Top 5 holidays for winter 2007

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(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.
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11 disrupting web 2.0 companies that will Change India

I was doing one of my usual google searches for HolidayIQ and stumbled upon something that is very gratifying. The sentence was – “One of the best travel sites we’ve seen anywhere on the web”. Apparently, IndiaStreet, the online magazine for new projects & investments in India, did a detailed exercise to identify what they called “11 disrupting web 2.0 companies that will Change India” and lo & behold, HolidayIQ is one of them. When one is immersed in work and in creating something new, there is very little time to look up and see how far one has reached. This, for me, is a sure marker of our progress. Obviously, happy about it.

Here is the link>>

6500 Indian resorts, hotels, home-stays & guesthouses

HolidayIQ has now listed 6500 resorts, hotels, home-stays & guest-houses across India. About 40% of these properties have got reviews from actual guests who stayed there, which is amazing for our country. This is simply because of the consistent hard work so many travel-crazy folk have lovingly put into this over the last 3 years. I still remember early 2004, when this project started as India Resorts Survey – a travel-lovers initiative set up by a small group of holiday junkies. It has really grown up now and it cannot be easily replicated.

The count of accommodation options at the major tourism states are: Goa Hotels – 384, Kerala Hotels – 642, Rajasthan Hotels – 561, Himachal Hotels – 381

For the bigger cities, the count is : Delhi – 198, Mumbai – 176, Bangalore – 171

Out of this list, 1157 India hotels are in a mountain or a hill setting, 554 are Beach hotels in India, 161 are wildlife hotels and 92 give the traveller an inland waterfront experience.

Karnataka : India’s best tourism destination?

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(Karnataka map from Totalkannada)

From the rolling, cool country of Coorg to the azure blue seas around Karwar just south of Goa & Maravanthe just north of kerala, from the elephant & tiger reserves of Kabini & Nagarhole in the Nilgiris Biosphere to the historical poetry of World Heritage Sites such as Hampi & Pattadakkal, Karnataka is a state with a hell of a lot of tourism oomph. Unfortunately, the state tourism bureaucracy has managed to keep this one of India’s better-kept secrets.

In spite of which, of late, tourism has blossomed here only because of the desperate need of Bangalore‘s denizens to escape the city on weekends.

While Karnataka’s tourism future has Bangalore as its possible saviour, what about the other strong potential tourism states, such as Orissa or Madhya Pradesh?

Oh, and another thing. Talking of Kannada oomph – Aishwarya Rai & Shilpa Shetty, the 2 most-est current hotties of Bollywood & Deepika Padukone the babe-in-the-making are all from Karnataka. Coincidence or what?

Click here to read all my posts on Karnataka >>

Best Hotels by Travel + Leisure : Where is Aman?

Another ‘Best Of’ list. Travel + leisure magazine has announced the best of tourism for 2007. Included are the Best Hotels, Best Cities, Best Islands, Best Airlines, Best Cruises, Best Car-rentals, Best Tour Operators and so on.

The big Indian story of course is that the Oberoi Udaivilas comes in as the Best Hotel in the world. The really interesting news for the cognoscenti is the absence of any Aman Resort in the World’s top 100 list for 2007. Intrigued, I checked out the 2006 list – Amanpuri had come in at a low 72nd rank last year. Is this a reflection on the properties of Aman or on the readers of T+L?

Orissa – the next big thing?

Two separate items in this morning’s Economic Times caught my eye. One was a news item announcing a massive road infrastructure project in Orissa to carry iron ore to the new Posco steel project. Anyone who has spent some time in Orissa (I did my time of about 6 months, 20 years ago) understands the criminal neglect of this state that is hopefully now getting slowly rectified. Another was an advertisement by the Orissa government inviting developers for luxury hotels on Shamuka beach in Puri. Seems Orissa is waking up.

It is my firm conviction that Orissa is one of India’s jewels in tourism and needs lots of attention. Is there any Indian (or for that matter anybody interested in India) who can ignore the land of Ashoka, the Konark temples or Lord Jagannath? But more to the point, Orissa’s virgin beaches & multi-hued landscape can be developed into buzzing centres of water sports and other holiday activities – important to all those Indians below 35 years of age, for whom activities on a holiday are important (going by activities offered, all other Indian destinations except Goa, seem to think that tourists are geriatric, has-beens who need only peace & quiet – sorry, this is a pet peeve of mine).

So, is Orissa finally going to happen? Wait and watch..

Niche, influential, defiant

These 3 words were written recently to describe both Adrian Zecha, the founder of the Aman Resorts chain and Steve Jobs of Apple. If I have benchmarks, they are it. Their businesses revolve around building lifestyle services created out of a wonderful personal aesthetic.

Obviously, neither of them run the biggest businesses in their chosen fields. Apple is so much smaller than Microsoft – but, given the Mac, the ipod & the iphone, can there be any comparison? Similarly, all the rooms of all the resorts owned by the resolutely niche Aman Resorts can probably be fitted ito a large chain hotel in one place. But again, no product in world hospitality can be easily compared to an Aman.

Sorry to gush – but that is the way I would want to make products – as things of beauty.

Gates vs Jobs : check out this cool animation video