Its that time of the year when I look back, and I am truly grateful for all the exciting opportunities that came my way this year. I continued to choose a few invitations that really interested me, opting for more ‘slow travel’. I also learnt to say no to many things (as many as 20 invitations/ opportunities) that were not in line with my overall perspective and plan or clashed with priorities…And that’s a good thing!
2017 turned out to be a very 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, Travel and Leisure, The National, Destinasian, and Livemint besides inflight magazines like Silver Kris and Serendib.
I also learned to travel in a more Zen way – choosing to meditate, do yoga and exercise. I saw fewer movies, instead read and introspected more and I must say that this has had a most positive influence on me. I made many new friends (one of the greatest perks of travel), made forays outside my comfort zone and wrote prolifically.
It’s difficult to narrow it down to just 10 moments, so in this ‘happening’ year I have 13 special travel moments… here goes:
- Cruising the Amazon on the Zafiro
The top experience of the year was probably this luxury cruise on the Amazon, filled with unforgettable experiences from spotting rare birds to jungle walks, to spotting an anaconda in the wild, to meeting a traditional shaman in the Amazon forest, to night excursions to spot caimans. The lack of connectivity also made it a digital detox (much needed). The staff on the cruise pulled out all the stops to make us comfortable, and I travelled with an amazing bunch of women who made it a fun experience too. My favorite memories from the trip: sunset on the Amazon, meeting kids in a small village, a canopy walk high above the forest, and breakfast on a boat!
12 Family time in NOLA
Taking advantage of my daughter’s graduation in the US, I planned a small family (except my son who unfortunately could not make it) getaway to New Orleans, choosing a beautiful Airbnb accommodation in the heart of town. We loved our time in this city of music, voodoo, Creole culture and stunning architecture. We took a trip on the Mississippi, roamed the streets filled with street performers and musicians, took walking tours of the Garden district and French Quarter, spent an evening in the night spot of Frenchmen Street and feasted on beignets and coffee at Café Du Monde.
11 Falling in love with Japan again.
Japan is my soul country- a country whose language I spent years in learning and it has a special place in my heart. So this year I got lucky and travelled to Tokyo, Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Beppu, enjoying both the big city charms of the capital city and the beautiful vibe of the once tragedy affected city of Nagasaki. Beppu with its hot springs, Shimabara a small town of the warlords with small streams and carps, tea houses, and Kumamoto- the scene of a deadly earthquake which has made great re-building efforts, were also on my list.
I wrote as many as 8 articles- Read one here: http://www.livemint.com/Sundayapp/pmmO8dO1SgL8daic3Z9AZP/When-in-Japan.html
- Spending soul time at the Kochi Biennale
In another life, I would have wanted to be an artist. I make sure that I feast on art whenever possible and this year I stayed at the lovely Malabar House property in Fort Kochi, to visit the Kochi Biennale. 97 artists from 31 countries! Covered almost all the venues of the Biennale from Pepper House, Kashi Art Cafe and David Hall to the Durbar Hall, feasting on art installations using mirrors, chairs, even dream catchers! This is one Indian event that is now firmly on my travel calendar.
- Discovering Georgia
This was the new experience of the year. A country which offered stunning Art Nouveau architecture in its capital Tbilisi, exciting culinary offerings ( and great vegetarian food) with some creative chefs, and the mighty region of the Caucasus- staying at the brilliant Rooms Hotel. I also travelled with an interesting bunch of people from across the world- from the US to Iran and made some extra special memories. Some outstanding moments: Wine tasting in the Kakheti region, walking through the Old Town of Tbilisi, exploring the rock hewn Cave City of Uplistsikhe, the UNESCO site of Mtskheta.
Read about it here: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/georgias-wild-side_us_59f5413ce4b05f0ade1b57de
- Making the pilgrimage to Machu Pichu
This was the most iconic trip of 2017- a moment so surreal that I did not understand whether it was a dream or for real. Taking the Bingham train there was also a luxurious experience- a nice launchpad for the demanding climb and excitement of Machu Pichu. Wandering through the ruins with only llamas for company, meeting Quechua women, and the spectacular landscapes all around- I truly felt blessed! I also enjoyed my time in Cusco (a beautiful city that I would really love to spend more time in, filled with Incan and colonial history and architecture) in spite of the high altitude which made me a little unwell.
- Glamping on the top of the world
I have always been wary of high altitudes and somehow have declined all invitations to places above 11, 000 feet so far. I finally gathered courage to visit Ladakh, staying at the luxurious TUTC properties in Leh and Diskit. I was pampered by the camp- right from monitoring my oxygen levels to a valet attending to all my needs. I explored this fairytale region of remote monasteries, towering mountains, rugged terrain and high passes with my fantastic guide Dorjey. A region that all Indians need to put on their wish list NOW. My most special experience- a visit to Turtuk, the last village before Pakistan, with cascading streams, barley fields, and red cheeked children.
Read about my experience here: http://www.theweek.in/youzone/triptease/ladakh-is-much-more-than-just-snow-and-mountains.html
- Luxuriating on the Athenian Riviera
I discovered what it is to be J lo or Beyoncé. I stayed at Grand Resort Lagonissi, one of the top luxury properties on the Athenian Riviera, where celebrities like Leonardo Di Caprio and the cast of Mama Mia have stayed in the past with stone steps leading to beaches and views of the cerulean sea from my villa. This resort on the Athenian Riviera is a world in itself- encourages you to be a beach bum and a lotus eater. Slow travel at its best- the sunset at Cape Sounion being the highlight, besides a repeat trip to Athens and savouring some great Greek vegetarian food at its multiple restaurants. Time to relax, spa and read! Of course it made me a happy girl!
- Spending slow time in London.
I was in London for personal reasons, but also used the time, to explore the city- discovering hidden spots like the Chelsea Psychic garden, Hampstead Heath, and exploring the treasures of some favorite museums like the V & A Museum and the British Museum. I also had a lovely trip to the Jurassic Coast with my brother and family, driving through coastal towns rich with prehistoric fossils, doing small hikes and cliff walks, and having pub meals.
- Reveling in the biggest Swiss Festival
An amazing trip to Switzerland, to visit the very special Unspunnen Festival in Interlaken, and also exploring the Rhine Falls and the medieval town of St Gallen. Fell in love with the Appenzeller region and a very special meal at the remote mountain lodge Berggasthaus Aescher, The Festival was an overwhelming experience with the best of Swiss traditions showcased from Alpenhorns and dances, to traditional costumes, music, cheese making, ancient games like stone throwing and of course food, drinking and merriment. In spite of the rain and inclement weather, I enjoyed every moment- and on the day of the parade the Gods smiled down at us with bright sunshine.
- Discovering the German Rhine Valley
This country has a surprise in store for me every time I visit it! And this time around experienced the pleasures of the Rhine Valley and Rudesheim as well as the beauty of cologne. Staying in Rudesheim was a page out of a fairy tale- filled with good food, wine and merry making besides a beautiful trek down the vineyards and up in a cable car. I also discovered that there is more to Frankfurt than just being a stopover city- an apple wine Festival, a museum mile and lots of history! Stayed at the lovely 25 hours Goldman hotel- a boutique hotel that has some very special facilities and design.
- Floored by Paris.
This was just bewitchment. The City of Lights in the pre-Christmas mode. Lights, Christmas decorations and goodies, shopping and hot chocolate at Galeries Lafayette, feasting on Monet’s works at Museum Marmottan and a private tour of the city in a 2 CV. Imagine an open bus tour through Champs Elysees lit up with its Christmas trees, a warm and cozy evening at the lavish Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte with the affable owner of the Chateau, and an afternoon at Versailles visiting the chapel, opera and the beautiful state rooms. I can’t wait to go back and explore Paris in the summer!
Read about my time in Paris here: http://www.indulgexpress.com/life-style/travel/2017/dec/23/champagne-on-the-champs-elysees-a-magical-xmas-in-paris-5422.html
- Luxuriating at the Ciragan Palace, Kempinski, Istanbul
I felt like a princess at this stunning, luxurious property belonging to the exclusive LHW group, on the Bosporus- Imagine opening your windows or standing in your balcony, looking at the boats on the Golden Horn and the skyline of mosques and minarets? And of course I was in one of my favorite cities again, exploring off beat places and having luxury experiences from an indulgent hamaam to a high tea on a private yacht, from a coffee and baklava class to a glimpse of the Istanbul Art Biennale. An amazing city and an amazing property. Highly recommended!
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 2018!
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