When we set off on our four-day trek in Ladakh, through the Hemis National Park, our itinerary included night stays in homes in different villages. Little did we know that the homes would spring a series of surprises. During our trek in Uttarakhand, we had stayed in rest houses that offered great views and a mountain of warm but itchy quilts. We slept in candlelit rooms. On one unforgettable trek, we had taken shelter in a shepherd’s stone hut through along, rainy deluge, with smoke pouring in from the kitchen and water rushing in rivulets through the walls.
As we made our way we hoped our homestays would be better. A room in a hut, though dimly lit, would still be homely. But would it be cold? Damp? Noisy? Time would tell. Rumbak village—when we first caught sight of it— gleamed white and brown in the distance. Like an oasis in a desert I thought, for we had been walking through mostly treeless, arid landscape that belied the gurgling ribbon of a river that ran some metres below. These must be the houses of the village chiefs; I wondered where the huts could be.
SURPRISE NO 1 – HOUSES, NOT HUTS – At the village, our guide set out to make enquiries. The villagers offered homestays by rotation, and he needed to know which house would host us. Looking at the village before me, I felt a sense of surprise, tinged with frank admiration. All the houses on the sloping terrain were built of sturdy brick that was plastered over. Large windows ensured ample natural light, and I could see terraces and sloping roofs. Wooden fretwork details, typical of the Ladakh region ran along the exteriors. The impression I got was of a clean village with house-proud inhabitants. We climbed a steep run of stone steps that led into the courtyard of the home which would shelter us for the night.
SURPRISE NO 2 – OUR ROOM – Colourful curtains, on a metal curtain rod, hung at the window, and the floor was covered with a dhurrie, on which four thin single mattresses were arranged along the walls. A pile of synthetic blankets and tables made up the rest of the room’s contents. It was warm, welcoming, and offered a wonderful view. Solar panels ensured ample light. In Rumbak village, as we put down our bags, Sonam Palmo, our smiling hostess, came in with a tray of tea. Her smile made me feel genuinely welcome. Allaying my fears about communication, she spoke in faultless Hindi. One thought, however nagged at my mind. The room had no toilet. And I have the city-dweller’s horror of hole-in-the-ground toilets. But when you have to go, you have to go, and finally the vital question was put forward.
SURPRISE NO 3 – THE TOILET – I looked at the steep stairs that had been pointed out, and climbed hesitantly. A tower revealed itself, with a tiny wooden door, held closed by a twist of rope. I confess my heartbeat faster from the fear of what I would find within than from the exertion of the short climb. The Ladakhis have perhaps the cleanest dry toilets I have ever seen in my travels. The height ensures the pit is far below, and generous additions of hay and mud prevent all unpleasantness.
SURPRISE NO 4 – THE FOOD – Sonam served us large chapattis for dinner, for which the wheat, along with other household requirements, came from Leh, laden on the back of ponies. The village fields only yield peas and barley. Hot dal and a lightly spiced vegetable made the meal the ultimate comfort food. Breakfast was a real winner. Chapattis served marvellously, with jam and processed butter, eggs, and a tin of cheese! Our packed lunch boxes contained a boiled egg, boiled potatoes, a chocolate bar and chapattis.
SURPRISE NO 5 – NO YOUNG MEN! – I was intrigued to see very few young men during our stay in the village. Through our trek, all our hostesses were young women. So, where were all the men? Sonam told us her husband was an army man, posted elsewhere, and her sons were studying in Leh. Her parents lived with her, and her father would leave every morning to graze the donkeys (who had woken us with their braying). Similarly, in Shingo village, our slim, young hostess had two children, both under three, and her husband was away with his donkeys as they carried goods to and from Leh. Her grandparents lived with her, helped in looking after the kids, tend the field, and graze the yak that gave milk. I learnt that most young men prefer to live, study, and earn in the city, coming home occasionally, while women managed the homes and homestays.
SURPRISE NO 6 – HOMESTAYS EMPOWER! – In a unique programme, The J&K Wildlife Protection Department supports the homestays, ensuring the extra money helps make up for livestock losses they may suffer if the snow leopard should carry away their animals. Ten per cent of the money earned is given to the department, which also guides the villagers on service standards to maintain. It is a practical plan, and works as much for trekkers as it does for the villagers. I, for one, can happily forget the rest houses in other places that gifted me itchy bug bites. I also get to keep in memory the smiling faces of the Ladakhi hostesses in their humble homes. Self sufficient women, with few wants, these are housewives who have turned into entrepreneurs tending their home and children as they work.
There are two ways that you could attempt the Cabot Trail—clockwise or anti-clockwise. Both impress with scenic vistas of Cape Breton, the Gulf of St Lawrence, the Atlantic Ocean, and lush landscapes, particularly spectacular in fall. While most people choose to go clockwise, the direction you choose will depend on whether you want to be on the ‘inner’ lane to avoid steep drops, or you enjoy thrilling curves along the coast. Driving anti-clockwise can be a bit daunting for those scared of heights. If you choose to go clockwise, you get to climb Cape Smokey more gradually from Ingonish Ferry.
Hikers will enjoy the Skyline Trail and the Franey Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. You can even jump into the refreshing waters of Black Brook Beach, try fly fishing for Atlantic salmon on the Margaree River, and sail on the lovely Bras d’Or Lake. Eat fresh oysters at Hide Away Campground & Oyster Market, and try delicious butter tarts and cinnamon buns in Cheticamp at the La Boulangerie Aucoin Bakery. Sample beers at the Big Spruce Brewing in Nyanza and stop by Doryman Pub & Grill for great food and Acadian music. End your journey at the little village of Baddeck, in the heart of Cape Breton Island and indulge in delicious crustaceans at Baddeck Lobster Suppers.
This inimitable journey begins at Deer Lake and takes you to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Gros Morne National Park. Here, you can enjoy the stunning views of freshwater fjords formed by glacial erosion. Onward to the ancient site of L’Anse aux Meadows; it wall interest you to know that this is where the Vikings first landed in North America more than 1,000 years ago, and is now the only authenticated Viking settlement in this continent.
The journey highlights the presence of Basque and aboriginal inhabitants as well. The five-hour trip ends at the windswept west coast to the south of Labrador. L’Anse au Clair, established by early French settlers, has nice, sandy beaches as well as scenic walking trails along the shore. Do take the ferry from L’Anse au Clair to Battle Harbour with Labrador Ferry Service (cars are permitted) across the Strait of Belle Isle.
With the glistening St Lawrence River on one side and mountains on the other, this route is dotted with quaint towns and picturesque villages such as Les Eboulements and Saint-Irenee. Take a break at Mont-Saint-Anne, a ski resort just about 40 kilometres from Quebec City. This mountain resort year-round also offers hiking, mountain biking, and golf. If you want to keep the journey short while sticking to the St Lawrence Route, start at Baie-Saint-Paul and drive 50 kilometres to La Malbaeie nestled in the Charlevoix hills. While Baie-Saint-Paulis home to the largest number of art galleries in Canada, La Malbaie has the luxurious Manoir Riehelieu, one of Canada’s historic railway hotels, perched on a cliff overlooking the St Lawrence River and the Laurentian Mountains.
However, if you continue further, treat yourself at Fromagerie Saint-Fidele famous for its cheddar and lactose-free Swiss cheese. The final leg goes from Saint Simeon to the Saguenay fjord beyond Tadossac, where you can go whale watching. The observation boat AML Grand Flueve, boasts of a grand whale watching experience from the glassed-in decks, terraces, and observation platform. Do keep half a day for this thrilling activity.
The Sea to Sky Highway is the most popular section of Highway 99, a beautiful two-hour drive from Vancouver to Whistler traversing the varied climatic zones of British Columbia. There is so much to do within this short distance that you should plan to stretch it over a weekend. Stop by the Whytecliff Park along Horseshoe Bay to enjoy the views of the ocean and the Strait of Georgia. A 15-minute drive from here will lead you to Lions Bay, a quaint village with good hiking trails nearby.
Britarmia Beach is a must after this, where you can visit the Britannia Mine Museum that offers guided mine tours, gold panning, and other exhibits. A few kilometers north, after crossing the Shannon Falls Provincial Park on the north-east shore of the Howe Sound, yon arrive in Squamish. Equidistant from Vancouver and Whistler, it is known for the huge cliff-faced granite massif, Stawamus Chief. It has over 300 climbing routes and lots of steep trails for hikers around the back of the Chief to access the three peaks that make up the massif. You’ll get panoramic views of the waters of Howe Sound (the southern-most fjord in North America), snow capped peaks, waterfalls, and canyons.
Continue northwards and park at one of the many designated trail heads at Garibaldi Provincial Park to enjoy a hike among crystal-clear lakes, surrounded by mountain vistas and strewn with alpine wildflowers. Finally, you arrive at the final destination— Whistler. Although it is famous for the Whistler Blaekcomb, one of the largest ski resorts in North America, there are plenty of other hotels and even in summer, you’ll be spoilt for choice with options including spa, golfing, bungee jumping, ziplining, and rafting.
Head to King’s Cross St. Pancras between Muggle platforms 9 and 10 and onto platform 9 3/4 where you can test your trolley-pushing skills. Walkthrough the doors of St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London and you’ll step straight into a scene from the film, as the entrance to the station was shot in this very spot.
The first trip any budding wizard must make is to the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley, aka London’s Leaden hall market. Head straight to Ollivanders to collect your essential wizarding accessory – a wand. Don’t miss the secret entrance through The Leaky Cauldron, which is actually an opticians in Bull’s Head Passage.
Each year, Harry and his chums make their way to Hogwarts and the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland is the famous bridge and train line that the Hogwarts Express travels along. The surrounding countryside makes for some wonderful hiking, take a ride on the Jacobite – the real steam train that Potter travelled on.
Andy Warhol’s original selfie was sold in London last month. Fans of the pop artist may want to schedule a visit to Pittsburgh, home of The Andy Warhol Museum – the largest museum in the US dedicated to a single artist. While there, check out the famed dinosaurs at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, see two-wheeled mania at Bicycle Heaven and enjoy Cartoon inspiration at ToonSeum, this city is a museum treasure trove.
ADMIRE THE VIEW
Fan of spectacular sunsets? Then Ras Al Khaimah should be on your visit list. Quickly becoming the adventure capital of the UAE, plans for a brand new observation deck close to the summit of Jebel Jais have just been announced. Clocking in at almost 2,000 metres above sea level, in addition to having several viewing platforms, the deck will also serve as a base camp for hikers .and bikers looking to test themselves on the rugged Al Hajar Mountain range.
ART AND MUSIC
If you haven’t hit a summer festival yet, make a beeline for Cyprus where the inaugural Living Colour Music & Arts Festival kicks off on a August. Taking place in Ayia Napa, expect two days of music by some of the world’s top DJs (the likes of Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, and Nicky Romero) coupled With fantastic live art installations, interactive games, gorgeous Culinary offerings and sweeping Mediterranean views.
From scenic alpine peaks to a beautiful coastline, from the mysterious Karst plateau riddled with underground caves to charming walled towns—Slovenia is a delightful discovery in this part of Europe. The country, which lies on the sunny side of the Alps, also has a vibrant folk culture and plenty of adventure activities. Here’s what you can do.
NATURAL RETREATS – Slovenia is one of the world’s most sustainable tourist destinations. Take a tour of the Triglav National Park and get a good view of the 2,864 metre limestone peak, Triglav, believed to be home to the three-headed local deity. Get mesmerised by the bizarre, jaw-dropping structures formed by stalagmites and stalactites at Postojna Caves or Skocjan Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re lucky, you might get to see baby dragons’ that live in underground pools inside these caves. Slovenia has plenty of emerald green lakes, an unspoiled coastline, and sparkling waterfalls to refresh you.
MEDIEVAL AND MODERN – Visit the Predjama Castle nestled at the mouth of a giant cave or get a view of the only island of Slovenia from the top of the Bled Castle. Piran is a picturesque old town on the Slovenian coast and boasts of several Venice-inspired Gothic architectural gems. If you are feeling lucky, try your hand at one of the gaming tables or slot machines at a casino in the coastal city of Portoroz or dance away at a nightclub in capital Ljubljana.
THRILLS & SPILLS – Slovenia is the perfect destination for thrill-seekers. The world renowned Kranjska Gora ski resort boasts 18 different ski slopes. Head to Bovec, surrounded by the Julian Alps, River Soca, and the Triglav National Park, to indulge in river rafting, paddle-boarding and kayaking. Enjoy the breathtaking scenery around lakes Jasna, Zelenci, and Bohinj as you swim, or take a boat ride. You can also go surfing, sailing, or kite surfing on the Adriatic Sea in Koper and Piran.
MELANIA TRUMP TOURS – The American First Lady Melania Trump, born Melanija Knavs in Slovenia, has given tourism in her quaint little hometown a boost. Now there are several Melania-themed First Lady tours conducted in Sevnica, that include visits to her childhood home, her elementary school and the factory where her mother made children’s clothes. You can dig in to a First Lady apple pie or the Melanija tortes served at a local cafe or buy White House slippers at the local shoe store.
A GASTRONOMIC DESTINATION – With a selection of sausages, cheese, mushrooms, and oils, Slovenia is emerging as an exciting culinary destination. Chef Ana Ros of Hisa Franko put Slovenia on the gastronomic map of the world when she was named the World’s Best Female Chef for the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards, 2017. Take a wine tasting tour in the Vipava valley and dig into potica, a traditional dessert that comes with at least so different fillings. You can also try Zlikrofi, pasta dumplings from Idrija and the sinful Gibanica, a multi-layer cake. The Open Kitchen Market, that runs every Friday in Ljubljana, is a must-visit for foodies who like local street food. A vegetarian meal is not that difficult to find, and Indians craving for home food can head to Namaste, the country’s longest running Indian restaurant in Ljubljana
VOLCANIC SPA – Slovenia is blessed with thermal and mineral springs where you can unwind and also pamper your skin with volcanic mud. The country is a front runner in cultivation of bees and has a host of wellness treatments ranging from honey massages to api-therapy (inhaling beehive air for respiratory problems), to eating pollen candies for essential vitamins. You can indulge in thalassotherapy at one of the many salt pans in and around Piran.
If you could touch and walk around heaven, what would it be like? I picture it as a house atop a hillock, surrounded by white snow peaks, with the warmth of the mountain sun. And this summer I got the closest I could to this reverie. In Uttarakhand’s tiny hamlet of Talwari, about 24s kilometres from Dehradun, I walk on the forest trails and across apple orchards to arrive at the charming Tridiva by Saffron Stays. ‘Tridiva’ loosely translates to ‘heaven’ in Sanskrit, and this three-bedroom villa does justice to the name.
Uninterrupted green landscapes help create a sense of tranquility at this homestay. Tall, manicured deodar trees and terraces growing mustard and other local vegetables surround the area I sit in the balcony to get a magnificient view of the Trishul massif- three Himalayan mountain peaks which take the shape of a trident. And this, my host and caretaker of Tridiva, Pradeep Rawat, tells me, is a matter of chance as weather in the mountains can be really unpredictable. The Trishul massif is usually hidden behind the clouds during monsoon, but on a regular day, one can see the mountain range for hours.
As panoramic windows fill the room with warm light, I walk into the house and run my hands on the Vaishnava chants written on the wall. From the earthen pot at the Main door, making my way to the wooden tables and the artistic swing, I admire the dark wood panel with carvings of Radha-Krishna over the stone fireplace.
The kitchen is a storehouse of local produce and stories. Pradeep introduces me to the (fresh and) local cuisine of Garhwal. While pahadi rajma and white rajma from the highlands of Garhwal, were a revelation, the madua (finger millet) roti and lentil cooked with local seeds like jaghiya were more homely and suited my palate. I spent mornings sipping tea while chatting with Pradeep about local beliefs, customs and stories. The people here are believers of Goddess Parvati, also known as NandaDevi. Every year the NandaDevi Jaat, a religious procession, is taken out in the months of June, July or August. It attracts hundreds ofbelievers from neighbouring villages. It is believed that the goddess returns to Mount Kailash after being away for six months.
The procession takes a bigger form every 12 years (Nanda Devi Raj Jaat) when palanquins from different parts of Kumaon and Garhwal scale up to Homkund, which lies at an altitude of 37SS metres. Pradeep was a part of the last Nanda Devi Raj Jaat—an experience that he says has reaffirmed his religious beliefs and spiritual inclination. During my stay, I met Khilaf Singh, a neighbour of Tridiva’s. An elderly gentleman, Khilaf tells me in detail his moment of faith during’ a visit to the hill shrine of Badrinath.
His face lights up as he recalls his journey to the shrine of Lord Narayana, where he managed to stay put in the temple for more than an hour, when everyone else struggle to offer their prayers for even few seconds. In my quest to identify with Khilaf’s beliefs, I hiked up to Badhangari- a popular devotional spot among locals. A day visit from Tridiva, the temple is situated at a height of 2,286 metres and dates back to the eighth century. It is dedicated to Goddess Parvati, and the locals believe that the goddess herself once stayed here.
I walk the steep and concrete path to the old temple on the hilltop. As I sit to catch my breath, I try to spot my homestay. A small white house appears amidst the green groves and other tiny blue Kumaoni houses – all dappling in the sunshine. Admiring the panorama, it occurs to me why it is called Dev Bhoomi, the land of gods. And how Tridiva completes this frame.
Discover the world’s most exclusive designer stores, including those exclusive Mayfair boutiques, or head to the East End markets on Brick Lane for a one-of-a-kind find. London is home to some of the best shopping on the planet. Base yourself in Mayfair at Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living or in Belgravia at Jumeirah Carlton Tower or Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel.
Unplug from the digital world and head to the picturesque fishing village of Soller. Admire breathtaking views of the rugged Tramuntana mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and take a private boat tour to Cabrera National Park. Stay at Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa and relax on a lounger by the infinity pool while soaking up panoramic views of the Mediterranean.
Home to a number of highly rated museums, Frankfurt is a dream destination for culture fans and art enthusiasts. Book the arts and culture package to receive a Museumsufer Ticket, which offers access to 34 museums over two consecutive days. You’ll be ideally placed at Jumeirah Frankfurt, which is within walking distance of all the major attractions.
Vibrant, varied and tasty, Turkish cuisine provides a rich insight into the culture and history of the destination. Sample the local pizza (pide), tuck into an expertly prepared pilav and enjoy a cup of traditional coffee with baklava. Stay at Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, and head to Patisserie de Pera for a decadent afternoon tea.
Check into Jumeirah Vittaveli, located just 20 minutes by boat from Male. The resort comprises 89 villas and suites each with its own swimming pool and direct access to the beach or lagoon. For families, the Royal Residence offers five bedrooms, a private beach, two pools and a private arrival jetty.