department.

I had always been a little sceptical about travelling to Russiait hadnt featured on my list of places to go to before I die, and my knowledge was restricted to Putin, Stalin, freezing Siberia, vodka, Matryoshka dolls and Boney Ms Rasputin.

But this summers sojourn to Russia threw all my inhibitions out the window when I found myself there to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution.

A ROAD TRIP
My first encounter with a Russian on this trip was at border control, when our bus drove in from Helsinki. With a smile, I handed over my passport to the stone-faced official who proceeded to scan me up and down as if she were a KGB agent.

I was later informed that the Russian smile was as rare as the blue moon.

For the most part, the three-hour drive from the EU border was uneventful and a little bumpyour tour guide had warned us so, but it was nothing a hardened Indian couldnt take. The countryside changed from thick forests to rolling hillocks with dilapidated houses, scattered here and therevestiges of Russias communist past.

During the height of communism, all its citizens were given accommodation, which is why most Russians today pay for utilities only and not rent. In cities like St Petersburg and Moscow, these apartments are tiny, but the countryside has big houses, which are falling into disrepair because their owners dont have the means to renovate.

One minute I was staring sleepily at the crummy houses and the next, BOOM! St Petersburg exploded right in front of me. At first, its wide roads and skyscrapers made it seem like any modern city; soon fancy cars were replaced by vintage 1970s Ladas and tall buildings with imperial Italian architecture. St Petersburg is European paradise.

GRAND BEGINNINGS
Built on a swamp, the erstwhile capital of the Russian Empire was christened St Petersburg after its patron saint and was intended to be a testament to the Romanovs growing status in the world. Tsar Peter the Great and successors were Westward-looking, employing a number of architects from across Europe to add extravagance to the city.

Our visit started at the Peter and Paul Fortress, a former prison fortress and the nucleus of the city founded by Tsar Peter in 1703. The citys oldest landmark, the stunning European-styled Peter and Paul Cathedral is famously known for its 404-foot-long golden spire that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.

Ironically, the cathedral became the resting place of most Romanovs after a firing squad executed the family at the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917.

Guides will brush past the fact that both Leon Trotsky and Lenins brother, Aleksandr Ulyanov, were incarcerated in the fortress. Communism is a touchy topic with most Russians, and its best not to talk politics with locals.

THE TSARINAS TREASURE

If you were impressed by the Louvre or the Vatican Museums, the Hermitage Museum will leave you astounded. This regal green, white and gold structure wraps itself along the edge of the Neva River like a necklace that seems to hypnotise the unsuspecting visitor.

It is difficult to describe the moment I crossed the ticket barrier to ascend the grand staircasean explosion of gold and marble beyond my wildest dreams. Three hours were spent barely skimming the 360 elaborate rooms which house more than three million artefacts ranging from various Picassos and Rembrandts to early Stone Age tools, Egyptian obelisks and moreall part of a collection of the promiscuous Tsarina Catherine the Great, who commissioned the museum in 1764. But thats only a fraction of the riches on display; theres about 20 times more housed in vaults.

What is truly amazing is the fact that Russias treasures managed to survive since they were hurriedly shipped off to Siberia for safekeeping during World War II, far away from Hitlers hands. Still, many were lost to obscurity.

THE BLOODY CHURCH

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is perhaps Russias most iconic, having been built on the site of Tsar Alexander IIs 1881 assassination. Outside, it is a medley of colourful lollipop-like domes, hardly reflective of the churchs dark beginnings; inside, thousands of stones like lapis lazuli and jasper intermingled with gold make up the 7,500 sq ft of mosaics, linking the story of Alexs murder to the resurrection of Christ.

Back in the good old communist days, churches were razed to the ground since religion had no business existing. The remaining ones like this were relegated to food shelters. For years, putrid potato crop had ruined the church, and it was only after years of restoration that the structure regained its former glory.

Bombs during World War II did strike the church, but thankfully didnt cause much damageif you squint at Jesus right above the altar, you can just about make out a crevice under his arm where an explosive was lodged. Hand of God?

VENICE OF THE NORTH
I couldnt have asked for a better end to a trip as I cruised down one of the many canals on the Neva River which has a whopping 342 bridges, comparable to Venice. The red sunset, the shampanskoye and the vodka, the smelly caviar, the lone man running along the canal trying to keep up with our boatit was all unforgettable.

But I couldnt help noticing crumbling apartment complexes juxtaposed with the imperial remnants of the Russian Empire, reminders that even this regal city had something to hide. Thats a mystery I reserved for another visit.

As Churchill rightly exclaimed, Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. St Petersburg is exactly thata city that has changed as many times as its name and yet seems to be frozen in time.

For one last visual treat, our guide pointed out a former KGB building, which totally eluded me, and cracked a joke which I am still trying to figure out.

Oh, those Russians!

Inayat Naomi Ramdas is a digital nomad, and a history and language aficionado. When she is not planning her next adventure, she can be found trying to find a good cup of coffee.

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Hyatt Regency PuneEQ:IQ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/hyatt-regency-pune-eqiq/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/hyatt-regency-pune-eqiq/ 2018-02-07T10:30:27+05:30 article Hyatt Regency Pune has launched EQ:IQ, a contemporary events space Be it meetings or social events, Hyatt Regency Pune is all set to host guests in its one-of-a-kind contemporary events spaceEQ:IQ, short for Emotional Quotient: Intelligence Quotient. Already known for its innovation and top notch hospitality, Hyatt Regency Pune leaves no stone unturned.

Aptly named EQ:IQ, the event space has meeting rooms named after famous names from the field of science like Newton, Galileo, Einstein etc. EQ:IQ's three zonesEvent, Dining and Social are perfect for public and private meetings. The space is a perfect combination of work, play and multi cuisine fine-dining.

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Munich: Mandarin Oriental's Valentine Package https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/mandarin-oriental-munich.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/munich-mandarin-orientals-valentine-package/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/munich-mandarin-orientals-valentine-package/ 2018-02-06T12:44:01+05:30 article Treat your partner to a luxurious stay in the heart of Munich this year Quietly tucked away in a side street, yet centrally located near the famed Maximilianstrae, Mandarin Oriental, Munich is an elegant gem, combining timeless, sophisticated charm with a contemporary, modern design and subtle oriental accents. It provides the highest levels of personalized service in the very city center and is home to a selection of stylish, elegant restaurant and bars, including Matsuhisa, Munich by world renowned Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. The hotels elegant and spacious 48 guestrooms and 25 suites offer the finest in international luxury and a stunning rooftop pool with views that stretch across the picturesque surroundings of the old town.

Since Valentines Day is coming close, the hotel has launched a Romantic Accommodation Package for couples in February. Guests who book the luxurious Valentines offer will experience a romantic getaway filled with treats, an intimate dinner for two, and a romantic bathing experience. Upon arrival at the hotel, guests will be welcomed with a delicious surprise from the hotels patisserie, and can enjoy a romantic in-suite bathing experience, prepared by the hotels bath butler. It also includes a six-course omakase menu for two at Matsuhisa, Munich, including a Valentines champagne cocktail and chocolate-covered strawberries. The package is priced from 1,085 per suite, and includes: overnight stay in a luxurious suite, full daily breakfast for two in the hotel restaurant or in-suite, signature Valentines welcome amenity on arrival and a romantic bath, prepared and decorated by the hotels bath butler.

The package is availablefrom 8 February to 15 February, subject to availability, and rates are based on two people sharing for a minimum two-night stay. For further enquiries and reservations visit mandarinoriental.com, phone the reservations department on +49(0)89290980 or email momuc-reservations@mohg.com

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Italy: Cinque Terre https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Italy-featured-image.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/italy-cinque-terre/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/italy-cinque-terre/ 2018-02-06T10:30:21+05:30 article Amid the splendour of Cinque Terre. its scenic hiking trails and its turquoise beaches This is the life, I thought, as I stretched out on a warm rock and let the dying rays of the sun drench me with its golden goodness, the warmth soaking into every fibre of my beinga sweet contrast to the cool breeze that tugged against my hair. I didnt dare close my eyes, for the sun and clouds were playing a mischievous game of hide-and-seek, throwing up marvellous patterns of blue and gold and pink and purple and orange across the sky. The soft waves lapping up against the shore played out the perfect symphony, and I was lost.

If I were to seek beautiful moments, Id go flying back to Cinque Terre. The cluster of five villages in Italy, by the azure waters of the Ligurian Sea, took my breath away in more ways than one.

Cut to 15 hours earlier, when I was struggling to drag myself out of bed at 4am. It is by no means a godly hour to wake up when on vacation, but the things we do for precious moments! I wanted to hit Cinque Terre National Park, and get to its hiking trails before everyone else did and before the sun started burning the skin on the back of my neck. If waking up at the crack of dawn was the only way, so be it. Monterosso al Mare is the village farthest from mainland, and thats where I decided to start hiking.

There is something inexplicably amazing about the simplicity of untouched nature and about being able to experience it in its true form. The hiking trails at Cinque Terre are only as manicured as required for safety, but they stun and awe every step of the way.

Climbing up those slopes for close to an hour is exhausting. My thighs were screaming for rest, but the irresistible allure of the view that awaited me at the top kept me going. And I was not wrong. The jewel tones of the sea, offset against the lush green of what you only now understand to be your starting point, is astoundingly beautiful. For me, it was magic coming alive before my eyes.

Soon enough, the village of Vernazza came into sight, and it was with a whoop of joy that I sped towards it, knowing that there was a tap pumping ice-cold water and a shop selling fresh, freezing gelato somewhere thererespite from the heat, and a treat for the taste buds.

The little villages of Cinque Terre are quite charming, with their cobbled streets and cute shops. Youll find musicians serenading tourists. Small stores selling trinkets pepper the slopes, and theres always some delicious pizza lurking around the corner. Vernazza was a quick breakfast stop, before we hit the trail again to make our way to Corniglia.

Beauty is a drug that only spreads delight. So, I couldnt wait for another chance to take in the brilliant visual of diamonds sparkling off the surface of the sea, winking at us, drawing us in and making us fall in love with it.

Among the five, Corniglia is the only cliff-top village, so it does not directly lead into the water. It offers panoramic views of Cinque Terre, and I could spot Monterosso and Vernazza to my right, and Manarola and Riomaggiore to my left, since Corniglia is bang in the middle. I remember downing a lemon and rosemary gelato here. It tasted divine.

I was keen to do the other hiking trails all the way to Riomaggiore, but to my great disappointment the remaining two, including the famous Via DellAmoreor the Path of Lovewere closed. Im certain Ill make it back one day only to hike those.

Youd think the excitement of the day would have me tired, but like I said, beauty is a drug. I had had my fill of mountains and decided it was time to hit the beach.

So I went looking for one in Riomaggiore, and found a delicious tiny rock beach tucked away in a cosy alcove. I made a beeline for the water, and splashed around like an overjoyed child, who knew nothing but the sheer happiness that comes out of a day perfectly spent.

All in all, Cinque Terre gave me trails to hike, beaches to relax on, excellent food, a stunning sunrise, a splendid sunset and unbounded, unfiltered joy. What more could I even ask for?

Preethi Parthasarathy is a travel-mad, hyper-excited blogger and an MBA grad, based in Mumbai. She lives for beautiful places, unforgettable experiences, excellent nosh and meeting people from around the world. Shes visited 13 countries in the last three years, while holding a full-time job, which shes only recently quit to travel for some time.

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Bloom in Goa https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/BloomSuites-featured-image.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/bloom-in-goa/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/bloom-in-goa/ 2018-02-05T14:52:04+05:30 article Make your Goan holiday fun, affordable and comfortable Not new to budget travellers in India, the Bloom brand has taken their product a notch higher with their BloomSuites. The freshly minted BloomSuites launched its flagship 140-room hotel in Calangute, Goa. These mid-range BloomSuites are here to provide you with affordable stay experience along with unmatched comfort and quality. Apart from the BloomSuites, there is another 52-room hotel under Bloomrooms.

The Bloom brand has hotels under Rooms Only and BloomSuites categories. For more information, visit BloomSuites.

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Sunderbans: The Only Mangroves Where Tigers Roam https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/featured.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/sunderbans-mangroves-tigers-roam/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/sunderbans-mangroves-tigers-roam/ 2018-02-05T14:31:20+05:30 article Take a tour of the Sunderbans, not far from Kolkata, while the nip in the air lasts We exchanged the bus for a boat to continue with our onward journey into the heartlands of the Sunderbans National Park but were surprised to find that we were not far from human habitations. Our launch sailed past islands that did not seem any different from villages on the main land; passenger-laden ferry boats crossed our path; there would be women and children trawling the water with nets, collecting fish and prawn seeds we were told later. Although the Sunderbans is better known for its mangrove forest and wildlife, it also has a sizable human population because many of the islands were settled in during the British period and others succumbed to population pressure, said our host as we sipped on our welcome drink of green coconut.

Thankfully, as we sailed further, the inhabited islands fell back and we met with the occasional fishing boats. Stretching across the Gangetic delta, the Sunderbans is shared by India and Bangladesh. Located along the southern tip of West Bengal, the Indian Sundarbans region consists of 4,200 sq km of reserved forests along with 5,400 sq km of non-forest area. Of this, the Sundarban Tiger Reserve is spread over 2,585 sq km. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has also been tagged a Global Biosphere Reserve. Kolkata is the gateway to this waterworld.

The Sunderbans is very different from any other forests of India, especially where tiger reserves are concerned, explained our guide Niranjan Raptan. Located in the Gangetic delta, the region mainly consists of a network of rivers, channels and islands. Tides play an important role here and large areas go under water for several hours when the water rises. The inhospitable terrain not only makes it difficult for people to eke out a living but also forces people and animal to tread into each other territories for food. Tigers soon lose their fear of people and are quick to attack them, said Raptan, making people believe Sunderbans tigers are all man-eaters.

Even though it was the fag end of winter, the sun could be really strong by day. We were glad that our launch had a roof while the open railed-in upper deck allowed us a clear view of the forest. Sometimes, the rivers were so wide that we easily mistook it for the sea. Sometimes, the launch entered a creek or a narrow channel where the tree-laden banks formed a watery avenue for us to sail through.

We had booked with a private tour operator who also owned a resort in one of the habitable islands inside the forest. Therefore, while we sailed by day, the nights were spent in their well-appointed cottages. The food served was mostly typical Bengali cuisine. Let them know in advance if you want to sample the local fish or prawns and lobsters.

We visited other islands such as Sudhanyakhali, Sajnekhali and Netidhopani. A guarded path led to the watch towers located in these islands. There were also waterholes sweet water is a premium here as the water is largely saline where we saw spotted deer, monkeys and a wild boar. The Sunderbans is also home to many bird species but you have to be really watchful to catch a glimpse of the kingfishers and other birds against the dense forest. We were rather excited when we found what we had initially thought logs on mud banks turn into crocodiles and splash into the water disturbed by the noise of the launch. We spotted mudskippers and red crabs on the muddy banks dotted with thorn-like breathing roots of the mangrove trees. According to local people, it was the presence of the Sundari trees that gave the forest its name Sunderban or the forest of Sundari. At Sajnekhali, there is a nature interpretation centre where details about the unique aspects of the forest are highlighted. At the Dobanki island, a raised boardwalk offered us a closer look at the forest canopy. One evening, we watched a local play called Bonbibir pala at the resort. Bonbibi is the protector of all those who venture into the forest for wood and honey or go fishing. One can also take a walk along the island village any morning and interact with the local people in the marketplace.

As the launch embarked on its return journey, everyone prayed for the glimpse of the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger. A cruising launch had seen a tiger crossing the river the day before, we were told by one of the fishermen we met while boarding our launch. Our expectations jumped when the guide drew our attention to the fresh tiger pugmarks etched on the muddy banks. The engine was killed and we waited with baited breath but alas. After a while the boats captain signalled we have to move on. Dont be disappointed, the guide consoled us, There is a saying here, even if you do not see the tiger, it is always watching you. Hoping for a role reversal the next time, we flopped back to our seats and watched the forest fringe disappear into the horizon as the boat neared the disembarkation point.

The information

Getting There: Kolkata is the nearest airport and the gateway to the Sunderbans. There are several entry points to the forest. Canning town, the headquarters of the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (Project Tiger) can be reached by road and suburban rail from Kolkata. Besides, from Kolkata, one can also drive up to the boat jetties in Sonakhali, Dhamakhali and Godkhali for onward journeys by boats.

Although it is not impossible to arrange a visit on ones own, it is far more comfortable to choose a package tour where organisers take care of everything, from permits to boats to accommodation and food.

Stay: The state-run WBTDC has a budget accommodation at Pakhirala island (Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge; https://www.wbtdcl.com/). There are a few well-appointed private resorts Sunderban Tiger Camp (http://waxpolhotels.com), Tora Eco Resort (http://www.toraresort.in/), Royal Sunderban Wild Resort (http://royalsundarban.com/), etc.

Cruises: Cruises can vary from overnight to two/three night tours. WBTDC have fixed day departures until April-end. Packages start from Rs 5280. Sunderban Tiger Camp and Vivada Cruises (http://vivadacruises.com/) offer fixed day departures as well as chartered services.

Permits: All tourists have to obtain permission to enter Sunderbans Tiger Reserve. Indian tourists can obtain permission from the Office of the Field Director, Sundarban Tiger Reserve, Canning apart from forest offices in Sonakhali, Bagna, Sajnekhali, on payment of entry fees, boat fees camera fees and other miscellaneous charges; you have to produce original Government issued photo id cards. Foreigners have to obtain a special permit from the Joint Secretary, Forest Department, Writers building, Kolkata.

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Readers Write: Iceland https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Iceland-featured-image.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/readers-write-iceland/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/readers-write-iceland/ 2018-02-05T10:30:03+05:30 article From chasing the Northern Lights to dancing to Icelandic tunes, the country is a treat Out of all the destinations Ive travelled to so far, Iceland secures its own special place in my heart. Even after three years, when I close my eyes to picture Icelands beauty, the picturesque landscapes, lofty mountains, raging volcanoes, sparkling rivers, gigantic caves and, of course, the warm locals easily come to mind.

Iceland is a paradise for outdoor ninjas like me. I had so much to do here that I couldnt get enough of the country (at least in my five-day trip). However, Im pretty sure Iceland can be a welcoming experience for indoor snails as well.

The best thing about it is that it is a treat for the eyes all year round. Its rugged and beautiful landscapes will serve as a backdrop for every activity that you do. As soon as I stepped out of my hotel room, took a walk by the local street followed by a refreshing dip in the local swimming pool, I saw a beautiful panorama. That beauty had nothing to do with nature; it was all in the warmth of the locals who were embellished with smiles. They treated me so well that they made me believe I was one of them.

Iceland is mainly known for two things: the Northern Lights and the Blue Lagoon. I decided not to miss either of them. So, the very next day, I took a rented car and drove for 45-odd minutes to reach the Blue Lagoon from Grand Hotel, Reykjavik. Blue Lagoon requires you to take a shower before you take a dip. Once you are clean and conditioned, you can put your swimsuit on and step into the beautiful, natural hot-water spring surrounded by a surreal volcanic landscape. The freezing temperature outside made the hot, steaming water feel rather toasty.

Someone once told me that creative juices flow in Iceland just like geothermal water. So, I kept my second day dedicated to enjoying Icelandic folk dance, music, architecture, artefacts, literature and design. Luckily, I got tickets to a local music fest where a local rock band, Sugarcubes, was performing. Their music was a perfect amalgamation of folk music infused with rock. Before the fest wrapped up, everyone danced their heart out in the jam session. I, too, tried some moves on traditional Icelandic tunes among a bunch of young locals. I still cant figure out which was worsepeople laughing at my not-so-Icelandic moves or my not stopping regardless. It was one hell of a night!

The third day was kept reserved for southern Iceland. I packed my camping equipment, bought some groceries, and bid adieu to Reykjavik. I took a 300km-long drive to the golden circle, covering the most spectacular sights of nature along the way. Iceland surprises you with a new landscape every five miles. I saw the spectacular Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall along with a series of cascades covering the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. The Golden Circle is a popular tourist destination, where people come to experience various activities and a stunning two-tier waterfall at Gullfoss.

My fourth day was kept for my primary reason to travel to Iceland. Yes, it was the Northern Lights. I had been chasing the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) from the time I had started travelling. So, this was the day I was going to live my long-awaited dream. I spent the day resting and relishing some lip-smacking local cuisine. Later that evening, a shuttle came to my hotel and picked me up at around 9pm. A group of us were dropped at the Reykjavik harbour, where we boarded a ship. We were introduced to our guide, who gave us some warm, neon costumes. We were also treated with a short film on the Northern Lights on the lower deck.

Then, we all sat down to gaze at the sky. As the ship neared Mount Esja, the Northern Lights slowly unravelled in the sky. It was a jaw-dropping sight. For a moment, the cold winds were harmless and I did not mind them at all.

Everything comes to an end and so did my Iceland trip. On my fifth and last day, I decided to enjoy the remaining few hours to the fullest. I paid a visit to Hallgrmskirkja Church, then went on a food walk to try more of the local cuisine. I tasted around seven dishes of fish, an Icelandic hot dog, visited Caf Loki and ate at Svarta Kaffi, where I tried their famous soup served in a bread bowl. Later, I spent some time gazing at the remarkable steel sculpture, the Sun Voyager. It was eight in the evening when I wrapped up and left for the airport with a million memories and an oath to comeback super soon.

Ashish Bahukhandi is a solo traveller by heart and an entrepreneur by passion. Having explored 20 countries so far, he writes a blog about his travels. Despite being a businessman, he prefers budget travel, for he believes that every place has its charm when you explore it through the eyes of its locals.

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Dubai: Picture Perfect https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/DUBAI-FRAME.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/dubai-picture-perfect/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/dubai-picture-perfect/ 2018-02-04T10:30:31+05:30 article For an uninterrupted 360 view of Dubai No, this is not a frame photoshopped onto a photograph of Dubai. It is an actual 150m-tall, 93m-wide attraction that recently opened up there. It includes two towers (with lift shafts), a Sky Deck bridge (with a 360 view of the city) and a mezzanine floor (showcasing Dubai historically and futuristically). Tickets for AED 50; dubaiframe.com

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Bollywood Nature Destinations https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/shutterstock_476053165.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/bollywood-nature-destinations/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/bollywood-nature-destinations/ 2018-02-03T11:18:26+05:30 article Bollywood has always played a major role in popularising these beauties of nature around the country Finland: Snow Village https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/GOT.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/finland-snow-village/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/finland-snow-village/ 2018-02-03T10:30:27+05:30 article When Finland took ice and television up a notch with Lapland Hotels SnowVillage It is one thing to stay in a Game of Thrones (GoT)-themed hotel. It is a whole new ballgame, though, if said hotel happens to be built entirely of ice. Lapland Hotels SnowVillage, located about 200km north of the Arctic Circle, is demolished and rebuilt every year with an entirely different theme and design, using 20 million kilograms of snow and 350,000 kilograms of natural ice. This year, its theme reflects the popular fantasy television show.

Sculptors from Russia, Poland, Latvia and Ukraine have helped bring the concept to light. The hotel has within its expanse an ice sculpture of the Iron Throne (complete with the swords), the Braavosi Hall of Faces and even a sculpture of a white walker with glowing blue eyes in the Snow Suitesall of which will definitely have the GoT fan squeal with excitement. There is also the IceBar that includes a sculpture of a dragon, the Ice Restaurant with its Finnish fare, a wedding chapel and many available activities, such as, snowmobile safaris, Northern Lights sightings and reindeer excursions. For this season, SnowVillage is open till April 2018. Standard room from 220 doubles; visit laplandhotels.com.

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A First-Timer's Guide to Bengaluru https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/featured-image-1.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/first-timers-guide-bengaluru/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/first-timers-guide-bengaluru/ 2018-02-02T17:42:17+05:30 article There's so much to Bengaluru than IT and high-rises An erstwhile cantonment, a region that saw succession of South Indian dynasties, a present-day megacity and the nation's IT hub, Bengaluru is a fine place indeed. This was my maiden trip to the city loved by all discerning travellers for its round-the-year pleasant weather and the glitzy city life. Though mine was a rather short visit, I squeezed in what I could. But if you are a newbie and were wondering what to expect from a megacity, here are some ideas:

EAT

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Spoil yourself silly during your first meal of the day because the city has some great eateries, that, mind you, do open early (and won't burn a hole in your pocket). Start your day with breakfast at Koshy's at St Mark's Road, or if you are in and around Koramangala, head to The Hole in the Wall or Cafe Terra (among many!). Also, when in Bengaluru, eat local. My personal favourites were ragi mudde (ragi balls), bisi bele bath (hot lentil rice) and obbattu. Ragi mudderich in nutrientswas fun to eat. It came with one ruledon't chew, only swallow. That's the way to have it, and once you get past swallowing little balls of ragi, follow it up with mutton or chicken curry. You'll come across small street-side stalls selling hot piping dosas. Throw in some freshly fried crispy murukkus while you're at it.

SEE

. These two parks are great for leisure walks.

Vidhan Soudhaone of the largest legislative buildings in Bengaluruis a fine example of Dravidian architecture.

For history buffs, must-visits are Bangalore Palace and Tipu Sultan Palace. Bangalore Palace (NO, it's not Windsor Castle) is a popular tourist spot. From the fine interiors to the magnificent display of art, the Palace is a place to be in if you are a fan of art and history. The Tipu Sultan Palace is a pure teakwood marvel.

DO
Drink. Bengaluru is also known for its microbreweries. With so many breweries up and about and to choose from, there are no dull moments for a beer lover. Toit in Indiranagar, Prost Brew Pub in Koramangala, Brewsky in J.P. Nagar, Windmills Craftworks, Arbor and Biergarten in Whitefield are just some of the many options you'll find in the city. Cheers!

SHOP
Make a beeline for Commercial Street for junk jewellery, Chickpet Market for sarees (and silver and gold!) and Brigade Road if you want to shop. And that too without hurting your bank balance! While you are at it, go to Blossom Book House in Church Streeta haven for book lovers.

STAY
From luxury hotels to budget bed & breakfasts, Bengaluru has a lot of options to choose from. Some of the luxury options are The Oberoi Bangalore, The Leela Palace Bangalore, ITC Windsor, ITC Royal Gardenia and the new entrant, The Den Bengaluru. For more budget-friendly stay, you can check out B&Bs like Laika Boutique Stay, Akshaya Lalbagh Inn, Terrace Gardens Guest House, to name a few.

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Readers Write: Angkor Wat https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Cambodia-Featured-image.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/readers-write-angkor-wat/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/readers-write-angkor-wat/ 2018-02-02T10:30:11+05:30 article Cambodia is a land of intricate art and picture-perfect riverscapes Jack was not actually Jack. But to tourists, he was. A proud card-carrying official guide, his confidence glinted through as he sized us up, a trio of excited looking Indians. Throughout the tour that would follow, he would be unfailingly tolerant of the most inane of questions.

Yet, the very first thing he said to us in his opening monologue wasPlease remember that what you are about to see was NOT built by Indians.

A few seconds of figurative head-scratching about the necessity of this pearl of wisdom ensued. But that was only for a few seconds. Down the sandstone causewayflanked by a statue of seven giant serpentswe followed Jack, towards one of the most clichd, over-advertised, tourist traps in the world. The otherwise cynical offbeat immersion-seeking wanderer in me went missing as the iconic five towers rose in their grey majesty beyond the two giant lotus ponds of my childhood fever dreams. I was finally at Angkor Wat. This was no time to be petty.

Sure, I would have preferred it without the busloads of selfie-ish tourists, but in my humble opinion, if you are looking towards the crowds when dawn is breaking behind Angkor Wat, youre looking in the wrong direction. ?

Mr Moon rocked his remork (Cambodian for tuk-tuk) around his remarkably cheesy and oddly fun hometown, Siem Reap, filled with karaoke bars, buzzing toy-size Honda Groms and innumerable Angkor hotels.

The driver had no interest in history whatsoever. With a bright smile, he would rather take his rides to The Angkor What? Bar, where tourists could enjoy that other big draw of Cambodia, cheap beer.

With his hip hop hat, snazzy sunglasses and $5 for a full day of remork chauffeuring, Mr Moon represented that hustling and hungry Cambodia which seasoned travellers denounce with a passion.

It is convenient to forget that after the peak of 14th-century Khmer civilisation, historyparticularly, the recent pasthas tested Cambodia. After being a victim of the neighbouring VietnamUS war, Pol Pot and his benchmark of brutality, Khmer Rouge, ruled for four years (1975-1979) murdering 25 per cent of the population.

Against this background, it is practically impossible to begrudge a Khmer tout or two and hard not to be astonished by the deep grace of a people scarred by such nightmare years. This land of intricate art, multifaceted cuisine and lush beauty of serene riverscapes, punctuated frequently by bright colours and the happiest of smiles, still thrives. ?

Channa, simply Channa, as he insisted we call him, smiled his purest when we told him to drive us 50 kilometres out to Kbal Spean. His insistence that we give that particular location a fair bit of time seemed odd, much as Jacks insistence on AngkorWats non-Indian nature had.

The trail climbed up the Phnom Kulen mountain, through evergreen light and shadow, following a stream. Colourful butterflies gathered on respective rocks midstream, discussing whatever butterflies discuss. A giant spider web with its gargantuan resident quivered, casting spells on more than just insects.

Then came the gods. As carvings, these early specimens (9th10th centuries AD) offered none of the scale that the later temples out on the plains did. Wonder, though, was not in short supply. What these lacked in size, they made up in location and the adventure of discovering Indra, the ruler of heaven, reclining right below where the river flows over a ledge; Ganesha, trunk and belly quite hidden unless you looked just right at the seemingly impossible to reach rock face. And then the hundreds of shivalingas, phallic symbols of creativity, magically carved into the riverbed underneath the clear flowing Kbal Spean River.

This, then, was where it all began. A civilisation, highly advanced in engineering and enterprise, which would plan and build a city of a million inhabitants eight centuries before London could achieve the same. Out here in the jungle, the defensiveness of Jack started to make sense. Maybe an overenthusiastic Indian in the past had riled him by claiming that the wonders that he lived amongst were Indian. They were not, even if the religion and mythology that inspired the artistry were. This was Cambodia and there aint nothing else quite like it.

Anuranjan Roy is a writer based in Kolkata, frequently thought-tripping on travel, motorcycles and generic nerdery. Choosing a best ever destination was impossible for him, but he tried. Some other personal experiences like wolf-spotting while solo tripping in Alaska and a hidden Western Ghats beach (which shall now stay hidden) knocked hard on his door too, but remained drafts.

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Malaysia: Desaru Coast https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/featured-image.jpg https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/malaysia-desaru-coast/ https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/hotels/malaysia-desaru-coast/ 2018-02-01T16:00:43+05:30 article Find your perfect escape at Desaru Coast, Malaysia's first integrated destination resort Come June 2018, you can think beyond Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi when you think of Malaysia because Desaru Coast, Malaysia's first integrated destination resort, will open its door to the discerning travellers. Located on the south eastern region of Malaysia, in Johor, Desaru Coast spans over 3,900 acres and 17km of unspoilt beachfront. Be it leisure, adventure or a golf getaway, Desaru should be on your travel to-do list. Here's something to help you decide:

Four Globally-Known Hotels & Resorts
They take 'room with a view' very seriously. And when you have world renowned hotels and resorts like The Westin Desaru Coast Resort, Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast, Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas and Aman Resort & Villas, with a view of South China Sea, what you get is endless pampering, great pristine oceanside view, and the best of luxury stay.

Desaru-coast-5th-3762

Tee Time
Any golfer's delight, The Els Club Desaru Coast has two Championship golf courses; Ocean Course, a 27-hole course and Valley Course, an 18-hole course. Off course there is a clubhouse, casual dining restaurants, The Els Performance Gold Academyfor those who's want a class or two from the best, and the breathtaking landscape of Desaru Coast.

Fun at the Park
There is something for everyone at Desaru Coast Adventure Waterpark. Visitors can enjoy 17 different slides, a mix of wet and dry rides, or just relax by the artificial beach. You can even enjoy surfing at the largest wave pool in Southeast Asia. The waterpark is conveniently located adjacent to Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast.

Indulge by the Riverside
Desaru Coast Riverside is a lifestyle village located in the heart of Desaru Coast. One can have a unique dining experience at the village as they boast of 'no duplicacy' in terms of cuisine.

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