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The island country of Sri Lanka has become a popular destination only in recent years, after the 26-year long civil war ended in 2009. Today, you can get a taste of the mesmerising and breath-taking landscapes, friendly locals, as well as the rich colonial heritage of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is truly a tropical paradise, with miles and miles of golden sand beaches and a warm climate.

The lion entrance of the Sigiriya summit in Sri Lanka.

The lion entrance of the Sigiriya summit in Sri Lanka

If you are a wildlife enthusiast, then Sri Lanka will seem like a slice of heaven on Earth. Listed in the top five of the world’s biodiversity hot-spots, Sri Lanka is home to around 91 species of mammals, including wild buffaloes, leopards, sambars, sloth bears, Asian elephants, and blue whales.

Best Places to See Elephants in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is home to the largest herd of orphaned elephants in the world. The species of elephants found in Sri Lanka are the darkest as well as the largest of all the Asian elephants. These gigantic yet gentle mammals are considered to be endangered because their numbers are steadily decreasing as their natural habitat is being destroyed for human development. Sri Lanka is the best place to observe these intelligent and emotional mammals in the wild. Some of the best places to spot elephants in Sri Lanka are:

Uda Walawe National Park

Visit this park and you are guaranteed to see many healthy elephants in the wild

Visit this park and you are guaranteed to see many healthy elephants in the wild

Uda Walawe National Park is located approximately four hours away from Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. If you are lucky, you can even spot families of elephants with baby elephants in tow. While driving through this park, you can see elephants sleeping, bathing in a river, or feeding on trees.

Kaudulla National Park

 Kaudulla National Park is the newest national park in Sri Lanka and is located 200km away from Colombo

Kaudulla National Park is the newest national park in Sri Lanka and is located 200km away from Colombo

Although you can see elephants throughout the year at this park, the best time to visit is between August and September. You will see several herds of elephants during this period while they are on their way to Minneriya. The best way to make the most of your visit to Kaudulla National Park is to go on a wildlife safari tour.

Yala National Park

Lover of wildlife? Come to Yala National Park

Lover of wildlife? Come to Yala National Park

If you are a wildlife lover, then you should know that Yala National Park is considered to be the best national park in Sri Lanka, specifically for those who want to see Asian mammals in their natural habitat. Apart from housing Sri Lankan elephants, this national park is also famous for its leopards, and boasts of the world’s highest leopard densities. You can also see herds of elephants moving around at this national park frequently.

The Best Places For Whale Watching In Sri Lanka

You can call Sri Lanka a place of giants – this is where you can meet giants like elephants and whales. The south and the northeast coast of Sri Lanka are known to give you a glimpse of dolphins, humpbacks, as well as massive blue whales. The best places for whale watching in this country are:

Trincomalee

Trincomalee is located on the northeast coast, and has one of the world’s deepest natural harbours.

Trincomalee is located on the northeast coast, and has one of the world’s deepest natural harbours.

Sperm whales and blue whales come to this harbour to mate. The best time for whale watching in Trincomalee is the months from May to September when you can see blue whales around 8 nautical miles east of the coast. Whale watching in Trincomalee can cost you anywhere between 3000-6000 SLR and includes the tour, pickup, and breakfast.

Mirissa

 Mirissa on the south coast of Sri Lanka is the place to be, if you are on the lookout for the most reliable whale watching spot.

Mirissa on the south coast of Sri Lanka is the place to be, if you are on the lookout for the most reliable whale watching spot

At Mirissa, you have a 90 percent chance of spotting a blue whale during your tour. Located about four hours away from Colombo, Mirissa whale watching tours start at around 6:30 in the morning and the duration of these tours is 3-5 hours. During these tours, you get approximately 40 minutes to 1 hour for whale watching. The cost is similar to what is charged in Trincomalee. The best time to spot blue whales on the waters near Mirissa is from November to April.

The wildlife in Sri Lanka is truly varied – along with elephants and whales, you also have a chance to spot sloth bears, crocodiles, leopards, and hundreds of species of birds.

Fact File of Sri Lanka

Location: Island country located northeast of the Maldives
How to Reach: There are three international airports in Sri Lanka, Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, Ratmalana Airport in Colombo, and MAttala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota.
Official Language: Sinhalese, Tamil
Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee (SLR)
Time Zone: SLST (UTC+05:30)
Climate: Tropical Climate
Food & Drink: The staple food of Sri Lanka is steamed rice with a curry of chicken, mutton, fish, or beef. Some of the best dishes of Sri Lanka include young jackfruit curry, egg kottu, deviled sweet and sour fish curry, and chili fish curry.

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Whether it’s your first trip to the Andamans or your tenth, you’ll never get tired of this island paradise. If you’re all set to visit the Andamans, make sure these 10 absolutely amazing experiences are included in your itinerary.

Set in the Bay of Bengal, over 1,000km away from the east coast of India, the Andaman Islands have earned their place on the tourist map. Packed with pristine white-sand beaches, lush green rainforests, stunning coral, abundant marine life, ancient tribes, and a rich history, these islands are very popular among both Indian and foreign travellers.

Snorkelling and scuba diving spots are found all over Andamans because the water here is very clear

The clear waters of the Andamans make it an ideal destination for snorkelling and scuba diving

#1 Explore The Famous Cellular Jail

Get a glimpse of how the British treated Indian freedom fighters with a visit to the Cellular Jail

Get a glimpse of how the British treated Indian freedom fighters with a visit to the Cellular Jail

A colonial prison that is also referred to as ‘Kaala Pani’, the cellular jail is has historic importance in the Andamans. Built in 1906, this jail soon became synonymous with the torture and inhumane treatment of the prisoners that were assigned to this isolated destination. Some of India’s well-known freedom fighters, including V.D. Savarkar, Batukeshwar Dutt and Jatish Chandra Pal, were incarcerated here.

#2 Go Bird-Watching At Chidiya Tapu

Situated 25km away from Port Blair, Chidiya Tapu is home to hundreds of species of birds

Situated 25km away from Port Blair, Chidiya Tapu is home to hundreds of species of birds

The lush mangroves and forests here are filled with exotic birds like sea eagles, parakeets, emerald doves, drongos, and many more. Reconnect with nature on a walk through Chidiya Tapu, with colourful birds and their cheerful chirping for company.

#3 Scuba Dive To Explore The Coral Reefs

Give it a try; don’t miss diving amid the colourful coral on these islands.

Give it a try; don’t miss diving amid the colourful coral on these islands.

Andamans is renowned for its variety of marine life and its beautiful coral reefs, and scuba diving is probably the best way to explore this underwater world. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to swim, it’s not a necessity for scuba diving in the Andamans.

#4 Kayak Through Mangroves In Mayabunder

Go clicking and showcase this little explored part of the Andamans

Go clicking and showcase this little explored part of the Andamans

Andamans is home to about 20% or one-fifth of all of India’s mangroves. And taking a kayak through these lush mangroves at Mayabunder gives you the chance to soak in nature’s beauty at your own pace. A kayaking tour usually takes about 2.5 hours; ample time to click pictures that showcase this little explored part of the Andamans.

#5 Soar To New Highs While Parasailing

Satiate your adventurous side by going parasailing in the Andamans.

Satiate your adventurous side by going parasailing in the Andamans.

Are you an adrenaline junkie?  Strap on a parachute, which is tied to a motorboat, and zip through the sky as the boat speeds across the Andaman’s clear waters. Get your heart racing and reach all-new highs, don’t miss this incredible adventure in the Andamans.

#6 Spot A Pod Of Friendly Dolphins

They love kids, just as much as kids love them.

They love kids, just as much as kids love them

If you’re travelling with kids or like dolphins, book one of the dolphin-watching tours on offer. The best places to spot these friendly mammals include Jolly Buoy Island in Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park and the Lalaji Bay Beach on Long Island. So, make sure you add these spectacular places to your itinerary.

#7 Go On A Thrilling Banana Boat Ride

Don't worry, it's not as scary as it sounds.

Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds

If you like the ocean and enjoy a dash of speed, then banana boat rides are the best activity for you in the Andamans. Balance yourself on the slippery banana boat (which can carry 6 people at a time) which is tied to a speedboat and dragged across the water at full speed.  This ride is quite safe as long as you’re wearing your life jacket properly.

#8 Trek Through The Mangrove Forests

Marvel at nature's best kept secret, in the Andaman Islands

Marvel at nature’s best kept secret, in the Andaman Islands

Not many people know that the Andamans is home to one of India’s most beautiful trekking routes – Madhuban to Mount Harriet (the highest peak in the Andamans). Explore the islands’ exotic flora and fauna on this trek through the lush green forests here.

#9 Swim In The Turquoise Waters

We bet you just can't resist a swim in these waters

We bet you just can’t resist a swim in these waters

Turquoise blue waters meet pristine white sands in the Andamans to create some of the most picturesque beaches in the world. The water is so calm, clear and inviting that you cannot resist the urge to take off for long swims. Visit Radhanagar Beach, Elephant Beach, Havelock Island, and Corbyn’s Cove on your next Andaman holiday.

#10 Go Island Hopping

 Hop, skip and jump your way to the perfect tour!

Hop, skip and jump your way to the perfect tour!

Any trip to the Andamans is incomplete without some island hopping. Out the 325 islands that make the Andamans, fewer than 40 are inhabited by people. But that’s more than enough islands to explore on your island hopping adventure. So, get on a ferry and travel to North Bay Island, Havelock Island, Neil Island, Long Island, Jolly Buoy Islands, and Stewart Islands.

With so much to see, do, and explore, the Andaman islands are irresistible! If you’ve lost your heart to this exotic destination and are planning a visit soon, make sure these 10 exciting experiences are part of your to-do list!

Fact File

Location: A cluster of islands in the Bay of Bengal, set between India and Myanmar
How to Reach: Veer Savarkar International Airport or Port Blair International Airport is the main airport in the Andamans and is located 2km from the city centre
Official Languages: Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, English, and Malayalam
Currency: INR (Indian Rupees)
Time Zone: IST (UTC+05:30)
Climate: Tropical Climate
Food & Drink: Andamans is a seafood paradise, with everything served fresh

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 Every trip has that one place which captures your heart.  For Roxanne Bamboat, Italy played that part!

My well-planned Europe itinerary had me in Italy for a good chunk of the trip. You will hear not a peep of complaint from me. If I get to stay the longest in a country seeped in history, culture and the most exquisite cuisine, I consider myself lucky. The trip had me in three cities for about two nights each. Not a very long time in each place but plenty enough to understand Italians and the country a little better.

Looking to holiday in Europe? Italy is always a good idea!

Looking to holiday in Europe? Italy is always a good idea!

All Roads Lead To Rome

Visit Rome to soak in the majestic architecture like the Colosseum!

Visit Rome to soak in the majestic architecture like the Colosseum!

Rome is a bustling city with the perfect blend of modern meets ancient. It’s quite an experience to be walking down the street where you turn the corner and suddenly see a majestic monument that’s probably at least a thousand years old. While the coliseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, The Pantheon, Trevi fountain are famous places to visit and each equally stunning I find almost every building, corner and church specially the ruins to be fascinating as well. I spent my two days in Rome mostly at the coliseum and the Vatican City museum. For a girl like me who studied the great masters and Roman architecture and history it’s an unbelievable experience to finally see the pictures in your textbooks come to life.

Rome also has very distinct type of Italian food and something I enjoyed the most is the thin crust Roman style pizza. You get they by the weight and they are cut into little rectangular pieces and you’ll find a pizzeria at almost any corner. Some more famous than others but it is hard to find a pizza in this country that will disappoint. Apart from the pizza there are a few dishes that are generally found only in Rome like the suppli which is a coquette filled with risotto and cheese, a zucchini flower which is batter fried like a fritter and is a popular appetizer and two pasta dishes – cacio pepe and the la matrichiana. Needless to say I tried everything and it was worth every calorie.

Florence Seems To Be Colored With A Mild Violet, Like Diluted Wine

Visit Florence to experience peace, solitude and beauty all in one!

Visit Florence to experience peace, solitude and beauty all in one!

From Rome, we took a train to Florence and I discovered possibly my favourite Italian city. Unlike the bustle in Rome and the incessant traffic and honking or even the influx of immigrants, Florence is more charming, laid back and while it is full of tourists, you don’t feel stifled and it feels like a smaller cozier city. While Rome has her sprawling historical monuments Florence is proud to be the home of the Italian renaissance and home to the gorgeous Duomo cathedral and of course a famous cheeky naked lad named David. A stroll through the town is the best way to discover Florence, from busy streets to quieter by lanes, pop into one of the shops and treat yourself to a beautiful gelato, take a stroll on the Ponte Vecchio bridge and tuck into a delicious and quite famous Florentine Steak.

Venice Is Like Eating An Entire Box Of Chocolate Liqueurs In One Go

Walk the streets of Venice. It's more beautiful than you think!

Walk the streets of Venice. It’s more beautiful than you think!

After a blissful few days in Florence, we hopped onto another train and headed for Venice. It has been described as the city of love and for the most part that is evident. Beautiful old buildings that dot the canals on either side, wonderful gondolas passing though, lots of shops with people bustling in and about, charming cafes where people dine in large groups. It’s everything you see in the movies only add about a billion tourists as well. Venice is incredibly populated and since you either walk or take a water taxi since there are no cars or scooters it can get extremely crowded. Typical spots like St Marco’s Square are even more populated but are well worth battling the crowds. My favourite thing to do in Venice, just as I did in every other city was to walk. I walked into gelato shops, souvenir shops, trendy cafes but most importantly I walked into some exquisite Venetian mask shops.

Italy is beautiful specially the three cities I visited with my group but I feel the next time I visit I’m going to stay at least a month and travel all over exploring more.

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About The Author

Roxanne Bamboat

Roxanne Bamboat

I’m a pint-sized girl who enjoys reading, movies, travel and is obsessed with food. I express my love for all things edible in my food blog www.thetinytaster.com A freelancer in my profession, I’m able to spend most of my time sampling the city’s food offerings and reviewing them. More often known as The Tiny Taster, I’ve decided to take the world by storm – one plate at a time!

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Home to Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Indian Nation, Gujarat is often an underestimated tourist destination. Temple towns, beautiful architecture, gorgeous beaches, lovely hill resorts, and fantastic wildlife sanctuaries, as well as mouth-watering cuisine, Gujarat is a state that offers all this and more to a traveller. One of the best things about this west-Indian state is that the people here are incredibly friendly and welcoming.

The Assembly Hall at the Sun Temple in Modhera, Gujarat.

The Assembly Hall at the Sun Temple in Modhera, Gujarat

Backpacking across this state is one of the best ways to explore the sites, and experience the culture here. Explore Gujarat at your own pace, venture into new territories and discover a place that is not a tourist hot-spot. Here’s all the information you would need to make your backpacking trip to Gujarat a success.

Best Time to Travel

Summers in Gujarat are unbearably hot, so it might be extremely difficult for you to go exploring when the sun is out. During monsoons, you will not be able to access some of the most popular attractions of Gujarat, like the Little and the Great Rann of Kutch. So your best bet is to go backpacking to Gujarat in winters, between November and March, as the climate is mild and agreeable.

3 Must-Visit Places in Gujarat

Gir Wildlife Sanctuary

King of the jungle in Gir Wildlife Sanctuary

The Asiatic lion in its last remaining habitat of Gir Wildlife Sanctuary

Here’s your chance to come face to face with the ‘King of the Jungle’ in Gujarat. Gir Wildlife Sanctuary is the only natural dwelling of Asiatic lions and several other rare wild animals in India. Spanning approximately 1412 sq. km, in this sanctuary you can also spot hyenas, leopards, black buck, and fish owls. Go on an open jeep safari or choose to stay inside this park’s buffer zone.

Rann of Kutch

This endless land of white sand is home to flamingos in winters when these birds fly to Gujarat from Siberia. The best time to visit the Rann of Kutch is when it comes alive during the Rann Mahotsav with music, dance, and cultural shows. However, bear in mind that this popular festival attracts hordes of people from all over the world, and tends to get very crowded.

Old Ahmedabad

For those of you who are missing the hustle and bustle of city life, head to Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

For those of you who are missing the hustle and bustle of city life, head to Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

Home to numerous historic sites such as the Hathisingh Jain Temple and the Sabarmati Ashram, head to the old part of Ahmedabad city to travel back in time and observe some restored heritage houses inside the walls of Dhal ni Pol.

3 Must-Have Experiences in Gujarat

Venture Into The Ghost Town Of Lakhpat

Lakhpat is situated very close to the Pakistan border, and was once an important trade route of the countryLakhpat is situated very close to the Pakistan border, and was once an important trade route of the country

Lakhpat is situated very close to the Pakistan border, and was an important trade between the two countries

What was once the richest town in Gujarat, now stands in ruins. After the 1819 earthquake when the course of the Indus River changed, it turned into a ghost town. Head to this town to explore Fort Lakhpat as well as the abandoned houses.

Eat A Typical Gujarati Breakfast

Don't miss out on the mouthwatering platter of Gujarati cuisine during your visit here!

Don’t miss the mouthwatering Gujarati cuisine during your visit here!

Your trip to Gujarat is incomplete without tasting the local cuisine. The typical Gujarati breakfast consists of dishes like dhokla, khandvi, and fafda with different types of chutneys. Do try these and other Gujarati snack staples.

Pay Your Respects To Lord Shiva At The Somnath Temple

 Gujarat is famous for its Somnath Temple that is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Gujarat is famous for the Somnath Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva

Located on the beachfront, Somnath temple, one of the 12 Jyotirlinga temples in India, is build in the Chalukya style of architecture. Rebuilt after being destroyed several times, the location and history behind the temple make it an interesting visit.

Tips For Visiting Gujarat

  1. When you are packing your bags, ensure that you have carried your medication, bandages, glucose powder, a torch, sunscreen, sunglasses, as well as a day pack for when you are roaming around Gujarat.
  2. Travelling within Gujarat can be very inconvenient if you don’t have a private vehicle or other mode of transport. This is because the average distance between two cities or villages in Gujarat is large.
  3. When you are look for accommodation, avoid Gir, Somnath, and Rann of Kutch (during the festival). The good hotels in these places tend to be expensive.

Create unforgettable memories by going off the beaten path and exploring the treasures of Gujarat on your own terms.

Fact File For Gujarat

Location: A state in western India, north of Maharashtra
How to Reach: There are two international airports in Gujarat, namely Vadodara International Airport and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport. There are quite a few domestic airports in this state, and Gujarat is also well-connected to the rest of the country via rail and national highways.
Official Language: Gujarati
Currency: INR (Indian Rupees)
Time Zone: IST (UTC+05:30)
Climate: Very hot and dry summers, while winters are mild and pleasant
Food & Drink: Although Gujarat is a coastal state, it is primarily a vegetarian state. Most popular Gujarati dishes include thepla, khandvi, muthiya, kadhi, mohanthal, and murganu shaak (chicken curry).

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It is no secret that Rajasthan, particularly Jaipur, is the best place to witness India’s regal side. But then again, no trip to India can be complete without visiting its capital city, Delhi, and of course Agra for the famed Taj Mahal. This is why these three cities form the Golden Triangle. Brimming with heritage sites, age-old culture and iconic landmarks, a Golden Triangle tour is the best way to experience all things uniquely Indian.

Taj Mahal is one of the most popular attractions on your Golden Triangle Tour

Taj Mahal is one of the most popular attractions on our Golden Triangle Tour

The Golden Triangle isn’t solely about the sites and attractions included in a basic tour itinerary. These cities offer a plethora of experiences that you may not get anywhere else in the country. Make your trip to the Golden Triangle unforgettable by engaging in some of these offbeat experiences. Here are seven unique things that you can do on your Golden Triangle tour.

1. Listen To A Qawwali In Delhi

The Hazrat Nizzamuddin Dargah in Delhi.

Qawwali sessions on Thursday evenings at Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah are popular

Instead of exploring the pubs or cafés for live music in Delhi, head to Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah to enjoy Sufi music up close. At this Dargah, you can spend an entire evening listening to Qawwali, a form of Sufi music. Every Thursday evening, huge crowds come in to be swept off their feet by the soul-stirring music. After an evening of musical bliss, don’t forget to enjoy the mouth-watering kebabs that Nizamuddin Basti is renowned for.

2. Go On A Spine-Chilling Tour Of Delhi

 The entrance to the Bhuli Bhatyari Mahal in Delhi

The entrance to the Bhuli Bhatiyari Mahal presents a rather spooky spectacle

Do you believe in the supernatural? Are you an adventurous soul? Even if you aren’t, take some time off from your busy Golden Triangle tour and go on a supernatural tour of Delhi. This city is home to numerous places that are supposedly haunted. Lothian cemetery, Bhuli Bhatiyari Mahal, Firoz Shah Kotla fort, and Jamali Kamali tomb are some of the places that have scary stories associated with them. Do hire a guide to explore them, and if you’re someone who’s easily spooked, avoid visiting them after sundown.

3. Tempt Your Palate With Food Tours In Agra

 

The stuffed parathas served at Rambabu Paratha Bhandar in Agra

The delicious stuffed parathas served at Rambabu Paratha Bhandar in Agra

If you are a foodie or simply want to explore the cuisine of Agra, join one of the food tours here. These tours will take you to different eateries that have been serving finger-licking good food for decades. You will be bombarded with tempting aromas and tastes at joints like the Deviram Sweets (known for its kachoris and samosas) and Rambabu Paratha Bhandar (famous for its stuffed chapattis and parathas). Chaat lovers can satiate their tastebuds with dishes like aloo tikki, pani puri, and dahi papdi.

4. Discover India In 6D At Agra

 The Adlabs Cinema Complex inside this mall has a 6D theatre

The Adlabs Cinema Complex plays host to a 6D theatre

Go on a journey to explore India’s rich history and culture at the 6D theatre in Agra. The 30-minute short movie will take you through the glorious history of this nation while taking you through amazing places and attractions. With special effects that include moving seats and effects that arouse your sense of touch and smell, this truly is a 6D experience. Located near the Taj Mahal, the cost of a ticket is only Rs. 150/- (for Hindi  shows) and Rs. 450/- (for other languages like French, English, Spanish, Italian, and German.

5. Interact With The Royal Animals Of Rajasthan

Learn more about these mammals at Jaipur’s elephant farm

Learn more about these mammals at Jaipur’s elephant farm

Enjoy close encounters with elephants in Jaipur as you feed and bathe them, and even try communicating with them at a farm. For those interested, you can also learn elephant painting here. If all of this doesn’t entice you, indulge in an elephant ride (with or without a saddle, depending on your preference). You may have experienced an elephant ride before, but an elephant farm in Jaipur actually gives you a unique opportunity of interacting with these animals one-on-one.

6. Soar Through The Skies In Jaipur

See the city of Jaipur unfolding its many secrets beneath you

See the city of Jaipur unfold its many secrets beneath you

Ever wanted to see the world on a magic carpet? Although it is not a carpet, a hot air balloon ride in Jaipur does give you the opportunity to view this city from the top. Gliding over historical attractions as well as the gorgeous landscape of this city is a memorable experience. Don’t forget to carry your camera to freeze these moments forever.

7. Go Wildlife Spotting In Jaipur

Peacock in Jaipur

See the national bird of India, the peacock, on a safari

Choose to go on an open jeep safari in Jaipur, an adrenaline-fuelled ride that will give you an opportunity to spot the wildlife of this region. While you drive past the countryside and villages of Jaipur, spot a variety of fauna like deer, migratory birds, peacocks, snakes, and even panthers.

Tread the path less explored on your Golden Triangle tour. To explore India differently, include these unique experiences on your itinerary.

Delhi and Agra Fact File

Location: Delhi is the capital city of India and is bordered by Haryana on three sides. Agra is situated in Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the Yamuna River.
How to Reach: Delhi is served by the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Agra is well connected to Delhi by railways and roadways. There is also a semi-high speed train that runs between Delhi and Agra.
Official Language: Hindi
Currency: Indian Rupees (INR)
Time Zone: IST (UTC+05:30)
Climate: Humid Sub-tropical Climate
Food & Drink: Chaats are very popular in Delhi and Agra alike, be it golgappas, samosas, or kachoris. While Agra is mainly known for its Mughlai food, Delhi is renowned for its Nihari dish and kebabs.

Jaipur Fact File

Location: Jaipur is the capital city of Rajasthan and is located along the eastern border of Thar Desert.
How to Reach: Jaipur International Airport is located 10km away from the city centre. The other Indian cities are connected to Jaipur via national highways and railways.
Official Language: Hindi, Rajasthani
Currency: Indian Rupees (INR)
Time Zone: IST (UTC+05:30)
Climate: Hot semi-arid climate
Food & Drink: Taste the regal cuisine of Rajasthan. Onion kachoris, dal baati churma, ghevar, and gatte ki sabzi are some of the popular dishes of Jaipur.

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Shantiniketan, a city in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, is home to world-renowned Indian artists and other cultural icons. While the great poet, writer and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore is the most famous name to be associated with Shantiniketan, it is also where people like Amartya Sen and Indira Gandhi studied along with a host of well-known musicians, artists and more. Read on for the top 5 places to visit in Shantiniketan.

The Upasana Griha (prayer hall) in Shantiniketan is a stunning building with a Belgium glass façade

The Upasana Griha (prayer hall) in Shantiniketan is a stunning building with a Belgian glass façade

Home to the Visva Bharati University founded by Tagore himself, Shantiniketan is highly sought-after by people interested in arts, music, and culture, and is indeed a must-visit place in the country. If you are short of time, here are our recommendations of the top five places to visit while you are in Shantiniketan.

1. Tagore’s Ashram

You must visit Tagore’s ashram if you are in Shantiniketan. Founded by Maharishi Debendranath Tagore (his father) in 1863, this heritage site gives an insight into Rabindranath Tagore’s life. It is currently a well-preserved institution that houses the works, awards, and other aspects of Tagore’s life.

The beautiful Shantiniketan Griha, a house constructed by Debendranath Tagore

The beautiful Shantiniketan Griha, a house constructed by Debendranath Tagore

The ashram is not just one building; it includes several buildings associated with the Tagore family, a museum, open areas, and even some classes that are held in the complex for students of Visva Bharati. The mango grove, well-maintained roads, classic architecture, and gardens, make for a wonderful stroll.
It is recommended that you take a guide along to learn and understand more about the place and the names associated with it. The whole place is enveloped in a calming aura, and a must-visit for not only people who love the Gurudev and his works, but for every traveller. The ashram remains closed on Wednesdays.

2. Kala Bhavan

The Kala Bhavan is instantly recognisable from the murals on the buildings, the frescoes, and the artistic vibe all around. The visual arts research and study centre of the Visva Bharati University and located close to the campus, Kala Bhavan is what its name indicates – a place where the learning of art and literature is promoted.

The Kala Bhavan is an unmissable part of any Shantiniketan visit

The Kala Bhavan is an unmissable part of any Shantiniketan visit

Established in 1919 by Rabindranath Tagore, the centre has given birth to some of the leading names of India’s visual arts movement, and there is art wherever one looks. Courses are offered in sculpture, painting, art history, and more at the Kala Bhavan for students, while visitors can soak in the ambience with a leisurely stroll while admiring the vibrant artwork. Do not be surprised if you find instant inspiration for your own creations while at this marvellous Shantiniketan attraction.

3. Chhatimtala

Named because of its location under a Chhatim tree (‘tala’ means ‘under’ in Bengali), this place refers to a spot that Maharshi Debendranath Tagore not only constructed but used to meditate at. Later, his son Rabindranath would often conduct outdoor study sessions at the spot.
Chhatimtala is often listed as must-visit place in Shantiniketan as it propagates the art of meditation, something that lives on from its founding days till today. But what attracts visitors from all over is a search for spiritual solace and a calming aura, which is inherent in the air here.

The well-maintained Chhatimtala has an undeniable soothing vibe about it

The well-maintained Chhatimtala has an undeniably soothing vibe about it

Simplistic at first look Chhatimtala is well respected by people from different walks of life. Blessed with abundant greenery all around, it is perfect for when you wish to catch a tranquil moment under the green canopy. Chhatimtala is also considered to be significant to the University since students who graduate from here are presented with a branch from a Saptaparni tree, brought from Chhatimtala.

4. Rabindra Bhavan Museum

A bas-relief mural on one of the walls at Rabindra Bhavan

A bas-relief mural on one of the walls at Rabindra Bhavan

1961, the year of Rabindranath Tagore’s birth centenary, was the year this impressive museum was constructed. For anyone who wishes to learn about the life, works, and more of the Nobel laureate, the Rabindra Bhavan Museum is like a one-stop shop. Letters, paintings, documents, photographs, certificates, personal artifacts, and even a few original manuscripts are housed beautifully in this museum.
With a striking location by the side of the Kopai River, this museum is famed worldwide and people flock from all over to get an insight into the life of the literary legend. The sprawling grounds are in keeping with the theme of the entire place, and the structure itself is impressive with its old Bengali Zamindari-style architecture and décor. You do not have to be a fan of Tagore’s work to realise the significance of this place. The good news is that the museum is open even on Sundays, closing only every Wednesday.

5. Amar Kutir

Such is the appeal of Shantiniketan that few visitors want to go back without investing in some tangible memory from here. And this is what Amar Kutir offers. At this complex, you can find plenty of souvenirs to take back home. Handicraft products made from leather, traditional prints of the region on different fabrics, cane products, home décor items made from jute, and all kinds of batik printed handbags are just some of the things sold here.

An exhibition room inside the Amar Kutir complex

An exhibition room inside the Amar Kutir complex

The centre encourages rural development, so most of the things you can buy here are locally made by artisans. There are also several original artifacts on display inside, offering a glimpse into the history and culture of the earlier times of this region. If you are lucky, you can catch a live Baul performance taking place outside the showroom.

Shantiniketan Fact File:

Location: In West Bengal, 160 km to the north of Kolkata city
How to Reach: Taking a train to Bolpur Station (2-3 km away) is the most convenient way to reach; Shantiniketan is also well-connected by road from Kolkata, Asansol, and other cities. The Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata is the closest.
Official Language: Bengali, English
Currency: INR
Time Zone: UTC+05:30
Climate: Tropical
Food & Drink: Bengali cuisine. Try fish curry with rice, sondesh, and rosogulla.  Locally-made rice beer is the drink to try.

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You would agree that only a few cities compete with Rome’s astonishing artistic heritage. Find out more about this mystical capital city before you set foot in Rome.

Rome is a city that will leave you intrigued by its historic legacies and artistic riches. As much as you might enjoy exploring the great monuments, the Colosseum, St Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon, you can’t help but fall for the picturesque cobbled lanes, hidden corners and ornate piazzas. A trip to Rome is also about gorging on superlative food and wine. While there are several options for fine dining, we suggest you eat like a local at Pizza Zizza Caffetteria to indulge in Roman-style pizza and finish off with a scoop of gelato.

Here’s your city guide to uncover Rome…

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We’ve all heard the saying, “Getting there is half the fun”. But where exactly is “there”? Our Explore series tells you where to go, how to get there, and what to do when you arrive. Happy travelling!

Explore Hobbit Village, New Zealand

You almost start expecting to see a hobbit peeping out of the little doors and windows

You almost expect to see a hobbit peeping out of the little doors and windows…

When J.R.R Tolkien cooked up Middle Earth as the hometown of the characters of The Lord Of The Rings, he probably had no idea that it would end up becoming one of New Zealand’s most fascinating attractions. The hills of Matamata gave backdrop to this Hobbiton movie set, while the volcanic region of Mt Ruapehu was turned into Mt. Doom where the Ring was forged. Queenstown and its surroundings were used to represent the Eregion Hills, the Pillars of Argonath and other scenic locations of the The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and The Hobbit films. While many sets were eventually dismantled, the Hobbit Village was retained as an important attraction by the New Zealand tourism.

Director Peter Jackson stumbled upon the Alexander family farm near Matamata, during an aerial search for the perfect movie set, and was instantly impressed. It seemed as if the hobbits had already begun their excavation amidst this sheep and beef farm, situated in the rolling hills of the Waikato region. The construction of the movie set was complete in December 1999, and the shooting lasted almost 3 months. The set was rebuilt in 2011 for the feature films “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, and “The Hobbit: There and Back Again”.

Peter Jackson’s use and adaptation of the landscape was so visionary, that Hobbiton soon became a permanent tourist attraction. Guided tours to Hobbiton was initiated in the year 2002, and has since witnessed more than 3,50,000 visitors yearly.

What To See

The hobbit village is not just meant for fans of The Lord Of The Rings; an attraction this unique deserves a visit by anyone who wants to explore a man-made magical land. The mystical aura of this set, coupled up with the serenity of the rural town instantly captivates you, while fans can almost expect to see Frodo running around the hills.

Major attractions here include the Hobbit Holes, The Green Dragon Inn, the Old Mill, and the double arched bridge.

The double- arched bridge and the mill

The double-arched bridge and the Old Mill

The 1,250-acre Alexander farm comprises of 44 hobbits holes, including Bilbo Baggin’s home, Bag End. However, the holes are just exterior sets with only about 1m deep back wall; but they certainly make a pretty backdrop for pictures. Outside the homes or the hobbit holes, you can spot various items used by the characters, including smoked fish, honey pots, butterfly catchers, along with hobbit-sized pants and shirts hung on a clothesline.

You’ll be surprised to know that the old oak tree above Bilbo and Frodo’s hole is actually artificial. This realistic looking tree has been constructed with fibreglass. A guided tour will ensure you get acquainted with more of such tidbits and stories from the set.

Daily items from the lives of the beloved hobbits

Daily items from the lives of the beloved hobbits

After crossing the bridge, you’ll end up at The Green Dragon Inn. Yes the very same ‘great place’ that Frodo and his friends frequently visited. What’s more, you even receive a free drink as a part of the tour! The Inn also serves a special beer that was used during the filming of the movie. It’s ‘almost’ non-alcoholic, since you can’t really shoot a movie with drunk hobbits!

This is the very place where your favourite characters sat down for a drink; Krug100, dreamstime.com

This is the very place where your favourite characters sat down for a drink

How To Get There

The humble abode of the hobbits is located at Matamata. This small agricultural town in the heart of the Waikato region is nestled at the base of the Kaimai ranges. The most popular route to the Hobbitton movie set is a 2 hour drive from Auckland. To reduce the driving time, you can reach the set from the following locations:

From Hamilton: 45 minute drive
From Rotorua: 45 minute drive
From Taupo: 1.5 hour drive
From Tauranga: 45 minute drive
From Waitomo: 1.5 hour drive

Best Time To Visit

The tour of the set lasts for about 1 hour 45 mins, and runs throughout the year between 9:30 to 3:30 pm. These hours are extended during summer to accommodate more tours. The best time to visit New Zealand is during the summer, i.e from late November to February when the entire country is abuzz with outdoor activities. However, New Zealand is equally beautiful in the winter. So if you’re looking to try out some snow sports along with your trip to the Hobbiton movie set, head to New Zealand in June, July and August.

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I once heard of a horror story of two well heeled women from Pune who actually lit up cigarettes in wait of spotting a tiger! Yes, you read right, cigarettes! At such times, I wish there were entrance exams to earn your right to enter national parks. Every college seems to have one, then why not such reserves which according to me can teach us just as much if not more?

Now we know you won’t be doing something so silly, but you still don’t want to be THAT kind of tourist… do you?

Here is a simple step by step guide on how to behave yourself while on a wildlife safari and avoid getting yourself and others killed (kidding!)

With invaluable inputs from: Mihir Barve, Wildlife Photographer and Birder
Desert Safari in Masai Mara, Africa

Wildlife safaris are a popular amongst tourists, but the animals are not necessarily enamored by humans

#1 Animals & Birds Are Not Models

So don’t treat them like that. Respect them and their space. Remember that you are in their home and invading their space – all for that perfect shot. Some so called conservationist will catch a snake and get it to pose in certain ways for them to get the perfect shot.

It’s the same case with birds, such people play the call of  birds to get them to come out in the open. Bird calls may be melodious to us, but for the birds apart from many things it is a way to warn of others of its species from its territory.

wildlife, birds & ecology

A bird would rather use its energy to forage or preen its feathers than defend its territory from an unseen challenger

Once people understand this concept, you can imagine how cruel it is to make a bird believe it has to defend its territory from an unseen challenger. It wastes its precious energy calling louder, flitting through branches & bushes in search for the formidable opponent who can’t stop calling. Over the period some birds have stopped responding to the calls including their mating call, hampering the breeding cycle.

#2 Crowding

In most national parks, once a tiger is sighted all the cars corner the animal and leave little room (if any) for the animal to move.

On the trail of a tiger in Ranthambore

Be the more evolved animal and give the wildlife some space

There are guidelines in place for vehicles to not wait beyond a certain time or only permitted number of vehicles to wait at a spot, but this is often ignored. There are tonnes of photos which shows this happening on a regular basis.

It is true for most of us who rarely go to such parks and get to see such graceful animals up-close. The spell these creatures cast is no doubt hard to resist, but as the more evolved animal we humans need to know better. If we give the creatures the space they need that will help them feel more comfortable around us.

#3 Speeding & Going Off-Track

Its really exciting to spot animals. And in that excitement people often tend to follow closely or try and keep up with the animal. However, it’s important to not go off-track.

You are not only damaging a natural habitat, but are disturbing an entire forest. At times the crowding situation in a place is so pathetic that cars actually go off road so the tourist may get a better view/shot. On a few occasions the animal (in most cases it is a tiger) have let their displeasure show.

Jungle Safari

Do the animals & the entire forest a favour, stay on-track!

Guides and drivers (who are sometimes pressurized by tourists in the vehicle or are just over zealous in their effort to spot something) try to stay inside the park as long as possible. Nothing wrong with that unless the area they decide to prolong the wait is far away from the area you are expected to exit from. So, when it’s time to exit the park, the driver has no choice but to push the car to the limit. After all, it is a matter of his/her daily bread. There are a few checks in place to curb this, but such errant thought process cannot be curbed by the under-staffed forest department and its staff.

#4 Keep That Volume Low

Remind yourself why you are on that safari. To be one with the forest, to experience the true beauty of nature, to see animals in their natural habitat.

Signboard outside Periyar Tiger Reserve

This signboard outside Periyar Tiger Reserve says it all!

Remind yourself every time you have that urge to scream when you’ve spotted something. And please, turn those speakers off. I once overheard another jeep-load telling their driver ” bhaiya, thoda music chalao!”

#5 Souvenirs? Err NO!

Thankfully we don’t belong to a period where a jungle souvenir meant a hunting trophy to be proudly mounted on a wall. Having said that the jungle is still not a place to collect souvenirs of any kind.

As pretty as it looks, souvenirs such as this statue is carved out of ivory which is often obtained illegally

As pretty as it looks, souvenirs such as this statue is carved out of ivory which is often obtained illegally

By doing so, you are not only disturbing the natural habitat of animals, you are also disturbing a very fragile ecosystem. This even extends to simple things like bird feathers off the ground. It’s better to curb the urge at the smallest of things, which in turn should help with the big picture of poaching.

#6 Don’t Say Cheese!

Really. Please don’t try to pose with the animals, or try to get close to them for a good shot. Photography is losing its arcane ability only to be replaced with a rat race.

Animals & birds are not models, don't treat them like one

Animals & birds are not models, don’t treat them like one

With quick appreciation on social media, it is all about who gets the most comments and likes. If you truly want to become a ‘Wildlife Photographer’ you need to first understand your subject. Once you do, photographing wildlife will be easier, exciting and satisfying.

#7 Do Not Feed

This may sound like really basic advice but trust me, it needs to be reinforced. We often try to lure animals towards us by tempting them with food. This is one of the worst things you can do.

This may seem like a great photo op, but you are doing more damage than good

This may seem like a great photo op, but you are doing more damage than good

Not only are you putting your own life in danger, you are also introducing foods that are nowhere close to what animals generally consume (unless of course you are offering a wildboar to a tiger, now that’s a different matter altogether). He might just become your friend for life! (again, just kidding!)

#8 Do Not Litter!

The most basic civic sense of not throwing trash in public areas needs to be exercised all the more in forests.

A glimpse of the heartbreaking environment created by humans

A glimpse of the heartbreaking nuisance created by humans

This seems like even more basic advice as compared to not feeding animals, but it is happening. Although the guides instantly pick up the trash thrown by tourists why create it in the first place?

#9 Listen To Your Guide

Forest guides have been on the job forever and know what they are talking about. They understand the law of the jungle, they understand calls of the wild. Listen to them at all cost. Never disregard their advice.

Nirmal Kulkarni, ecologist and Director, Mhadei Research Center

Nirmal Kulkarni

“Understand and accept that you are a guest and that wildlife is not on display. The function of a wildlife park is conservation first and through it conservation education. Please do leave behind typical human arrogance, superiority and attitude. Carry lots of patience, a little humor and much respect for all things wild. Do add a binoculars and a good mammal and bird field guide to that and you are set.”

Nirmal Kulkarni, ecologist and Director, Mhadei Research Center

 

 

 

 

 


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About The Author

Manisha Desai

Manisha Desai

Dreamer. Activist. Wannabe painter. Writer. Environmentalist. Mother. Just some of the adjectives that would describe Manisha. A social worker by profession and a writer by accident, she combines both these skills while writing content for non-profit organizations and other websites.

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Cox & Kings

Cox & Kings is the longest established tours and travels company in the world. Established in 1758, we are headquartered in Mumbai with a presence in over 13 countries worldwide. Our services include destination management, domestic and international holiday packages, luxury travel, business and MICE, NRI and foreign exchange solutions, as well as insurance.


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