This article is written by Mukesh Gupta

We are very fond of holidaying like any other Indian family. Last year in April, we planned a visit to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. It was our first overseas trip and we were very excited. As my son Nitesh was pursuing his MBA programme in Singapore, he gave me a lot of feedback on Singapore. We were received by our son in Singapore at the airport.

We had with us the complete itinerary with all air and hotel bookings. As the taxi headed towards our hotel on the Orchard Road, we were stunned to see the neat and clean roads. There was no littering anywhere. Traffic chaos was missing and I was told that one should blow the horn only in an emergency. Honking otherwise is considered a crime in the city.

After taking rest, we visited Orchard Road and were taken in by its beauty. We also went to Sentosa Island and enjoyed a night safari in a well known park. We enjoyed Indian food at a place called mini India. Another high point of the trip was visit to the Mustafa Mall. Singapore sets high standards of discipline.

Kuala Lumpur was our next destination. We had seen Petronas Towers in movies but watching it in reality was a dream come true.

We also visited the Genting Highlands, it has Asia’s longest ropeway and traveling by the cable car was an amazing experience.

Thereafter, we headed for Bangkok. At Pattaya beach we enjoyed water sports. It was a thrilling 10-day holiday filled with fun and adventure.

Mukesh Gupta

2 Aug 2011

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While at school, I never understood how the study of European history and geography was going to help us. However, slowly and steadily my studies painted vivid images that began to fascinate me. Over the years the urge to visit these places grew.

I was fascinated by the snow clad mountainous regions of Switzerland, the plains below sea level in Holland, the canal network of Venice, the historical ruins of Rome, the leaning Tower of Pisa, the serene Rhine river, the castles of Germany & England and the various crafts, industries and ports.

I was also fascinated by maritime adventurers like Columbus, Vasco-Da-Gama, Marco Polo; artists and sculptors like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo and the art loving people of Florence. The aspiration to view European life at close range, remained until the urge became so strong that I was finally compelled to visit Europe. My wife and I decided on a 19-day tour of Europe.

It took us nearly a year to get our passports in hand. Finally, on 25th June 2001 we boarded the Swiss Air flight from Mumbai. A group of 50 people from other parts of India joined us at Zurich Airport. The gleaming portals of the airport and the beauty of the landscapes enthralled me. We were escorted to a modern bus that boasted a GPS screen linked to a satellite. The young Italian driver, Antonio, delightedly shouted out that Sonia Gandhi was from his country. During the tour, it was fascinating to watch Antonio follow the detailed directions indicated on the screen.

We visited Europe’s largest and most powerful waterfalls on the beautiful Rhine, where the waters foamed and created mist that enveloped us. En route to Zurich, we faced an unexpected and unusual traffic jam. Despite the unaccustomed frustration of six lanes inching their way at snail’s pace, not a horn blared, nor did a single vehicle attempt to change lanes. A traffic police helicopter soon arrived and cleared the traffic.

Zurich

Zurich, the financial capital and the biggest city in Switzerland was picture postcard perfect. Buses, trams and trains run on electricity and all other vehicles adhere to strict emission norms. To facilitate a cleaner environment, the Govt. is considering transporting all vehicles passing through the country on electric trains.

Zurich is on the wooded slopes of a mountain range at the confluence of two rivers. The main street is lined with banks, shopping arcades and exclusive boutiques. We passed by the Swiss National Museum and St. Peter’s Church with the largest clock face in Europe, and spent some time beside Lake Zurich. Hotel Terrace, in the small town of Engelburg, where we stayed, has to be reached by cable car as it is located at an altitude. When I stepped out onto the balcony, I was startled to find the stunning snow-clad mountain peaks still sunlit at 10 p.m.

We drove to Lucerne, the sixth most visited city in the world. The city is located around the lake. We saw the Lovendenkal, the Lion monument. etched on limestone on a hillside built to commemorate the bravery and loyalty of Swiss Guards. At the Bucherer showroom, one of Switzerland’s well-known watch manufacturers, we bought two beautifully carved spoons as souvenirs. On our way to the scenic Lake Lucerne, we saw the famous and the oldest, covered wooden bridge of Kappelbrucke. Originally built in 1333 over the Reuss River, the bridge leads to a beautiful 17th century Jesuit Church. The cruise on the lake was enchanting.

The following morning we went to see Mt. Titlis, which at 10, 000 feet, is the highest peak in central Switzerland. From Engelburg town, three types of cable cars, including the rotating Titlis Rotair, us to the snow-clad peak of Mt. Titlis. The Ice Flyer, another chairlift, spans the glacier crevasses of Mount Titlis. We slipped and slid through the Ice Cave, a man made tunnel carved through a glacier.

The next day we were scheduled to visit Venice and I was already looking forward to the fascination of discovering other destinations, long imagined in my mind.

On the third day of our tour, we set out to visit Venice, the romantic ‘Canal City’. The drive from Switzerland to Italy took us via picturesque lakes and tunnels, including the world’s longest 17 km road tunnel, St. Gotthard Tunnel. On either side of the road varieties of flowers bloomed on sunlit hillsides. We would get tantalizing glimpses of clusters of tiled houses in a variety of shapes, shades and colours, with flower pots artistically arranged on balconies and windows. We crossed a railroad bridge over Lake Lugano. Switzerland was simply stunning in its beauty.

Reaching the border at noon we converted our Dollars into Lire. We were amused to see ten US Dollars equivalent to 20, 000 Lire and joked at or immediate status of becoming millionaires. However, the money as swiftly flowed through our fingers, with 1000 Lire, equivalent to Rs 40, being spent to use toilet facilities.

We reached the enchanting city of Venice, a conglomeration of three lagoons, by motorboat in the afternoon. The entry through Guidecca Canal presented a beautiful view with palaces and clock towers lining the canals. The renowned gondola, used as transport, affords easy maneuverability. A few years earlier most of the city’s buildings had been submerged due to floods.

A Gondola by the Rialto Bridge, Venice

Venice is a charming city with enthusiastic and friendly people. Tourists crowd St. Mark’s Square, watching pigeons flying and resettling to peck the grain offered them. With the beautiful Doges Palace, St. Marks Basilica and the Clock Tower adjoining it, the picturesque Square has been the subject of many colorful paintings by well-known artists. ‘The Bridge of Sigh’, was crossed by convicted prisoners after their trial. It was from this bridge that they saw the world for the last time, before their execution on the other side.

St. Marks Basilica, the 11th century Byzantine Cathedral, is one of the most awe-inspiring and magnificent churches of the world. Inside is Titan’s famous painting, the ‘Last Judgement’. The Doges palace, Palazzo Ducale, next to the Basilica, is a pink marble structure with immense rooms and is one of the treasure houses of the world.

The population of Venice city is a mere 100, 000 but it draws 8 million tourists every year! The city, founded by Romans in 1st Century AD, became a wealthy independent trading republic in the 10th century. The enterprising people of Venice have long been trading quality merchandise like jewellery, glass, lace and carpets.

Italy recognizes no cultural barriers. Roman Frescos of Pompeii, brilliant mosaics of St. Mark’s, paintings of Angelico, Bottacelli, Leonardo-Da-Vinci, Michelangelo, Ballimis, Titan, Tintorello, Modigliani, Giorgeode and Chirico, all add to the glory of this mighty historical land. The Romans, who discovered cement, used it to build Europe’s first sky scraper, the Colosseum. Italy has also produced great musicians like Bellini, Donizzeli, Verdi, and Puccani.

Next on our itinerary was Florence. En route, we stopped to check out the famous Italian leather products. We reached Florence at midday and had lunch at an Indian dhaba run by a Sikh gentleman from Punjab.

The Florence Skyline

Florence is the capital of Tuscany region and has a population of over 4, 00, 000. The ancient monuments are located at the center of the city while the suburbs sport a modern look. Renaissance citizens, including writers Dante and Boccacio and artists like Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, were from Florence. Established by the Romans in 1st century B.C., Florence reached the peak of its prosperity in the 16th century AD.

The Architectural treasures of Florence include the Ponte Vecchio, the 1345 A.D Pitti Vecchio palace, the churches of Santa Croce and Santa Maria Nivella, Cathedral of Santa Meriodel, Flora of 1314 A.D, and Uffizi Gallery, which has an exceedingly fine art collection. The Giant Dome of Piazza del Duomo, designed by Brunellochi has an immense fresco, Universal Judgement, rendered by Vasari & Zuccari. Beside it, the beautiful 14th century bell tower, the Campanile, rises to a height of 292 ft. On the opposite side is the Baptistry of San Giovanni with Ghibert’s greatest work, the East Door, also nicknamed by Michelangelo as the Gate of Paradise. It took 27 years to complete this matchless work in bronze. An easy walk from Palazzo Del Duomo, is the City Hall, once the palace of Della Signora also called Palazzo Vecchio (the old palace) built between 1298 A.D and 1314 A.D.

There is a replica of Michelangelo’s David, on the right of the old palace. The original marble sculpted David is with the Academy. Next to Palazzo Vecchio is the 14th century Loggio Della Signora with famous sculptures by Giamobolegno, Benevanto, Cellini and others. Nearby is Piazze Degli Uffizi, the Uffizi palace, which houses an important collection of paintings. The memories of these monuments and sculptures will remain with me forever.

We visited Santa Croce Church, the largest and most beautiful of all Italy’s Franciscan churches, in whose burial grounds lie Michelangelo, Dante, Gelilio and others. We also explored the lovely four-mile promenade, which reaches a height of 340 feet at Piazzale Michelangelo. Here we caught a glimpse of Michelangelo’s statue of David and were rewarded with a splendid view of the city.

The Fountain of Bernini at the Piazza Novona, Rome

The next morning, we drove to the eternal city of Rome. Founded in the year 753 B.C., the all-conquering Roman Empire ruled for centuries and its end saw the dawn of Christianity. We first visited the ruins of the mighty Colosseum. Built in 76 AD, this monument could house 5000 spectators and was the hub of activity for hundreds of years. Here gladiators fought, chariot races run and Romans ruthlessly punished followers of Christianity in the arena.

Romans believed that when the Collosseum falls, Rome would fall marking the beginning of the end of the world.On one side of the Collosseum is the Arch, erected by Constantine, the first Christian Monarch of Rome. Its beautiful structural design was duplicated by Napoleon for the Victory Gate at Paris and reminded me of the Gateway of India at home in Mumbai.

Half a mile from the Colosseum is the marvelous white Victor Emmanuel Memorial known as the Country’s Altar, built to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Italian reunification. A little distance away lie Rome’s greatest archeological treasures, the ruins of the mighty old Roman Empire.

St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

There was bright sunshine at noon when we reached St. Peters Church, the heart of Vatican City. The Vatican is the world’s smallest independent sovereign state and St. Peter’s Cathedral here is the world’s largest church. On both sides of the church are impressive statues of St. Peter and St. Paul. In one hand, St. Peter holds the key to the gates of Heaven. We entered St. Peter’s Basilica where stunning images and sculptures adorned the interior and exteriors. In the Portico, is Michelangelo’s, Pieta, the sculpture of Mother Mary holding the emaciated and immobilized body of Jesus.

The enormous Piazze San Peibro, a quadruple colonnade, took Brunni ten years to build. The beautiful square can hold 40, 000 people. Since our visit coincided with St. Paul’s day, we were fortunate to witness the Pope addressing a huge gathering from a window in a building next to St. Peters Basilica.

Later, we proceeded to Trevi Fountain. This fountain, with a splendid white palace-like structure in the backdrop, draws huge crowds of travellers who drop coins into the fountain in the legendary belief that it will ensure another visit to Rome.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Early morning, we headed to one of the Wonders of the World, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The huge bell tower, tilts to one side, giving it an incredible image of a six-storied structure in the process of falling down. This tilt is the result of a flaw in the structural design at the time of its construction in 1173 A.D

That same evening we again took a scenic drive to return to Switzerland. Early next morning we visited the snow-clad Jungfro at 13, 000 ft. A cogwheel train took us from the base of the mountain through snowy mountain passes and glittering lakes. From the Spinx Terrace at a height of 11, 133 ft., we could see the Aletsch Glacier as well as the Jungfrojoch peak. We marveled at the magnificent ice sculptures in the Ice Palace.

The Old Bridge Over the River Neckar, with the Castle in the Distance, Heidelberg, Germany

On our way to Heidelburg in Germany, we passed through the picturesque Black Forest. The River Neckar flows through Heidelberg, surrounded by forests and mountains. The old town, Alstadt transports one into the past with its cobblestone streets and ornate buildings. The wayside restaurants in the market square that hosts the Fountain of Hercules were doing brisk business. On the side of Konigstel mountains, the old town offered a view of the Heidelburg Castle.

Early next morning, after having our usual continental breakfast, we set out to pass through the Rhine Valley. Lunch usually consisted of bread, roti, a vegetable dish, curd, fruit and pickles. During long journeys, we would generally stop to have packed lunch.

The cruise through the Rhine River passes through rocky terrain affording glimpses of medieval castles and well-laid out towns. In the evening we reached Cologne, famous for Eau De Cologne and Germany’s most visited monument, the Cologne Cathedral. The construction of the Cathedral took almost six centuries. Its imposing Gothic structure is 515 ft. tall with impressive corridors and beautiful coloured glass panels. Just before dark, we reached Rotterdam in Holland.

The Erasmus Bridge, Rotterdam

Rotterdam is a modern city and one of Europe’s busiest ports since the 12th century AD. Devastated in World War II, it has risen like the legendary Phoenix from the ashes. Motorways in Holland zip through flush green landscapes. Holland has a history of hard struggle with half the land being reclaimed and generations having worked to keep it from slipping back into the sea. Dikes have been built everywhere. Picturesque windmills and flower gardens dot the countryside.

The Dutch have a very progressive attitude towards sex. Gay marriage and prostitution is legalised. Sex workers advertise on T.V., and adult movies feature on T.V. channels.

We went to Amsterdam, a delightful city and the second biggest port of Holland. We visited a diamond-cutting factory but the articles on sale were too expensive for my taste. We boarded a glass-roofed boat for a sight seeing tour and saw many historical monuments while cruising on the canals. As the city is congested, many families reside in houseboats. These houseboats are beautiful indeed, with exquisitely decorated flower arrangements. We were delighted to see Rembrandt’s house, the clock tower that he painted and a maritime museum with vintage ships anchored around. With a long history of art, Dutch artists like Rembrandt, Jan Vermeer and Van Gogh were masters in their field.

We visited a wooden shoe factory and in the afternoon, drove to Hague, the political capital of Holland where The International Court of Justice is situated.. There was a brief stopover at Madurodam, named after a Dutch Soldier who died in the war. This is a miniature city, personified to the tiniest detail on a scale of 1:25. It picturises how a typical Dutch city developed through the centuries with turning windmills, boats sailing the canal and trains running to and fro between stations. From there, we crossed the border, moving into Belgium.

The Ardennes Forests

The scenic forests of the Ardennes have an old world charm. Caesar called the Belgians the bravest of the Gallic tribes. Previously ruled by Austrians, French and Spanish, Belgium gained independence from Dutch rule in 1830 AD. Brussels, the capital of Belgium, has contributed immensely to arts, music and literature through citizens such as Peter Brueghel, Van Dick and Ruebens. The Nobel prize winning American poet, Walt Whitman is of Belgian origin. The country is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch. Surrounded by France, Holland and Germany, half the population speaks French.

Brussels, the lively capital of Belgium is an industrial city that manufactures and exports lace, textile machinery and chemicals. It is also the headquarters of NATO and the European Economic Community. The huge structure of ATOMIUM, opened during the Brussels World Fair in 1958 is a major landmark. The structure is a model of an iron atom enlarged 165 billion times.

The Manikin Pis, or spoiled brat is a symbol of Belgium. This bronze statue of Brussels’ oldest inhabitant depicts a little boy peeing. It was sculpted in the 17th Century by Deuquesnoy to replace an original one in stone. This boy has a collection of beautiful tailored costumes, presented by various admirers from all over the world. This includes a gold embroidered shirt from Louis XV of France.

We drove to Paris through lovely French countryside. Our first visit was to the huge Notre Dame Cathedral, with a capacity of almost 9, 000.Built in Gothic Style in the 13th century, the cathedral displays beautifully sculpted figures on the upper portions of the entrance doors including the Last Supper depicting Christ with his apostles. The beautifully carved figures, on the walls and portals, include that of the Madonna and baby Jesus.

Paris has always attracted artists from everywhere. It is estimated that currently at least 100, 000 artists have made Paris their home. Paris is also the capital of fashion. After dinner, we went for a Grand Evening, which included a cruise on the River Seine and a drive past the brilliantly illuminated Champs Elysees, Place De La Concorde and Louvre museum. The evening ended with a dazzling performance at Europe’s spectacular nightclub, the Lido.

The Arc de Triomphem (L’Etoile), Paris

The Arch de Triumph, which we visited the next day, was imposing. The construction of this was started by Napoleon in 1806 AD as a memorial to the Great Army From there we went to the symbol of Paris, the 1050 ft high Eiffel Tower, which is still the fourth largest edifice in the world. Designed by Gustav Eiffel in the year 1889, it attracts the highest number of visitors in the world. Sadly we bade farewell to Paris and boarded the super fast Eurostar train to London which travels under the Channel.

To my mind, London always conjured images of Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith. Dr. Samuel Johnson said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford”. Here, we were surrounded by history: West Minster Abbey, St. Paul Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Nelson’s column at Trafalgar Square and the statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus.

The Oxford University, England

Oxford city, home of the famed University, is one of the most frequently visited and historic cities of Britain. The oldest college in the university dates back to 1249 AD. It has been called the Dreaming Spires and has a unique atmosphere. I could envision Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Dr. Rafique Zakaria sitting in the staff room. Another great place to visit is Stratford-on-Avon at the edge of the old Forest of Arden. One of the prettiest market towns in England, this is Shakespeare’s birthplace. William Shakespeare’s old writing desk and his bedroom have been perfectly preserved. The visitors’ book upstairs bears signatures of poets like Keats, Shelly and Longfellow. The town has been winning awards every year as the best maintained town in Britain.

Warwick Castle rises majestically from the banks of River Avon, on a site first fortified by William the Conqueror in 1068 AD. Sixty acres of lovely grounds and gardens surround the castle, including the peacock garden where peacocks strut about. The summerhouse has a collection of rare and exotic plants. There are waxworks of occupants of different rooms preparing for a weekend party in 1898. Madame Tussaud wax models were all but live.

The end of a long-awaited European tour leaves me with memories, photographs and tales to tell.

U. Shridhar Rao

2010

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Firdaus in Thailand

“We haven’t even started packing yet”, I screamed on June 14th 2009. You see it was like this – my family and I were leaving for Thailand at midnight on the 15th of June 2009. Here we were on the 14th, and not a thing was packed. There was a note of extreme panic and urgency in my voice. My parents just replied, “None of our holidays have gone wrong till now, have they?”

Till now?

Huh?

We Managed Finally

15th June 2009 11:31 – Tension, tension and more tension. I had been sick the whole day and had got a cavity and been taken to the dentist and had lost a tooth. I was shoving in stuffed toys and books into my bag busily. My mother was shoving in clothes, her own books and trying to lock the doors (unsuccessfully). My father was locking our bags, helping my mother to lose the house keys, putting all our bookings and tickets in a gray and black pouch, while I kept pestering him to unlock the bags so I could put in more books in it. (He refused once or twice then let me put in three books).

On the Plane

Finally, when the taxi reached the airport we all heaved a sigh of relief. The whole way the cab’s speedometer hadnt dipped below 105. We got a luggage trolley and put stuff on it and disaster! I was wheeling the trolley, and to my credit I bumped into people only seven or eight times. We got into the airport and checked in our luggage and then we went to the airport stores which were open at past midnight. Some night bazaar, huh, totally bizarre. I bought nothing but smarties and chocolates. Finally at 3:00 a.m. our plane arrived – Cathay Pacific. It left at 3:30. Our seats were A38, A39, and A40. There were three families with loads of children, who kept on yelling and crying. Whenever they would start howling my parents and I wished. (Well, never mind what we wished.) When I put on the T.V, after searching I managed to find Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Finally, when we reached Bangkok we were surprised to see the colour of the taxis. They were red, yellow, blue, pink, blue+pink, green, green+red, orange and orange+yellow. For the first time in my life I saw Tuk-Tuks. They were like Indian autos but much bigger and very colourful and extremely clean and tidy.

In Bangkok

We took a blue+pink taxi from the airport to our hotel Sawasdee Langsuan Inn. It was an extremely cold day in Bangkok with chances of a light shower later in the day. After about three hours of being in the hotel we went to a shopping mall called MBK. It was an indoor mall but it was humongous and there was almost everything you could think of. It was there that I got my camera. After leaving MBK we went back to our hotel. After playing some games and reading a bit, we went out and had dinner. It was a carnivore’s delight. Soon after dinner I popped off to sleep.

Phew!

The next day at about 7:00 we took a tuk-tuk to a car rental store from where we had booked a Toyota Vios. We paid the money, got into the car, drove back to the hotel, checked out, got our luggage and away we drove. You wouldn’t believe the amount of wrong turns we took in Bangkok. We were sent to almost every street there was to go to. At 12:15 am we were still driving. Around us was complete wilderness, absolute darkness, no streets lights or (gulp) people, very heavy rain on all sides. We had no hope. We had almost given up. We seriously thought of spending the night in the car, at least I did. Then, all of a sudden, we saw a large pretty building which was a hotel. We went in and asked if they had any empty rooms. They did. In fact, they had only empty rooms. As you can imagine, the very minute I lay on the bed my eyes closed and I was asleep.

Another Day


In the morning when we looked around the hotel it was absolutely beautiful and scenic. It had a lovely private beach and as soon as I stepped on to the soft sand, it sank under my feet. I went absolutely crazy because I hadn’t been to a beach for ages. Then we went and had breakfast at the restaurant and I happily tucked in to the food because I was really starving. The truth is, I threw a most beastly tantrum and had to be coaxed into eating my egg. After that we got into the car and hit the road. The drive was really great, partly because of the view and partly because of the weather. We reached Phuket at around 2:00 (an earthly hour, thankfully.) We found a hotel at 6:00 (oops). It was a nice hotel, not located right on the beach but on a road going straight to it.

From Phuket to Phi-Phi

We had a great time at the beach. I kept jumping waves and swimming with them. My parents swam with the waves. At night we went to a nice open air restaurant (all the restaurants were) and had an exotic dinner (pizza for me, as usual). The next day when we woke up in the morning, we started packing our things because we were going on a ferry to Phi-Phi Islands. It was past ferry time and we were still on the road. We decided that we would catch the 3:00 p.m. ferry instead of the 9:00 a.m. one. We went to the Rasada Pier anyway to wait for the next one, and found that our ferry hadn’t reached yet.

When we clambered on to the ferry with everyone else, I noticed that the ferry had three levels. First we went and sat in the lounge, chose our seats and kept our luggage. We then went and sat on the deck admiring the spectacular view. There were many rocks with green seaweed on them. They were growing right in the middle of the Andaman Sea. When we first saw Phi-Phi we wondered how there could be any hotels on it because it was just one big rock. Then, when we got closer we noticed that Phi-Phi was like a ‘U’ with a lovely row of beaches inside it. Our ferry stopped at the port and we got off and did not know what to do. Suddenly we noticed that there were all these guys waving signs for various hotels.

We found one who was waving a sign for our hotel. When we went up to him he told us that his boat was coming since Bay View was on the other side of the island. So after waiting for some time, the boat came and away we went. The sea was very calm and the water was a perfect temperature. Just by looking into the water you could see lots of coral reefs. When we reached Bay View it was impossible for the boat to go right to the land. So, our boat guy lifted me up and when he was putting me on the land I tumbled out of his grasp and fell straight on the soft sand. It didn’t hurt at all. Then we went into the hotel and drank some orange juice. Then we went up the little island and got into our cottage.

Phi-Phi was amazing. It had lovely calm blue waters which looked as if they stretched for miles. The water rippled gently about with big rocks jutting out of unexpected places, as the never ending sea shone in the sunlight. Suddenly a happy feeling came over me and I started jumping around in pure delight. The wooden floor creaked as I jumped on it.

Phi-Phi and Phi-Phi Town

We didn’t do much that day. We just lazed around the beach and explored the hotel. We didn’t do any swimming. It was a calm, peaceful day for us to get our senses back after a couple of rushing and manic days and we were thoroughly relaxed. When it was time for dinner we went down to the beach and ate some really good Thai seafood (Pizza for me as usual).Then we went for a walk around the beach and found that it was a very lively little place at night. There were fireflies roaming around and the sea was gently swaying in the night breeze. We started to feel sleepy, so we went to the hotel and to bed.

The next day we woke up and went down to the breakfast hall and helped ourselves to a buffet breakfast. After that we went down to the beach and rested and I took some photographs of the sea. Then we went and had a good look at Phi-Phi town. It was a magical little place. There were little restaurants everywhere and it was very merry. After having a good look at the town, we went back to Bay View and just lazed around till lunch when we went back to town. We found this little place which had super seafood. I had a meal which consisted of only prawns. After lunch we went to the beach and swam.

Well, we didn’t do much swimming, because the water was so shallow. But we did wade out quite far into the sea. We saw a gigantic coral reef deep out in the water. Of course, after all that swimming we were really tired, so we went and slept till about tea time. At tea time we went into town and had cakes beside the beach. After that we went shopping. The shops were not like the shops in MBK where it was completely modern and air-conditioned. It had a very nice, quaint feel about it. The shops were open-air and the weather was simply superb. We bought lots of clothes and after reaching the hotel we went and looked at the other hotels on the island. Then we went and played beach volleyball and I kept falling on the sand. Once when I smashed the ball, I fell over the net. The amount of sand that fell on me was really unbelievable. For the next two minutes I did nothing but cough out sand. We went and lazed around watched a movie, played a game and stuff like that, till dinner. Dinner consisted of sour curry and a fish with a long name. (Pizza…you guessed it) After dinner it was bed. Oh man! Straight away.

Calm Wind, Blue Waters…Quicksand and Sharks

The next day after a huge breakfast we took a motorboat to our hotel, Zeavola. It was a very nice hotel because it was in a tropical forest. When you went out you were on the beach. The only problem was the mosquitoes. But it was not much of a problem anyway. Zeavola was not on Phi-Phi Don, unlike most hotels, but on Phi-Phi Leh. On a small island quite far away from Phi-Phi Leh there was another island which had a beach called Long Beach where there was quicksand and sharks. (Oops, I’m scared) But the sharks couldn’t go to far from Long Beach because there was some kind of underwater netting which the sharks could not cross. (Thank goodness) We spent the day at Zeavola in a very relaxed fashion. No tension, no boats to catch and lots of time on our hands. We found a nice little restaurant on the beach, ate, went back to the room and played a game and went to sleep.

Lost!

The next day after breakfast we went and saw normal fish, jellyfish and anonymous fish. At least anonymous to me, that is. At about 1:00 p.m. we left Phi-Phi hoping that Chaing-Mai would also be nice. The ferry took us to Phuket Rasada Pier from where we took our car and drove off. We spent the night at Phang-Na.

It was 12:30 p.m. We were goodness knows where. (Are we in trouble, or what??) We had been asking people the way to Ayuthaya, which was our destination and getting a volley of different directions from each person. Finally we ended up on a highway to Myanmar, (What next?) when my father said “I think we are going wrong”. He stopped the car and asked a man who informed us that we were on target for Myanmar and even drove us to the right highway. (Nice guy) Then we kept going and finally reached Ayuthaya. Well, you might think that after all that driving we deserved a good rest. But you thought wrong. For miles we found nothing but empty roads. Finally there was a hotel in sight. We spent the night there. Ayuthaya turned out to be a rather old, forgotten town, but lively at the same time. And as soon as I touched the bed I was asleep.

Chiang Mai

The Golden Buddhist Monastery Chiang Mai

After reaching our hotel, Holiday Inn at a reasonable time, we had a normal day. The next day we drove of for Shangri-La and reached in 20 minutes. It was a combination of old fashioned style and modern material, which was quite nice. The days at Shangri-La went peacefully, playing golf and tennis and swimming and having a good time. The staff was rather pleasant as well. Then suddenly I realized that the holiday was almost over and in 5 days it was back to Delhi. The night malls at Chiang Mai were quite interesting. You would ask a ‘took-took’ to take you there and then you could shop to your hearts content. After two days at Shangri-La we drove off for Bangkok. Goodness, how time flies.

The End of the Holidays

We reached Bangkok at 12. I said Bangkok, not our hotel Amari, so don’t think that we are on time. When we looked at the map we realized that Amari was on a 10 km road. (When will this ever stop?) The road went on for about half an hour, (Well, not so bad) and when Amari finally came in sight we were so hungry, that includes everyone except me, that we couldn’t wait to eat. So we stopped at a mini soup place on the road. My parents ate, but I only grumbled. (Bad boy, Dausi) So we went into Amari, soaking wet. Oh, I forgot it was raining outside. Now, where was I? Oh, right. We entered Amari, soaking wet, checked in and found that we didn’t know how to control the lift. Then we saw people were putting their keys into a slit and felt rather sheepish. Amari was quite a decent hotel. We spent two days there rather peacefully. A small restaurant opposite Amari had an amazing variety of foods. Finally, the leaving day came. We were all rather sober. The flight went quite comfortably all the way. When we reached Delhi, there was a large valley of clouds and mist below us. Staring at the clouds and mist I thought to myself – What a holiday, explored half of Thailand, seen such gorgeous places. Hmm, I wonder what we would do next holiday. Maybe we would have a look at the other half of Thailand.

But, that’s another story!

June 2009

Firdaus Mohandas is a nine years old, he shares his travel experiences of Thailand with candour and ready wit and provides a refreshing glimpse of Thailand.

http://www.indiatravelogue.com/trav/thailand.html

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 193 user reviews.

No longer the preserve of maharajas, luxury travel abroad is a popular new pastime for India’s growing wealthy classes.

Have money, will travel. Until recently, this maxim applied to only a select few resident Indians, but as India wakes up to (and even begins to influence) the juggernaut of globalisation, more and more upwardly mobile citizens have the means to escape the everyday. Many are doing exactly that – and doing so in style. Luxury travel is no longer the preserve of maharajas and land barons, and as the traveller demographic opens up, so too do the farthest reaches of the globe in welcome.

It wasn’t always like this. Centuries ago there was little concept of luxury travel in India; those who had money had farcical amounts of it, and might have kept a palace in each of the locations they most enjoyed. The British then came and built forts and luxury accommodations primarily for themselves which, over time, became increasingly used by India’s growing elite. For these travellers, travel was less about exploration and more about simply escaping the everyday – as an excellent article in Time points out – and they took with them the food, habits and comforts of their own particular culture, be it Bengali, Gujarati or Punjabi, with them. As this elite class swelled gradually in size through the 20th Century, Indian tourists were generally confined to their own borders due to the prohibitive cost of international travel. In any case, that preference for one’s own culture meant that most folks wouldn’t really be interested in seeing the Eiffel Tower anyway, especially if they had to eat French food afterwards.

As the world became better connected, a new set of destinations all over the world opened up, and in the last ten years, intense competition within the airline industry has seen an exponential increase in the number of flights in and out of the major metros and an accompanying decrease in cost. In addition, the influx of Western-style media into India has given birth to a new breed of globalised Indian citizen clad head-to-toe in label clothing and inundated with images of foreign countries – both by the raft of cable channels beamed from abroad, and by Bollywood films shot there. While elite domestic resorts like the Park Hyatt in Goa and the Leela in Kovalam still attract more Indian guests than foreigners, for many the cultural attitude towards travelling has reversed: the familiar is boring, let’s go somewhere different.

High-end travel agencies make these voyages into the unknown considerably less daunting. The Indian travel agency may not have completely moved beyond the one phone line/one photocopier/one surly proprietor model, but alongside those ramshackle establishments are agencies that really will manage everything for you. With groups like Kuoni/SOTC, Cox & Kings and Thomas Cook, the flight, the hotel bookings, the sightseeing day trips and the places to eat are all calculated and arranged down to the minute. This is exactly the kind of organisation foreign visitors to India tend to avoid, but wealthy Indians are often accustomed to having their life set up just the way they like it, and while ‘on tour’ they equally expect everything to run like clockwork.

So, what are some common destinations? It depends upon one’s main reason for travelling. If it’s just to escape the heat (or cold), that stunning scenery behind Shah Rukh Khan or Kareena Kapoor in the latest Bollywood blockbuster is always popular, with places such as the Swiss Alps or New Zealand on every travel agent’s list of tours. Trendy businessmen might opt for a shopping weekend in London, for even though they can buy expensive suits back home, they can’t duplicate that exclusive feeling of stepping into a London boutique. For families, well-known holiday spots like Paris, Los Angeles and Sydney appeal for their safety, ease of navigation, availability of high-end shopping outlets – and, of course, for the fact that they are easily recognisable to friends and colleagues back home. Stories of Machu Picchu’s grandeur may register little more than a raised eyebrow, but a photo with Captain Jack Sparrow at Universal Studios is almost guaranteed to impress.

That age-old desire to flaunt more wealth and status than your neighbour ties into another growing sector of the luxury travel market: weddings. Shifting your son’s or daughter’s wedding to foreign country is still a rare thing, but if you can manage it, you’ll be the talk of the town. An article from the Wall Street Journal tells of nuptials in Macau and Bangkok and bills of up to USD$5 million – that’s over 22 crore rupees – with nearly a thousand guests flown from India, along with full catering staff and a host of top entertainers. The location is not chosen only for a hotel’s willingness to submit to the parents’ lofty requests, but also for its attractiveness as a tourist destination, which makes doubly certain that all the guests will return home with nothing but good things to say.

Put simply, Indians embarking on luxury travel are no longer satisfied with the attractions of Rajasthan, Goa or the Himalayas. Globalisation has brought foreign travel destinations within much closer financial, logistic and cultural reach for modernised Indians. Most still go for the recognition factor of the world’s best-known spots, but the spirit of adventure has been planted. There’s a saying in Kerala that even if you go to the Moon, you will find a Malayali; when the first commercial space shuttles are launched, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see a group of Indians at the head of the queue.

Barnaby Haszard Morris

Nov 2010

http://www.the-nri.com/index.php/2010/11/growth-of-luxury-foreign-travel-among-india-wealthy-class/

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 255 user reviews.

Be it attending a wedding or going on a holiday, Indians like to make it into memory of a lifetime, says the Kuoni India holiday report, 2011.

Indians, and especially women, like to dress their part and look their best even while relaxing abroad, reveals the survey that was released on Wednesday.

According to the report, women rule the roost, or one must say a family holiday, abroad. “Nearly 65% of the women travellers who take luxury or premium-end holiday at least once a year said that they buy new clothes before going on a holiday, ” said Zubin Karkaria, CEO and MD, Kuoni India and South Asia. And to fit into these clothes, women exercise (34%), diet (29%) change their hairstyle (33%) and opt for beauty treatments.

The report also states how Indians dress to kill even on a holiday in contrast to their western counterparts who go casual. “Indian women dress more fashionably during the day (26%) and elegantly (20%) during the night. Not to lag behind, even men admit to dressing up more provocatively (26%) at night, ” Karkaria says. “This is because Indians believe that they are presenting themselves as an Indian family to the world and like to be well dressed, ” he adds.

But all the gymming and diet is likely to go down the drain, as 23% of them and three out of 10 women surveyed eat fast food. The survey also shows that 16% of people drink more alcohol on holiday than at home; women like to try exotic drinks (31%) and order expensive drinks (14%). “However, drinking on holiday is more popular among those without children (34%) than those who are with parents (22%), ” it states.

Indians also believe that they flirt a lot when abroad (37%) followed by the French (34%) and 32% of them hope to find love on their trip. Moreover, while a foreign tourist will not mind kissing his/her beloved in the bylanes of Colaba, Indians’ amorous nature comes out of hiding especially near beaches (24%), in the pool (15%) and on a boat (14%).

Surprisingly, Indians dislike abroad what they are themselves accused of doing in India. “For instance, 35% of the Indian respondents said that taking pictures of others without asking, talking loudly (34%), littering (33%), spending indulgently (32%) and dressing to impress (31%) are their pet peeves on a foreign holiday, ” says the report.

Navneeta Singh

23 Feb 2011

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_indians-dress-to-kill-while-holidaying-abroad_1512002

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 209 user reviews.

Times Square, NYC

There was a time when I hated big cities and all that I associated with  them was noise, the clutter, the pageantry and hype . I would often get lost there. Given a chance, I preferred wilds or the offbeat , rustic, charming towns or heritage sites in ruins. But of late , I seem to be lured by these big cities..

Maybe its the energy, the sights and sounds or just the romantic past tucked away in them, but certainly my fascination for these sprawling metropolises seems to grow. I’ve always loved Bombay and yes, Delhi too. And Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

In the international scene, New York and London  fascinates me . And Rome, SFO, Zurich, Dublin, Munich. I enjoy Singapore and Hong Kong and my memories of Melbourne and Sydney, though very old now, still linger. Yes, there are museums , palaces, castles and several sightseeing spots ; but that’s not all. Although all these cities are different from each other as chalk and cheese, there seems to be certain reasons why they lure me .


The Lyceum Theater, London

The energy – It  radiates in your mind as you walk down the roads, absorbing the sights and sounds. Whether its India or abroad, there is so much life everywhere . The trains or the tubes – the city virtually moves to their rhythm.And I am not just referring to the nightlife. Walk on the streets, go to a cafe, go shopping or sightseeing, the energy seeps into you and how !

The streets – They are the living spaces and they are so vibrant. There is so much colour everywhere. You just have to walk down the streets of a city to discover it. Little unknown cafes to bookshops to mega malls and up scale restaurants, to curious signboards and billboards to street performances .. the streets symbolise the city. I hate coach tours for the simple reason you can never feel the pulse of the city. Your feet may get swollen, but you never know what you discover. All those days in NYC, I would just sit in a cafe at Manhattan and see life unfold around me.

Events – Watch out for the live shows or the musicals or the plays . Some of them maybe free or you may get a discount somewhere. And its worth every penny as you bring back an experience that is unique to the place.

Nightlife – Why would anyone visit any of the big cities and not capture an essence of its nightlife ? So, while you are looking for a ” happenning ” place, you may also find some taverns and pubs which have either a lot of history or are quaint and yet full of life. Seek them out. I love Clarke Quay for instance in Singapore and we went to some real old pubs in London which was so lively and fun and the pubs in Dublin which absolutely rocked with some great Irish music

The city within the city – So, you come to every city with a list of sightseeing attractions and monuments that you must see and do .But here is a city often hidden beyond the city we now . I went on the London walks last week, where we saw the London of Dickens and Shakespeare ; we also did  see the old London wall. There are many Delhis within Delhi today and Chennai will take you to the fishing hamlet that was once Madras, the settlement formed by the British East India Company. Everything is not just about history – there is art, architecture, literature that forms the cultural ethos of the city. Soak into it !

Lakshmi

8 Oct 2011

http://backpakker.blogspot.com/

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 284 user reviews.

An entertainer dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean poses for a photo with an Indian tourist outside the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles

In India, May is the cruelest month. The short spring is already a distant memory, and the heat- and dust-quelling monsoon rains are still weeks away. There’s no better time for Indians to take to the road.

All told, some 550 million Indians travel to other parts of the country each year. Once school lets out for the summer, many families set off on annual visits to grandparents in their native town or village. Another 12 million Indians choose to fly overseas. Wealthy families from Punjab and Gujarat, in the north and west of India, respectively, flock to cosmopolitan meccas like Switzerland or Dubai, where women can indulge in brand-name shopping and don the revealing, Western-style fashions they don’t dare flaunt back home.

But while more than half a billion Indians take a holiday each year, the appeal of travel has traditionally been less about exploring someplace new than about simply getting out of town. Many Bengali families in the eastern corner of the country, for instance, escape north in the summer to the cooler Himalayas — an unfamiliar land and landscape. But they typically join large tour groups, interacting almost exclusively with other Bengalis and eating only Bengali-style meals.

There is, however, a quickly growing segment of Indian travelers — mostly young, rich and hailing from India’s larger cities — who are decidedly more adventure-seeking. Unlike their parents, they visit uncommon places and pursue unconventional activities — a safari in Tanzania, a ruins tour of Turkey, an F1 race in Singapore — with an interest and curiosity about other cultures that previous generations may not have had.

It is still a small proportion of Indian travelers who are so venturesome — but, by the numbers, even a small proportion qualifies as a mass movement, globally speaking. So it is no surprise that the travel industry has taken note. From New Zealand to Namibia, government tourist boards have designed campaigns specifically to woo Indian travelers, and luxury-tour purveyors like Cox & Kings and Kuoni, both based in Britain, advertise hard for Indian rupees. Kuoni, for instance, has joined hands with fabled Bollywood production house Yash Raj Films to offer the “Enchanted Journey” tour of movie locations, letting travelers ski the Alps or boat on Lake Zurich in the footsteps of their favorite stars.

In February came another nod to the Indian traveler’s increasing clout: international travel-guide leader Lonely Planet launched an Indian version of its eponymous monthly travel magazine (other editions of the magazine are published in the U.K. and Brazil). And in October, the bible of luxury travel, Condé Nast Traveler, has plans to follow with an Indian edition, building on the established successes of the publisher’s Indian versions of Vogue and GQ.

The target readers of the new magazines are Indians who are traveling more and traveling differently — many as singles or couples without children or parents in tow. “You’ll be surprised by how many married women there are traveling without husbands and single women traveling with girlfriends, ” says Sumitra Senapaty, 49, a travel writer who has run Women on Wanderlust, a travel club for women, since 2005 and has watched her business grow many times over. “I quite struggled with it initially, ” she says. “I didn’t have the pocket to advertise, so everybody’s mother, friend, aunt and sister spread the word. I just wanted women to come onboard.” Today, Senapaty’s tours — which usher female travelers to hard-to-reach places like Ladakh, a high mountain desert in the Himalayan foothills — are usually sold out.

In addition to seeking girlfriend globetrotters, the industry is going after the growing number of travelers who embark on longer, activity-driven trips and seek novel experiences, rather than just another jaunt to the hotel pool. More and more, Indian travelers are going deep-sea diving in Australia, for instance, and booking yoga retreats in the Himalayas. “There are more people choosing adventure travel over conventional holidays, ” says Vaibhav Kala, who runs Delhi-based Aquaterra Adventures and arranges trips for more than 3, 000 customers per year. “Since four or five years ago, our clientele has turned on its head. From catering to largely inbound foreign tourists, we’re now catering to mostly Indian travelers.”

But catering to Indian travelers means catering to certain Indian preferences and peculiarities, no matter how far-flung or exotic the vacation. Lonely Planet Magazine India always gives readers the requisite practical information about obtaining visas and finding consulates overseas, but it also has a section called Fancy a Curry? that locates Indian restaurants and vegetarian options in foreign cities. “Indians are getting a bit more adventurous, but we still need a little hand-holding, ” says Vardhan Kondvikar, editor of Lonely Planet Magazine India. “We’re a bit like Nemo right now — the big world outside is very exciting, but we still need the anemones nearby for security.”

The worldview of the Indian traveler strongly influences the editorial choices that the magazine’s staff make, Kondvikar says. For instance, the magazine tends to highlight mainstream tourist destinations — which are perhaps familiar to world-weary travelers but new to the Indian populace. The tone of the magazine is also much more introductory, friendly and informative than that of its British and Brazilian counterparts. Recent feature stories introduced readers to Rome, Vietnam, Los Angeles and Puducherry in peninsular India; another popular article covered five weekend getaways from several major Indian cities. “[The U.K.] magazine was designed for experienced travelers who want to see the unexplored sides of places they’ve already been. So it has a lot of stories that bypass traditional tourist sites and find hidden alleys and restaurants, ” says Kondvikar. “We couldn’t do too much of that — many Indians are only going to the major destinations for the first time, and we didn’t want to ignore them.”

The travel lust of this budding demographic has largely survived the global recession, which has otherwise diminished international travel overall. In fact, a stronger rupee has seen more Indians traveling abroad, especially to long-haul destinations. The U.N.’s Madrid-based World Tourism Organization estimates that by 2020, some 50 million Indians will be taking foreign holidays each year.

So while Lonely Planet and Condé Nast may be wading into a shaky market already cluttered with dozens of travel titles, they have high expectations for success. “[In terms of] advertising revenues, not only have we dominated market share in the categories we operate in but also we are growing at an exponential rate, ” says Alex Kuruvilla, managing director of Condé Nast India. “So we are very bullish on the opportunity.” If the rupee continues to rise, this May might not end up being so cruel after all.

Madhur Singh
2010
http://www.time.com/time/travel/article/0, 31542, 1989633, 00.html

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 240 user reviews.