Towards the end of 2011, a friend of my wife’s proposed that we go on a combined vacation, just us two couples, and suggested the Seychelles as a destination. We were a little hesitant, because we had heard it was expensive, but its reputation as a tropical island paradise was tempting enough for us to start doing some research. A few weeks later, our friends backed out, much to our chagrin, so we decided we would go alone. Through our research, we found out that, even though our vacation would be expensive, we could save a bit if we didn’t do too much island-hopping, and stayed on Mahé island most of the time instead. So it happened that we split our eight-day vacation between Mahé and Bird Island (more on this one later), and made six amazing discoveries along the way.
We’ve visited Hampi—the ruins of Vijayanagara, the center one of south India’s most powerful medieval kingdoms—three times now, and have always found something new to see (or seen the same thing in a new way). Built into the granite hills of central Karnataka state and straddling the Tungabhadra river, Hampi is a 40-square-kilometre treasure trove of ancient temples, crumbling palaces and boulder-strewn natural beauty. Some even say that the ancient city was built on the ruins of one even older—the mythical monkey-city of Kishkinda, home to Hinduism’s Lord Hanuman the monkey god, devoted follower of Lord Rama.
It was April in 2014, and my wife and I desperately needed a holiday. We were tired of the beach, though, and so we decided to head up into the mountains. After casting about a bit, we decided on Kalimpong in West Bengal, where we could stay as guests of the army, and where my wife could re-live some fond childhood memories. Here are six great experiences we discovered while we were in Kalimpong.
In late 2013, my wife wanted to visit Kutch in Gujarat as a sourcing trip for her fledgling ethnic gifts business, so we decided we would turn it into our annual new year’s holiday. We spent close to two weeks in Bhuj and its surroundings (arguably home to India’s highest concentration of high-quality textile handicraft producers), investigated lots of towns and villages, and took in India’s great white salt desert, the Great Rann of Kutch.
In September 2015, my mom, my wife and I embarked on a month-long trip through Germany, with a few days in Belgium and the UK thrown in for good measure. On the itinerary: Wuppertal, Brussels, the Rhine, Germany’s ‘romantic road’, Munich and the Oktoberfest, Berlin, London and Cambridge. All in a month’s time.
This is part three of the story, and is about our experiences in the Upper Middle Rhine valley.
The great Rhine, Ruedesheim and Oestrich-Winkel
When we got back from Brussels, we spent a few more days in Wuppertal, and then started our road trip in earnest. The first leg was a drive down the Rhine via Leverkusen, Cologne and Koblenz to Ruedesheim (a distance of just over 200 km, roughly one-third of the length of the Rhine in Germany) to meet some old friends of my mom’s. This route took us about three hours, and once we were off the autobahn, the roads mostly ran alongside the river. Driving along the river through tiny villages and past hilltop castles was vastly more enjoyable than using the autobahn, and gave us our first real experience of the German countryside. The only problem was that we kept having to slow down to the urban speed limit of 50 kmph every time we passed close to a village—and there were a lot of them—while being acutely aware of the hidden automated speed monitors along the road. Despite our best efforts, we were sent a few speeding tickets at the end of our trip (though finding out that that was normal for that route made us feel a bit better).
In September 2015, my mom, wife and I embarked on a month-long trip through Germany, with a few days in Belgium and the UK thrown in for good measure. On the itinerary: Wuppertal, Brussels, the Rhine, Germany’s ‘Romantic Road’, Munich and the Oktoberfest, Berlin, London and Cambridge. All in a month’s time.
This is part two of the story, and is about our time in Brussels and Nieuwpoort.
Brussels: Baroque, pedestrian-friendly and very tasty
Having experienced the sights and sounds in and around Wuppertal—including a brilliant western classical music concert featuring Beethoven’s ninth symphony—we hit the road to Brussels to visit my aunt. Of course, before doing any road-hitting, we needed a car. So we visited the friendly neighborhood Hertz car rental company, and discovered that the Volkswagen Passat station wagon we had booked had magically transformed into a larger (and more expensive) Ford Mondeo. Nevertheless, after a bit of a wait during which licenses were scrutinized and credit card information was recorded, we were on our way. I had first shift as driver, and being used to driving on Indian roads, I was terrified. Having to drive a completely new car on the opposite side of the road didn’t help either, and the legendary autobahn—with its 180 kmph drivers—seemed like certain death! Of course, it wasn’t as bad as all that, and once I realized that people by and large stay in their own lanes most of the time, I calmed down and started driving in earnest.
In September 2015, my mom, my wife and I embarked on a month-long trip through Germany, with a few days in Belgium and the UK thrown in for good measure. On the itinerary: Wuppertal, Brussels, the Rhine, Germany’s ‘Romantic Road’, Munich and the Oktoberfest, Berlin, London and Cambridge. All in a month’s time.
This is part one of the story, and is about our time in Wuppertal and Cologne.
Considering the overall length of our holiday and the corresponding sizeable budget, we decided to take Air India’s day flight from Hyderabad to Frankfurt via Delhi because it was the cheapest available (approx. Rs. 25,000 per person). Consequently, we realized there was some truth in the saying ‘you get what you pay for’: despite putting us on a brand new Boeing 787 dreamliner (with electronically dimming windows, no less!) our in-flight entertainment system was on the blink, and so were the reading lights. After multiple reminders, the hostess finally told us nothing could be done, so we ended up entertaining ourselves through the seven-hour flight. Luckily, I had my laptop along, so I spent a few hours reading through a detailed guide to driving in Germany. Meanwhile, my mom took it upon herself to give my wife a crash course in German while I tried hard not to listen!
For those not in the know, the Nilgiri hills are part of the Western ghats of India, where the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala meet, and whose most famous tourist trap is Ooty (AKA Ootacamund or Udhagamandalam).
Most visitors to the Nilgiris take in the sights and sounds of Ooty and its populated environs without realizing that the seemingly-infinite tea plantations on the hills offer a completely different experience, far from the madding crowd and closer to the wild. This is what we were aiming for when we left Hyderabad for Bangalore to join my brother (a dedicated conservationist) and his family and head into the hills. Our itinerary was Hyderabad-Bangalore-Mysore-Ooty-O’Land Plantations, and our destination was O’Land Plantation, an organic tea plantation about two hours’ drive beyond Ooty.
My wife and I recently got back from our vacation to Lakshadweep (read about planning, booking and costs here), and we can now shed some more light on what it’s like visiting these islands, considering there’s hardly any information to be found on the internet.
Overall, it was a great vacation and an incredible experience, one that you will not have anywhere else in India—arguably, not even in the Andamans. But, as with all travel in India, nothing really goes exactly according to plan or turns our exactly the way you want, so tempering your expectations will go a long way towards making sure you have a good time. Also, just to avoid confusion, the Lakshadweep tourism department is called SPORTS (Society for Preservation of Nature Tourism and Sports), so if someone says ‘sports’, this is probably what they mean.