The Business of Life in the Mint Newspaper

livemint

Even though the formula is a bit too pat, I am a fan. The Mint is a business newspaper; a joint venture between our own Hindustan Times and the Wall Street Journal. It has a nice middle section called the “Business of Life’ which as the name suggests is less about business and more about ‘life’.

Elizabeth Eapen, the editor of this section in the paper called me the other day for a small piece. And since Elsa is a charming combination of wheedler, cajoler and a girl-school headmistress, I quickly complied. It has finally made it to the paper today in a Q&A avatar. Here is the link:

http://www.livemint.com/2009/05/14203600/Hari-Nair–Take-off-your-shoe.html

Stop Press : Go to Goa NOW!

Goa has had unseasonal rains. It rained loads in August instead of the usual June & July. And so, it looks extraordinarily green & lush now, with a wonderful ‘fresh & clean’ look. I was there for just one day over the weekend and had the good fortune to wander all over the Goan countryside just as dawn was breaking (all of this, after a full night of unique Goan revelry, which of course, is another subject).

The sight of light breaking over the lovely greenscapes of rural Goa, with the light mist slowly lifting in tendrils from the ground and the fresh smell of the damp red earth awakening to another day, is one of the more mystical experiences of life.

Go right away, even for a day to Goa. Once you get there, dont hang about near the sea. Go inland and check out Goa’s rural landscape. Obviously, all this has to be done between 4 and 7 am. You probably have a window of a fortnight to see this.

View of Dubai from a helicopter

Anshul & Rashi took their 5 year old up in a helicopter over Dubai. It costs US$ 800 for a 30 minute (max. 5 adults) and they say it is well worth it. Here is some of what they saw. Check it out the next time you are in Dubai.

A Dubai Panorama

The Burj Al Arab & Jumeirah beach Hotel

The Burj Dubai on its way to becoming the world’s tallest building

Cranes over Hotel Atlantis

Click on for a few more photos.

Continue reading

A first visit to Cyprus

Cyprus has for long been on my list of places to visit. This Eastern Mediterranean island is at the confluence of Europe, Asia & Africa and so geographically is at a clearly fascinating place. And as is inevitable with such Geography, the history is pretty interesting too. The Turks, The Cypriots and The Greeks have been fighting over this piece of land for a very long time and I am told, scars of all of these battles remain.

Of course, given that Cyprus was a British Colony till 1955, it is a big destination for English tourists seeking Sun.

I have my visa done and tickets & hotel booked for a short visit to Cyprus.

Read all my Cyprus posts here.

See lots of Cyprus photos here.

Weekend getaways from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata and 10 other Indian cities

HolidayIQ has just revamped its weekend getaway section. Now one can find weekend getaway destinations as well as weekend getaway resorts/hotels by distance from each of the top 17 Indian cities.

Click here to see the new pages:

Weekend getaways from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata

Weekend getaways from all 17 cities

Indiana Jones Vacations from Expedia

Expedia.com has a nice set of itineraries built on the Adventures of Indiana Jones. Titled ‘Indiana Jones Travel Experiences’, it covers itineraries in India, Egypt, Italy, China, Jordan, Mexico, Nepal, Peru & USA. Sounds interesting. Check it out.

The most chilling sentence in world tourism

Of late, I have been researching Africa. Going by my past experience of my own behaviour, a trip there seems imminent.

But I was brought up short by this one sentence. I was on the Zambia tourism website, in the section which gives you lots of information on how to travel around the wonderful country of the Zambezi river & Victoria falls. Right at the bottom of the page, after all the enthusiastic stuff about Rail journeys inside Zambia, is one line, lurking all by itself. It reads:

“To be safe, ask the station police to escort you to a taxi”

Set Jetting to Sex and the City

(Photo from Destination on Location)

So you always wanted to DO New York? Here is your chance. For 15,000 dollars (US), you can spend 4 days & 5 nights traipsing across Manhattan, Soho, Chelsea & the Meatpacking district for an intimate journey through the world inhabited by Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda & Amanda of Sex and the City.

Highlights include meals at Balthazar, Pastis, Raoul’s & Cipriani, shopping at Jimmy Choo,  Scoop, Intermix and Versace, nights at Club Socialista et al. You can even choose your favourite character from among the girls and go for a ‘perfect saturday afternoon’. All of this, while you are escorted by people who know their NY stuff very well.

Brought together by a company that calls itself Destination on Location. As their name suggests, it is all about escorted tours to movie locations or as they call it, ‘Set Jetting’.

I have held for sometime now that movies and tourism will soon coalesce pretty forcefully and it will mean a tectonic shift in the travel experience, especially at the premium end. DOL is an interesting beginning.

Click here to read another post I wrote earlier on something similar.

Trekking guide to Africa’s highest mountain – the Kilimanjaro

climbing_mount_kilimanjaro.jpg

(Photo : http://www.climbmountkilimanjaro.com/)

“Like a herd of elephants on the African plains, the subject of tipping is a bit of a grey area..”

Henry Stedman has written a well-researched, comprehensive and easy to understand guide book to climbing Kilimanjaro. But it is the ocassional quirky comment (as above) that somehow transports this book from being another good guide-book to an interesting read.

The book published by Trailblazer, has sections that cover all of the must-knows including excellent detail on planning the trip such as whom to book the trek with, budgeting for the trek, route options and what to take. It also has good sections on the natural history of Kilimanjaro, its flora & fauna and its people. The hand-drawn maps that give a good deal of information on trek routes and topography will obviously help prepare the trekker well. All in all, a good book to buy, if you want to climb Kilimanjaro.

Of course, the book is primarily for a British audience – so if you happen to be travelling from India (as I imagine many of the readers here would be), there are gaps in information that will have to be filled in. For instance, Continue reading

Planning a holiday abroad? Book your hotel online.

Over the last few weeks I have had a number of people asking me various doubts on planning an independent international holiday & particularly about booking hotels abroad. So, till such time as HolidayIQ launches a comprehensive international section (don’t worry, that is coming soon & I promise, it will be a great planning tool), here is a quick primer on how to book hotels & resorts abroad.

I am an online guy, so my first preference is always to book hotels online. With both Travelocity and Expedia launching India sites, the widest international hotel inventory is available to be booked from India and paid in Rupees. So, it sure beats your neighbourhood travel agent hollow. And since both sites have an Indian call centre, one can also talk to a real person in India to double check your bookings, which is often a real comfort.

I stress-tested booking a family room (4 people, 2 adults and 2 kids) at Orlando – in or around Disneyworld – on both the sites. Both Expedia & Travelocity did a good job and threw up a number of options (although Travelocity gave funny error messages & repeatedly failed in my Firefox browser which was a disappointment). However, Expedia’s search methodology was a shade more user-friendly since it allows you to find hotels by naming the Attraction you want to go to and throws up hotels around the attraction. Of course, both Travelocity & Expedia also allow you to narrow the list of hotels in the search results by distance or ease of access to the attraction.

Both excelled in prices. Hotel room prices around Disneyworld started in Expedia at Rs 1386 per night and in Travelocity at Rs 1583 per night. Continue reading

Hippies and the overland Asian journey of the 60s

(An old clip of a part of the hippie overland Asia route)

As I set out for another trip to Goa, albeit for work this time, I am once again reminded of Roy’s narrative of the arrival of the first Hippies to Goa. Roy was all of 15 then and he was thrust into the roller-coaster world of ‘flower power’ Goa. By 1967, Goa was the final destination in what Rory Maclean calls the ‘weirdest procession of unroadworthy vehicles ever to roll and rock across the face of the earth’ – the great overland trek by western youngsters turning their face to the two Cs that dominated their lives, Capitalism and Christianity.

As Goa gets overrun with an increasing array of tourists – a heady mix of Indo-gangetic plainsmen meeting the walrus moustaches from the Russian steppes, it is easy to forget that this land has an interesting claim to contemporary history.

(Another interesting clip from Rory Maclean on the overland route : this time in Afghanistan)

Click here for an earlier post featuring hippies.

And here for all my Goa posts.

Film Festival Tours – vacations for film buffs

I have often wanted to visit film festivals, but one experience with a film festival in Delhi has made me wary of its logistics. The interest is still there. So I was idly wondering whether there is anybody who can give me a vacation tour of the best film festivals and so decided to Google it up. Lo and behold, I found Film Festival Tours in Canada. In their words:

Purchasing and selecting tickets for a film festival can be a challenge, with its lottery system and routinely sold out screenings. But we here at Film Festival Tours take all the hassle out of the process for you. Continue reading

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

China Road

china_road_photo.jpg

(photo of cover of China Road by Rob Gifford)

It was while reading China Road by Rob Gifford that I took off for Hong Kong. Got back and resumed reading it. Gifford travels down Route 312, the huge east-west road that transsects China. No doubt about it, this is a dream journey in more ways than one. Certainly goes into my ‘to do’ list.

The book tries to predict the future of China & comes to a simple, compelling conclusion. The future of China lies in the hands of its peasants and they are restive. All through China’s history, it was the peasantry that rose to overthrow existing systems – remember it was the peasantry that Mao galvanised to sweep in with communist rule. Therefore, if the lives of ordinary peasants do not see improvement, China’s current system is at threat. And the overall sense I get is that venal local officialdom with no accountability is the real pain point for the Chinese people, particularly its peasant-folk. So interestingly, low-level corruption is a dangerous rot in China, much like it is in India.

Click here to read all my China posts.

From Chaitraratha to Lunuganga

My son clambered up on my lap as we launched into the episode where Kubera, the Treasurer to the Gods, invites young Ganesha to a feast. An early reference to Kubera’s greatness is in the description of his wonderful garden, the magical, Chaitraratha.

Gardens are an interesting, repeating motif in mythology & legend. Remember the Garden of Eden, where man got knowledge & was banished to earth? To me, nothing so demonstrates man’s supposedly evolutionary superiority as his creation of gardens. And as I wander the world, I keep a definite eye out for them.

A garden I have always wanted to see but have not yet managed to is ‘Lunuganga‘, a tropical garden created by the Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Bawa was an interesting character. After reading English at Cambridge & Law in London, he went on to a career at the Bar in Sri Lanka. Then at the age of 38 he shifted gears to become an architect. Lunuganga, the garden Bawa created outside Colombo, started out as a rubber estate, which he lovingly and meticulously worked on for over 50 years, turning it into a world- renowned tropical paradise. What a fascinating enterprise that must have been.

A favourite fantasy of mine is to create a flowing garden on a large tract of land atop a barren hill overlooking the sea. I can see it clearly. The weather is neither hot nor cold, but of course, is humid. I am sure I will recognise the place when I see it. My suspicion is that it is in one of the islands of Indonesia – possibly even a remote corner of Bali. Or maybe it is a little atoll in the Pacific. The search goes on.

(A view of Lunuganga : photo from reddottours)

lunuganga.jpg

Song & Dance in Timbuctoo

malitimbuktu.jpg

(map courtesy CNN)

Off the beaten track, there are a number of interesting holiday opportunities peppered across the world. One such set are tours that revolve around music & dance. Here is a ‘music vacation’ that I found unusually fascinating:

Mali World Music Festival Tour (Festival Au Desert) : covering 15 days in Mali, the landlocked nation in West Africa, this tour takes you to one of the most intriguing music festivals anywhere – the 2 day music festival among the “Free people” (Tuaregs) deep in the african desert. In addition, you also get to hang around Mali’s main towns, one of which is Timbuktu (yes, there really is a Timbuktu).

(catch a Youtube video of mystic Tuareg chanting at the Mali fesitval, somewhere deep within the ocean of sand that is the African desert – video from oknomad)

The land of Astarte & Adonis

LEBANON. Like most other people, the first sign of this word makes me want to dive to the floor and scan desperately for the nearest bomb shelter. After all the “disturbing images” we have seen over a lifetime, it is difficult to associate this land with anything other than strife & bloodshed. But Colin Thubron in his wonderful book “The Hills of Adonis”, writes about an ancient and fertile land which is not just bucolic but is in many ways a crucible of civilisation. Continue reading

Dream vacation tours

Steaming in the early summer heat in India, I just came across a tour that I would really like to go on.

High Arctic Explorer, from Peregrine Adventures is a 11-night tour across the northern-most parts of the globe. Starting at Ottawa in Canada and traversing incredibly exotic ice covered patches such as Prince leopold Island, Devon Island, Grise Fjord and Wellington, this trip promises to give me all the cold, ice and snow I need for a lifetime – or at least to last out another summer in our country. Since this costs well above Rs 2.5 lakhs just for the tour (ie. exluding getting to Ottawa & back), you have to be sure you want to give up the 10,000 ice-creams that you can have for the same dough. I think I need time to think..

(Here is a video showing the cold waste of Devon island. Devon island is the location for the Mars Project.)