Another travel scam?

HolidayIQ got this email recently…

Hello,

How are you doing! I hope you are fine? I’m sorry i didn’t inform you
about my trip to Scotland for a program, I’m presently in Scotland and
got mugged at a gun point by some armed robbers on my way to the hotel
where my money and other valuable things were kept including my
passport. I would like you to assist me with a loan of 1620Pounds to
sort-out my hotel bills and get myself back home.

I have spoken to the embassy here but they are not responding to the
matter effectively,I will appreciate whatever you can afford to assist
me with,I’ll Refund the money back to you as soon as i return, let me
know if you can be of any help. I don’t have a phone where i can be
reached.

Please let me know immediately.
Regards

DR.THAMMAN

Another very interesting country…

sheep_new_zealandIt is very far away from anything other than Penguins  and ice-caps. It has 4 million human beings surrounded by 40 million sheep.  It has almost 100 Volcanoes, lots of mild intensity earthquakes (about 400 in a year, out of which about 25 are usually above 5.0 on the Richter scale) and is ruled by a lady who lives about 18,000 kilometres away (let us face it, given all this fire & brimstone, wouldn’t you too ?) And of late, it has decided that a new tax will be imposed on its citizens – nicknamed the ‘fart tax’, it is a tax that actually gets farmers to pay up every time a sheep or a cow belches. In short, this is one of the world’s most interesting countries.

I am of course referring to New Zealand.

The first Indian to get to New Zealand was a Bengali man who jumped ship in 1810 to marry a Maori woman (and whose progeny I would give an arm and a leg to see!). By 1896, Indians had overrun the place with all of 46 of them in residence, including Mr Phomen Singh, a sikh who became a seller of sweetmeats in the streets of Auckland. And they just kept coming – recent estimates suggest there are 100,000 of us who followed in Mr Singh’s footsteps; almost all of them in professions as benign as hawking sweets.

So, even if you do not want to do a ‘self-drive honeymoon’ or jump off a cliff for fun or watch India getting hammered by the last ten Kiwis playing cricket, I would suggest you go and check out the country. If not for anything else, at least to understand how the ‘fart tax’ works. Remember, the way the enviro-mafia is at it, soon you will need to pay up every time you…you get the picture. And New Zealand will probably be a good place to figure out how that can feel.

Segway across New Zealand, Turkey and soon all over the world

Ok, this is an interesting one. Kevin Hey and a bunch of other guys now offer tours that allow you to explore New Zealand’s cities on a Segway. You remember the Segway Personal Transporter? Those contraptions that allow you to stand on them and move about on wheels.

Looks like Segways are catching on in Tourism. I came across a video that show Beach Resorts in Turkey using them (see the video on top). A friend of mine in the travel business in Goa tells me that a couple of resorts there are thinking of getting a few here too.

On my recent visit to Dubai, I happened to glimpse a chap tearing across a boulevard near my hotel on a segway, a sight which rang all the right bells in me. I would certainly like to have one, although driving one around in any Indian city is asking for serious trouble. In Bangalore, I will most likely disappear down a man-hole never to be heard of again. I can think of at least 3 people who would like that.  :)

Bottoms Up

Recently saw a photo of how earth looks from space. The most interesting aspect of it was that it looked upside down to me. For all of us who have been brought up to believe that the north is ‘on top’, the idea that in reality, there is no ‘top’ for the little ball we call home, does not hold water.

But hold it. Far from being hogwash, it is true. All this ‘north is the top’ nonsense started with the world view of ancient European seafarers who used the North Star and the magnetic compass as critical aids in navigating the oceans.

Now with the south rising and the world rumoured to be getting flatter, cartography clearly needs a serious re-look. But, more importantly from my perspective, any serious traveller should carefully look at a map upside down before travelling. Starting from ‘crazy’ perspectives is a great way to get more from your travels. Here is a map to help you do that.

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(map from : http://flourish.org/upsidedownmap/)

And since Australia goes from ‘Down under’ to ‘Up above’, here are all my posts on Australia & NZ vacations. And just in case you are interested, here are posts on my ‘Dream Vacations’.

An Organised Tour for your next vacation?

(Patagonia, Chile)

Organised tours, by the very idea, are not my kind of thing. Remember the ads from Indian tour operators promising a ‘maharaj’ who will cook all your meals while you traipse along with your group of culturally challenged countrymen, through Rome, the Pyrenees, the Adriatic or whatever. Thanks, but no thanks.

And then I recently came upon a selection of tours that National Geographic calls “50 tours of a lifetime”. Cool stuff, actually. After spending an agonizing hour over all the 50 options, here is my ‘Dream 3′ list which are the three tours that I would certainly want to go on before I get too old to.. you know what.

ONE. Wandering across the Chilean Patagonia. ‘Off the beaten Path’, the operator of this trip has been at this sort of thing for some time now. For about 8000 US Dollars, you can wander for 11 days around the famed Patagonia, taking in mountains, fjords and open spaces all the while being in close contact with local gaucho families, sharing their hearth & food.

TWO. New Zealand with the kids. Butterfield & Robinson, the organisers promise that you will Bike past sheep farms and lakes, fruit plains and vineyards, Cruise through icebergs to the foot of a glacier, Join a local guide in a Continue reading

Shucking Oysters in Sydney

Have I told you why Sydney is among my top 3 cities anywhere? Well, there are a number of reasons. But a mildly sentimental one is the fact that I got news of being promoted to the Big P in KPMG while on a business trip there. And I recollect a small party thereafter at the Sydney Harbour that involved slurping down a large number of Oysters, very lightly laced with the mildest of lime juice. Very nice.

And when I was not being cruel to aquatic fauna, I also spent time eating in the various restaurants ringing Sydney harbour. I even recollect hitting an Indian joint – if I remember right, it was called Zaffaran. Mildly pretentious but decent enough food.

Coming back to Oysters, one of my residual ambitions in life is to figure out how to shuck oysters. Google tells me that this is a lot more involved than I thought. So I better start soon.

Click here for all my Sydney posts.

Click here for all my Food posts.

Whale watching in Australia

I had posted earlier about Whale watching in Byron bay, Australia. Recently came across a nice Google map-based feature on the Greenpeace site which helps you track actual whale movements in the oceans around Australia & New Zealand. Here is the link.

Here are the links to all my Australia posts as well as posts on Beach Vacations.

Top 5 holidays for winter 2007

hogmanay_041.jpg

(Hogmanay in Edinburgh – photo from stuckonscotland)

So you have done well this year. The bonus has been good, your spouse is making good money & the stocks you invested in have zoomed up with the index. It is time to reward yourselves. How about a Mont Blanc Pen? Or maybe a set of fancy wheels? Or maybe a ballooning trip over the African veldt? or book yourself for one of the first sub-orbital flights with Virgin Galactic?

In my regular conversations with users & members of HolidayIQ, many of whom have the classic ‘successful’ profile I outlined in the first para, I now find that unique experiences are taking over from fancy products as the real self-indulgences. And it is clear that in the early 21st century India, unique travel has become THE way of self expression of the successful. Move aside, Mont Blanc & Maserati. Welcome to Masai Mara & the Moon (soon, hopefully).

Over the last few years, I have given up on business travel and got into some serious holidaying. So I get asked this question quite a lot – what are your suggestions for a holiday this season? So, in answer to the key existential angst of our time, here is my personal list of 5 great travel escapes for Winter 2007.

  • Watch the whales migrate at Byron Bay, Australia. One of the world’s most scenic spots, home to a great ‘littoral rainforest’ is also the setting for one of nature’s amazing events.
  • Soak in the atmosphere of true ‘ancient India’ on the banks of the Betwa and Maheshwar, ancient rivers of Madhya Pradesh. Stay in classily refurbished palaces & forts right on the waters edge.
  • Bring in the New Year at one of the classiest cities on earth. Be a part of Edinburgh’s Hogamanay, from 29th Dec 2007 to 1st jan 2008
  • Do a ‘Cantonese crawl’ – explore haute chinese cuisine starting in Hong Kong, Shenzen & Guangzhou and taking in various parts of the chinese coast around the south china sea
  • Scuba dive in the pristine coral island of Agatti, Lakshadweep. Discover the million shades that lie between Blue & Green.

Peking Duck in Dixon Street

Dixon Street is the heart of Sydney’s Chinatown. And with Carolynn, a Singaporean-Chinese as a guide, I landed up at a family-restaurant for a meal. We shuddered at the start – literally. Apparently, right under the floorboards of the restaurant was this massive exhaust fan which boomed & rattled a portion of the floor. So we shifted.

The Peking duck was fine (incidentally, click here to see an earlier post with an interesting Peking Duck video). The first course was the crispy skin, served with just the right amount of meat underneath. The second course was a bit different from the usual – the rest of the duck was served up in an interesting concoction of bean sprouts.

And I was told that, “for an Indian, you are ok with chopsticks” – which was a bit of a relief, considering the number of man-hours spent on training.

Sydney is among the 10-odd china towns I have been to – it is one of the cornier lists I keep. Carolynn who travels a hell of a lot on business, tells me that San Fransisco is probably the best Chinatown in the world. So that is one more objective for me.

Here is another Chinese food video I found on Youtube – this time of Fried Squid Balls being made in Sydney’s Chinatown.

Online booking : Travelocity vs HotelClub

I booked all my hotels online, sitting at my desk in Bangalore, for my recent Australia trip. 2 hotels in Sydney on Travelocity and one place in Byron bay on Hotelclub. Here is the analysis.

The great thing is about Travelocity is that they have an India site, with prices quoted in INR. I have a suspicion they also have “Indian” (read : cheaper) prices for a few hotels to attract the Indian market. Also, it was comforting to have a Delhi/Gurgaon phone number to call if needed. The booking was smooth – even the second Sydney hotel I did just 3 days before stay. But when I landed up at the second hotel (Oaks Maestri Towers, in Sydney), the reception informed me that thy had no record of my booking. One serious negative strike against Travelocity. Fortunately, they had vacant rooms and I got a a free upgrade. But this will make me do some double-checking with the hotel the next time I use Travelocity. I would say Travelocity gets a 70% approval rating.

HotelClub had a few options for Byron Bay, whereas Travelocity had practically none (in fact Travelocity did not have Byron bay listed as a separate destination). The booking process on HotelClub was smooth too and there were no hiccups in getting the booked accommodation. But of course, HotelClub is not a India site & does not have an India contact centre. Also, I would have liked it if HotelClub could have had a few more options listed. On the whole, HotelClub gets a 75% approval rating from me.

Byron Bay

Seems this is the best-known “undiscovered” place in Australia – so I decided on a dekko. In any case I had wanted to try out Virgin Blue, so booked with them for the one hour flight north from Sydney to Ballina/Byron Bay.

Byron Bay used to be a hang out for hippies, so it still retains the charms of an ageing hippy. Long hair & wispy beards complement a distinct undertone of vaguely “eastern” influences. But since the 80s, yuppies and international back-packers have discovered Byron Bay. So, yoga classes and spiritual sessions mix easily with hordes of surfers and whale-watchers.

Almost everyone I met in Byron Bay was relaxed & friendly. It could be that I went in the Winter there and without too many tourists, locals had a chance to stand & converse. Or it could be that I had 3 days of no work all, making me a relaxed person to talk to. Either way, they were friendly.

The sea in Byron Bay has this extraordinarily blue colur of water. Jutting into the water is the cliff face of the Cape Byron Headland Reserve. Hiking up & down the trails of the Reserve, along the seaface, with the water on one side and dense tropical coastal forest on the other is something I would earnestly recommend.

Byron Bay is the eastern-most point of Australia and a great place to watch for whales, while they migrate to & back from The Great Barrier Reef.

I spent a blissful 3 days in Byron Bay, wandering up and down. Couldnt get to meet Olivia Newton John though; she owns a resort there and was in town while I was there. Munching battered fish & chips in The Fish Heads was great too. Sure beats getting my head chewed by the rush hour traffic in Bangalore.

Click here & here to get a couple of interesting perspectives on Byron Bay. Or click here for all my posts on beach vacations.

Also, here is a Byron Bay video I found in Youtube

Unnatural Act

Hungry Jack’s as the name suggests is the trencherman’s fast food. Get a massive bite of beef in a bun and off you go. Except, I didnt go. I decided to commit that most unnatural of acts – sit in an early 21st century fast-food counter in Sydney, Australia & reflect.

The experience was a bit like meditating underneath a moving train – at best an acquired taste. A steady stream of gaunt, famished faces walked in, rapidly chomped and walked out, all in a blur.

So, after a half hour of training I gave up. Modern capitalist society, as Paul Theroux mentions somewhere, practises various forms of natural selection on the reflective. Hungry Jack’s is clearly part of the conspiracy.

Great hamburgers though.

World’s best restaurants

The Restaurant magazine has listed Bukhara at Delhi’s Maurya Sheraton among the world’s top 50 restaurants and the best restaurant in Asia. I have done my rounds of Bukhara & yes, it is a pretty good restaurant; but the best in Asia? Proves once again that nifty ‘selling’ is a key component of such awards.

I consider myself a foodie – for me nothing in a restaurant is as important as its food. Not the ambience, not the location, nothing else. Which is why I believe that the best food in the world is still authentic street food. So, maybe Bukhara does stew its Dal for 18 hours & maybe Bill Clinton could’nt have enough of it. But for an authentic “royal” experience of food in Northern India, I would much rather trawl the streets of Delhi or Lucknow.

Incidentally, India is one among the 15 countries to figure in the top 50 list. France tops with 12 restaurants in the top 50.

Tourism websites

Websites that promote tourism destinations are a breed that I have been observing with interest over the last few years. In the last 2 years or so, a few internet savvy Destinations Marketing Organisations (DMOs) have clearly pulled ahead of the pack in the quality of their online wares. I find today a select bunch of websites so engaging, informative and pulsating with the excitement of vacations that they almost pull me to the destination. For some reason Australia and New Zealand produce great tourism marketing websites. Here are links to a few sites that I find very nice.

NewZealand.com

Central Australian Tourism

Australia.com

Another interesting site is Doitcaribbean, which is the tourism website of all the caribbean countries. For those of you planning a tour of the west indies, I would strongly recommend checking it out.

(Here is the famous “Where the bloody hell are you” ad from Australian Tourism)