A trip to Leh is an experience, not just a holiday

News4u-Travel Desk- One would imagine that Leh, the hottest holiday destination of the country this season, would be teeming with excited tourists.

You would have to get past a lot of pushing and shoving to get a glimpse of the ‘must-sees’ of the place, and the shopowners of the trinkets’ stores would be screaming at passers-by for attention.

Strangely, Leh in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir reveals a very different picture; the picturesque little town, cocooned amid the hills, is drowned in calmness. You can savour every little moment and enjoy your holiday in the true sense of the word. Leh, you realize, is not just a destination; it’s an experience.

Leh, at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet, is blessed with nature’s bounty. Simple things like waking up to an azure blue sky and the sight of snow-capped mountains, or star-gazing at night (you would have hardly seen so many stars in the night sky!) and wishing upon the scores of shooting stars leaves you with happy memories.

Although it has an airport with direct flights from Delhi, Jammu, and Srinagar, most people prefer taking a road trip to Leh. One, because the journey through the changing landscape, whether you go via Manali or through Srinagar, is in itself a lifetime experience. Plus, you get to drive past the ‘magnetic hill’ (from Kargil to Leh) when your car defies gravity to move a short distance of slight road elevation on its own! And second, as most travel experts would say, a road trip prepares you better in the acclimatization process.

Having said that, while it is only natural for your body to take some time to get used to the low pressure and thin oxygen levels, help is always at hand in case of medical need. The Indian Army base hospital in Leh gets a lot of tourists who take tips on how best to fight altitude sickness. There is also an army medical unit in the snow-laden Chang La Pass - at 17,586 feet, the third highest pass in the world - as well as an army tea stall serving complimentary hot tea!

From Leh, one has to cross the Chang La Pass to reach the breathtakingly beautiful Pangong lake, made more famous by the movie ” 3 Idiots”. The lake, 60 percent of which lies in Tibet, is striking amid the surrounding barren hills. One can count at least seven shades of blue in the water!

The Nubra valley, at a distance of 150 km from Leh, is again a must-visit. Famous for being a cold desert, when there, a ride on the double humped camel, also called the Bactrian camel, is worth experiencing.

Driving on the world’s second highest motorable road at Khardung La, at an altitude of more than 18,000 feet, is again a must-do. It’s especially popular among bikers who make sure to get embroidered T-shirts back in Leh declaring their feat - a souvenir worth wearing back home.

Another popular souvenir is a string of multi-coloured prayer flags, also available in small size.

All said, Leh in itself has a lot for visitors to see. There is the magnificent Shanti Stupa, the 400-year-old Jama Masjid, and the ancient Leh Palace which, unlike the bedecked royal palaces you see elsewhere like Rajasthan, is a humble multi-storeyed structure from whose balconies you get a bird’s eye view of the entire town.

For those looking for adventure, there is much to do - river rafting, kayaking, trekking, and hiking - at close distance. For others looking for a quiet, relaxed time, Leh is best explored on foot.

Shopping wise, a word of caution: be ready to loosen your purse strings because things are generally priced high. Shops are laden with exquisite artefacts, woollen shawls and jackets, carpets, and jewellery in silver with different gemstones.

Tenzin Wangchuk, one of the shopowners, tries to justify the high prices, saying: “The tourist season (between May-June and October) is the only time we can sell our wares. When winter sets in, it snows and we get cut off from the rest of the world. This is the only time to earn some money.”

Many of its escalating number of tourists (nearly 180,000 in 2012) are foreigners and Leh is therefore flooded with restaurants and small cafes serving all kinds of cuisine - German, Italian, et al. However, tucking into some momos, thentuk (noodles) and thukpa is highly recommended to complete the Leh experience.

How to get there:

By air: There are direct flights from Delhi, Srinagar and Jammu.
By road: Approximate distance from Chandigarh to Leh via Manali is 800 km. Approximate distance from Srinagar to Leh is 440 km. State transport buses also ply on the Srinagar-Leh route.

Accommodation
Leh, being a popular holiday destination, has innumerable hotels, guest houses, and even youth hostels. In the peak tourist season, you can expect the hotel room tariff to start anywhere from Rs.1,500.

Precautions
Altitude sickness is a reality; so be prepared. You can consult a doctor beforehand about any medication to be carried. But even if you don’t, do not fret. It takes a day or two for your body to acclimatize. Drink plenty of fluids, and don’t forget to carry a good sunscreen!IANS

A trip to Leh is an experience, not just a holiday

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Jakarta

News4u-Travel Desk- Stunning cityscape of the city after sunset Located on the northwest coast of the island of Java, Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, is one of the world’s greatest metropolises. Nicknamed by expats as ‘The Big Durian’ (a thorny fruit), Jakarta boasts of many marvels. From historic and cultural sites to modern high-rise buildings and swanky shopping malls, the city will keep you enthralled throughout your visit.

Your trip to this versatile city will be incomplete without visiting its flea markets and experiencing its electrifying nightlife.

Attractions include the Indonesian archipelago (set amidst the serene waters of the central lake), bird and reptile parks, museums, performing theatres, monorail, and cable rides, to name a few.

The grand main-entrance to the National Museum of Indonesia
A must-visit for history buffs, the Museum Nasional houses the richest collection of Hindu and Buddhist art of ancient Indonesia.

The Museum Nas ional is known as the “Elephant Building” after the bronze elephant statue in its forecourt. The collections here represent almost all of Indonesia’s territory and rich history. Here you will find prized artifacts like the famous statue of Prajnaparamita (the ancient goddess of transcendental wisdom with intricate carvings).

The towering “Monumen Nasional” at the city square, Jakarta
Located at the centre of Merdeka Square (also the world’s largest city square), the Monas symbolizes the struggle for Indonesian independence.

A flame gilded with 35 kg of gold foil tops this 132 m tall Italian marble tower.

Fascinating 16th century buildings in Old Town, Jakarta

Kota (Old Jakarta), known as “The Queen of the East” and “The Jewel of Asia” in the 16th century, was once the center of commerce for the whole archipelago.

It is home to important historical sites and buildings like the Museum Fatahillah, Wayang Museum, Bank Indonesia Museum, Pasar Ikan ( Fish Market ), Kota Intan Drawbridge and the Sion Protestant Church.

The largest mosque in Southeast Asia, the Istiqlal Mosque is one of the city’s popular attractions.

The grand rectangular prayer hall is a sacred place of worship as well as a center for conferences and seminars.

Jakarta Cathedral

Beautiful ornamentations on the spires of the Jakarta Cathedral

Built in 1901, the neo-Gothic style Jakarta Cathedral towers over the Merdeka Square. One of Jakarta’s best colonial architecture, the cathedral features 60-meter twin spires, an ivory tower with clocks and the church bell.

The cathedral, also called as the Lapangan Banteng, is located opposite the Istiqlal Mosque, a symbol of religious harmony.

Jakarta

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CANCUN - A dream I saw with open eyes

News4u-Travel Desk- After about 36 hrs of back breaking air travel, I a tlast landed at Cancun. Checking into a hotel, I tried in vain to grab a few winks. However the jet lag kept me awake as I kept thinking of the excitement in store for me.

With the first glimmer of the morning light I got up, dressed and went outside. The hotel itself was standing on a lagoon with crystal clear water caressing it from all sides.

Yes, Cancun is the blessed child of mother nature, There are white sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters, small hotels and expansive resorts. Its a rare combination of nature and man made luxuries for those who love to enjoy life and yet thirst for some peace of mind.

My mind was full of the Mayan Civilization, I had read so much about. Since the Mayan Calendar became the most talked about news item, I had been craving to have look of it at close quarters.UNFCC gave me a rare chance to be in Cancun and there I was charmed by whatever I saw.

cancun

Situated on the coast of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, Cancun rests along the shores of the turquoise blue Caribbean. This south east Mexican site was specifically designed to be one of the worlds most vibrant tourists destinations.

With an endless variety of activities and amenities, surrounded by lush extensive natural reserves Cancun is heaven for the tourists. A visit to Cancun is the perfect opportunity to experience the wonders of nature, ranging from exploring jungles to the world’s second largest barrier reef.

Cancun, with its almost 5000 archeological sites,overwhelms you with the history of ancient Mayans. An ancient culture whose influence is felt and revered even to this day.

I felt very close to the people of Cancun. The most surprising thing I experienced there was that no body looked at me as a stranger , a foreigner. May be because Mayan culture and civilization seems to be just an extension of the Indian Civilization. The temples, the painted murals with mythology woven into them, the Mayan trinkets, pots and pans,the knowledge of astronomy, mathematics and inspite of all these, an attraction towards the black magic, felt so familiar that I became one with the hustle and bustle of the Cancun.

From Cancun one can visit some of the greatest ruins in the world such as ‘Chitchin Itza’, recently named as one of the new seven wonders of the world. Then there is Tulum, just a drive away.

Along the shores of Cancun a multitude of water sports and other recreational activities await the tourists. Adding to this natural setting is a world class infrastructure including over 25 marinas and water sports, manned by expert guides and professional operators.

Deep sea diving, wind surfing, para -sailing and catamarans are some of the sports that make Cancun much sought after destination for tourists. The Cancun beaches invite you to walk through the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve beneath the watchful eyes of Macaws, Loucans and flamingos.

The streets of Cancun are no less attractive with 2000 shops, boutiques and stores with merchandise ranging from local artisan craft to haute couture. For your tired body there are spas equipped with most modern facilities.

The Golf Courses of Cancun are a treat to the sports lover, bringing in this game’s greatest names to the superb links. For those who love to dance there are discos with world renowned musical acts that take the stage in Cancun’s lively bars.
There are hotels, big as well as small to cater to the needs of the tourists with breath taking views of the water, now tranquil and now lashing at the shores.

I loved Cancun’s multifaceted persona. Yes, Cancun is alive and kicking even when you are lost in deep sleep. Its a dream which I saw with my eyes open. I lived that dream for a full week taking away its memories for as long as I live.

AMIT

CANCUN

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Stockholm

News4u-Travel Desk-Coffee and cake continues in Stockholm with fika, a regular afternoon ritual which involves consuming coffee with something sweet while pondering the questions of this existential galaxy with friends.

But Stockholm is a fine place to visit beyond the coffee shops, a city of broad skies and shimmering water spread across a chain of islands, connected by a web of elegant bridges.

At its heart is Gamla Stan, the city’s old town with a traceable history back to the Vikings in 1252, although sword-forging blacksmiths have since been displaced by excellent bakeries and waffle shops.

And the city has heaps of good restaurants, some with fabulous views over the city’s backdrop of woods and water – for a terrific all-you-can-eat feast, settle for a few hours by the steamed-up windows of Hermans Vegetarian Buffet.

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Stockholm, Sweden

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Suzhou: China’s Venice of the East

News4u-Travel Desk- It is called China’s Venice of the East for its beautiful waterways and enchanting gardens and is fast emering as one of most popular tourist destinations in China.
A part of Jiangsu province, Suzhou has a cultural history of over 2,500 years. Located nearly 1,400 km south of Beijing, the enchanting city, with a mix of the tradition and modern, boasts of more than 300 rivers and lakes and 20,000 waterways. Most waterways are found in the old parts of the city where one can travel on wooden boats through crowded communities that retain their old-style living and are yet sensitive to tourist requirements.

Restaurants, with local food and modern snacks, line up on both sides of the waterways for those who may desire a break and a leisurely snack or meal. On the shores are some of the oldest teahouses in this area where Chinese tea is served in the traditional way — with dry fruits.

Unlike the metropolitan areas of Suzhou, these houses are single-storey structures. Everywhere, men and women enjoy the afternoon sun in open air cafes and teahouses along the waterways.

Restaurants boast of authentic Suzhou cuisine which are relatively light in taste. The fish platter gives out a lotus leaf fragrance. One can enjoy stuffed dumplings made of glutinous rice powder with froth-free beer.

“Not only the cuisine but even the lifestyle here is different from many other towns and cities. Leisure is the keyword here,” said a resident, Zhou Xian, to a visiting media correspondent.

Music lovers can visit the ” China Kunqu Opera” museum in the old city. It has more than 100 opera-related cultural relics including the original manuscripts of some of the best known Chinese opera.

A few kilometres away one comes across Taihu - China’s third largest freshwater lake. The lake has two man-made islands, whose main attractions are water games and luxurious boats.

Among Suzhou’s best of gardens is the “Humble Administrator’s Garden” on the northeast street. It is the largest classical garden in Suzhou and one of the four famous gardens of China.

The entire garden stands around streams and ponds. The architecture is that of Ming dynasty. In 1997, Unesco listed it a world cultural heritage site.

The garden’s major attraction is a small canopy, from where the original owner could view things from different sides during different seasons.

The dense trees have been planted in a specific pattern to block the sun during summer and add radiance to the hills and ponds during winter.

Then there is “The Lingering Garden”, over 400 years old and possessing one of the largest “lake rock” among all the gardens of China.

Suzhou is where the classical treatise, “The Art of War”, was written by Sun Zi Bin Fa (commonly known as Sun Tzu).

However, it is the art of preserving and showcasing the cultural heritage of “Wu culture” which has made this ancient city a must see not only for domestic but an increasing number of foreign tourists including many from India.IANS

Suzhou: China’s Venice of the East

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Seville

News4u-Travel Desk-Almost everything about Seville is different from Paris: the art, the architecture, the food, the streets, the trees, the music, the shops.

But it has all of these, and showcases them with the same passion and sensuality that has made Paris the world capital of romance. Orange trees line every central street, scenting the dry Andalusian air with their acidic fruit.

Flamenco music drifts from dimlit bars where locals and tourists sit side-by-side drinking good red wine at outrageously low prices. And best of all is the tapas, cooked in myriad bars and cafés, all crammed with customers ordering calamari and aioli or the local speciality of deep-fried eggplant drizzled in honey.

It has all the same pleasures as Paris, just done with an invigorating difference.

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Seville, Spain

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Khajjiar – The Mini Switzerland of India

News4u-Travel Desk- Khajjiar, often called as India’s Switzerland, is a hill station in Chamba District of Himachal Pradesh.

The hill station is picturesquely set in the midst of magnificent ‘Deodar’ forests.

The clump of reeds and the green meadow add an exquisite charm to this place. A small plateau in its green turf of dense pine and Deodar forests along its fringes adds to the pastoral scenery.

This offbeat place in India has the rarest combination of three eco systems. The lakes, the pastures and the forests come together to make a visit to this place a unique experience.

Hence, it is also popularly called theMini Switzerland of Himachal Pradesh.

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Khajjiar – The Mini Switzerland of India

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Coorg, a green escape in Karnataka

News4u-Travel Desk- If you find Ooty, Kodaikanal or Munnar a bit too touristy and crowded a destination in southern India, Coorg is that perfect holiday spot in Karnataka that is sure to please toddlers, youth and the old alike.

Not that this hill station needs to be chosen for a sojourn by eliminating other similar destinations in the vicinity. Just a three-hour drive from Mysore, 150 km away, Coorg district on its own has much to offer, beyond its coffee, cardamom, pepper and beetelnut estates.

There is much to see, admire and soak in at this hill station, which the locals call Kodagu, on the slopes of the Western Ghats, what with some pristine trekking trails, picnic spots, waterfalls, wildlife, woods, forests, valleys and some mouth-watering cuisine.

Situated at a height of 1,525 metres, Madikeri or Mercara is the capital of Coorg, with a nice bazaar, quaint houses with red-roofs and liberal use of teakwood reapers for doors and furniture, so common among homes and clubhouses in Indian hill stations.

It may come as a surprise to some that Coorg has one of the largest settlements of Buddhists in India, just about 30 km away from Madikeri, with their own Namdroling Monastery built in 1963, which the locals call the Golden Temple.

Once you enter the monastery, you feel transported into some other world in the Orient, packed as it is with some 5,000 monks in bright yellow and red robes, with some soothing Buddhist chants, smell of incense and breathtaking sights of pagodas.

After seeing those large golden statues of the Buddha and Tara, the intricate murals and Tangkha paintings, don’t forget to taste some authentic Tibetan food here, especially the delectable momos and the subtle thugkpa, their noodle soup.

One is told it is the largest teaching centre of Nyingmapa - a major lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in the world - and the present Dalai Lama gave its shorter name, as opposed to Thegchog Namdrol Shedrub Dargyeling that this mesmerising place was called originally.

Before dwelling further, where to stay is a question that is bound to crop up. While there are plenty of hotels and resorts, including the Orange County, that can even set you back by as much as Rs.25,000 per day, it is best to opt for a home stay.

There are some 35 of them in and around Medikeri in a range of Rs.1,000 to Rs.5,000 per day where one gets not just to retire but also taste authentic Coorgi food and take some refreshing strolls on their plantations that grow coffee and other cash crops.

As far as the season goes, October to March — like most places in India — are the best months. The weather is pleasant with that welcome nip in the air. But Coorg during monsoons can be equally mesmerising and enchanting.

There are also plenty of places one can go to. There is Abbey Falls, not far, where one has to make his or her way through some dense woods, dotted with coffee bushes, trees and creepers, to suddenly find a cascading gush of water.

Then about 80 km away is the Iruppu Falls, right next to the Rajiv Gandhi National Park, also called Nagarhole, which is famous for its elephants, with a lot of other game and some 50 species of birds.

Children, especially, are certain to enjoy a visit to Dubare Forest, around an hour and a half from Medikeri. A ferry there takes you across to an elephant camp where one can see the pachyderms being bathed and fed, after which they are ready for a joy ride.

Talacauvery, around an hour away, is the source of the river Cauvery, with a temple to pay homage to this main source of water for some parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Not far is Bhagamandala, the confluence of three rivers: Cauvery, Kanika, and Sujyothi.

Another must-see is Tadiyendamol, which is the tallest peak in Kodagu and gives a breathtaking view of the entire Coorg, apart from the distant Arabian Sea. There is also the Naalkunaadu Palace built by Kodagu king Dodda Raja Veerendra in 1792.

After all this exploring, a bungalow at the plantation is perhaps the best place to retire. Toddlers can chase butterflies, and a hammock and freshly brewed coffee are sure to be at hand!

How far: Around 150 km from Mysore and 260 km from Bangalore

How to reach: By bus or car from Mysore. Closest airport is in Bangalore; the airport in Coimbatore in neighbouring Tamil Nadu is another alternative.

Cost: Around 35-40 home stays in Coorg ranging Rs.1,000 to Rs.5,000 per day.IANS


Coorg, a green escape in Karnataka

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Travel Destination- Prague, the Czech Republic

News4u-Travel Desk- Nicknamed the crossroads of Europe, Prague has picked up influences from both east and west and blended them into a beautiful farrago of architecture that enchants people from all over the world.

This fairy-tale skyline rises above the historic Charles Bridge, which was for centuries the only means of crossing the river Vltava, placing Prague at the heart of continental trade up until the 19th century.

Crossing the bridge takes travelers from the ninth century Prague Castle into the Old Town, where the blackly gothic Tyn Church vies for attention with the baroque St.Nicholas Church, while both are overshadowed by the alethiometer-like Astronomical Clock.

And the city is studded with cozy boutique hotels, such as the intimate Cerny Slon (Black Elephant), which make a great base for losing oneself in the historic, cosmopolitan and romantic atmosphere.

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Prague, the Czech Republic

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Argentina’s Train to the Clouds

News4u-Travel Desk- Located 4,000 m above the sea level in the Andes, Tren a las Nubes or ‘Train to the Clouds’ is one of the highest railways in the world. It begins its journey from the city of Salta in Argentina at an altitude of 1,187 m, passes through the Valle de Lerma, enters the Quebrada del Toro and finally ends its journey at the La Polvorilla viaduct (4,200 m). During the 16-hour trip, the train travels 217 km and climbs a staggering 3,000 m. It crosses 29 bridges, 12 viaducts, 21 tunnels, swoops round two gigantic loops and two switchbacks.

Train to the Clouds got its name from the numerous clouds that are often seen under bridges and around slopes. American engineer Richard Fontaine Maury, who was in charge of the project, laid down the route in the 1920s. He designed a singular system supported by bridges, tunnels, viaducts, spirals and zigzags. The zigzags allow the train to climb the mountain by driving back and forth parallel to the slope of the mountain. Maury did not use funiculars or cogwheels normally used on steep slopes, instead relied on switchbacks to gain height.

The train was originally constructed to serve the borax mines of the area, transporting goods from the coast of Chile through the Andes Mountains to north-western Argentina. The route started taking tourists from 1970s. The train leaves early in the morning from Salta city, crosses Lerma Valley, then Toro Ravine and finally, the large territory of the Puna. The train makes only two stops—almost at the end of the trip. The first one is at San Antonio de los Cobres, an old town with low-built houses and a tiny market. Here tourists will find picturesque stalls offering handicrafts, items of clothing and souvenirs to take home from the train trip.

The second stop and the end of the route is the spectacular La Polvorilla viaduct. The curved viaduct is 224 m long and 70 m high from the valley. Train to the Clouds glides across the viaduct and stops before reversing back, poised for the return journey. At the final destination, passengers can get off the train, feel the pure and cold air on their face, walk slowly in order to get their bodies used to the altitude, and take photos. The trip back to Salta is completed in the dark and reaches Salta just before midnight.Agencies


Argentina’s Train to the Clouds

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