Month: April 2017

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Rokeby Manor and Residences – Mussoorie, India

Landour is the kind of place you should never take older relatives nostalgic for the good ol’ days of the Raj, or you’ll never hear the end of it. Unlike its increasingly chaotic twin, Mussoorie, the cantonment town was spared relentless deforestation, construction and commercialisation under the Cantonment Act of 1924 and remains every bit the bucolic English retreat it started out as in the mid-19th century.

The Pine Tree Lodge, one of three new luxury cottages operated by the area’s iconic Rokeby Manor hotel, is a good place to settle into. Unobstructed views of the lower Himalayas rush in from every window, the Scandinavian-style decor – warm, woodsy, yet uncluttered – is equally good for photographing, and you get used to the butler and chef sooner than you’re comfortable admitting. “What would you like to eat?” is the only hardship here: should you have hot, homemade rajma-chawal, an English fry-up, or sweet tea-and-pakora marathons? Or should you, swaddled in your warmest, settle in the patio outside your bedroom, watching the chef poke the embers of your barbecue? Or then, let Rokeby’s in-house restaurant, Emily’s, bring its British meat-and-potatoes staples to you? Make the right choice: all of the above.

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A suite at Pine Tree Lodge – Mussoorie

You might not see the point in leaving the cottage at all, but Landour offers some good-quality loitering. Follow the 2.4km loop, Gol Chakkar, a deodar-and chestnut-fringed road, which threads all the sights. The Saint Paul’s and Kellogg Memorial churches conjure up Raj-era weddings of pale Chantilly lace and cold roses. Lal Tibba, the highest point in Mussoorie, lets you count off the major peaks of the Garhwal Himalayas through a telescope. Char Dukan, once a cluster of four Indian eateries, has, over a century, expanded to six with the addition of two grocery stores – and is one of the few places in Landour to people-watch.

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view from Lal Tibba, the highest point in Mussoorie

Take a rain check on activities that take you out of Landour, save for two. Sainji (23km) is a tiny tribal settlement above Mussoorie in the Tehri-Garhwal district, famous for its corn decor. Bunches of yolk-gold cobs that need sun-drying so their seeds can be sown are arranged like awnings on both, the squat newer acid-coloured buildings as well as traditional wood homes. Each of the village’s 35-odd residences has its own courtyard where toothless grannies winnow grain and toddlers chase chickens. Jabarkhet Nature Reserve is the other must-do outside Landour, on the Dhanaulti-Dehradun road (www.jabarkhet nature.com; 6am – 6pm;).

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Corn hung to dry forms part of the decor in Sainji Village

The 300- acre private reserve has all but recovered from extensive damage due to logging and overgrazing and is now once more cloaked in oak, pine and rhododendron forests and reclaimed by leopards, bears and martens, and black bulbuls sing their hearts out. In late February, an explosion of violets and deep-blue gentians render the reserve still more beautiful. But until then, make do with a pre-dawn trek to Flag Hill, where you get to stare stupidly as the rising sun sets the forest on fire. By the time you make it back to the Pine Tree Lodge, the neighbouring Landour Bakehouse will just be opening it doors (see Where to Eat). Order yourself a pot of Earl Grey and the warm, crumbly scones with lots of cream; sit down at a table next to the big window looking out to a swathe of deodar. Maybe your auntie has a point after all.

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Kellogg Memorial Church is just one of the sights on the Gol Chakkar circuit

GREAT FROM: Mumbai, Delhi, Chandigarh

GREAT FOR: Raj-era nostalgia

WHERE TO STAY

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Rokeby Manor

Rokeby Manor and Residences: Of the three luxury residences spread across Gol Chakkar Road, Pine Tree Lodge has the best mountain views and is sited just a 10-minute walk from Bothwell Bank Cottage, which is perfect for a small family. Bothwell Bank House, with its restored 19th-century architecture, parquet floors and sprawling balconies, is perfect for a big group (00-91-135-2635604, 00-91-9634443666; www.rokebymanor. com, reservations@rokebymanor.com; all rates include breakfast, and 30 minutes use of mountain bike per day).

WHERE TO EAT

Anil’s Café, a Landour institution, is a favourite with visitors and locals, including the town’s considerable student population. Between the Nutella pancakes, cheesy Maggi and veg momos, you’ll have your hill station junk food sorted (00-91-135-2633783; Char Dukan; 8am – 8pm;). The 19th-century Landour Bakehouse always smells of bread and coffee and serves several old-timey British breads, puddings and cakes. The chocolate chip cookies, raisin scones and madeleines get our vote (00-91-8755343343; Shop No 152, Sister’s Bazaar; 8am – 8pm;). The Stray Dog Ale House and Stübli is the hotel’s members-only hillside restaurant, which is built like a log cabin and serves a concise, rotating menu of hearty, warming Swiss stews, sausages and puddings. The upstairs Tudor-style ale house’s spicy toddy concoctions and bar bites are good to get a little colour in your cheeks (00-91-135-2635604; Gol Chakkar; 12pm – 3pm, 6pm – 10pm).

WHAT TO PACK

You’ll need thick woollens, lip balm and good walking shoes. Carry rain protection, too, as there tend to be light showers this time of year.

SHOPPING

There isn’t that much in the way of shopping in Landour but be sure to stock up on the famous chunky and smooth peanut butters from A Prakash & Co (Landour Bakehouse uses these for their desserts), as well as their excellent cheeses and marmalades (00-91-135-2632544; Sister’s Bazaar; 10.30am – 6.30pm).

CLEAN LOO GUIDE

Restaurants and tea stops between Dehradun and Landour have clean if rustic bathrooms, but it’s best to carry toilet paper and hand sanitiser for emergency stops along some of the forested stretches in between.

SAFETY

Landour is a very safe town and even solo nighttime walks aren’t nerve-wracking in the least.

MEDICAL AID

For emergencies, head to the well-known Landour Community Hospital nearby (00-91-135-2632053; www.eha-health.org; near Tehri bus stop).

CHILD-FRIENDLINESS

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Jabarkhet Nature Reserve

Kids will love the wide open spaces and friendly local dogs, but will need entertainment if you plan to stay more than a couple of days. Jabarkhet Nature Reserve could be fun with a good guide.

GOOD TO KNOW

*Landour is home to Anglo-Indian author Ruskin Bond who has had a hand to play in most of our childhood imaginings. You might ‘casually’ lope past Ivy Cottage, his home on Mullingar Hill, to try and run into him. Or, just show up at the Cambridge Book Depot on Mussoorie’s Mall Road at around 3pm on any Saturday to meet Bond in the flesh.

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Fresh Design and Fashion In a Historical Frame – Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerp is Belgium’s second city, and its best-kept secret. Once a Renaissance metropolis, today this fashion and design centre combines historic character with cutting-edge creativity. Head out on two wheels, delve into the past and sample local flavours on a weekend exploring Flanders’ unofficial capital.

The tour

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The Tower of Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady Rises 123 metres high – making it the tallest in the Low Countries

On Antwerp’s peaceful left bank, Jona de Beuckeleer points out the landmarks of the city’s skyline across the river: the slender cathedral, the Art Deco glamour of Europe’s first skyscraper, the Gothic church of St Paul’s. He’s leading the Marnix bike tour, one of four offered by Cyclant, the company he runs with his friend and fellow Antwerp native Nicolas. Teachers by trade, they give an entertaining inside track on storied spots and less-pedalled places alike. On Marnix, for example, they take participants through the old town, with its medieval houses and riverside castle, and also the left bank and docklands. At Park Spoor Noord, reclaimed railtracks lead beside grassy lawns and street art, while in multicultural Borgerhout, the colourful arches of Chinatown frame the grand domes of Antwerpen-Centraal station. Antwerp is a walkable city, but to see some of its most interesting corners it’s best to make like the Belgians and saddle up.

The museum

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The medieval garden at the heart of the museum, which has been open to the public since 1877

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Antwerp was the largest city north of the Alps. A commercial powerhouse, it grew rich on the spoils of the Spanish Empire, and people came from far and wide to make their fortune. One of them was Christopher Plantin, a printing pioneer whose home and headquarters lives on as the one-of-a-kind Museum Plantin-Moretus. A warren of beautifully preserved rooms spread around a peaceful medieval garden, it’s the only museum in the world that’s listed as a World Heritage site by Unesco —although it still feels like Plantin could walk in at any moment. The smell of musty books and wood polish hangs in the air of his creaking, timber-beamed home, its walls lined with tapestries and gilded leather wallpaper. Treasures include early maps, a Gutenberg Bible and paintings by his friend Rubens —while in the printing quarters, the collection is rarer still. Here, there are stacks of inky letters up to the ceiling, original font sets and, in the workshop where printers once toiled from dawn until dusk, the oldest printing presses in the world.

The breakfast

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The coffee shop at Het Bos, which also has a gig venue, theatre and exhibitions spaces

Eggs sizzle in the tiny kitchen where Charlotte Koopman and Hadas Cna’ani are cooking, their movements fast and deliberate as they stir, pour and fry food for the eclectic crowd settling at tables. With its concrete columns and metallic pipes, the first  floor of warehouse-turned-arts-complex Het Bos is an industrial setting for a resolutely home-spun occasion: the Otark Sunday breakfast club. Today, there’s warm Georgian flatbreads heaped with hummus, artichoke and dukkah (an Egyptian spice mix); aubergine jam with Romanian sheep’s cheese; and fried eggs with tomatoes, honey and oregano. There’s also ice cream: fig leaf, salted butter caramel, roasted strawberry with white miso. Ice cream might seem an unusual choice for breakfast, but as morning turns to afternoon and an increasingly hungover crowd spills in, nobody needs convincing. With food this good, it’s only right that breakfast is a three-course meal.

The hotel

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The hotel’s facade is typical of the old town, whose squares are lined with merchant and guild houses

It’s just turned three, and a tuneful chatter of bells drifts in through the open doors of Hotel O Kathedral. Set over two historic town houses, the design hotel has pride of place right opposite Antwerp’s medieval Cathedral of Our Lady, a Gothic masterpiece whose tower soars dizzily above the old town. Most of the 37 rooms have views, some with window seats to gaze out from, others have skylights that frame the spire. Inside, they pay homage to another Antwerp icon — the artist Rubens, with details from his paintings spread across walls and ceilings, their rich colours contrasting with the mellow blacks and golds of burnished walls, bathrooms and beds. Breakfast is held downstairs, in a softly lit area lined with vintage radios; at night, this segues into a bar serving cocktails and local beers. But Hotel O Kathedral is also a relaxing hangout during the day — grab one of the tables on the pavement outside and watch the world pass by in the cathedral square.

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Eating in Alibaug – Maharashtra, India

Sun setting over the beautiful ocean, golden rays bouncing off gleaming waters, waves crashing on the beach providing  a background score, happy chatter enveloping you. It’s easy to see why the city’s cacophony is but a distant memory at Alibaug – plus you don’t have to travel too far to get here. While local cuisine  is always a hot favourite, a few Mumbai restaurants have trickled in, bringing  with them trendy spaces and gastronomic experiences that are slowly changing the culinary landscape in this sleepy hamlet.

Don’t waste any time upon arriving  at Mandwa Jetty; plonk down at the waterfront Boardwalk by Flamboyante even before you get to the parking lot (see Where to Eat for all details).

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One of the specials at Boardwalk by Flamboyante, the Grilled Fish pairs well with the watermelon and feta salad

Run by  the team behind Flamboyante in Mumbai’s Cuffe Parade, this open-air, Mediterranean- style restaurant does a great watermelon and creamy feta salad and cheesy potato wedges, with a side  of sweeping views of ferry-dotted waters. Don’t miss the Pomfret Peri Peri  and the Grilled Fish in lemon butter garlic with capers, both of which are cooked to mouthwatering perfection. A few feet from Boardwalk,  the cheerful Kiki’s Café & Deli  is the brainchild of Mumbaibased hotelier and caterer Nitin Mongia. Imagine stepping off the ferry for a hearty breakfast of Truffle Oil Scrambled Eggs, a gigantic Brownie Freakshake  and gooey Salted Carmel Tart.

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Kiki’s Café & Deli

But the eclectic café is known for more than its breakfast offerings – try the Spaghetti Aglio Olio with chicken. For a relaxed, hippie vibe, head  to Bohemyan Blue Garden Café, where  you can spend the afternoon at a shaded café next to a vegetable garden, which produces some of the eatery’s ingredients.

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Bohemyan Blue Garden Café

The Guava Juice with Sprite and Mint Lemonade are refreshing accompaniments to its tasty – albeit not authentic – Konkani-style charcoal-grilled chicken or the Prawn Thai Curry, served with rice  and a yummy raw papaya salad. If you like a more hands-on approach  to your food, Colaba’s The Table has just the thing – informative workshops at owners Jay Yousuf and Gauri Devidayal’s home in Saswane, which  has a small-scale working farm that supplies fresh produce to the restaurant. Adrienne Thadani of Fresh & Local, who  is an expert in urban and organic farming, takes you around the farm. Before you know it, you’re wrist-deep in dirt, helping make permaculture beds, transplanting saplings and harvesting micro-greens.

All the hard work pays off handsomely when you sit down to a large spread, prepared by the chefs – juicy pieces  of barbecued chicken and eggplant hot off the grill, freshly-picked salads and creamy pastas with delicious wines, followed  by an excellent apple crumble pie.  While the menu changes with each workshop, you can always expect great food and fresh ingredients. If all this sounds too tedious, round up some friends, rent a bungalow and let  the food come to you.

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Live music at Café Zoe’s Kitchen

Café Zoe’s Kitchen offers weekend delivery of its signature dishes right to your doorstep. Try the half-kilo quiches – the Leeks and Ham  one is delicious and can feed a small village , or the Spaghetti in Truffle Butter Sauce and Smoked Salmon Mousse dip with Melba crisps.

Now all you have to do is sit back  and revel in the food coma.

GREAT FROM: Mumbai, Pune

GREAT FOR: Delicious food in seaside settings

WHERE TO STAY

Countryside Farm: Located about 2km from Mandwa Jetty, and with  a choice of 10 decent stay options, including rooms, a cottage and tents, Countryside Farm makes for a relaxed stay. Bohemyan Blue Stay: The spacious tents, interspersed with quaint lotus ponds, gardens and a tented dining/common area, are ideal for a laidback, romantic escape. Service might be a little slow but it makes up with good food and great surroundings.

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Ccaza Ccomodore

Ccaza Ccomodore: This is a great pick  when you’re travelling with a bunch  of friends. The villa sits amid a manicured lawn in which chairs, tables and hammocks are set up. The villa comes with cosy rooms and a pool.

WHERE TO EAT

Boardwalk by Flamboyante: 00-91-9920569772, 00-91-2141-237787; www.flamboyante.in; Mandwa Jetty; 11am – 9pm; reservations are mandatory.

Kiki’s Café & Deli: 00-91-9820132158, 00-91-8308802678; near Mandwa Jetty; 8am – 9.30pm

Bohemyan Blue Garden Café: 00-919823481829; www.bohemyanblue.com; Plot No 1, Agarsure, Alibaug-Rewas Main Rd, opp Fountain Head, Zirad; 11am – 7pm.

Café Zoe’s Kitchen: 00-91-9833490490; Alibaug-Rewas Main Rd; only on weekends; 9am – 9pm (for placing orders), delivery between 11.30am and 10.30pm.

SAFETY

The area is quite safe though it is better for women to travel in groups. Most beaches don’t have lifeguard facilities,  be careful while taking a dip in the ocean.

MEDICAL AID

Primary Health Centre can handle minor ailments (00-91-2141-237831, 00-91-9833955370 [Dr Abhijeet Ghase]; Dhokawade; 9am – 6pm daily except for public holidays, call for emergencies).  It’s best to head back to Mumbai  for serious medical issues.

GOOD TO KNOW

*Kiki’s Café & Deli opens at 8am,  but don’t expect service for the next  30 to 45 minutes.

*Rickshaws are easy to find  at Mandwa Jetty till 9pm. If you don’t have your own vehicle, make sure  to take down contact details of a few rickshaw drivers beforehand, or fix  a time for pick-up.

*Café Zoe’s Kitchen also delivers marinated, uncooked meats for barbecues and whole roasts with sides which needs a five-hour notice.

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Park Regis Singapore – Clarke Quay, Singapore

WHY CLARKE QUAY?

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Clarke Quay – Singapore

Clarke Quay is at the mouth of the Singapore River, where the first major businesses were set up during Singapore’s early years. While no longer a harbour or port for passing boats, Clarke Quay has maintained its position as the heart of the Central Business District. The Clarke Quay stretch is particularly known for its entertainment and dining hubs and its close proximity to cultural enclaves and other popular tourist attractions in Singapore.

WHY PARK REGIS?

Park Regis is the upscale brand of the Australian StayWell Hospitality Group (SWGH), one of the largest independently owned hotel management groups in Asia Pacific with a network of 30 properties in the region. Park Regis Singapore is the first SWGH property to open in Asia.

WHAT’S MY ROOM LIKE?

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Take a leisurely dip of invigorating swim in the outdoor pool with cascading waterfall

Park Regis Singapore offers 202 smartly designed rooms to maximise space. A thoughtful addition in all rooms is the alcove next to the window that acts as a reading cove or alternative day bed for guests. All rooms boast either a view of the park, the hotel’s stunning 25m outdoor pool with cascading waterfall or the hustle and bustle of Clarke Quay and Boat Quay near by. The rooms are also complemented with innovative technology, such as the inclusion of Handy, a smartphone device that gives guests free unlimited 3G wireless internet and free unlimited local and international calls to select countries.

WHAT AM I EATING?

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All-day dining on local and international delights is available at Twenty3 Drink & Dine

All-day intercontinental dining is available at Twenty3 Drink & Dine that serves local and international fare at its breakfast buffet and a la carte meals the rest of the time. The breakfast buffet is worth checking out, soley for its hot noodle station, where chefs prepare a local noodle du jour a la minute. There is also Royal Pavilion, a 142-seater modern Cantonese restaurant with six private dining rooms.

GOOD TO KNOW

Park Regis Singapore caters well to the solo traveller. There is a self-service token operated Laundromat available 24 hours a day, and bicycles for rent to explore the city with (rental includes helmet, lock, basket, and drinking water, with baby seat available on request). The hotel is also wheelchair friendly and has rooms catered for travellers in wheelchairs and their companions as well.

BEYOND THE FRONT DOOR

Discover Singapore from a local’s point of view with Park Regis Singapore’s #sginsiders, a walking guide jointly put together by three local personalities. There are three possible walking trails catered to those looking for Fun &Adventure, Arts/Lifestyle or Nightlife. The attractions recommended by the trio include personal favourite cafes, lesser known watering holes, museums and shopping points.

WHAT’S THE DAMAGE?

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The Park Room is a quiet sanctuary that overlooks the busy CBD

Rooms start from US$133 per night for a Park Room. Additions of US$11, US$28 or US$56 can give guests an upgrade to a Merchant Room, Quay Room (with pool access) or Regis Room (family room) respectively. Stay the weekend and book the #sginsiders Weekend Staycation package that includes complimentary room upgrade, a specially concocted Regis Insiders Mocktail, buffet breakfast and complimentary two-hour bike rental for two (from US $140++; parkregissingapore.com).

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Backwoods Camp – South Goa, India

Wild melodies

Picture yourself in Goa, wide awake at dawn — no hangover or beach in sight. Instead, you’ve been walking in the woods, listening to birdsong, watching flashes of colour play peekaboo among the leaves.

Backwoods Camp draws you into Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary‘s earthy interior, where giant squirrels run amok in the trees and unusual feathered creatures are visible at close range. Peace cocoons you as you switch to the simple life: rising early, going for long walks in the sanctuary’s buffer zone and befriending other birding buffs at the rustic property.

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Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary

Over 170 species of endemic and migratory birds can be found here  in winter. The forest surprises you with nature’s unsung marvels at every turn. Huge wood-spiders hang over the gravelly paths while butterflies and damselflies flit about the thick shrubbery. With neither phone network nor any signs of urban life close by, every sighting becomes a conversation piece here.

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An orange-headed thrush stops to catch its breath

An entire morning can be spent tracking rare species like the Malabar trogon or Indian pitta by their distinctive whistles. Resident guide Leio makes birding easy with his sharp ears and powerful binoculars that show crests, beaks and plumes in bright detail. He leads the way on walking trails that wind around the camp, behind which flows a secluded little stream. The colourful Oriental dwarf kingfisher likes to frequent such watery spots and you might see one flying by when you wade in for a dip.

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A green bee-eater on the lookout for prey

The camp itself is far from luxurious, but it gives you the luxury of exclusivity. Few visitors come to this part of Goa, so every walk feels unspoilt. At Tambdi Surla, a few kilometres away, you can wander through tall grasses warmed by the winter sun, before seeing the ancient stone carvings of a 12th-century Mahadev temple. It’s the perfect place to just be in the moment — or share it with a friend. In this simplified milieu, small talk revolves around the habits of barbets, sunbirds and other pretty birds.

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The Mahadev Temple at Tambdi Surla

It can be tricky to identify them at first, but Leio’s light commentary on the birds makes you wiser. If this place were to have a winged mascot, it would have to be the weirdly adorable Ceylon  frogmouth. Romantics at heart, frogmouths are commonly found here roosting with their mates after dusk within the camp itself. They’re superbly camouflaged even at head height, but, once you spot that grumpy, froggy face, you won’t forget it.

By night, things get more intriguing. There are no large predators in the sanctuary, but Leio and his helpers are happy to take you on night drives to help you look for owls, nightjars and encounter other wildlife — if you’re lucky. Packs of wild dogs, or dhole, can be found roaming the forest, and deer’s eyes often shine through the quiet darkness.

Though it’s cut off from civilisation,  the camp makes a nice base for exploring other locations in Goa. The Dudhsagar Falls, tucked into a corner of the sanctuary, are worth visiting for the drama of driving through shallow streams, smelling the red earth of the forest and swimming under the large, frothy, three-tiered waterfall.

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Dudhsagar Falls makes a pleasure to walk around the camp

And when you return, tea and pakoras await in the camp’s cosy dining room to be enjoyed to the soundtrack of birds chirping merrily in the birdbaths outside.

WHERE TO STAY

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Backwoods Camp: This camp is ideal for a mellow getaway in the woods. The guest rooms in the main house are more airy and spacious than the small cottages scattered across the property, which offer more privacy. Facilities here are simple but clean and efficient.

WHERE TO EAT

This isn’t a foodie destination, so expect basic meals with veg and non-veg dishes. As the camp attracts foreign visitors, the flavouring in the food is on the mild side, and might be bland for the Indian palate. So carrying your own condiments and some snacks is not a bad idea. The market is far away from the camp  so dietary preferences should be mentioned at the time of booking.

WHAT TO PACK

You’ll need thick-soled walking shoes when you stroll on the pebbly trails, as well as mosquito repellent, a hat, sunscreen, any medication that you regularly need, and binoculars — if you own a pair. The forest is slightly cooler than the beaches, but comfortable enough for lightweight clothes. If you’re travelling in a group, consider carrying some games for the evenings.

Falls both take about an hour, so you can use the restrooms at the airport, camp or entry point to the falls. The walking trails lack loos, but you’re never away from the camp for more than three hours at a time.

SAFETY

This is a safe destination, but do stay with the group and watch out for snakes while walking in the forest. Life jackets are provided at Dudhsagar Falls.

MEDICAL AID

There’s a first-aid kit at the camp and there’s the government-run ID Hospital for emergencies (00-91¬832-2312115; Ponda) as well as a private hospital— Savaikar Clinic & Nursing Home — both are about an hour’s drive away.

CHILD-FRIENDLINESS

Babies and children are welcome at Backwoods Camp, but, unless your kids are very passionate about avian life and can survive in a quiet place for 48 hours, we suggest leaving them at home.

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Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway – India

SMACK YOUR LIPS

“Should I get a massage or head to the infinity pool and relax all day with a drink for company? Should I try the delicious buffet at Feast or the home-made pastas at Bene? Should I try the Paired Menus at the Lobby Lounge or the Smoking Cocktail experience by the pool? Maybe I’ll just stay in this comfy bed with fluffy pillows and order in while I make up my mind.” These are some of the tough decisions you’re faced with at the Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway.

The main draw here is the food, so you will spend your staycation in a happy haze of gourmet bliss. Bone, the hotel’s   Italian restaurant run by Chef Guiseppe Lioce, offers you treats like Capesante Mare e Monti — scallops cooked to perfection in truffle honey and served on a bed of pumpkin puree, asparagus and crispy Parma ham, or Branzino alla Livornese — oven-baked Chilean sea bass cooked in a light tomato sauce with garlic, capers and anchovies.

For delicious grills, and international, Asian and Indian delights, try the all-day dining Feast. The massive buffet brims with delicious pan-Asian sautés, North Indian curries, an array of desserts and chefs’ homemade pickles  with flavours from around the country. Or try sampling from one of the themed live counters that serve up delicious grills, Tex-Mex and South Indian delights.

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Lobby Lounge

Early evening, head down to the Lobby Lounge for a taste of the delectable Paired Menus — small plates of goodies like Lamb Sliders or Bira Blonde Battered Sea Bass that are pre-paired with wines or beers. smoking-cocktail-sheratonRemember to leave enough room for the Middle Eastern feast by Chef Gopal that awaits you at Persian Terrace. Start with cold mezzes like Burani Spinach and babaganoush, followed by platters of juicy chicken, lamb and seafood kebabs and end with Om Ali — a traditional Arabic puff pastry served with saffron and pistachio ice-cream. Set by the pool, this open-air restaurant has pretty cabanas and a fire pit, which adds a touch of drama to your meal. And, if you’re looking  for a really dramatic experience, try the lit-up Smoking Cocktails (left), which are essentially hookahs filled with alcohol, fruits, tobacco and ice.

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Persian Terrace

Having achieved the ‘Grand’ status a year ago, the service here steals the show. It isn’t just about making your stay comfortable; the staff takes care of little things like cars fitted with wi-fi, charging docks at the table, Champagne breakfasts at the Club Lounge and romantic dinners by the poolside.

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Offering stunning city views, the room here are built for comfort

And, since the whole idea of a staycation is to do nothing, the hotel is really quite perfect. Apart from copious amounts of delicious food, tasty brews and cocktails as well as indulgence available at the hotel, its proximity to Onion Mall (see Shopping) means you can indulge in some major retail therapy and entertainment, take a leisurely walk around the lake at sunset or party the night away at High Ultra Lounge located at an altitude of 420 ft on the rooftop of the World Trade Centre (see Good to Know). With everything located literally a stone’s throw from the hotel, why would you ever want to leave?

WHERE TO STAY 

 Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway: Located inside the Brigade Gateway complex, this hotel boasts 230 superb rooms, luxurious service and facilities, brilliant restaurants, a spa, an infinity pool and a fitness centre.

WHERE TO EAT

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Bene Pizza

The hotel has quite an array of restaurants serving up delicious treats. The open-air Persian Terrace is a great option for dinner on a breezy evening (level 4; 6.30pm -11.30pm). The hotel’s warm and friendly Italian restaurant, Bene, has a pizza bar, pasta counter and a spectacular selection of wines and spirits (level 4; 12pm -3pm, 6.30pm -11.30pm).

Feast is an all-day dining restaurant that does huge buffet spreads that include Asian and Indian treats as well as themed live counters like grills and Tex-Mex. The a la carte menu offers international, Asian and Indian cuisine (lobby level; breakfast: 6.30am -10.30am, lunch:12pm -3.30pm, dinner: 6.30pm-11.30pm, Sunday brunch:12.30pm- 4.30pm).

The Lobby Lounge is open 24X7.

MEDICAL AID

The hotel provides first-aid facilities and has a doctor on call. The nearest hospital, Columbia Asia, is five minutes away.

SHOPPING

Head to the adjacent Orion Mall.

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Muchukunda Murals – Thiruvarur, Tamil Nadu

You enter the ancient hall, with its ochre pillars extending upwards in the dark, cavernous depths of the structure. How plain, you think. That’s when your guide taps your shoulder and points upwards. There, on the ceiling, lit by weak shafts of sunlight, are long rows painted in vivid reds and greens, featuring a motley crew of very small people. And that’s when your jaw drops, and the dance begins.

And what a dance it is. Observing the murals at Muchukunda, panel after panel, row after row, requires you to pirouette as you walk along the length of the corridor so you can take in every single detail illustrated on the ceiling.

The motion makes you wonder if the arrangement of the panels was, in fact, intended to make you circumambulate the panels from below — making the little people above your head seem like gods.

You are in the Devasiriya Mandapam of the Sri Thyagaraja Swamy Temple, which predates Thanjavur’s ancient Brihadeeswarar Temple. The painted panels tell the story of the mythical monkey-faced Chola king Muchukunda. It is believed that Lord Shiva took up residence in this temple in the form of Thyagaraja Swamy only after Muchukunda correctly identified the former’s real image from a set of seven nearly identical ones.

muchukunda-murals

Your neck might ache from constantly looking up the murals but it’s all worth it

These murals were painted only in the 17th century, during the Nayaka period, a more recent addition to the temple’s landscape. However, they suffered damage over the centuries, and have been recently restored by the Prakriti Foundation and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (IN TACH).

The Mangala Rural Retreat, in the vibrant town of Thirvarur, is the perfect place at which to base yourself to see this beautiful piece of history.

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Base yourself at Mangala Rural Retreat, which offers the quaintness and warmth of a village home

Built to resemble a traditional Tamil house, it has five rooms, each different from the other, and overlooks the historic Agneeswarar Temple and its expansive tank. Set in Thirupugalur Village, about 22km from the site of the murals, the hotel is run by the Prakriti Foundation, giving you direct access to the murals, which are otherwise not always open to the public. So it’s worth staying here, despite the distance. Besides there’s enough to do in and around the village  to keep you occupied for the rest of your trip. Take a leisurely walk (3pm-5pm) or borrow a bicycle and pedal past lush fields and quaint houses, and meet friendly locals. If you’re lucky, you might also be able to feed the temple elephant.

Agneeswarar Temple

Agneeswarar Temple

That’s not all, though. You could also visit a potter’s home in nearby Thirukanapuram and learn the craft from him, or head to Nanilam, 10km away, to perfect the art of bamboo-weaving from the villagers (both activities can be arranged by the hotel; 9.30am – 5pm).

For meals, you don’t need to look any further than the property itself. With only vegetarian fare available, the thalis here are generous, featuring a dozen items, from sambhar and rasam to poriyal and kozhakottai (appams stuffed with grated coconut and jaggery). Breakfast, too, is a truly traditional affair, starring fluffy idlis and chutney or pongal, among an array of other dishes.

The town and its murals might not enjoy the same popularity as the relics in nearby Thanjavur. And perhaps that is a good thing. Because, when you visit, you will understand why this hidden gem requires quiet and solitude for your dance to be magical.

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The locals are a friendly bunch

WHERE TO STAY

Mangala Rural Retreat:

mangala-retreat

The property is run like a homestay and has five rooms. Although equipped with modern amenities, the vibrant house — painted a happy yellow —exudes old-world charm, with courtyards, red oxide floors and stone and terracotta tiles. The caretaker Arun, who lives nearby, is always on call and will take care of your every need.

WHAT TO PACK

Light cottons, sunblock, comfortable shoes

CLEAN LOO GUIDE

You won’t need to use the loo as the drive from Tiruchirapalli takes about an hour. Use the airport toilet if you must.

SAFETY

While the locals are friendly, it’s safer to not venture out too late.

MEDICAL AID

Mangala Rural Retreat has a doctor on call. For any serious medical issues, head to Thanjavur (68km away), which has many hospitals. The super-specialty MVK Hospital is a good bet.

CHILD-FRIENDLINESS

There isn’t much on this trip to keep kids entertained. Unless your little ones are interested in art or history, we recommend leaving them at home.

SHOPPING

poompuhar-india

Muchukunda doesn’t offer much by way of shopping. Make a stop at Thanjavur, en route to Tiruchirapalli airport, for a wealth of interesting options. Among these, Poompuhar, run by the Tamil Nadu Government, sells handicrafts from Thanjavur and around.

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Camping in Satpura Tiger Reserve – Madhya Pradesh, India

The morning fog has begun to disappear and you’re trudging along on the nature walk. The langurs on the teak tree  are swinging from the branches  and a couple of racket-tailed drongos  are chirping away. But what happens  next breaks the spell you’ve been lulled  into, and you remember you’re in an actual jungle, where encounters rarely  end amicably. There’s dried blood on the walking trail. You walk into the bushes  to investigate and come across the bony remains of a sambar; the tree nearby  has leopard claw marks all over its trunk, suggesting the cat dragged the deer up the tree to devour it. The brutal beauty of nature is one of the many things you experience on the camping and nature walk, organised by the Reni Pani Jungle Lodge in the Satpura Tiger Reserve.

reni-pani-jungle-lodge

Reni Pani Jungle Lodge

The programme includes one or two nights of camping, depending on your preference, as well as half- and full-day walks. Located at the confluence  of the Nagduari and Denwa rivers,  Reni Pani’s Jamanidev Under Canvas Mobile Camp is nestled in a splendid valley. The fun begins with a drive to the campsite from the lodge. It’s a bumpy 22km ride in a 4×4 that will get you ready for the adventure ahead. On the way,  the forest guard accompanying you keeps a look out for animal sightings while the in-house naturalist peppers the conversation with titbits about the jungle and its inhabitants.

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Wild dogs usually roam in packs and can take down animals 30 times their weight

Depending on how sharp your eyes are, you might see leopards, deer, nilgai, sloth bears and boars in the abundant foliage. Once you reach the campsite, it’s time for some pampering. You’re welcomed with a hot towel that instantly makes  the chill in your bones disappear, and the tents remind you that the term ‘glamping’ was invented a few years ago for a reason. Equipped with everything you might need for a couple of nights under the stars – toiletries, a torch and a whistle, in case you need help in the middle of the night, or if an animal comes visiting – the tents are spacious, but cosy.

camping

Dining at the campsite is at Gol Ghar, which makes even simple food like dal, rice and sabzi seem romantic

After a sundowner, a simple meal of dal, rice, curries and parathas awaits. An after-meal coffee around the bonfire later, you’re ready  to be tucked in along with a hot-water bag – a lifesaver in the winter months.

The next morning, it’s time for a full day (about 7km) of nature walks. Taking muffins and sandwiches along, you’ll begin a day full of surprises. You’ll stumble upon deer and nilgai, who are startled by your presence. You’ll hear sounds you never have before from beautiful birds you didn’t know existed.

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The nature walk in the reserve’s buffer zone is a learning experience at every curve

And you’ll learn more about  the forest than you did in your geography class at school. By the end of the day, you’ll know the crested hawk-eagle from the grey-headed fish eagle, and the satin wood bark tree from the crocodile bark tree. By night, you might even hear an alarm call ringing out from the woods that breaks the laughter around the bonfire, and puts everyone on high alert.

A juvenile crested hawk-eagle peers out from behind a tree. Apart from the crest, they’re known for their distinctive yellow eyes

A juvenile crested hawk-eagle peers out from behind a tree. Apart from the crest, they’re known for their distinctive yellow eyes

Is a sambar going to be killed?  Is the predator likely to come sniffing around the campsite? The naturalist laughs off your questions, assuring you there’s nothing to worry about. The first question is answered the next morning during the morning nature walk (3.5km), when the guard from the anti-poaching camp informs that all is well with the deer. As you’re walking past large meadows  and ponds, home to kingfishers,  and you hear the songs of the white-browed wagtails, you realise you need  to come back.

GREAT FROM: Bhopal, Mumbai, New Delhi

GREAT FOR: A weekend of adventure

WHERE TO STAY

Jamanidev Under Canvas Mobile Camp by Reni Pani Jungle Lodge: The lodge has 12 very comfortable cottages of varying sizes – six Nallah Units, four Forest Units and two Hill Units. The campsite has single and double occupancy, well-equipped, spacious tents and hot water on demand.

 WHERE TO EAT

The lodge and the campsite offer mostly Indian food and some Continental dishes. Share your preferences with the staff and they’ll accommodate your requests. All the meals at the lodge are buffet-style. At dinner, try the Mohua Martini, a specialty considering mahua trees don’t grow everywhere in India. The food at the camp is prepared fresh on-site. It’s usually simple but delicious fare with a vegetable and meat curry, rice, dal and hot rotis and parathas. The gajar and doodhi halwas are yummy! The nalli nihari and baingan bharta are popular dishes at Reni Pani Jungle Lodge. Since the camp is situated in a jungle, the food served here is your only option.

baingan-bhatra

The baingan bharta is one of the most popular dishes at the lodge, but you can ask the staff to prepare it for you at the campsite, too

WHAT TO PACK

Forest-friendly colours are ideal for jungle excursions. Carry a pair of good hiking shoes, as sneakers don’t quite offer good grip; winter gear, including a hat, is a good idea, as is a pair of binoculars if you own one.

CLEAN LOO GUIDE The loos and bathrooms set up at the campsite are better than anything you’d expect. On the way to Reni Pani Jungle Lodge from Bhopal, Highway Treat, run by Madhya Pradesh Tourism in Bhimbetka (45km), offers a decent toilet and good coffee.

SAFETY

While the lodge, campsite and the jungle are safe, be aware of your surroundings on the walks as well as at the campsite at all times.

MEDICAL AID

There is a well-stocked first-aid box in the cars and at the campsite. However, there is no mobile network or electricity at the campsite, and a doctor is available only at the lodge. Dr Sitoke is a GP and his clinic is about 10km from the lodge. There’s also a government hospital 14km away in Sohagpur. Inform the lodge staff if you need assistance.

CHILD-FRIENDLINESS

Even though the camp is comfy, it’s not the best idea to travel with very young children, considering their various needs. This trip is better suited for kids aged 12 years and over.

GOOD TO KNOW

* Satpura Tiger Reserve is closed on every Wednesday afternoon.

* If you’re looking for more rigorous activity, you can opt for the Panchmarhi Trail. It involves two-day treks of about 13km each with overnight camps in Dehelia and Manakachar villages.

asia-australia-wineries

Satiating The Thirst for Wine In Asia and Australia

HOKKAIDO

hokkaido winery

This northern prefecture maybe better known for its abundance of seafood and dairy but wine production in Hokkaido has been around since the 19605. Although considerably still a young wine-producing region, a number of Hokkaido wineries have won international accolades and many restaurants in the area are beginning to serve local wine to be paired with Hokkaido’s fresh cuisine. The Sorachi district in Hokkaido in particular experiences similar weather and soil conditions of various wine-growing regions in France. Housui Winery is one of the more established wineries in Hokkaido with its own vineyard that plants a variety of grapes, including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varieties.

On a tour here, visitors can sample the Yuki no Keifu series of premium wines that are completely made with grapes harvested from its own vineyard. In summer, a specialty ice cream is served where its syrup topping is made from the discarded grape skins after wine production (alcohol-free so kids can have some too).

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Housui Winery is open daily except for Wednesdays from January to March. Reservations are necessaryto tour the winery or field.The cellar is well stocked and tasting sessions can also be arranged (housu i-winery.co.jp).

KHAO YAI

khao-yai-winery

Thailand is one of the last places anyone would think of to be a wine-growing region. The tropical and humid climate has always been considered unsuitable for wine production but vineyards in Thailand are changing this notion. One of the first to gain world recognition is GranMonte Family Vineyard, which was founded by the Lohitnavy family in 2009 and is under the sole direction of Nikki Lohitnavy, Thailand’s first and only fully qualified oenologist. Wines from the GranMonte Estate are the most decorated in Thailand, having won more than a hundred awards in the past four years. There are a few varieties available and it is the whites, such as its Spring Chenin Blanc, Sole Chenin Blanc Viognier and GranMonte Viognier that are the most renowned.

The whites from GranMonte often feature notes of topical fruits like papaya, pineapple, and lime, which make them popular for wine pairing, especially with spicy Thai cuisine. Nikki continues to challenge herself in creating new varieties and has since developed Sabina Rosé Syrah, Bussaba Natural Sweet Wine Chenin Blanc Semillon and Muscat, and GranMote Cremant.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

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A Granmonte wine barrel

OT here are daily tours that include a lap around thevineyard and winery, ending with wine tasting and a set lunch of dinner at the in-house VinCotto restaurant. February 2017 is GranMonte Harvest Month and tours booked during the month will also include a learning experience about tropical winemaking the by direction of Nikki Lohitnavy.The Annual Harvest Festival on 18-19 February also promises to be lots of fun for oenophiles with its buffet, free flow of wine and mini concert. Book a tour by emailing reservation@granmonte.com or visiting granmonte.com

YARRA VALLEY

yarra-valley-winery

It is impossible to write about winemaking regions without at least mentioning Yarra Valley, the Australian wine region located east of Melbourne. Its cool climate is best known for producing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz wine varieties. The undulating topography of the area divides the valley into two distinct subregions — Valley Floor and Upper Yarra, with each experiencing distinct soil and climate conditions.

Valley Floor is located nearer sea level and experiences warmer temperatures, while Upper Yarra has younger, fertile red soils and a cooler climate, which aid in the production of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Wine producers in Yarra Valley take their wine seriously and many will be hard-pressed to find any winery without an accolade. One of the most exceptional in Yarra Valley is Dominique Portet Winery, where the Portet family has been making wine for ten generations. Even more impressively, their beginnings c an be traced to Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux where founder Dominique had his first whiff of wine. Dominique moved to Yarra Valley when he discovered how similar the conditions were to that of his home in France. For decades since then, the winery has enjoyed great success, especially with its Fontaine Rosé, a wine described to be the bottled essence of summer berries.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

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Dominique Portet Winery

The cellar door is open daily, where visitors can order simple lunches with farm-to-table produce paired with their wines. There are also wine tastings, and tours of the barrel room and winery, as well as social events with the Portet family available throughout the year (dominiqueportet.com).

madhya-pradesh

Be Part of Madhya Pradesh’s Strong Culture – India

REWA

When history and nature intertwine, it is one of the most beautiful things of all. Such is a place called Rewa, in the north-eastern part of Madhya Pradesh. Its forts tell a tale as old as time, and its waterfalls gush through the landscape.

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The Keoti Falls (37km) here are a major attraction; their height and beauty are well worth the travel. Visitors from all across the land come to look upon this force of nature. The water sprays into the air, creating a mist through which the surrounding precipice is shrouded, and it gushes with such a force that one is taken aback The Chachai Falls (37km) nearby should not be underestimated either; the surrounding flora and fauna adorn it like adoring fans.

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The Chachai Falls

Further, the city’s princely rulers have left their mark upon this land; their legacy stands strong in their forts and palaces, in their temples and their monuments. There is much to see here, starting with the  Govindgarh Palace (13km).

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The Spectacular Ruins of Govindgarh Palace

This is where the Maharaja of Rewa made his cosy nest (and, by nest, we mean palatial haven), and where his possessions still lay, including the skull of the famous white tiger caught and housed by His Highness, the first time anyone had ever done so. To view more priceless antiques, one may visit the museum at the Rewa Fort (3km), which stands as a testimony to Rewa’s rich history.

Venkat Bhavan is also a show-stopping example of beautiful architecture, and for a religious experience one can visit the massive supine statue of Lord Shiva named Bhairav Baba, carved out of a single obsidian stone. With so much to see, Rewa will definitely keep you occupied and leave you with many beautiful memories.

venkat-bhavan

KHAJURAHO

Once home to about 85 temples, Khajuraho is spread across three sections, several centuries and various architectural styles. It is a buffet of culture for any historian or history-lover, and its fine carvings are noteworthy for their beauty and attention to detail.

This UNESCO World Heritage site now cocoons 20 preserved temples, the most notable being in the western section, containing the magnificent Shaivite temple Kandariya Mahadev (2km; sunrise ¬sunset) with high porches and regal spires.

kandariya-mahadev-temple

Kandariya Mahadev temple

These temples are among the most beautiful medieval monuments in the country and were built during the golden period of the Chandela rulers. They are wonderful expressions of human imagination, creativity, hard work and spirituality. The carvings often feature erotic images, in an expression of faith through sexuality. While these may be startling, they depict an ancient human ritual that straddles both the past and the present and becomes symbolic on a universal level.

You can sign up for a bicycle tour, which will take you around the sights in the most hassle-free manner possible. Visit in the last week of February for the Khajuraho Dance Festival, which features classical Indian dances like Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi and Manipuri by talented dancers. This festival is internationally recognised, and draws crowds from across the world.

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Khajuraho Dance Festival 2016

CHITRAKOOT

India is a land of demons and Gods, of myths and legends, of stories that sound incredulous and yet many fervently believe in. In modern India, the true origin of such stories lie shrouded in mystery, and yet, they are endlessly enthralling.

Chitrakoot is allegedly the place in which Lord Ram, his wife Sita and brother Laxman took refuge during their exile. The borders between myth and reality are blurred in its densely-populated forests, as these sites are where the deities apparently lived and breathed. Janki Kund (34km) is where Sita used to take a bath during her stay in Chitrakoot, where the waters once flowed pure and crystal clear.

janki-kund

Janki Kund

The place where Lord Ram would bathe, Ramghat, is one of the most popular attractions in Chitrakoot and it is a place of peaceful meditation, punctuated by  evening aartis that light up the scene.

The Kamadgiri Mountain (32km) is also one of immense religious significance; it is the place where Lord Ram and his companions are said to have stayed.

kamadgiri-mountain

The Kamadgiri Mountain

The name of the maintain means ‘one who fulfils wishes’. And for someone with an interest in Indian history, his or her wish will certainly be fulfilled with a visit here. The landscape is replete with ancient sites, such as the Bharat Milap Temple, where Bharat and Lord Ram had an argument in logic. The Gupt Godavari (44km) is a hidden cave with natural running water in which Lord Ram and Laxman supposedly held court, as the rocks form a curious throne-shaped formation.

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Bharat Milap Temple

For beautiful panoramic views of the lush landscape visit the Hanuman Dhara (31km), a spring on a steep rocky face, located on the rolling hillside. They say it was created by Lord Ram himself!

hanuman-dhara

Hanuman Dhara

The stories of the Ramayana you heard from your grandparents come alive in this beautiful, natural setting, and they make you start to question the difference between myth and reality.

CHANDERI

The name rings a bell. “Hey, isn’t that a hand-woven silk sari?” you wonder. Yes, these exquisitely-crafted fabrics originate from the town of Chanderi, but it should be famous for a lot more. The town has a simple elegance that has been lost in many tourist hot-spots; its radiant sunsets and regal monuments lend  it an air of old-world charm. Be swept away into a world of Rajput kings and magnificent palaces, of festivities and times of war.

This town is well founded in folklore, but it is unique because it is considered sacred. Legend has it that King Kirtipal of the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty witnessed “The Miracle of Water” on a hunting expedition here, when he was supposedly cured of leprosy by its rivers. Since then, it became his capital, and has been revered for generations.

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Koshak Mahal

Today, this town serves as a major center of Jain culture. Interesting sites here include the Koshak Mahal (4km), built by the Sultan of Malwa with three majestic arches, the Shehzadi Ka Rauza (3km) with unusual serpentine brackets and the Purana Madarsa (4km), a tomb with intricately carved jails and exquisite geometric carvings.

purana-madarsa

Purana Madarsa

The Ramnagar Palace and Museum here is also a window into a fascinating and colorful history. This settlement is also known to have had 1,200 baolis or stepwells, and they are worth a visit for their intricate structure.

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The Ramnagar Palace and Museum

One thing is for sure, if the walls in this town could talk, one could listen forever ¬history has seeped into the very bricks of this religious haven.