HENRY Williamson’s novel Tarka the Otter, published 90 years ago this August, has inspired a thriving tourism industry in North Devon, helped in part by the creation of the 180-mile Tarka Trail in the 1980s. Tracing Tarka’s journey during the book, the figure-of-eight trail is suitable for walkers and, on some stretches, cyclists. It follows the fictional otter’s footprints along riverbanks and coastlines, and through moors and woodland, all of which Williamson describes vividly, but with minimal sentimentality, from an otter’s-eye view. Continue reading
TUCKED away above the Exe Valley, Stoodleigh is reached by a winding country lane known locally as ‘The Drive’. This harks back to the time when the road was the immensely long private drive to Stoodleigh Manor. The estate was broken up and sold in 1925 and in 1928 the house was bought by Ravenswood School, which relocated here from Paignton. In 1992 the school closed, though it very much lives on in the memory of its pupils! Stoodleigh Court, as it is known today, now serves as a wedding venue. The walk enjoys wonderful, far-reaching views, but to achieve them there are some mighty ascents-so be prepared. Lovely, wildlife-rich woodland will help take your mind off the tough bits.
APPROACH Teignmouth by road and you are reminded that this is the “Gem of South Devon”. Always effervescent, the resort has been tickled by a magic wand and now aspires to the title of Devon’s mosaic capital. Varying from dinner plate size to extensive murals, the large collection has become a year-round attraction for visitors, beguiled by mosaic’s unique qualities. Families enjoy a discovery trail leaflet and search out a series of circular plaques highlighting local fish and birds. Continue reading
LITTLE touches can elevate a stay in a hotel to something special and unique. Even if you don’t use the binoculars and blankets which are tucked in a basket for use on your room’s balcony, it makes you feel cared for, just knowing someone has given thought to every detail of your stay. One of the first things I’m told after being shown my room at Salcombe Harbour Hotel is: “The lemon and ice are doing the rounds.” Continue reading
The South Hams, the southernmost tip of Devon, is an exceptionally dog-friendly area. Whether you are the proud owner of a bouncing border collie with energy to burn, or a calm corgi content with quiet days in the sunshine, there are walks, attractions and days out to suit the temperament of all dogs… and their owners! Here are just a few things you and your four-legged friend can enjoy this summer. Continue reading
Dartmouth is saturated in history. This mile-and-a-bit walk introduces some of its treasures and whets the appetite for more exploration.
Start: Mayors Avenue Car Park, TQ69NF. Leave the car park by the TIC and Newcomen Engine House, turning right along Mayor’s Avenue. As the road bends right cross over and walk ahead along narrow Zion Place. Turn left at the T-junction and soon the road widens. Go left along attractive Foss Street, heading towards the church. Browse your way along; the celebrated Simon Drew gallery is here. At the end of Foss Street go left at a small crossroads along Duke Street, passing the remarkable Butterwalk on your left. These former merchants’ houses date from the 17th century and were built on land reclaimed from the river. Continue reading
THE COUNTDOWN to the launch of Salcombe Town Regatta has begun and it’s all go in the Hainey household. Mum, Debbie has been running this week-long event for the past four years and her kids know that things are about to get a little hectic around here. Once dinner is done, Debbie and husband Andy sit around the kitchen table checking tide times for the harbour swim and ordering road signs for the series of closures that have to take place. Rob, 10 and Daniel, six, are busy helping to prepare the parachuting teddy event by practising with a prototype bear. Continue reading
At half past 11, three silhouettes left a hotel and walked on to the dark pavement outside. The trio was the most unlikely to be caught together on a lazy night in a small city like Goris: a middle-aged tourist guide, a 60-somethingformer rock musician, and an Indian traveller in her late 20s. The winter was long gone, its remnants had lingered in the air like the after effects of deep slumber. The dark, desolate neighbourhood had spilled on to the sidewalk. A few low beam tubelights made incongruous puddles to illuminate the ground, and the only movement on the long empty stretch ahead were the flickering human shadows.
I’d regretted the moment we stepped out; it had been a long day already and we had just arrived from Yerevan, the country’s capital. My guide Sirarpi Baghdasaryan had taken up the task of finding me the city centre (my travel fetish in every European city), and for bridging the language barrier between Vasgen Manukyan and me. Vasgen, a former guitarist and astronomy enthusiast had stood with me at Zorats Karer (the Armenian Stonehenge) earlier and admired the work of ancient stargazers who had planted 233 rocks on a large barren land to plot time.
We had only met in the morning, and there was still that awkwardness we had to get rid of. For Vasgen, discussing the origin of language was seemingly the only way to bring the barrier down. “The root of some Sanskrit words,” he began, “is in Armenian.” I listened intently, partly unsatisfied with the proposal, just like anyone who’d been taught to pride the superiority of Sanskrit over other languages, would. But who was I to contest.
I was travelling through one of the oldest civilisations of the world; the city of Yerevan was built 2,796 years ago, long before Armenia accepted Christianity in AD 204. I registered some of the 10 words with same meanings—das for ten, hazar for thousand, and so on. Half past midnight, it took more than Sanskrit to perk our minds, and the conversation wielded off to Mahabharata. Even on the snoozy sleep-deprived walk, I realised how much he knew about Indian epics and how much I didn’t. Somewhere down, as the road turned, we lost our focus to some bizarre conical shaped mountain tops that were peeking in shades of grey from behind the tall buildings in the vicinity.
Maybe the world had conspired to help us, as Paulo Coelho would say: Two men in sturdy black leather jackets appeared at the comer of a block, sitting nonchalantly, as if it were not the dead of the night. Back in Delhi, this is when I would sprint in the opposite direction, but Sirarpi walked straight up to ask what it was that we were seeing—“Zangezur!” they stood up and offered to show the way. Wait, were you not supposed to refuse help from two strangers? My building anxiety was palpable, but shortly after, one of them broke into an Armenian poem he penned. It was too dark to fathom his expressions, but not dark enough to deny the emotion in his voice. About 20 lines down, when he finished, Sirarpi explained, “It’s a poem about how his mother has raised him against all odds and how greatful to God he is.” I was astonished at how easily a man could reveal his vulnerable side to people he had just met; Armenia, on the other hand was only beginning to unfold.
Travel is always a quest to personal discovery and on your way back, if you haven’t found that one hook that gives meaning to the journey. Every effort that you’ve made to get there, has been in vain. Armenia, I learned, is reflected by its people. Next morning, I met Kolya Torosyan, a famous, 89-year-old traditional duduk-maker. Duduks are the national musical instrument in Armenia—they look roughly like flutes and sound like what can be called the hybrid of a shehnai and a bagpiper. Kolyalives in Byurakan and his life is a city dweller’s enviable retirement plan. He grows tomatoes, beetroot, and walnut in his backyard, nurtures bee hives for honey, and has a loving wife of 91 whom he still considers most beautiful.
With an extraordinary’ family of four children, 12 grandchildren, and 11 great grandchildren, he has something to look forward to everyday. Upright in his brown jacket, he put long steps to navigate the long grass growing in his tiny farm to bring me to his workshop. “I’ve been in the business for 37 years,” he stated, “And we make 20 different kinds of instruments.” Like music, lifestyle, and everything else, his instruments have undergone a major transformation in the five generations that the art inhabited in the family. I asked him to play a duduk, and immediately, he plunged into his collection to bring out a very old one, saying, “People come to me and ask if I can play.
I say, ‘yes, but not well enough to make a bride get up and dance!’” While we fidgeted with his instruments down at the workshop, his wife had taken to the kitchen upstairs to ornament the table with lavaash (Armenian bread), homemade cheese and honey, and herbs plucked from the garden. It reminded me of home and how things weren’t any different when guests arrived—you’d always send them back with a full stomach. Kolya was the last in his generation to make duduks. The modern world had claimed his children for an urban profession.
If anything, Yerevan is a city wrapped in layers. On the surface, you’d compare it to any modern European counterpart: a young demographic, cosmopolitan, and if you’ve arrived late in May when the summer holidays have hit the schools, you’d find the streets booming with teenagers, happy that their three-month vacation has begun. The Mayor of the city had only recently revised the holiday schedule. He is known to have said, “What’s the point in a holiday when kids can’t enjoy summer?” The deeper you travel though, the more complex it gets in character. I met Armine Tshagharyan over coffee, a news anchor with a local TV channel who had come to give me a young perspective of Yerevan. “In Armenia, people do not worship movie stars,” she said. “Yon could be someone famous and walking the street and no one would be bothered. But things can be quite different if you are a war hero.”
Armenia is a Catholic country and had experienced the great Genocide along with the rest of Soviet Union between 1915 and 1917. Over two million Christian Armenians were exterminated by the Ottoman Empire, or modern-day Turkey. Surrounded still by hostile Islamic neighbours— Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan—who have nibbled into the former Kingdom of Armenia to expand borders over time, Armenia has held its own through the intense nationalism among citizens. There is still constant friction with the Azerbaijani border, and a few days before I arrived, soldiers had returned from war.
As we strolled down Say at- Nova Avenue, Armine froze temporarily, her eyes followed the gaze of a young man’s and she blushed. She stopped for a conversation and hugged him. After he left, she turned and with abroad smile and explained, “You know who that is? He is our hero. He went into the Azerbaijan bunker and single-handedly destroyed it. He’s only 22!” At night, we had gone for the Aurora Prize ceremony—the annual event organised by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative on behalf of the descendants of the Armenian Genocide survivors. The initiative collects US$1 million to help one individual engaged in humanitarian efforts to further their work. This year, the prize went to Marguerite Barankitse from Maison Shalom and REMA Hospital, who cared for orphans and refugees during the civil war in Burundi.
In Armenia, all men must serve the army for two years after high school. Andranik Ugujyan, a 23-year-old student pursuing botanical archeology, remembers his intense training. I first saw him with his fingers dug into the soil at the Areni-1 Cave Complex, the excavated archeological site that reported the oldest winery in the world (the Early Bronze Age). Andranik had later met me in Yerevan. “Everybody in Armenia has a history of Genocide,” he said. It’s a reality one must live with. Andranik had to live with his dark past, one where his grandparents were tortured and had to flee Armenia for survival. “But the truth is, that although we will never forget what happened, we want to move forward.” We were sitting on the roof of a dark, abandoned, half-constructed building at 3 am when life had penetrated darkness with profundity. “This maybe it,” I thought, “the hook”… The promise of summer, the promise of light, and man’s innate ability to look beyond adversities.
From white sandy beaches to freshwater lakes to small islands, Nellore district plays home to multiple water bodies and has pioneered eco-tourism in the state.
► Visit the missile launch pad of Sriharikota and combine it with a visit to the famous lagoon of Pulicat that serves as a magnet for various birds that flock here from as far as Siberia.
► Fish, sail, or just sunbathe on the long stretch of clean and beautiful beaches of Nellore. Add Tupilipalem beach to the top of your list.
► Hotel Yesh Park is centrally-located with all basic amenities and comfortable rooms.
The second largest brackish lake in India, Pulicat, is a blessing for serious birdwatchers. Birds tike Flamingo, Pelicans, Grey Herons, and crocodiles crowd the sanctuary. One can go for bird safari tours, camp by the lake side, or engage in water sports.
One of India’s oldest harbour towns replete with calm beaches is today an IT hub and home to leading restaurants serving international as well as coastal Andhra fares.
► Satisfy your curiosity of being in a Russian submarine by visiting the Submarine Museum of Vizag.
► A three-hour drive from the city, the coffee plantations of Araku Valley will leave you spellbound with its picturesque scenery.
► Four Points by Sheraton Vizag offers warm hospitality and great South Indian cuisine.
► Opt for a sea-facing executive suite at The Gateway Hotel Beach Road Visakhapatnam.