Well it’s that time of the year when I look back, and am really grateful for all the exciting opportunities that came my way. I was still cautious, refusing a zillion invitations, and choosing a few that really interested me, opting for more ‘slow travel’. I also learnt to say no too many things that were not in line with my overall perspective and plan…And that’s a good thing! It turned out to be a rewarding year filled with new experiences. I also continued writing for several iconic publications that I had always looked up to, like the National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel and Leisure, The National, Daily Telegraph (UK), Destinasian, and Livemint Lounge besides inflight magazines like Sawasdee and Skylife. It’s difficult to narrow it down to just 10 moments, so in this ‘happening’ year I have 13 special travel moments… here goes:
- A trip on the Deccan Odyssey
This was a path- breaking experience of 2016. I spent a week on the opulent luxury train, the recently refurbished Deccan Odyssey, (operated by Cox and Kings) doing the ‘Maharashtra splendor’ journey, a whistle- stop tour of towns that exude spirituality or history, like Nasik, Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Kolhapur, Goa and Ratnagiri. I watched the world unfurl from the windows of the train- green fields bursting with sugarcane, two wheelers with milk cans strapped on their carriers and small stations with cacophonous vendors selling sweet chai and hot vada. From the fabulous Ajanta and Ellora caves to Ratnagiri on the Konkan Coast- the home of Alphonso mangoes each visit was special in its own way. More than anything else I realized that spending a week on a train made me more reflective and gave me some ‘me time’ without distractions! Much needed.
12 Reveling in the festivities of Las Fallas, Valencia
The best trip of the year was the trip to Valencia, Spain to watch one of the most magnificent Festivals of all times that I have ever witnessed! Spain’s third largest city Valencia, known for its oranges and paella; came alive with the festivities- fireworks, Gargantuan larger-than-life statues made of papier mache, wood and polyurethane grazing the skies… Cartoon caricatures and dragons belching fire, politicians and celebrities with exaggerated noses and pouting lips. I was moved by the La Ofrenda where a procession of women, men and children walked with bouquets in their hands, led by a band, and cheered by enthusiastic onlookers, to dress a massive 45-foot-high wooden representation of our Lady of the Forsaken. More than anything else, being in Valencia at this time was a very special, emotional experience and I really feel blessed.
11 Falling in love with Cordoba, Spain.
Spending three days in Cordoba on my own was one of the best solo experiences of the year. I had a fabulous local guide Lourdes who showed me beautiful patios, hookah bars, and the Mezquita- the mosque church. The Mezquita is the showpiece of the town- it started as a Visigoth church but when the Muslims conquered Spain it became a mosque. Later it was again converted into a cathedral and today it’s a hybrid- a mélange of different architectural styles. Cordoba is a beautiful town with its cobblestone lanes lined with orange trees and a wonderful food culture. Among other things, I loved the Mercado Victoria, a contemporary gastro-market housed in a 19th-century wrought-iron pavilion, once used for fairs and exhibitions. I wrote about it here:
- Spending soul time at Svatma, Tamjore
Probably the best trip in India this year was visiting Tanjore and staying at Svatma, a new heritage resort-the brain child of Krithika Subramanian, a danseuse and architect. I could not believe that living in Chennai all these years I had missed this wonderful heartland of Tamil culture and traditions! I visited the Big Temple, met veena makers and Tanjore painters, visited the marvelous Serfoji Library museum and ate vegetarian meals that tasted divine. One of the best properties that I have visited in recent times- mixing local traditions, culture with luxury.—a winning combination.
Read about my experiences here:
- In a happy place in Copenhagen
My first trip to Denmark and I fell headlong in love with Copenhagen. It helped that I had an awesome local tourism head Giuseppe who was passionate about the city . I admired its cutting edge architecture, enjoyed its museums and design culture, visited one of the best art museums by the sea called Louisiana, and walked into countless design shops . I was entranced by the whole Nordic culture of being in the outdoors, active and fit – have a lot to learn from these people. I walked around in picturesque Nyvahn and enjoyed Danish Hygge- a term which translates to the English word “coziness,” but it covers much more. All about atmospheric restaurants and intimate coffee shops, good company, fleecy rugs and candle light. I also loved the fairytale atmosphere of Odense- the birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson.
I wrote more than 8 pieces: some of them here:
- Discovering the city of canals
Another new country for me- Holland. And Amsterdam has entered my favorite cities list. What’s not to love? Wonderful museums ranging from the quirky ( Museum of Bags and Purses) to the sublime . . I challenged my fears as I got on the canary red ‘Over-The-Edge’ hydraulic swing ride on the roof of the A’DAM Lookout, claiming to be Europe’s highest swing. After we were harnessed and buckled in, the swing started to move away from the building, giving me fascinating glimpses of this city which started life as a fishing village around a dam on the River Amstel. Just the city is a postcard by itself- canals, narrow bridges, cafes. I also ferreted out unusual sights like a church in the attic of a house and a Museum devoted to cats and the tranquil courtyard of Bejignhof home to single women since the 15th century, besides doing the usual touristy stuff. I also discovered Rotterdam in a day- was surprised by its offerings and have put it on my list of places to re-visit.
Read about it here: http://www.theweek.in/youzone/triptease/tourism-amsterdam.html
- Exploring India’s spiritual capital
Visiting Varanasi for the UP Conclave was one of the most memorable trips of the year. Besides the usual sights of the Ghats and the Ganges, we made trips to discover the art and craft scene of the city, tucked into its street food, and watched the mesmerizing Ganga aarthi. Definitely on my list of places to re-vist and discover and delve deeper. And not far away from this chaotic city is an oasis of tranquility where the Buddha gave his first sermon. Don’t miss Sarnath and the wonderful museum there.
Read about my food highs here: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/banaras-varanasi-kashi-food-trail-cannabis-chaat-bhaang-lassi-paan-lifetr/1/809705.html
- Mountain high in Chamonix
A short but magical time spent in France discovering the region in the shadow of Mont Blanc. I travelled with a lovely group of people and made some amazing friends. I loved the ascent up to Mont Blanc and reveled in that wonderland. Chamonix, itself was a very charming town of about 10,000 people that sits in an ancient glacial valley an hour’s drive south of Geneva, Switzerland . I walked into the Void- shuffling like a penguin into a suspended glass cube that juts out from the main building and allows intrepid visitors to gaze at the magnificent French Alps, 1000 meters under their feet through the glass floor. Of course being the culture vulture that I am, took a heritage walk of the town itself and wrote a piece about that too.
- Family time in the Big Apple
A very special time with the husband and daughter ( really missed my son)exploring NY- meeting old friends, exploring both the iconic sights and the newer ones like the fascinating High Line aerial park reinvented from a disused railway line. Special moments: Watching the Gay Pride parade, shopping till we dropped, having an organic meal in Chelsea Market, catching up with my friend Shipa and her adorable daughter over dinner. A city that I intend to re-visit!
- Following Charlie’s trail in Vevey
An amazing trip to Switzerland (after many years) to visit the just opened Chaplin’s World in Vevey. Loved the small town of Vevey on the shores of Lake Geneva, and our digs- the Modern Hotel where everything was Charlie- themed. I was floored by the museum with all its special effects and wax models and loved the peek into the comedian’s private life as well. I spent a short time in picturesque Lausanne – discovering the Olympic Museum and its Old town and also spent some time in Geneva, uncovering a very different side of the city beyond its clocks and diplomacy. Read about it here: http://travelandleisureindia.in/charlie-chaplin-world/
- Life’s a beach in Boracay
My first trip to the Philippines was to Davao, Mindanao and to the island of Boracay. I loved the fact that though I am not an adrenaline junkie, I indulged in white water rafting, para sailing, snorkeling and helmet diving. There’s a lot of exhilaration in dealing with your fears and pushing the envelope! Also loved Old Manila which surprised me with its ambience and back-in-time feel. Most of all loved the fun quotient of the Filipinos – there’s always music in the air and they always manage to have a good time! A country I definitely want to re-visit and my wish list is ready- Bohol, Palawan and Chocolate Hills!
- Floored by Bundi
Thanks to the Chitrashaala Art Festival, I visited Bundi, Rajasthan- the most under-rated town that I have seen recently. Could have spent days gazing at the most compelling sight located inside the Bundi Palace, called the Chitrashala- several rooms on an elevated podium around a garden courtyard, and covered in beautiful miniature paintings- a treasure trove of lavish murals and frescoes. Every inch of the rooms covered with exquisite frescoes- scenes of dancing girls and marching soldiers, portraits of kings and royalty, royal processions, polo matches, local festivals, Lord Rama and Sita’s wedding and vanquishing gods in a pleasing aqua, turquoise and sea green colour palette . Many of the frescoes are peeling, some of them are black with age but it does not diminish the sheer magnificence of these ancient paintings.
- Quiet time in Chettinad
After planning for years, I finally spent some time in this bucolic paradise, not far away from home. Tranquil time with the husband, before 2016 draws to a close. This stunning region dotted with humongous Chettiar mansions embellished with Burma teak, Murano chandeliers and coloured glass, which line the entire length of a street, took my breath away! What grandeur .. and exquisite architecture. This region has much beyond just the mansions- great food, craft, art and some fascinating antique stores. Most importantly the rustic tranquility was just what we needed to re-charge.
In 2016, I also visited Malmo in Sweden, a lovely city on the rise. I fell in love with Chittorgarh, Rajasthan and its sense of history and stunning architecture. I spent a couple of absolutely delightful days, catching up with my brother and sister in law in London. And made time for a quiet weekend with some friends at one of our favourite properties- Palais De Mahe in Pondicherry. My most memorable and heart-warming trip was a reunion with my schoolmates in the backwaters of Kumarakom, filled with fun and laughter. What lies ahead? More slow travel more travels in India and Africa, and making a foray into South America. For everyone reading, I have to say that it’s powerful to write a list like this for yourself and reflect back on everything you’ve done in the past year (not confined to travel) that’s brought you great happiness. Happy travels in 2017!
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