williamsburg-new-york-hipster

Have a Hipster Tour in Williamsburg – Brooklyn, New York

Start by having brunch or a mimosa at magnificent, old-world Hotel Delmano (82 Berry St), or try simple and delicious French fare at cozy Le Barricou (553 Grand St, tel: 718-782-7372).

Then head out to Bedford Avenue, the area’s main shopping drag, chockablock with clothing and antique shops, cafes, and restaurants. Start at Brooklyn Industries (no. 162), where messenger bags and cool T’s for both men and women are hot items, or poke through the well-edited selection of designer clothes made in NYC at In God We Trust (no. 148). One of the more interesting stores you’ll find is Catbird (no. 219), a tiny, funky shop specializing in fine delicate jewelry and interesting gift ideas. Get some vintage CDs and LPS at Earwax next door, or browse the crammed bookshelves at quirky Spoonbill and Sugartown a few doors down, then head next door to Verb Café to study hipsters in their natural environment. If you’re craving a snack, get a free cheese sample at the Bedford Gourmet Cheese Shop (no. 229).

bedford-gourmet-cheese-shop

Bedford Gourmet Cheese Shop

When you’re ready for dinner, try the cozy and packed Diner (85 Broadway, tel: 718-486-3077), a favorite with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain for its grass-fed burger and organic new American cuisine. If the wait is too long, go a few blocks away to Maison Premiere (298 Bedford Ave, tel: 347-345-0446), a famously decadent oyster bar set in the 1920s that is dripping with romance and finely crafted cocktails. Then it’s time for what Brooklyn is really famous for these days: music

maison-premiere

Maison Premiere – New York

science-express-india

Science Express Combines Perfectly Knowledge, Fun and Beauty of Nature

Rolling into stations around India since 2007, the Science Express is essentially a science exhibition on a railway track. For seven months a year, the train travels to various places across the country. Visitors, especially schoolchildren, troop in for guided tours. The train undergoes thematic transformations; it ran as Science Express Biodiversity Special from 2012-2014 and has been the Science Express Climate Action Special since 2015.

science-express

The pop-coloured interiors are lined with exhibits and photographs created by the Centre for Environment Education, National Innovation Foundation, and Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology on themes like the impact of climate change, adaptation, carbon footprints, and prevention of climate change. The next phase of the vibrant science lesson begins October 2016 and goes on till May 2017. (www.sciencexpress.in; entry free).

  • Around the world: If the train tracks of the Indian Railways were laid side by side, they would cover Earth’s circumference twice over, and then some more.

Other Beautiful Indian Rail Routes:

tiger-express-india

Take The Tiger Express and Get Enthralled By India’s Wilderness

TIGER EXPRESS

ranthambore-national-park

Ranthambore National Park

Scenes from the jungle and India’s many heritage sites adorn the exterior of the semi-luxury Tiger Express that journeys to Rajasthan from Delhi. Passengers travel to Udaipur, Chittorgarh, and Ranthambore National Park to soak in the tranquility and myriad sights of the forest, and perhaps catch sight of the magnificent striped cat.

The entire train is a tribute to the national animal, so a journey aboard ensures the image of the regal beast stays with travellers long after the safari has ended.

Other Beautiful Indian Rail Routes:

BUDDHIST-CIRCUIT-SPECIAL-TRAIN

Step Into a Spiritual Trip Through Indian Rich Culture By Train

BUDDHIST CIRCUIT SPECIAL TRAIN

mahabodhi-temple

Mahabodhi temple – Bodh Gaya, Bihar

If enlightenment could be found on wheels, it would be aboard the Mahaparinirvan Express or the Buddhist Circuit Tourist Train. On this circuit, passengers travel to four key Buddhist sites in India and Nepal. Starting in Delhi, they first pay homage at the Mahabodhi Temple complex at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where Buddha attained enlightenment.

The train then moves on to witness the serenity of Sarnath’s Dhamek Stupa, and the fifth-century reclining Buddha at Mahaparinirvana Temple in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh. A bus ride to Lumbini in Nepal follows, taking passengers to the spot where Siddhartha Gautama was born.

DAKSHIN DARSHAN

sree-padmanabhaswamy-temple

Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple

Jaw-dropping sculptures and murals, serene deities, and mandapams: the pious and spiritually curious have much to see on the Dakshin Darshan train tour.

There are numerous Dakshin Darshan tours, starting from Mumbai, Delhi, Lucknow, and Agra among others. Itineraries include a visit to Trivandrum’s eighth-century Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, which is revered for its statue of Lord Vishnu reclining on a serpent. At Rameshwaram Temple, columns carved with ferocious mythical creatures greet visitors. And in Madurai, the highlight is the towering gopuram of Meenakshi Temple covered in sculptures painted in bright pinks, blues, and reds.

Other Beautiful Indian Rail Routes:

Segovia’s Stone Behemoth: A Paradise Of History And Magic

As I set out of my hotel onto Segovia’s sunny streets, a Roman aqueduct looms ahead of me, making the signposts to it redundant. I walk alongside it, following the arches and touching the cool stones. I was expecting something grander. After all, this structure in central Spain was built by the ancient Romans, and I had imagined that their public works were on the same scale as the Colosseum, and the many temples, baths, and amphitheatres that still stand across Europe.

I turn right towards Segovia’s historic Old Town, and suddenly, I am not disappointed any more. The Old Town and the Aqueduct together are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Standing before me in the Plaza del Azoguejo is the “monumental” stretch of the Aqueduct: 128 stone pillars topped off by two tiers of arches, all built by stacking massive blocks of granite acquired from the nearby Guadarrama Mountains. The entire structure is built without mortar; only the equilibrium of forces holds the huge granite blocks together.

aqueduct-of-segovia

Many Roman aqueducts, designed to bring water from springs and rivers to cities and towns, still survive across the erstwhile Roman Empire. However, the Segovia Aqueduct is one of the few that still stands in all its glory; at its tallest, it measures 92 feet. Segovia is a tiny town, less than a hundred kilometres from Spain’s capital Madrid. Its charming terracotta and sandstone houses provide a picturesque backdrop to several historical monuments, such as the Alcazar or royal palace, the massive Gothic cathedral, and Romanesque churches of various  sizes. But the most stunning of its monuments is the remarkably preserved 17-kilometre-long Aqueduct.

Mariano, my guide for the day, tells me the Aqueduct was in use until the mid-19th century. The old quarter of Segovia which includes an 813-metre section of the Aqueduct was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. “The Aqueduct is a protected monument now, but as a child I remember seeing cars driving in and out of these arches,” Mariano laughs. The structure was likely built to tap water from the River Frio in the late 1st or early 2nd century AD., by Roman troops who were sent to conquer the area and eventually settled here. Local legend has its own version of the Aqueduct’s creation story, linked to Christianity. It talks of how a young Segovian water carrier who was tired of carrying her pitcher through the town’s steep streets, made a deal with the devil. He could take her soul if he could bring water to her home before daybreak. The devil began building the Aqueduct, but as the rooster crowed, he was just one stone short of completing the structure, and so was unable to take her soul. The holes visible on the stones are said to be the devil’s fingerprints.

Leaving the Aqueduct behind, Mariano and I walk northwest for about ten minutes to reach Plaza Mayor, the main square, dominated by the Cathedral of Segovia. This was the last Gothic cathedral to be built in Spain, in the mid-16th century. I’m awestruck by its size, and find it difficult to fit the entire structure in my camera frame. The bell tower soars to nearly 90 metres and there are numerous, intricately carved spires rising up from every conceivable corner. The relative austerity inside is surprising; I was expecting something more opulent. After a look around the cathedral’s museum, which houses a superb collection of paintings, tapestries and rare manuscripts, Mariano and I walk through the narrow alleys of Segovia to another of its crowning jewels—the Alcazar.

Cathedral of Segovia

Cathedral of Segovia

As we near the moat, the castle fortress comes into view, and I’m reminded of the Walt Disney logo. It turns out that the castle is said to be one of the inspirations for Cinderella’s castle at Walt Disney World, Florida. The fairytale palace stands on a rocky crag at the confluence of two rivers. It was built between the 12th and 13th centuries as a royal residence for Castilian kings. Its towers, turrets and sharp slate spires were built over different periods of time, giving the castle a part Romanesque, part Moorish feel. The fortress houses an artillery museum and opulently decorated rooms.

The Gallery Room with its ornate ceiling, shaped like an upside down ship’s hull catches my eye. So does the Monarehs’ Room, with its golden frieze depicting Spain’s kings and queens. I climb one of the towers and survey the Spanish countryside, feeling very much like Isabella I of Castile, who lived in the castle, and was one of the most influential queens in Spanish history. Later, I return to the Plaza del Azoguejo for a cup of coffee. The late afternoon sun casts a warm glow over the Aqueduct. I marvel at the skill of Roman engineers who knew exactly how to pile stones without mortar to build a magnificent structure that has withstood the ravages of time.

nilgri-railway-mountain

Travel High With The Mountain Railways of India

The mountain railways of India are narrow gauge trains curving across wooded hills and challenging mountainous terrain. Three of these trains are part of UNESCO’s Mountain Railways of India heritage list, while the fourth has been submitted for review. Affectionately called toy trains, they traverse some of the most beautiful routes in the country and are marvels of British rail engineering built between the 1890s and early 1900s.

DARJEELING HIMALAYAN RAILWAY

DARJEELING HIMALAYAN RAILWAY

This darling of Indian mountain railways was built in 1881. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was also the first of its kind to get UNESCO heritage status. The 8 8-kilo metre-rail line is all about the journey rather than any of the stations en route. It chugs upwards from New Jalpaiguri through tea gardens, flower-filled meadows, and vertiginous curves to about 7,200 feet at Darjeeling. The highlights of this heritage track include the famous Batasia Loop, a spiral line near Daijeeling which offers gorgeous 360-degree views of the Eastern Himalayas, and the lovely mist-draped station of Ghum, among the highest railways stations in the world. Originally built to take British officers from Kolkata’s humidity to Daijeeling’s cooler climes, the steam-powered train still remains one of the most charming ways to journey into the hills.

KALKA SHIMLA RAILWAY

KALKA SHIMLA RAILWAY

Built in the 1890s, the Kalka Shimla Railway has UNESCO World Heritage status. It is the gateway to Shimla, the summer capital of the British Raj, and still among India’s most popular hill stations. Five trains run along the 96-kilometre track which is a massive engineering feat featuring 102 tunnels and a staggering 864 bridges with glorious viaducts. Offering a spectacular ride through small hill towns and forests of fir and pine, this route is popular with holidaymakers and honeymooners. Indian Railways has also introduced two special charter coaches—the Shivalik Queen and the Shivalik Palace Tourist Coach, which offer privacy, giant picture windows, and plush onboard comforts.

NILGIRI MOUNTAIN RAILWAY

NILGIRI MOUNTAIN RAILWAY

The third of the UNESCO heritage railways opened in 1899 and was extended up to Ooty (Udhagamandalam) in 1908. Nilgiri Mountain Railway offers a memorable journey through the lush Nilgiri Hills. Starting in Coimbatore, the train puffs its way through the hill towns of Coonoor, Wellington, and Lovedale before culminating in Ooty, having travelled 46 kilometres through tea plantations and mist-filled valleys. The train was a boon for travellers to these hills at a time when the only way up was on horseback. Its construction led to the further development of hill stations in the region. Today, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway together with the misty Western Ghats form a popular backdrop for Indian films. Several abandoned stations, old churches, and cottages along the way add to the route’s nostalgic charm.

KANGRA VALLEY RAILWAY

KANGRA VALLEY RAILWAY

The Kangra Valley Railway’s narrow gauge track is the only one on this mountain railway list yet to receive UNESCO heritage status. Running from Pathankot in Punjab to Joginder Nagar in Himachal Pradesh, the route dating back to the 1920s is both scenic and cleverly engineered. The well-designed track offers unsurpassed views as it makes its way up hilly terrain rather than tunnelling through the mountains. Although not a mountain railway in the strictest sense—the train meanders through for­ests, fields, and valleys before making its way up into the hills over a distance of 164 kilometres. Kangra Valley Railway is near­ly always backed by the snow-capped peaks of the Dhauladhar range. Aboard this train, passengers can see the various facets of the Kangra Valley, from its urban centres to its rural heart.

Other Beautiful Indian Rail Routes:

Mombasa Safari: Colonial History & Swahili Traditions

Several strands of Kenya’s past meet at Mombasa’s Fort Jesus junction. On one side is the entrance to the medieval Arab town, and on the other the colonial-style members-only Mombasa Club. Oddly, the statue in the traffic island here immortalises not some great historic Kenyan figure, but the local tradition of roadside coffee or kahawa, with a giant golden coffee pot. Mombasa was settled by the Swahili people nearly 2,000 years ago, but its customs have been shaped by the monsoon winds that brought maritime traders from near and far. Kenya’s second-largest city after Nairobi bears the cosmopolitan influence of its Bantu, Arab, Indian, Persian, Portuguese, and British inhabitants. Today, people are still drawn to Mombasa from all over the world, for its bounteous beaches, the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, and its access to some of the world’s best national parks teeming with wildlife.

OLD TOWN – I rendezvous with Taibali Hamzali, an architect with a yen for heritage conservation, who has been working towards preserving the buildings and ethos of old Mombasa. A friend of a friend, Taibali grew up in the Old Town and couldn’t be a better guide to its intimate alleyways. We convene at Fort Jesus, a 16th-century citadel and a UNESCO World Heritage Site built by the Portuguese and a popular meeting point for walking tours. The Old Town Tourist Guides Association, with its reliable registered guides is located here. A map of the Old Town at the entrance to Ndia Kuu, or Main Street, indicates various walking routes. I marvel at the dainty single-storey houses with balconies and balustrades, ornately carved doors, and even some art deco architecture. The scene is reminiscent of small-town colonial India Taibali tells me that indeed this waterfront settlement is a rich amalgam of the Arab-Omani, Indian, and British cultures that touched these shores, and left their mark on the country.

Fort-Jesus

Fort Jesus

Though mostly privately owned, the residential buildings are bound by heritage conservation laws. Still, some have been sold to unscrupulous builders and demolished. I am awed by the fretwork balconies and the teak doors with brass studs. Adorned with inscriptions of Koranic calligraphy and floral vines, these were the handiwork of the Kutchi craftsmen who were early immigrants from India. Meandering through lanes flanked by heritage homes, we come across the 16th-century Mandhry Mosque, believed to be the oldest mosque still in use in the city. Its obelisk-like minaret once served as a beacon to medieval Arab dhows, guiding them into the Old Port. “Old Town Mombasa grew as an Islamic trading post,” says Taibali, “and by the 1900s, finely-crafted stone buildings had been constructed along the main streets.”

The Old Post Office was constructed in 1899, in the British colonial style of arched windows and rich plasterwork decoration. It is from here that Indian indentured labourers sent news and money to their families. The post office is at Government Square, one of Old Town’s few open spaces and the perfect vantage from which to watch boats dotting the harbour. According to a plaque, such “small coastal trading vessels” sailed up and down Africa for thousands of years. I am intrigued by an unmarked door on a periphery wall abutting the ocean and Taibali reveals a darker side to the old port’s history: It was a departure point for slaves being sent to Zanzibar, East Africa’s main slave market.

Further north stands majestic Leven House, seat of the erstwhile British colonial administration, where missionaries such as Johann Ludwig Krapf, and 19th-century explorers John Speke and Richard Burton once stayed. Named after a British ship which ran anti-slaving patrols off the coast of the city, the renovated building now houses the Mombasa Old Town Conservation Office. Outside, in the narrow lanes, Swahili women in loose floor-length buibui gowns or boldly floral patterned khangas (sarongs) and men wearing kikois (lungis) and kanzus (long white tunics) sell souvenirs to tourists. Most of the buildings have curio shops on the ground floor.

 Leven House

Leven House

Though kitschy, many of these shops or dukas have good local handicrafts and items such as brass coffee pots. I mull over my day while sipping kahawaby a painted glass window in the Jahazi Coffee House. More than a cafe, Jahazi is a cultural meeting ground. Like other words in Swahili which have been borrowed from Persian, Arabic, or Hindustani, jafezs- is a familiar term meaning ship. With its carved wooden benches and tables from Lamu, Persian carpets and settees, it offers the ideal setting from which to watch the world go by. Make sure you get a plate of crisp Swahili samosas and kahawa, the signature spice and ginger-laced coffee. I imagine a traditional coffee seller with his trademark brass coffee pot and brazier full of coals peddling the strong brew to the idlers unwinding by the ocean.

Royal Indian Train Rides

PALACE ON WHEELS

PALACE ON WHEELS

A traditional welcome with garlands and Vermillion awaits pas­sengers who board the Palace on Wheels. This luxury train starts in Delhi and loops through many famous tourist attractions in Rajasthan, before returning to Delhi via Agra Its elegant sa­loons, restaurants serving Rajasthani and continental cuisine, and furniture with inlay work take passengers back to a time when maharajas ruled the land. Palace on Wheels showcases the best heritage and wildlife along India’s Golden Triangle, includ­ing the grandeur of Hawa Mahal and Amber Fort in Jaipur, the wilderness of Ranthambore National Park, the timeless sands of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, and Agra’s centrepiece the Taj Mahal.

MAHARAJAS EXPRESS

MAHARAJAS-EXPRESS-interior

Those looking to experience the best of central and northwestern India in the lap of luxury should board the opulent Maharajas’ Express. The train runs on five separate routes across the states of Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat. Depending on the journey chosen, passengers may visit a dinosaur excavation site in Gujarat, feast on local delica­cies, and explore the temples of Khajuraho. In addition they get to relax in luxurious suites with large windows and have their meals in elegant dining cars.

THE GOLDEN CHARIOT

THE GOLDEN CHARIOT

Be it the erstwhile hunting grounds of Mysore’s maharajas in Kabini,Tipu Sultan’s Daria DaulatBagh palace in Srirangapatna, or the temples of Mamallapuram, The Golden Chariot flaunts the best of South India’s wonders. The train runs on two routes, both of which begin and end in Bengaluru. On board, guests live in cabins with modern decor tinged with traditional elements. The cuisine changes with the region the train is passing through, and local artists often perform in the train.

THE DECCAN ODYSSEY

THE DECCAN ODYSSEY india

Dubbed the ‘blue limousine,” the interiors of this train bring to mind the era of Deccan rulers, thanks to its jewel colours, extensive woodwork, and attendants dressed in traditional Maharashtrian attire. Its two restaurants, Peshwa I and Peshwa II serve Indian and continental cuisine. Rooms on the train have modern ameni­ties and decor with a traditional touch. The Deccan Odyssey runs on six routes across the Deccan, and also covers Delhi, Mumbai, Aurangabad, and parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Bhopal’s Tribal Museum: The Place Where Art Comes Alive

Bhopal’s Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum unfurls a rich tapestry of stories. Its vast galleries are canvases for locals and artists from the Gond, Bhil, Korku, Baiga, Sahariya, Kol, and Bhariya communities, who have crafted exhibits and installations showcasing their everyday life and folklore. The first gallery is illuminated in warm yellows and oranges, as if catching the mellow rays of the morning sun. Visitors can enter replicas of traditional mud-and-brick huts of each tribe. They are so realistic that I feel like I’ll see a matriarch bustling about in a kitchen any second.

On the walls outside I spot tiny murals of impish children frolicking on farms. Things get more interesting at the Tribal Aesthetic gallery with its exhaustive exhibits related to myth, art, and marriage rituals. A part of the gallery is lush with bamboo, and wooden figurines amid this “jungle” recreate the popular Gond folk tale of the Basin Kanya. According to the story, a strange twist of fate leads to a girl being killed by her six brothers. Thereafter, she is reborn as the bamboo plant, an invaluable natural resource for the tribe.

Tribal-Museum-Bhopal

I spot a brass model of a bangle, at least six feet in diameter, studded with figurines of cattle and pickaxe-wielding farmers. It is an enlarged version of an ornament gifted to newly-wed Bhil women and symbolizes the harvest and productivity. Nearby are numerous drums tied to a tree. Alongside, figurines of musicians depict stories of the origins of music among some local tribal communities. It helps me see how seemingly ordinary objects are potent symbols of faith and an expression of art among communities. Stepping into the Tribal Spiritual World gallery feels like entering a magic land illuminated in deep blues and fierce reds.

A sign says the lighting attempts to help visitors imagine a mystical world inhabited by spirits of ancestors. Vivid exhibits symbolize the afterlife, for instance ladders are meant to help the deceased enter heaven. Memorial pillars are carved with touching detail, depicting a grandfather chewing tobacco or a child playing with a favourite toy. This extraordinary museum captures the unfettered imagination of the indigenous people of this area. It is a space in which life stories have been told and shared with the world in imaginative ways.

india-coastal-train

Along The Indian Coast By Train

BOAT MAIL EXPRESS

BOAT MAIL EXPRESS

Snaking along the coast of Tamil Nadu, the Boat Mail Express connects Chennai in the north to the temple town of Rameswaram on Pamban Island, in the southeastern part of the state. It passes through the port town of Cuddalore, offering lovely coastal vistas. But the high point of the journey is when the train gets on to Pamban Bridge, connecting the town of Mandapam on the mainland to Pamban Island. Waves lash about in the Palk Strait underneath as the train crosses the bridge at an easy pace, filling the last minutes of the journey with scenic bliss.

MANDOVI EXPRESS

MANDOVI EXPRESS

The Mandovi Express travels through an endless montage of enchanting vistas, including at some points, the Arabian Sea Impossibly green swathes of the Western Ghats, cliffs, and endless fields punctuate the journey between Mumbai and Goa. One of the highlights is travelling on the 213-foot-high Panval Nadi viaduct, believed to be the highest in India. But the main perk of the journey is that the sights change rapidly, from the 90-plus tunnels to a valley, followed by a stop at a low-key station.

GOA EXPRESS

goa-express

The most charming section of this route that connects New Delhi to Goa is the coastal section between Goa and the town of Londa in Karnataka. It is here that the Goa Express winds through forests and hills, passing peaks and valleys of the Western Ghats. But the undisputed highlight of this joyride is when passengers get to see the long silvery cascade of Dudhsagar Falls. This is best viewed on the outbound journey from Goa to Delhi when the waterfall is visible in the clear light of day.

ISLAND EXPRESS

ISLAND-EXPRESS

Seated at the window of the Island Express, passengers can watch the swaying palm trees of Kerala, and view the backwaters between Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam. The Island Express runs between Kanyakumari and Bengaluru, but it is especially scenic on the stretch between Kanyakumari and Thiruvananthapuram. It offers travellers an opportunity to see the southwestern coast of India and glimpse life as it unfolds along the way.

For a journey back in time, book a ticket on the Steam Express Tour from New Delhi to Alwar. Visitors travel in an air-conditioned saloon car pulled by a steam locomotive built in 1965. It’s a photogenic engine, with a buIging nose and a siIver star on it. The journey includes a safari to Sariska National Park.

Other Beautiful Indian Rail Routes: