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Walking with the giraffes on Crescent Island, Kenya

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. After recovering from a terrible burn-out last year, I was cautious, refusing a zillion invitations, and choosing a few that really interested me, opting for more ‘slow travel’. I also learnt to say no to 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 Traveler, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel and Leisure, Destinasian, and Livemint Lounge. It’s difficult to narrow it down to just 10 moments, so in this ‘happening’ year I have 13 special travel moments… here goes:

Spending precious mom- daughter time at Point Yamu, Phuket

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Sunset at Point Yamu

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Room with a view

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Old Town Phuket

I started the year with an absolute lotus- eating trip with the daughter to the just- opened super luxe Point Yamu by Como which was straight out of the pages of a sleek design book! We shared space with Jessica Alba (yes, she was also hibernating), swam, ate humongous Thai meals, shopped (duh, girls trip!) had sybaritic Como Shambala massages and relaxed in absolute luxury. With stunning sea views from our balcony, trips to Old Phuket town, a short stay at the Metropolitan in Bangkok and a meal at the highly rated David Thompson’s Thai restaurant Nahm, this was a very special time at which I look back fondly. We also forgot ourselves at the gargantuan Asiatique market, lost a phone, and well that’s what travel is- stories that are etched forever in our minds! Read more about it here:

http://www.outlooktraveller.com/hotels-resorts-spas/cape-escape-1007226

http://www.mid-day.com/articles/eat-shop-and-pray-in-bangkok/16215199

Driving across Fraser Island in a monster truck

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Where the beach is the highway

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Swimming in Lake Mackenzie

Australia ranks amongst my favourite continents and I was there after a break of two years and had a great itinerary to follow. I enjoyed flying Singapore Airlines Business Class with their superb on- board service. I stayed in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast and did the Eumundi Markets, the unique Noosa Everglades and an unforgettable trip to Fraser island- the largest sand island in the world where the beach was the highway. I swam in a lake for the first time, spotted wild dingoes and walked through a forest with prehistoric ferns.  I had unforgettable meals in unique restaurants like the Spirit House tucked into a grove and Sri Lankan chef Peter Kuruvita’s restaurant in Noosa. Read more about my trip here:

http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/ngRRH8QrnpaaSVjFRjBiEJ/Lounge-Travel-Down-Queenslands-water-world.html

http://www.destinasian.com/blog/news-briefs/dingoes-shipwrecks-and-goddess-eyes-on-fraser-island

Following Yeats in Ireland

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Fermanagh Lakelands- at Devenish Island

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Walking to Dooney Rock

Ireland has become one of my fave destinations and this was my third trip there. I was invited for Bloomsday based on just one day from the book by James Joyce, which had me research a lot before my trip..Once there I just got swept in the gaiety of it all- Edwardian costumes, plays and lunches. What I really enjoyed was following the trail of my most favourite poet Yeats, down Sligo and to his grave,  poetry readings over dinner, travelling through castles and lakes and emerald landscapes. I followed it up with a trip to the lake country of  Fermanagh in Northern Ireland- with  miles of lakes and underground caves. A trip to remember! Read more about it here… http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/rGHX1ykS8PZHUYrIkIcB2J/Following-Yeats.html

Experiencing the joys of Kerala with Relaix and Chateaux

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Niraamaya Surya Samudra, near Kovalam

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I have been to God’s own country several times in the past. But this was a trip with a difference. Seeing the state though three lenses: the backwaters, the city (Jew Town) and the Coast was a great experience mainly because of the special properties that I stayed in, belonging to R & C.  Niraamaya Surya Samudra near Kovalam was the star experience! Tharawad houses perched on a cliff above a pristine beach, a backwater cruise to Poovar where the river meets the  sea and Ayurvedic massages- what’s not to love? Also loved my stay at Malabar House in Jew Town with its absolutely stunning ambience and food. A first- had a look at the really interesting Kochi Biennale.  Read more about it here : https://www.indiacurrents.com/articles/2015/10/12/coconut-and-mangrove-dreams

Feeling at home in Armenia

 

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The Gerghard Monastery gouged out of rock

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Driving through the Caucasus

This was the BIG surprise of the year- discovering  a country not too far away from home, oddly reminiscent of home, and blessed with a pagan beauty  that literally stole my heart. Monasteries, the Caucasus Mountains, contemporary art, good food, and piles of fruits, this is a country which need to be visited.  The Gerghard Monastery and Lake Sevan were my favourites as also the capital city Yerevan, with its lively vibe and night life!  Read more about it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kalpana-sunder/10-things-that-i-loved-ab_2_b_8214278.html?ir=India&adsSiteOverride=in

Fifty shades of blue in Seychelles

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On La Digue

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At the Carnival de Victoria

There’s something about island life- it slows you down and calms you- from the frenetic fun of the carnival in Mahe to the exotic eco-system of Vallèe de Mai- one of the smallest UNESCO Heritage sites,  and the timelessness of La Digue this was a dream come true. I found even the capital Victoria with its local market, attractive in its own way. The pristine beaches of Grande Anse, walking through paths strewn with huge boulders and tucked away coves, seeing giant tortoises, and the erotic coco de mer, watching the samba dancers from Brazil groove at the Carnival, this was an otherworldly trip. Definitely on my list of places to re-visit! Read about it here:  http://www.mumbaimirror.com/others/leisure/Nutty-in-Seychelles/articleshow/47658979.cms\

Discovering the special vibe of  the holy land

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View of the Holy City

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At the local market in Jerusalem

For longest on my wish-list, Israel finally happened in 2015! And it was a history lesson come alive- from the shores of the Dead Sea to reaching the top of Masada- from exploring the beautiful Baha’i temple in Haifa to exploring the old city of Jaffa in Tel Aviv, this country delivered even more than it promised. Jerusalem- the Holy city was a revelation.. I literally felt ‘the weight of the centuries’ as I walked on the Via Dolorosa (the ‘Way of Grief’) the route where Christ supposedly walked carrying the cross. When I stood at the Western Wall, one of the holiest places on earth for Jews, which is today just the retaining wall that supported the main Jewish temple which stood upon Temple Mount that I really felt the vibrations!  Read more about it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kalpana-sunder/10-things-that-i-loved-ab_1_b_7909184.html?ir=India&adsSiteOverride=in

http://www.mumbaimirror.com/others/leisure/Travel-In-Memoriam/articleshow/48406649.cms

Spending quiet time at Glenburn Tea Estate

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The Glenburn Tea Estate

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Our room with a view!

Quiet time with the husband is always the best time of the year…that happened on a magical place called Glenburn Tea estate near Darjeeling, where we stayed in colonial villas with high tea and estate walks, tea tasting and village visits and a picnic and even a spot of fishing at Glenburn River Lodge on the Rangeet River, swollen with jade-grey Himalayan melt water. We had a bit of activity too- travelling on the Darjeeling Railway from Ghum- India’s highest railway station, visiting Kalimpong and spending a day in Darjeeling. Definitely one of our best holidays.

Re-discovering Slovenia, one of my favourite European countries

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Driving through Slovenia

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Piran, on the Adriatic Coast

I had promised myself a return visit to Slovenia with the husband and it finally happened this year. We spent quiet time exploring Ljubljana, loving the architecture and the old world charm of the town. Our little apartment hotel Adora on the edge of old town, was just what we needed. We also drove to Lake Bled and Bohnj, Idrija, Maribor and Piran on the Adriatic Coast. Our guide  Ales Fevzer made the trip extra special, with his inputs on food photography. And we even hopped in for a brief  afternoon into Trieste! One of the nicest things about the trip was catching up with my nomadic nephew Bharat and his lovely wife in Ljubljana. Another great evening was catching up with my Slovenian friend Dubravka, her husband and lovely baby! Read about it here: http://www.theweek.in/youzone/triptease/ljubljana-capital-of-slovenia.html

A watery paradise at Plitvice National Park, Croatia.

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Walking through a water wonderland

This was the DREAM TRIP of the year! A  UNESCO site that has sixteen lakes linked together with a series of waterfalls. The lakes had stunning colours, often changing from shades of teal, turquoise and deep blues to greys. The shades change due to the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water. We walked through wooden footbridges and pathways that go across the edges of lakes, over rumbling streams and the pathways that pass very close to thundering waterfalls. We spent an entire day exploring the park and were bewitched by this sensory overload. Highly recommended!

Wild time in Kenya

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At Rusinga Lodge, on Lake Victoria

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Meeting Mama Sarah Obama

Africa is the new Europe for me- every time I go this continent it is a love story. Kenya was no different. I chose to go to Lake Naivasha  and Rusinga instead of the well beaten path of Masai Mara and had no regrets. A prolific bird and animal life, vignettes of local life in fishing villages, seeing the place where the remains of the earliest man were found, seeing the Great Rift valley, meeting Mama Sarah Obama in her village, walking on Crescent Island amongst the animals, all stunning memories. Of course the reason I was in Kenya was to attend the ATA’s annual Congress- a colourful affair with a visit to the absolutely adorable Giraffe centre and David Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage and a trip back in time at the Karen Blixen Museum. And I made many new friends, which is the best part of trips like these! Read more about it here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kalpana-sunder/10-reasons-why-i-loved-ke_b_8621544.html?ir=India&adsSiteOverride=in

Nostalgia in Uttarakhand

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Sitla Estate, Mukteshwar

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Tree hugger at Jageshwar

As a nine year old I had travelled with my family ( in  a sturdy Fiat) through the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, with memories of no- frills dak bungalows of Ranikhet and Kausani.  When I was invited by Uttarakhand Tourism to the same region, I felt it was a sign from heaven! The trip in the company of some lovely new friends, was magical- the view of the Himalayan ranges from Kausani, our stay at a rustic hotel tucked into a deodar forest in Jageshwar near a cluster of ancient Shiva temples, our time on a apple orchard turned boutique hotel  in Mukteshwar called Sitla Estate and the grand finale at the Chief Minister’s residence in Dehradun made it one of the most memorable trips of 2015. http://www.cntraveller.in/story/a-dummys-guide-to-kumaon

Foraying into the North East for the exotic Hornbill Festival

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Tribal regalia at the Hornbill Festival

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TUTC’s Kohima Camp

The Hornbill Festival in Nagaland has been on my wish list for some time. I got an opportunity to see it from the vantage point of a new luxury ‘glamping’ camp with views of the Japfu peak and a butler attending to my needs. The spectacle of 16 tribes coming together in tribal regalia, was absolutely breathtaking! I spent some days exploring the food and handicraft stalls, the morungs or longhouses, and interacting with the locals.  My favourite moment of the trip was visiting the green warrior village of Khonoma perched on a ridge, where I spent time with kids peeling wild apples, locals weaving baskets and threshing rice, and had a Naga meal at a local home.

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Dubrovnik Old Town

In 2015, I also visited beautiful Dubrovnik on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, took a ‘ wine train’ through the wine growing valleys of Konavle and a trip to Zagreb , a trip to Montenegro (a new country on my list) which was visually stunning. I also spent two packed but absolutely delightful days, catching up with my brother and sister in law in London. I also enjoyed a quiet weekend  with the husband and daughter at one of our favourite properties- Palais De Mahe in Pondicherry. What lies ahead? One trip with the family to Wyanad before the year closes… More slow travel, more travels in India and probably 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 2016!

 

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