Tag Archives: india

5 Best Photography Spots in Jodhpur, India

12 May

In Rajasthan, where colors rule and the sun shines golden, the odds are that you’ll return from your travels armed with stunning photographs of camels silhouetted against the sunset, rolling sand dunes, and turban-clad, mustachioed men – the usual suspects, so to speak.  Jodhpur , however, offers plenty of chances to get creative and add some cool back stories to your pictures.

Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan sits on the edge of the Thar Desert and promises visitors the opportunity to experience a city with a 500-year old history, to witness true royal opulence and to be overwhelmed by the magnificent architecture outlining the skyline.

Rather than documenting only the majesty of the Mehrangarh Fort or the luxury of the Umaid Bhawan Palace, here are five ways to take some fun photographs around the desert city:

Mehrangarh Fort: Rise like the Dark Knight

Mehrangarh fort. Photo courtesy of athomson via Flickr.

Mehrangarh fort. Photo courtesy of athomson via Flickr.

Rudyard Kipling called it the “work of giants” – built of red sandstone and rising a 122 meters above the city, the formidable Mehrangarh Fort defines Jodhpur’s skyline and is one of the best photography spots in Jodhpur.

The 15th century fort houses within its ramparts mini-palaces like the ‘Sheesh Mahal’ and ‘Moti Mahal’, translating literally to the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ and the ‘Palace of Pears’. Yes, they are exactly what they sound like. Galleries within the fort showcase remnants of the 20th century regal era – everything from weapons to palanquins are on display.

Mehrangarh is one of the best-maintained forts in all of Rajasthan and a true testament to the Rathore fortitude, but recently, it’s gone down in the books of cinema history for a rather unanticipated reason. Batman fiends might recollect that the forbidding landscape and the fort provided the backdrop to Christian Bale’s epic prison-escape scene in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.

Batman, after scaling walls and breaking bones, escapes a notorious underground prison to emerge in the arid countryside at the base of the Mehrangarh Fort. And now, you too can strike a nonchalant pose in the same setting. To truly replicate the scene though, remember to look effortlessly dismissive about the matter– wall-scaling and prison break-outs are just a regular day’s work after all.

How To:

Visit in the early hours of the day, before the unforgiving afternoon sun really starts beating down. Stop by for a quick bite at the breezy Café Mehran, a restaurant in hues of white and blue built in to a section of the fort. An informative audio tour is available at the gate and will offer bits of interesting information – like how the fort was never once taken in siege during battle. The fort is open 7 days a week, from 9AM to 5PM. Entry tickets cost Rs.300 and include an audio guide and a map of the fort. Go before May, when the summer really sets in.

The Blue City: Do it like a local

Jodhpur, The Blue City. Photo courtesy of eviltomthai via Flickr.

Jodhpur, The Blue City. Photo courtesy of eviltomthai via Flickr.

The oldest parts of Jodhpur stretch out at the foot of the Mehrangarh Fort like an expansive carpet of stubby blue buildings melding into the horizon.

The blue houses of Jodhpur’s Brahmapuri area have earned the town the moniker ‘the Blue City’. The reason for the color isn’t definitive: some believe it had to do with upper caste Brahmins painting their houses blue, while others believe the paint cools the interiors and keeps mosquitoes away.

The Mehrangarh fort’s high parapets undoubtedly proffer the best views of the blue city, but a street tour of the indigo façade-lined narrow lanes offers a glimpse into traditional Rajasthani lifestyles.

In stark contrast to the parched hues of the Thar Desert, the blue frontages lining the by-lanes breathe fresh life into the city – and your photographs. While the bright houses and street life make great shots, this is a chance to show off the blues in your wardrobe and take some fun photos.

Blend in with the local architecture in your denims and best blues, but don’t be surprised if you find your path blocked by a clamoring child or a stubborn cow. That’s right, these are the mean streets of Jodhpur.

How To:

Take an autorickshaw from outside the fort gates once you’re done exploring Mehrangarh and ask your driver for a tour of this part of town. This shouldn’t cost you more than Rs.200 and you can get some great shots while maneuvering the alleyways. Go before the sun sets.

Umaid Bhawan: Hot wheels in the house

Umaid Bhawan Palace. Photo courtesy of amanderson2 via Flickr.

Umaid Bhawan Palace. Photo courtesy of amanderson2 via Flickr.

The Umaid Bhawan Palace – one of the largest private residences in the world – is home to Maharaja Gaj Singh II and the royal family of Jodhpur. Situated atop Chittar Hill at the highest point of the city, the opulent 347-room sandstone palace is divided into three sections: the royal residence, a museum, and the heritage Taj Hotel.

Built in a style inspired by 1930’s art deco, the construction of the palace began in 1929 and took fifteen years to complete. Of the palace’s three wings, only the museum is open to the public – the hotel is exclusive to guests and diners while the private residence is, naturally, private.

The museum houses a small collection of family heirlooms – black and white photographs, antique Victorian timepieces, and 19th century weapons. If stuffed leopards, hunting trophies and model airplanes are your thing, this is the place to be.

An often missed feature is the outdoor display of gleaming vintage automobiles in their glass-fronted enclosures. The palace garage has slots for up to twenty cars and houses a fleet of brightly colored Rolls Royce models that occasionally make their way out to vintage car rallies. Occupying pride of place, however, is what is considered the most valuable car in the world – the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.

Opportunities to get photographed with rad wheels like these don’t come around too often.

How To:

The museum is mostly indoors, so it is possible to visit in the late morning or afternoon. The Umaid Bhawan Place is open 7 days a week, from 9AM to 5PM. Entry tickets cost Rs.50. Guided tours of the museum are available.

Clock Tower Market: Bargain, bargain, bargain

Jodhpur Market and Clock Tower. Photo courtesy of DSLEWIS via Flickr.

Jodhpur Market and Clock Tower. Photo courtesy of DSLEWIS via Flickr.

The burnished clock tower is the iconic centerpiece of Jodhpur’s old city, and spreading around it in arterial lanes is the chaotic Sadar Market.

It is in this neighborhood that you will find traditional havelis, or mansions, standing next to an army of street vendors selling leather, spices, fabrics and souvenirs. The market is a swarming mass of rickshaws, scooters, cattle and people. This is where all the action is at.

If the flavorful Rajasthani cuisine has begun to grow on you, this is the place to get your spice fix. Stock up on laal maas masala, tandoori masala and curry powders at M.V Spices or Maharani Spices. You’ll find leather shops selling satchels and cowboy hats, fabric shops selling local bandhej and bright tie-dye prints, jewelry stores and so much more on these lanes.

Jodhpurs are the region’s number one export to the field of fashion, and here’s where you’ll find these hard-to-wear-but-impossible-to-remove riding pants. If you do manage to try them on without losing all dignity, take a picture. It’s a feat worth remembering.

Street-shopping is never complete with a good haggle, and just like in every Indian street market, it’s important to bargain for your curio of choice in Sadar Market. Test your negotiating prowess against some of India’s most persuasive shop owners and document your haggles – it counts for major bragging rights back home.

How To:

Go in the evening when the sun isn’t blazing down on you. It’s hot and it’s crowded, so carry a water bottle, navigate the lanes carefully and keep these safety tips for India in mind.

Local Cuisine: Spice all around

Market in Jodhpur. Photo courtesy of santosh.wadghule via Flickr.

Market in Jodhpur. Photo courtesy of santosh.wadghule via Flickr.

Eating a spice-laden explosion of a traditional meal while visiting Rajasthan is de rigueur. After all the shopping and exploration, replenish at a rooftop restaurant, or be adventurous and indulge in some street snacks.

The fiery specialty of the region, Laal Maas, is meat cooked in a curry of red chillis and yoghurt. Hot, spicy and delicious, the flaming red dish is best accompanied with a cooling green salad. On the Rocks – a lovely garden restaurant – is good for both Indian and Continental food, and particularly known for their Laal Maas.

Some traditional havelis in the Clock Tower area have now converted to hotels, and many of these house rooftop restaurants with amazing fort views. Indique – the in-house restaurant of the Pal Haveli Hotel – overlooks the Gulab Sagar Lake and the Mehrangarh fort, and is especially magical at night when the city is lit up.

Like much else in Rajasthan, the food is colorful, overwhelming and worth photographing. Don’t forget to sample fried street snacks like Mirchi Vada at the Clock Tower Market. Wash it down afterwards with a cooling Lassi, a drink made with blended yoghurt.  Whether its colorful curries or steaming street snacks you’re eating, you’ll want photographs of the food you eat in India to remember these flavors.

How To:

Most popular hotels in Jodhpur have al fresco dining, either rooftop or garden, ideal for dinner. Street stalls in the Clock Tower market offering fried snacks like Mirchi Vadas and Kachoris are best visited during the daytime or early evening.

5 Best Photography Spots in Jodhpur, India

The World’s Strangest Beaches

29 Apr

While white sand beaches with azure waters and billowing palms are nice, they’re far from unusual. For those looking for a truly unique coastal experience, the following beaches provide just that. Barking sand, star-shaped fossils and natural underground hot springs are just a few of the strange experiences you can have on the following strangest beaches.

Hoshizuna Beach, Okinawa, Japan

Hoshizuna Beach is one of the unique beaches in the world where you can find star-shaped sand (the other two are on Taketomi Island in Okinawa, Kaijihama Beach and Aiyaruhama Beach). The tiny stars are actually fossils from thousands of tiny crustaceans. That being said, locals have a mythical story to go along with why the beaches contain star-shaped sand. Legend has it that there once was a star mother and father who had a star baby. While they consulted God of Sky about the birth they left God of Ocean out of the decision making, who became infuriated and killed the baby star with a big snake. The snake’s feces became the fossils we see today on the beach. Additionally, God of Sky put the baby star into the heavens as a fossil, which is why you see stars in the sky today.

Gulpiyuri Beach, Llanes, Spain

Gulpiyuri Beach; World's Strangest Beaches

Gulpiyuri Beach, Llanes, Spain. Photo courtesy of guillenperez via Flickr.

While there’s nothing unusual about a beach with golden sand, crystal waters and waves, it is when its location is in the middle of a meadow. The 131-foot (40-meter) shoreline of Gulpiyuri Beach offers a whole new type of beach serenity, as you can cool off in the translucent salt waters while taking in both beach and rolling countryside hills.

Loango National Park, Gabon, Africa

For those who want a mixture of pristine beach and wildlife spotting, Loango National Park is the place for you. The park extends all the way to the white sanded coast, where you can watch hippos, gorillas, buffalos, leopards, elephants and wild pigs take a dip in the water — and sometimes even surfing. It’s definitely not your usual day of building sand castles and playing beach volleyball.

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska. World's Strangest Beaches

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska. Photo courtesy of brewbooks via Flickr.

Petroglyph Beach will take you back in time. Nobody is quite sure how the 40 rock carvings got there, but they make the beach quite unusual as you take in the boulders etched with faces, birds and fish, thought to be carved over 8,000 years ago. For a mix of mystery, history and culture, Petroglyph Beach is a must.

Barking Sands Beach, Kaua’i, Hawaii

Just as the name says, the sand on Barking Sands Beach makes a barking noise when rubbed. This means that as you walk over its 17 miles (27 kilometers) of coastline it will sound like a rambunctious dog. What makes this strange beach even more unusual is it’s also home to a rocket-launch site and missile-defense testing center.

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas. World's Strangest Beaches

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas. Photo courtesy of dany13 via Flickr.

While white- and golden-sand beaches are commonplace, when is the last time you laid out on a beach of striking pink sand? Pink Sands Beach is over three miles (5 kilometers) long and 50 to 100 feet (80 to 161 kilometers) wide. The cause of its unusual hue is Foraminifera, a coral organism that leaves behind its pink shell when it dies.

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. World's Strangest Beaches

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of eliduke via Flickr.

Due to intense geothermal activity on the Coromandel Peninsula, visitors to Hot Water Beach can dig holes into the sand to create natural hot spring pools. The water gets as hot as 147°F (64°C), and makes for a relaxing and unique beach experience.

Schooner Gulch, Mendocino Coast, California

Also known as “Bowling Ball Beach,” visitors to Schooner Gulch can witness thousands of boulders of equal shape, size and spacing sit lined up like soldiers defying the tides. What’s truly amazing about this rare phenomenon is it is completely natural, with no human interference. The geological explanation is that these concretions are created from resilient minerals and materials that have been able to withstand damage from the Pacific Ocean.

Giant’s Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland

Giant's Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland. World's Strangest Beaches

Giant’s Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway is home to 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, created by volcanic eruptions. These natural formations feature precise hexagonal shapes laid out like honeycomb clusters that disappear into the sea.

The landscape is so dramatic in appearance it has inspired local legends of giants walking over the water to Scotland, hence the word “causeway.”

Chandipur Beach, Chandipur, India

At high tide Chandipur Beach may appear like any other; however, at low tide the water recedes about three miles (five kilometers) from the shore, exposing the seabed to beach-goers. Visitors can see unusual seashells, driftwood, crabs and  other organisms  usually not exposed on the beach, giving them the feeling they’re walking into the sea.

Genipabu Beach, Natal, Brazil

Genipabu beach. Natal, Brazil. World's Strangest Beaches

Genipabu beach. Natal, Brazil. Photo courtesy of Leandro’s World Tour via Flickr.

Genipabu Beach offers much more than just swimming, as the landscape is a mix of beach and desert. Enormous sand dunes allow for sand boarding and camel riding, while the Atlantic Ocean provides opportunities for water sports. Basically, this unusual beach offers two completely unique experiences in one.

Perissa, Santorini, Greece

Perissa Beach, Santorini, Greece. World's Strangest Beaches

Perissa Beach, Santorini, Greece.

While we’ve all seen white and gold sand — and sometimes even strange beaches glowing with hues of pinks, oranges and reds — Perissa Beach in Greece is the complete opposite. The endless beach’s pitch black sand creates a strikingly eery yet beautiful landscape. These dark volcanic granules are extremely soft and fine, as well. From the beach you can also walk to the ancient city of Thira, thought to have once been a Spartan colony, by hiking up the Perissa’s backdrop mountain of Mesa Vouno. Warning: Because of the sand’s dark color it tends to get extremely hot, so bring your flip flops.

The World’s Strangest Beaches

I Heart My City: Jasmine’s Mumbai

8 Apr

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus), was completed in 1888. (Photograph by Shreyans Bhansali, Flickr)

Born-and-bred Mumbaikar Jasmine Desai is a technology journalist — and, like the subject she covers, her city is constantly changing. Though she’s the first to admit it’s not the “relatively quiet place” it once was, there’s a method to the madness…if you know what to look for. “No place is as random as Mumbai — from its people to its traffic to its slums,” she says. “But in the midst of this chaos, there is still a melodious rhythm to it all.” Here are a few of Jasmine’s favorite things about the sprawling cityscape she calls home.

Mumbai is My City

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is Juhu Beach.

The view from Marine Drive. (Photograph by Nicolas Mirguet, Flickr)

The view from Marine Drive. (Photograph by Nicolas Mirguet, Flickr)

Winter is the best time to visit my city because the weather’s not too humid and Diwali, Christmas, and Holi celebrations take over town.

You can see my city best from the street. Whether you’re walking or in a vehicle, every lane is buzzing with life.

Locals know to skip Bombay Bazaar and check out roadside markets instead.

Colaba Causeway is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs.

In the past, notable people like Dadasaheb Phalke, J.R.D. Tata, and Mukesh Ambani have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India) because it recently showcased Egyptian mummies.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that street names here change very often. Always double check the addresses before heading out.

The best places to spend time outdoors in my city are the seaside coffee shops and eateries in Bandra or on Marine Drive.

A vegetable vendor at Crawford Market. (Photograph by B Furnari, Flickr)

A vegetable vendor at Crawford Market. (Photograph by B Furnari, Flickr)

My city really knows how to celebrate life because even after a riot or a terrorist attack, the next day you’ll find people going about their lives in a normal way.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they know why Bombay changed its name to Mumbai.

For a fancy night out, I go to the Palladium.

Just outside my city, you can visit the Khandala, Lonavala, or Matheran hill stations.

My city is known for being glamorous but it’s really honest.

The best outdoor market in my city is Crawford Market.

Shiv Sagar is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and Venky’s is the spot for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Time Out Mumbai.

My city’s biggest sports event is ODI cricket. Watch it at Wankhede Stadium. The Mumbai Marathon is also not to miss.

Dabbawalas deliver hundreds of thousands of meals to workers around Mumbai each day. (Photograph by Phip_s, Flickr)

Dabbawalas deliver hundreds of thousands of meals to workers around Mumbai each day. (Photograph by Phip_s, Flickr)

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I go shopping on Hill Road in Bandra. Or, if I’m hungry, I might stop by one of the many roadside stalls selling chaat.

To escape the crowds, I go to Mount Mary Church or Crossword Bookstores.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Madhuri Dixit because her dazzling and open smile pretty much reflects the attitude of Mumbai.

The dish that represents my city best is vada pav, and chai is my city’s signature drink.

The legendary Taj Mahal Palace hotel is my favorite building in town because it’s symbolic to Mumbai.

The most random thing about my city are the dabbawalas and vendors who hawk on board local trains. They sell absolutely everything — even cookware!

Chai: Mumbia's signature drink. (Photograph by Garrett Ziegler, Flickr)

Chai: Mumbia’s signature drink. (Photograph by Garrett Ziegler, Flickr)

Hard Rock Cafe is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out Zenzi Mills.

Bollywood could only happen in my city.

There are only three seasons in Mumbai:

In the summer, you should wear lots of sunscreen and eat anything flavored with fresh mango.

In the rainy season, you should walk on flooded roads and sip hot chai.

In the winter, you should be ready to celebrate weddings, Diwali, and a plethora of other festivals, like Kala Ghoda.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss Essel World.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Ae Dil Hai Mushkil Jeena Yahan.

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because it’s a city with random stories at every turn. It changes every minute.

I Heart My City: Jasmine’s Mumbai Bandra , bombay , Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya , christmas , Colaba Causeway , Crawford Market , Crossword Bookstores , Dadasaheb Phalke , Diwali , Essel World , Hill Road , hill stations , Holi , india , J.R.D. Tata , Jasmine Desai , Juhu Beach , Kala Ghoda , Khandala , Lonavala , Madhuri Dixit , Marine Drive , Matheran , Mount Mary Church , Mukesh Ambani , mumbai , Mumbai Marathon , ODI cricket , Palladium , Taj Mahal Place hotel , Venky’s Shiv Sagar , Wankhede Stadium , Zenzi Mills

Life and Death on the Ganges

7 Apr

Sita and the crew along the Ganges. (Photograph by Brett Rogers)

Our boat was a beauty and her name was Sita. For ten days, she was our home on the Ganges – our portal into a world of few boundaries, where Hinduism is palpable and life and death confront the senses with brazen, and equal, abandon.

Women dressed in vibrant saris splash the holy water across the small frames of their children while, just a stone’s throw away, bodies of animals and humans brush against the banks as they work their way downriver.

Never before had I seen so much death nourish so much life. It was astonishing.

India’s river of extremes had called to me for a long time, in the same way Everest calls to the avid climber. But it was five years ago, during a conversation with one of the most well-traveled people I have ever met, the late Waterkeeper Alliance lawyer, Douglas Chapman, that my Ganges fascination reached fever pitch.

When I asked Chapman, “What’s the best country you’ve ever visited?,” he said “India” with a gleam in his eye. When I asked what the worst had been, he replied without hesitation: “India.” That’s when I knew I had to experience it for myself.

Tracing India’s Lifeline

My journey began in Rishikesh, where the Ganges descends from the Himalayas, bringing life, rebirth, and death to millions throughout India.

I had brought two trusted “river rat” friends, Doug and Cliff, who have accompanied me on many previous expeditions along for the ride as well as a first timer, Matt, an entrepreneur who wanted to take a break from the corporate grind. And we were ready for an adventure. 

When we finally reached the banks of the holy river, we submerged our bodies in its cold waters to wash away our sins and bless our travels. Then we met Ravi, our boatman, who makes his living as a private guide for Kensington Tours in Allahabad, and the lot of us began paddling to the dusty town of Gazipur, 250 miles to the east — deep into an India un-glimpsed by most Western eyes.

Brett Rogers as he greets a group of people along the shores of the Ganges. (Photograph by Brett Rogers)

Brett Rogers as he greets a group of people along the shores of the Ganges. (Photograph by Brett Rogers)

Sita’s 40-foot frame sliced through the sediment with ease as we sank our large bamboo oars into the river’s depths. As we propelled ourselves ever forward, with Ravi at the  stern, we passed a magnificent array of contradictions and extremes: ancient ghats, brilliant flowers, bloated pig carcasses, endless farms, forgotten ruins, bustling cities.

One afternoon, as we floated past a funeral procession, I asked Ravi how his people grieved when loved ones died. “When someone has lived a long time, we cannot be sad,” he replied. “We celebrate their passing.”

It made sense. We had rowed past several dozen cremations on our trip, and the scene was always the same: Families and friends looking on as a body wrapped in silk and decorated with marigolds and religious icons was set ablaze beside the holy river.

There was never any wailing or crying. Instead, we were greeted with waves and the odd person eager to practice their broken English proclaiming “Hello!” Death was no stranger on the Ganges. Just like the birth of a child, a good harvest, or an illness overcome, dying was viewed as a vital and sacred part of the human experience.

Hinduism and the Ganges

As a Kensington Tours Explorer-in-Residence, local guides greeted us on the river bank in the holy cities of Allahabad and Varanasi. Proud and spiritual, these men had been born and raised in these cities and provided priceless context to the everything we were witnessing. With their help, we were able to glimpse what life was really like for the people who live along this sacred waterway.

One morning in Varanasi, I watched as a man stood waist deep in the river drinking water from cupped hands and praying, while a decaying dog floated by only feet away. Acknowledging the dog, he displayed no hesitation when it came to bathing in the same water. This was not the exception; it was the rule.

I came to understand the Hindu belief that the stronger your connection to the Ganges, the better your chances of improving your status through reincarnation. For Hindus, the river is literally a living goddess, Ganga Ma. Thus, there is a holiness to all that enters its waters, living or dead.

Further downriver at the foot of an unassuming ghat, Ravi turned to us and said: “Here we embrace death, as it defines life. We bathe in and pray for Ganga Ma, for she washes away our sins and directs our reincarnation. Her waters give us hope that we can one day be liberated from this endless cycle of birth and death, and attain nirvana.”

Every River Runs its Course, Finding Life After Loss on the Ganges

On our last day in India, I found out my Gramma had passed away. She was 83 years old and had enjoyed good health and comfort all her life. Still, I was shocked by her sudden passing. Isolated on the other side of the world, I walked a stretch of beach alone just before sunset to say goodbye to her and to India. In my experience, nature is the best healing agent – the only way to make sense of things that make no sense.

As I watched the sun set, I realized something I had never realized at home. It was something that India, the Ganges, and Ravi had taught me. Ultimately, it was this lesson that unconsciously prepared me to deal with this personal loss.

Without death, life loses its meaning. In the West, death is something we deny and fear because it’s something we can’t control or even understand. But after rowing the Ganges I learned death is as purposeful as the setting sun. Death is necessary for life to continue and, like it or not, we all play our part in the circle.

Life and Death on the Ganges Brett Rogers , Hinduism , india , Kensington Tours , River Ganges , Waterkeeper Alliance

Spring Break Destinations for Every Kind of Traveler

8 Mar

With Spring Break just around the corner, now’s the time to cast aside your studies, hunt down those last-minute deals and plan an unforgettable trip.  Whether you’re looking for a budget beach break, a romantic getaway or an adrenaline-pumping adventure, here’s a roundup of the best Spring Break destinations.

For budget travelers

Bahamas

Nassau Cable Beach - Best Spring Break Destinations

Budget travelers can find good deals in the Bahamas

One of the most affordable destinations in the Caribbean, the Bahamas offer plenty of Spring Break deals, with cheap flights running from the US to Nassau and Paradise Islands and a variety of island cruises available. Lounge on white sand beaches or try your hand at water sports during the day, then hit the beach clubs by night.

Puerto Rico

With a drinking age of 18 and prices far cheaper than most U.S destinations, the aptly nicknamed ‘Island of Enchantment’ is fast becoming a popular alternative to the party hotspots of Mexico. If the pristine beaches and lively nightlife aren’t enough to entice you to Puerto Rican shores, there are plenty of alternative activities to try, from horseback riding to scuba diving to trekking in the rainforest.

Florida

If you’d prefer to stay stateside and cut down on pricey airfares, there are plenty of options in Florida. Hit the beach bars and celebrity studded nightclubs at Panama City Beach, join the crowds at Miami Beach, or get involved in myriad spring break activities in the Florida Keys.

Mexico

We couldn’t complete a spring break roundup without a nod to the student party Mecca of Mexico. If you’re looking for a non-stop roster of sunbathing and parties, head to the beach resorts of Cancun, Los Cabos or Acapulco, but don’t expect to have the beach to yourself – masses of students will be descending on the coast for the busiest season of the year.

For sun seekers

Thailand

If you’re happy to fly further afield, Thailand offers some of the world’s best value beach resorts, with vast beaches, coral filled waters and a notoriously debauched party scene. Spend your time snorkeling or elephant trekking in the jungle, then hit the beach bars at night. Phuket, Hua Hin and Koh Samui are all popular among beach lovers, but be sure to join the masses for one of Koh Phangan’s infamous Full Moon Parties where cocktail buckets and blaring dance music keep the scantily clad revelers dancing until the early hours.

India

Goa Baga Beach - Best Spring Break Destinations

Goa’s Baga Beach

Uncover India’s bohemian roots with a beach vacation in Goa, where you can revel in the laid-back vibe and try wakeboarding, kite surfing and jet skiing, before hitting the beach bars at sunset. Once you tire of the sun, sea and sand, head inland to the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur, home to some of the country’s most spectacular architecture, and undergo a pilgrimage to the magnificent Taj Mahal.

Brazil

With powder white beaches, scorching temperatures and endless Caipirinhas, Brazilians know a thing or two about a beach holiday. Head to Rio where you can soak up the rays on the famous Copocabana beach, hit the waves on neighboring Ipanema and pay a visit to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. If you’d prefer to dodge the crowds, travel north to Natal where you can spread your beach towel on the popular Ponta Negra beach and hit the samba clubs in the evening hours.

South Africa

Few countries boast more sunny days than South Africa and whether you’re after an action packed vacation or a leisurely beach break, there’s something for everyone. Of course, you just might need a trust fund to afford the airfare, but if you’ve got the cash to splash out, a South Africa Spring Break is an unforgettable adventure. Brave the waves on the famous Wild Coast, spot the Big 5 on safari in the vast Kruger National Park or come face to face with Great White sharks on a shark diving excursion from Cape Town.

For adrenaline junkies

Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers myriad activities to get your blood pumping, from hurtling down rapids in a whitewater raft to scaling the crater of an active volcano. For the most mind-blowing experience, make like Tarzan on a rainforest canopy tour, where you’ll get to zip line at breakneck speed through acres of untamed jungle, or zoom along the rainforest floor on an ATV instead.

Belize

Belize scuba divers in Blue Hole - Best Spring Break Destinations

Go underwater in Belize

Home to the second largest Barrier Reef in the world, Belize is the perfect place to strap on some fins and dive to the depths of the ocean on a scuba diving excursion. Another hugely popular activity is cave tubing with Belize harboring one of Central America’s most extensive underground cave networks. Still not exciting enough for you? Try zip lining through the jungle, kayaking through crocodile infested waters or parasailing on the open ocean.

Las Vegas

The bright lights of the famous Strip aren’t just for revelers and gamblers; Las Vegas makes the perfect destination for thrill-seekers, with the vast Grand Canyon right nearby. Take a helicopter flight over the strip, whiz through the Valley of Fire on a dune buggy, brave the Grand Canyon Skywalk, take a sunrise hot air balloon ride or skydive over the spectacular Red Rock Canyon. Or you could just blow your savings on the roulette table.

Niagara Falls

One of Northern America’s most celebrated natural attractions, just catching sight of the thundering Niagara Falls is a thrill but those hoping for an action packed trip can hurtle beneath the falls on a high-speed jet boat, zoom over the top in a helicopter or get a view from a giant tethered helium balloon. Not all activities have to involve the falls, though – go kayaking along the Niagara River, bungee jumping in the Niagara Falls area or climb the precipitous gorge at the nearby Devil’s Hole.

For snow bunnies

Whistler, British Columbia

Just because it’s spring doesn’t mean you have to opt for a beach holiday – swap sand for snow and hit the ski slopes instead. Head to the world-renowned Whistler resort – the continent’s largest ski area – where you’ll have the pick of over 200 ski runs. There’s plenty of snow-free activities to keep you busy on the warmer days too – horse riding, canoeing and mountain biking are all popular pastimes.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

With some of the best ski runs in America, Jackson Hole is a veritable paradise for skiers and snowboarders. Springtime offers warmer weather activities too, so once you tire of the slopes you can hike or horseback ride through the Grand Teton Park, whitewater raft in the Snake River Canyon or explore the legendary landscapes of nearby Yellowstone National Park.

Lake Tahoe

Springtime in Lake Tahoe is the perfect time to explore the area’s idyllic beaches and waterfalls, but those hoping to hit the slopes will find plenty of powder still dusting the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Squaw Valley and the Heavenly Mountain resorts are popular spots, where you can ski or snowboard through the day, enjoy a beachside barbecue, then party the night away at one of the lakeside casinos.

For couples

Hawaii

Couple in Hawai - Best Spring Break Destinations

Hawaii is great for couples

Whether you take a romantic sunset boat cruise, cuddle up in a luxury eco lodge or just stroll hand in hand along a moonlit beach, Hawaii is a destination tailor-made for falling in love. There are plenty of adventures to be had in paradise too – try your hand at surfing, snorkel among the shimmering corals or take a helicopter ride over the famous ‘Ring of Fire’.

Vancouver

With its impressive mountain-backdrop and park-lined waterfront, Vancouver offers the perfect backdrop for a loved up getaway. Enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride around Stanley Park, take the ferry over to the picturesque Vancouver Island, then enjoy dinner with a view at Grouse Mountain’s observatory restaurant or on a sunset dinner cruise through Vancouver harbor.

Buenos Aires

Effortlessly cool and oozing with Latino charm, Buenos Aires is the unofficial romance capital of Latin America. Get in the mood with a tango show or dance class; enjoy a stroll through the Palermo Rose Gardens, where you can hire a rowing boat on the lake and visit the planetarium for some sunset stargazing; then head to the waterfront Puerto Madero for dinner with a glittering view of the docks.

San Francisco

With its abundance of art galleries, designer boutiques, hip bars and gourmet restaurants, San Francisco never falls short of ideas for date night. If you prefer some low-key romance, snuggle up on a boat cruise around San Francisco Bay, take a day trip to the Sonoma and Napa Valley wineries or take in the sunset from the famous Golden Gate Bridge.

For Europhiles

Tuscany

Rent a villa in the idyllic Tuscan countryside and spend your days cycling the vineyards and olive groves, pouring over masterpieces in the birthplace of the Renaissance and over-indulging in delicious Italian pastas. Whether you’re after serene landscapes or iconic architecture (don’t miss the famous leaning tower of Pisa), few European destinations offer such variety as Tuscany.

Paris

Alternatively, opt for a memorable sojourn in the City of Lights, where you can breakfast on croissants and shop among the world’s most fashionable people. A trip to the Louvre, the exquisite Château de Versailles and of course, the inimitable Eiffel Tower, are all must-dos, along with a cruise long the River Seine and an entertaining evening at the notorious Moulin Rouge.

Costa Brava, Spain

Costa Brava beach - Best Spring Break Destinations

Join the sunbathers in Costa Brava

If you want to guarantee some warm weather, the glamorous resorts of Spain’s Costa Brava coastline are one of Europe’s most popular springtime destinations. Beloved by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles, the vast Mediterranean beaches are not only popular with sunbathers but renowned among surfers, windsurfers and kite surfers, and with a network of hiking and cycling trails running along the coast, you’ll never be short of things to do.

London

You can’t visit Europe without paying a visit to the British capital and even after the excitement of the 2012 Olympics has died down, there’s still lots to see and do in London. Take a tour on the city’s iconic double-decker buses, enjoy a boat cruise along the Thames, watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and get spectacular views of the city from the London Eye and The Shard. Make sure you spare some time for the quintessentially English tradition of afternoon tea at one of London’s glitziest venues.

Spring Break Destinations for Every Kind of Traveler Bahamas , Belize , brazil , Buenos Aires , Costa Brava , costa rica , featured , florida , hawaii , india , Lake Tahoe , las vegas , London , Mexico , Niagara Falls , Paris , Puerto Rico , San Francisco , South Africa , spring break , thailand , tuscany , vancouver , whistler

Event-o-Rama: 12 Must-Dos in March

7 Mar

Holi is also known as the Festival of Colors, for obvious reasons.  (Photograph by Anurag Kumar, My Shot)

There are some amazing events on tap all over the world, all the time. Here’s a taste of what you can see and do in March:

  • As the summer sun sets on the Southern Hemisphere, one Australian beach town isn’t quite ready to bid the season adieu. In Coolangatta, surfing greats like Kelly Slater duke it out on the waves at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast (March 2-13) competition. While the riders paddle their way toward big cash prizes prize, spectators can keep their toes in the sand with meet and greets, live music, and shopping.
  • Call it a bruja brouhaha. Subscribers to the supernatural flood the streets of Catemaco, Mexico for the annual Noche de Brujas (March 1), a festival that fetes the ancient tradition of Mexican sorcery in a community that claims to be the world capital of witchcraft. Healers and local shamans abound, but if the magic fails, don’t fret. The calming lap of nearby Laguna Catemaco may be just as entrancing.
  • The Gathering Ireland, a yearlong initiative intended to draw the Irish diaspora back to their homeland, takes a literary turn this month at the Ennis Book Club Festival (March 1-3). Acclaimed author Joseph O’Connor will headline the event, but he’s not the only draw. The weekend will be filled with enough readings, seminars, and literary love-ins to appease even the most hardcore bookworms.
    Many women --

    Many women wear traditional dress during Las Fallas. (Photograph by Alexander Rostocki, My Shot)

  • Once a simple feast intended to honor the carpentry of Saint Joseph, today’s Las Fallas (March 15-19) in Valencia, Spain is a veritable ode to pyrotechnic prowess. Watch as local tinkers construct enormous effigies, only to set them ablaze on the festival’s final night. Not all the statues face the stake though. A citywide vote bestows clemency to the crowd favorite.
  • Foodies and oenophiles the world over have been flocking to Sonoma County for decades. Discover why at the California’s Artisan Cheese Festival (March 22-24). Farm tours, cheese making seminars, and pairing demos are all part of the program, but the festival’s location — with Napa Valley, San Francisco, and the Muir Woods just a stone’s throw away — may be the biggest star of all.
  • Music festival season is upon us. From Austin to Glastonbury, large crowds and loud sounds are an inextricable part of spring. This year, take the path less traveled to the principality of Andorra as it hosts its first ever ElectroSnow festival (March 30-April 1). What traveler in their right mind (and with enough scratch in their pocket) could resist a trip to the Pyrenees for a weekend of skiing and electronic music?
  • Savannah, Georgia may be known for its Southern charm and delightful squares decorated with Spanish moss, but it bleeds green on at least one day of the year. The Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade(March 16), now in its 189th year, is one the largest in the world, and pays jubilant homage to the city’s unique Irish heritage.
    The National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the March 1912 gift of cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to Washington, D.C.  (Photograph by Sachin Nayak, Flickr)

    The National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the March 1912 gift of cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to Washington, D.C. (Photograph by Sachin Nayak, Flickr)

  • Baseball hasn’t always hit it out of the park with the International Olympic Committee. After being axed from the summer games in 2012, the international baseball community responded with the World Baseball Classic (March 2-19). With opening games staged in stadiums from Taiwan to San Juan and everywhere in between, the quadrennial event is on pace to become a global institution.
  • Devotees of Krishna the world over descend on Vrindavan, India for Holi. The Hindu holiday celebrates Radha and Krishna’s love bond and the beginning of spring, with each major Krishna temple celebrating on a different day. But the most anticipated event takes place at the Banke Bihari Temple on March 27, where worshippers and visitors alike are doused in brightly colored powder.
  • Washington, D.C. ushers in spring with the National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20-April 14). Celebrating the end of winter and the enduring friendship between the U.S. and Japan, the beloved festival centers around the willowy sakuras that Nat Geo’s first female board member, Eliza Scidmore, played a vital role in bringing to the capital city.
  • Bali is back. A string of attacks left the island reeling, but tourists are once again flocking to this Indonesian paradise. Discover it for yourself during the Bali Spirit Festival (March 20-24), where music and movement come into perfect balance. By day, festival-goers attend yoga, meditation, and dance classes. When the stars come up, international musicians take the stage.
  • In Birmingham, England mankind celebrates man’s best friend at Crufts (March 7-10), the “largest annual dog show in the world.” Founder Charles Cruft’s first show, staged in 1886, boasted 600 entries. This year, the four-day event — which includes competitions, displays, and a trade show – will play host to more than 25,0o0 four-legged friends.

Event-o-Rama: 12 Must-Dos in March Andorra , Australia , bali , Banke Bihari , Birmingham , California , Catemaco , Coolangatta , ElectroSnow , Ennis , Georgia , Holi , india , Ireland , japan , Laguna Catemaco , Las Fallas , Mexico , Muir Woods , Napa , National Cherry Blossom Festival , Phoenix , Quiksilver Pro , San Francisco , San Juan , Savannah , sonoma , Spain , St. Patrick’s Day , Taiwan , tokyo , USA , Valencia , Vrindavan , Washington D.C. , World Baseball Classic

25 Incredible Ways to Propose Abroad

8 Feb

Forget dropping down on one knee at a glitzy restaurant; these days popping the question requires a little more thought. From drifting along the Venice canal ways on a romantic gondola ride to camping out under the Egyptian stars, or even from the top of the Empire State Building, here are 25 ideas for mind-blowingly romantic proposals.

1. In a private capsule on the London Eye

London Eye

Propose on top of London in the London Eye

Pop the question with a glittering view of London from above by hiring out a private capsule on the London Eye and impressing your loved one with the best views in the city. For a romantic twist, book a  London Eye: Valentine’s Private Capsule where you’ll get champagne, flowers and chocolates to seal the deal.

2. At a private picnic in NYC

For a low-key and intimate proposal, few locations are as idyllic New York’s Central Park and with a Perfect Picnic Delivery to New York City Parks you’ll get a delicious array of gourmet foods delivered directly to your picnic blanket. All you need now is a ring.

3. On a private horse and carriage ride in NYC

Take a fairytale horse and carriage ride around New York’s Central Park where the iconic scenery offers the perfect backdrop, with great views of the Bow Bridge, the Central Park Carousel and Belvedere Castle.

4. On a gondola in Venice

Venice gondola ride

Cozy up on a gondola ride in Venice

Few places in the world do old world romance like Venice, with its historic canal ways, cobblestone plazas and majestic architecture. After experiencing a Venice Gondola Ride and Serenade along the picturesque Grand Canal, the only problem will be how to top it for the honeymoon.

5. At a fairy tale castle in Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Make your partner feel like a modern day Cinderella with a trip to the enchanting Neuschwanstein Castle, the real-life inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle, where you can swap the glass slipper for a diamond and propose in style. Top it off with a stroll around the lake and waterfall gorge, and a stop-off at the equally beautiful Hohenschwangau Castle.

6. At the top of the Empire State Building in NYC

Empire State Building

With Manhattan as a backdrop, the Empire State Building is a memorable place to propose

Views don’t come more special than the glittering New York City skyline from the city’s most iconic building – the Empire State Building. Reenact one of the many famous film scenes set on the hugely popular observation deck and create your own piece of movie magic.

7. On a sunset cruise in NYC

Don’t fancy scaling the lofty heights of the Empire State Building for a view of the Big Apple? Get a dazzling view from the water instead, with a New York Dinner Cruise. Much more than a simple dinner date, you’ll be served a 4-course gourmet meal while cruising through Manhattan on the Hudson River with views of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

8. At the happiest place on earth

Disney World might be top of the wish list for family friendly holidays, but whatever your age, the iconic theme park never fails to bring a smile. For the most atmospheric way to experience the park, take in the legendary Illuminations with a spectacular Fireworks Helicopter Tour over Disney’s Epcot Center where you’ll get the ultimate view of the mesmerizing fireworks, laser and water show.

9. While watching a Hawaiian sunset or sunrise

Haleakala sunrise

The magnificent Haleakala sunrise

Get a taste of paradise without leaving the United States, with a romantic sojourn to Hawaii where you can set the scene for the big question on a Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small Group Adventure Tour or a Spectacular Haleakala Maui Sunrise Tour.

10. Just about anywhere in Paris

What better place to propose than Paris, one of the most famously romantic cities in the world? Take a horse and carriage ride around the City of Lights, enjoy dinner with a view at the top of the Eiffel Tower or admire the glittering city skyline on a Seine River Cruise.

11. At Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls at night

At night, the lights at Niagara Falls make it even more romantic

You might have to shout to be heard over the thundering falls, but few backdrops are as dramatic as the world’s most famous waterfall, Niagara Falls, and there are plenty of options for a romantic sightseeing trip. Take a boat trip beneath the falls, explore behind the falls, enjoy a late night stroll by the illuminated Falls or dine with a view at the Skylon Tower’s revolving restaurant.

12. Toasting with cava in Spain

From fiery flamenco dancers to moonlit walks along the beach, Barcelona knows a thing or two about romance and the city boasts a myriad of ways to say ‘te quiero’. For the best dinner date, couple your tapas with a glass (or several) of local specialty, Cava, or better yet, explore the region known as ‘Cava county’ with a Wine Tasting and Winery Tour.

13. Under the Tuscan sun

Chianti Region Wine Tasting Half-Day Trip from Florence

Propose over wine in the Chianti Region!

The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and home to the inimitable Leaning Tower of Pisa, there’s plenty to keep you busy in Tuscany. To make the most of the Tuscan sun, sample the Italian high life on a luxury Chianti Region Wine Tasting Half-Day Trip from Florence, where you’ll couple visits to the region’s most renowned wineries with a scenic drive through the spectacular Tuscan countryside.

14. On a deserted island in the Caribbean

Bring your desert island fantasies to life with a San Juan Snorkel and Picnic Cruise to a secret Puerto Rican island, where you can swim in crystal clear waters, sip Pina Colodas on the deck and snorkel amidst colorful corals.  Just don’t forget to pack the engagement ring.

15. In a vineyard in Vienna

Vienna wine tasting bike tour

Go on a Vienna wine tasting bike tour

Explore Austria’s most picturesque wine region with a romantic Wine Tasting Bike Tour departing Vienna where you’ll get to explore the traditional wine taverns in the Wachau Valley and sample some of the country’s finest wines. Take time to pedal through the cobblestone villages and sprawling vineyards, before cooling off with a romantic dip in the Danube River.

16. In California’s wine country

Prefer to stay stateside? Explore the rolling hills and verdant valleys of California with a Napa and Sonoma Wine Country Tour, instead. Home to some of the world’s most renowned wines, there’s something to impress even the most ardent wine connoisseur, with idyllic wineries hidden in the heart of serene Californian countryside.

17. Under the stars in Egypt

What better way to get starry-eyed than stargazing in the Egyptian desert? Spend the day marveling over the vast pyramids, then head into the Sharm desert to dine in a traditional Bedouin encampment and spend the evening spotting star constellations in the night sky with a Private Tour: Egyptian Stars and Bedouin Dinner.

18. On a beach in Bali

Bali

Bali is beautiful and romantic

No longer just for hippies, surfers and yoga enthusiasts, beach lovers will find few places as heavenly as Bali. Indonesia’s spiritual hub makes an idyllic spot for a romantic getaway, where you can indulge in luxury spa treatments, cycle around the glistening rice paddies and stroll hand in hand along the white sands.

19. At the Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Admire the Taj Mahal together

Looking for an awe-inspiring setting to get down on one knee? Take a break from sightseeing and propose at the famous Princess Diana bench before the magnificent Taj Mahal – the iconic white marble dome and exquisite gardens will make a spectacular backdrop to your holiday snaps.

20. On the Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China in autumn

The Great Wall of China in autumn

A UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the 7 wonders of the world, no travel wish list is complete without a trip to see the epic 8,850km long Great Wall of China. Make your move as you marvel the ancient structure and the views won’t be the only thing taking your breath away!

21. At the top of Mt Fuji

Scale the summit of Japan’s most iconic peak, teetering a heart-racing 3,775 meters over the surrounding Fuji Five Lakes, Mount Fuji offers a sunrise so magical that you’ll understand why the mountain is considered sacred. Huddle together on the summit and whisper sweet nothings as the sun melts over the horizon.

22. Dancing the tango in Buenos Aires

Oozing with Latino charm, Buenos Aires is the self-proclaimed romance capital of South America. Stir up the passion by learning to dance the tango in a traditional milonga (dancehall) or opt to watch the professionals at work with a sultry tango dinner show.

23. Hot air ballooning over Cappadocia

Cappadocia hot air balloon ride

Watch hot air balloons take off in Cappadocia

Float over the otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia on a sunrise Hot Air Balloon flight where you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the region’s famous fairy chimneys, then celebrate with a champagne toast on landing.

24. On an elephant trek in Thailand

Chiang Dao Elephant Camp

Pop the question on an elephant trek

For an adventurous way to mark your engagement, explore the jungle from the back of Thailand’s gentle giants with an elephant ride in Phuket or Chiang Mai. Alternatively, get up close and personal with a visit to an elephant sanctuary, where you’ll get to splash around with the baby elephants as you help with bath time.

25. On safari in South Africa

Pilanesburg Nature Reserve Safari

Zebras at Pilanesburg Nature Reserve

An African safari is sure to top everyone’s bucket list so throw an engagement party to remember with a wildlife adventure in South Africa. Spot the Big 5 from the comfort of a private jeep, gallop across the savannah on a horseback safari or cuddle up in a luxury eco lodge beneath the desert stars.

25 Incredible Ways to Propose Abroad bali , Barcelona , Buenos Aires , Cappadocia , China , Egypt , featured , hawaii , india , London , Munich , napa and sonoma , new york city , Niagara Falls , Paris , Puerto Rico , romantic travel , South Africa , thailand , tokyo , tuscany , venice , Walt Disney World

Food Fridays: Bike Tours for Foodies

21 Jan

Two women picking red peppers for spice powders near Jodhpur. (Photograph by Shivji Joshi, My Shot)

What better way to sample the culinary delights of a region than by peddling along its backroads, enjoying the scenery and working up an appetite for the next meal?

Here are ten great itineraries for all you food- and wine-loving cyclists out there:

1. Blue Ridge, Virginia

Tucked away in Virginia’s vineyard-dotted farmland awaits a land of gastronomic pleasure. After a gourmet breakfast, head out to the region’s wineries, and return to a sumptuous dinner in the evening. Some tours include an evening at The Inn at Little Washington, which invented such signature dishes as veal Shenandoah and timbale of Maryland crabmeat.

Napa Valley from above. (Photograph by Marek Hosek, My Shot)

Planning: Base yourself at the Foster Harris House bed and breakfast.

2. Sonoma and Napa Valleys, California

Vine-covered hills, redwood groves, and sprawling farmlands provide perfect cycling country. Follow Sonoma’s backroads in the Dry Creek, Alexander, and Knights Valleys, stopping to taste the wines and the best of California’s farm-t0-table cuisine. Then move on to Napa Valley’s winery-lined Silverado Trail and stay in St. Helena, sampling locally raised lamb, cheeses, and seafood.

Planning: Some tours start from San Francisco; or stay in the area and book tours by the day.

3. Salta Province, Argentina

Beginning in colonial Salta, visit ancient Cachi, remote Estancia Colome — featuring a private tasting of its high-altitude wines — and picturesque Cafayate, the hub of Salta’s wine-making business. Gaucho barbecues and a regional cuisine of corn-based Locro stew, tamales, and lots of desserts, are complemented by the Malbecs and Torrontes of the province’s vineyards.

Planning:The route involves some hard cycling at high altitudes.

4. The Golden Triangle, Thailand

Sample the cuisine of northern Thailand, with its liberal use of spices, curries, and noodles prepared with fresh local ingredients, on a tour that starts in Chiang Mai and visits hill-tribe communities en route to the ancient Burmese kingdom of Chiang Saen. Peddle past jungle valleys and boat-dotted rivers, eating in local restaurants, and taking in markets and an optional cooking class.

Soak in the local street food culture in Chiang Mai. (Photograph by Christian Schmidt, My Shot)

Planning: The route goes along rural roads with some climbing.

5. Rajasthan, India

Rajasthan‘s royal kitchens turned the preparation of food into an art form, cooking scarce meats with elaborate curries, dried fruits, and yogurt. Sleep in palaces and feast on some of India’s finest cuisine in towns such as Umaid Bhawan, Jodhpur, and Udaipur, sharing lonely roads with camel trains and shepherds en route.

Planning: This is an easy route. Bikes can be rented in most towns if you want to devise your own tour.

6. Mediterranean Turkey

For centuries Ottoman chefs crafted dishes for sultans, creating a rich culinary tradition in the process. On this tour of epicurean discovery, you will cycle through the citrus-perfumed countryside and along the Mediterranean coast, exploring the seaside towns of Bodrum and Datca, and ending with a three-day cruise on some of the world’s most dazzling blue waters.

Planning: A challenging route for intermediate and advanced cyclists.

7. Piedmont, Italy

With robust wines (Barolo, Barbaresco) and singular gastronomy, Piedmont is a gourmet’s paradise — a typical meal consists of at least six courses, accented with some of the world’s finest truffles. Peddle along quiet but hilly country roads, visiting red-roofed villages, such as Alba, and the five towns of Barolo.

Planning: Moderately difficult.

8. Burgundy, France

With lazy lanes, picturesque canals, farmland, and vineyards galore, Burgundy is a biker’s delight. Discover the abbeys at Cluny and Vezelay and the historic cities of Dijon, Macon, Tournus, and Beaune, with architecture funded by wealthy wine merchants. Taste the likes of Vosne-Romanee, Gevrey-Chambertin, and Puligny-Montrachet along the way.

Sample salame in Piedmont, Italy. (Photograph by Rachel Black, Flickr)

Planning: A network of linked cycle routes covers the region, providing services and facilities for cyclists.

9. Basque Country, Spain

The region’s cornucopia of ingredients combine to create some of the best cuisine in Spain: including aged beef grilled over hot coals, and bacalao (salted cod) — washed down with Basque cider or Rioja wine. Cycling tours take in fishing villages along the area’s rugged coast, the cultural delights of Bilbao, and Haro and the Spanish plateau, where Rioja wines are produced in all their glory.

Planning: Tours are available tailored to your interests and fitness level.

10. The Cape & Winelands, South Africa

Beginning in Cape Town, explore the Cape Peninsula coast before heading inland to the Franschhoek Valley, with its French roots and magnificent vineyards, and the Shamwari Game Reserve. On the way, taste a medley of Cape Malay, Indian, Afrikaner, and European culinary delights, such as springbok loin in balsamic broth.

Planning: Spring and fall are the best times.

This list originally appeared in National Geographic’s Food Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe.

Food Fridays: Bike Tours for Foodies

7 Can’t-Miss Sights in Kerala, India

19 Jan

Close your eyes for just a moment and picture a wide canal lined with coconut trees and the small, tin-roofed homes of local villagers. The mirrored surface of the river is disturbed only by a lone fisherman, poling his narrow wooden canoe downstream. Now open your eyes–and say hello to Kerala, one of India‘s southernmost states perhaps best known for its intricate network of canals, lakes and rivers covering nearly half the state.

But beyond these blissful backwaters, Kerala offers myriad other delights to travelers–from the colonial heritage of Fort Kochi to breathtaking natural scenery. Here are seven spots you can’t miss:

1. Fort Kochi

Santa Cruz Basilica

Santa Cruz Basilica

When the Portuguese began to arrive in the 13th century, establishing Kochi as their Indian headquarters in 1505, they were quick to take advantage of the city’s spice trade and location by the sea. Today, you can wander through Fort Kochi‘s quiet streets and see much that remains from its colonial days.

The Santa Cruz Basilica, with its cream facade and unique wooden ceiling, dates to 1506, as does the nearby St. Francis Xavier Church. The latter was even constructed by the great explorer Vasco da Gama, giving you a further sense of the region’s rich history.

2. Chinese Fishing Nets

Chinese fishing nets

Chinese fishing nets

Lining the shore of Fort Kochi are these distinctive Chinese fishing nets were first brought to India in the 13th century by the Chinese. Great swathes of blue netting are strung between arching wooden beams, requiring at least four men to operate them from the shore. A series of ropes and stone weights connect with the net, which slowly rises from the water as fishermen tug and pull from the other end.

Although this technique is no longer needed because of modern fishing equipment, the government of Kerala has developed a special initiative, supporting the fisherman to keep this unique part of its heritage alive.

3. Spice Markets

Kerala spice market

Spice market

Another thing Kerala offers is the chance to see a spectrum of spices right where they were grown and processed. Step inside the spice markets of Kochi and be greeted by the aromatic flavors of cinnamon, cardamom and cloves swirling in the air like a heavenly concoction.

One place especially worth visiting is a ginger factory, whose courtyard is covered by ginger to be coated with lime powder, which acts as a natural preservative. Inside the buildings, you can also watch workers sift and sort ginger pieces according to size before being shipped out abroad.

4. Jewish Quarter of Mattancherry

On your exploration of Fort Kochi, follow faded signs to Jew Town Road, where the Paradesi Synagogue and cemetery give evidence to the Jewish community that has existed in the area for centuries. Although only five families remain today, services are still held in the synagogue.

While you’re in the area of Mattancherry, be sure to visit the Dutch Palace, which was built in 1555 by the Portuguese–despite what its name might suggest. What is perhaps most remarkable about the complex are the vibrantly painted murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana, which stand out in contrast to the rest of the palace’s white-washed walls.

5. Athirapally Waterfalls

Athirapally Waterfalls

Athirapally Waterfalls

While the sights surrounding Fort Kochi alone will keep you busy, don’t forget to travel north of the city for stunning natural landscapes. Two hours from Kochi lie the Athirapally Waterfalls, a set of thundering falls that cascade 80 meters (or 250 feet) to the river below. Venture close enough if you dare to feel the cool spray on your face, and to dry off, hike back up to the top where the awesome panorama of falls, river, forest and a bowl-shaped valley in the distance will tempt you to never leave.

6. Kodanad Elephant Camp

On your way to the waterfalls, stop off at this unassuming spot along the Periyar River, home to a camp that trains several wild elephants for tourism purposes. Gentle hills rise before you, one even rumored to have been visited by Saint Thomas in 52 AD.

But this peaceful scene won’t stay quiet for long–just after eight o’clock, elephant drivers, or mahouts, lead their charges down the path for their morning bath. Find a seat on a rock and look on as the elephants get rubbed and scrubbed, the ends of their trunks playfully peeking out of the water like a submarine’s periscope.

7. Allepey’s Backwaters

Kerala backwaters

Kerala backwaters

Yes–the seventh and final spot to see in Kerala is none other than its backwaters. The best place to explore the backwaters are an hour and a half south of Kochi in the small town of Allepey, where scores and scores of houseboats depart on overnight stays on the river. Don’t let the sometimes rustic exterior of the boats fool you–inside you’ll find all the creature comforts, letting you relax in style on your own private houseboat through the backwaters.

7 Can’t-Miss Sights in Kerala, India