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Buy This Whiskey, Own A Land In Scotland!

Planning to get a land in Scotland? Why not buy a bottle of whiskey instead! Yes, you read it right. Scotland’s one of the finest single-malt whiskeys, Laphroaig, offers a lease on a square foot of land with the purchase of each bottle. When you buy one, you lawfully become a ‘Friend of Laphroaig’. And, as a ‘Friend’ you will be given a numbered plot (one square foot) of the distillery land, represented by your own little flag!

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Currently owned by Beam Suntory (American subsidiary of Japan’s Suntory Holdings), Laphroaig was founded in Scotland in 1815 by Donald and Alexander Johnson. It is the only Islay Scotch whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales.

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Talking about the rates, a ten year old Laphroaig can cost you around US$50 (approx. ₹3344), an eighteen year old bottle can cost you around double of that (around ₹ 6688) and the 25 year old one will lighten your wallet by approximately US$ 400. (approx. ₹26755). So, once you get your hands on any of these three, just register the bar code placed on the bottle to the Laphroaig website. And that’s it! You will, then, be a proud owner of a piece of land in Islay, Scotland.

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Ever heard of an eatable Margarita?

No, this isn’t your traditional glass of tequila and fruit juice cocktail that you sip casually on a usual Friday evening. Doug Laming’s Margarita is definitely much more interesting than that! As suggested by the name, this cocktail was introduced by Molecular Mixologist, Doug Laming at his experimental lab i.e. Rabbit Hole Bar & Dining, Sydney.

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Laming uses ‘Cointreau Caviar Spherification’ to create spheres of Tequila, Cointreau and syrup, which results in little ‘pearls’ of alcohol that burst in the mouth!  While the glass is only there for decoration, to actually consume this margarita, one has to lift up the salt rimmed lime and eat the pink finger lime and the two types of the caviar pearls. One contains a Souza Gold tequila and sugar syrup and the other contains Cointreau. Basically, you eat these and lick the salted lime. It’s a margarita unlike any other kind that you may have had.

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111 days, 11 countries, 1 family: This Family Took An Incredible 111-Day Road Trip From India To France

How do I Take Great Wildlife Photos?

Noted photographer Archna Singh gave Travel Secrets writer Nirav Shah a quick tutorial in wildlife photography.

 

 

Be extremely patient. I have had to wait for 4-5 hours while a leopard slept on the tree just to catch different expressions on its face.

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Maintain distance. This is important to catch the animal in their natural behaviour, to respect them and their privacy and most importantly, for your own safety.

Early morning and late evenings before dusk are the best times to shoot. Most of the animals are out at this time, when the heat is low. The light is also softer.

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Never use your camera flash. It scares the animal away and is disrespectful.

Always keep the camera ready, even a 1-minute break can make you lose a wonderful shot. The animals always catch you off guard!

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Do not just take pretty pictures: try and bring out the emotions that the animals express

A tip for tourists: Guides/drivers at national parks in India will often park their cars in one place and claim that the animal will come here (based on sightings or pug marks). Do not listen to them, but make them take rounds since more often than not, this is a tactic to only save fuel, and you will never end up spotting any animal.

About Archna Singh

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Trained at: NIFT, and under acclaimed photographer Akhil Bakshi

In love with: Africa! She’s also a regular at Ranthambhore and Ladakh.

Showcases her work at: http://www.orahwildlife.com.

Her Kit (in 2012, when we published the story):

1. Canon camera – 1Ds Mark III (serial no. DS 126161/617957)

2. Canon camera – 1D MARK IV (serial no. DS 126221/1431300181)

3. Canon camera – G11 Power Shot (serial no. 0245200409)

4. Canon Zoom Lens – (EF 800MM 1:5.6) – Serial No. 14634

5. Canon Zoom Lens (100-400MM) – ET-83C (serial no. 462100)

6. Canon lens – (EF 200MM 1:2L) – Serial No. 11216

7. Canon Wide Angle Lens 16-35MM – EW-88 – Serial No. 1063057

8. Canon Lens (24-70MM) – EW-83F – Serial No. 1907442

9. Canon Fisheye lens -15mm – Serial No. 54259

10. Canon Extender 2xIII – Serial No. 8420002650

11. Canon Extender 2xII – Serial No. 132951

All images are with courtesy  Archana Singh

Input: Travel Secrets Correspondent Nirav Shah

Tell Me More About China’s Panda Park

China’s 600-acre Panda Base is located just about 20 km from the north suburb of Chengdu city. ‘Cute’ and ‘cuddly’ Pandas frolic here, in their lovingly simulated natural habitat. Our correspondents Rakhi Agarwal and Supriya Kantak take you there:

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Here, they swim, climb trees, munch on bamboo and roll in the dirt; just like they would in deep wilderness. Bamboo trees form a welcoming canopy overhead. Birds tweet in the bushes: your chance to spot some endangered species, and some well-loved ones. Think black-necked cranes, thrushes, cuckoos, Kingfisher. Stop by to share a snack with friendly peacocks and pheasants strutting freely about.

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Pandas are peace-loving, happy with their bamboo diet. But if provoked, their powerful jaw muscles and 150-kg weight can give you the shudders.

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Pandas get their name from the Chinese words ‘Pan and Da’ meaning ‘fat and big.’ In anticipation of a big bear hug, Supriya and Rakhi entered the protected area; a maze of winding paths with bamboo shoots forming an arch overhead. There are other trees, of course- mostly tall and big. Willows, Gingkos, Chinars, Yulans…the names aren’t all familiar, but the fresh air cools your face and warms your heart.

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The 60 acre Panda Base also houses a charming lake, teeming with cranes and Mallard ducks and well swans. But more than that it showcases nature’s genius at thinking up shapes and sizes and colour schemes! So while gazing at the Aquarians swimming together in happy harmony how can you miss the beautifully mismatched yellow, red and orange set against the blue water? Once you have had your fill of the lake’s beauty, enjoy a scoop of ice-cream. On your way out, you must stop at the souvenir shop; take a sneak, though you should know that the shops inside offer lower prices.

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This article first appeared in our July-August, 2012 edition.

Ever done a Snowmobile Ride with Dog Sleds?

For most of us, riding through the snow on a dog sled would be a new kind of thrill. For residents of Grey County, Canada, it is a routine mode of transport.

Grey County is bordered in the north by the impressive Georgian Bay, 220km by 100km, making it almost as large as Lake Ontario, one of Canada’s five Great Lakes. It is just 150 km away from Toronto, west of the Blue Mountains area of Collingwood, where skiers take on snowy slopes.

Mike Keenan took a thrilling ride across Grey County. The idea of Corporate Honchos going to work in Snowmobile excited him.

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Driving on a snowmobile is a lot like cross-country skiing: an opportunity to observe nature’s pristine fields bordered by naked deciduous trees shrouded in hoar frost, providing a mystical dimension. The trees glow along the carpet of snow; their crystals beam in jewel like fashion, a sparkling dance in strong sunlight, glistening and forcing to stop to revel in magnificence of it all.

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Snowmobiles are machines that transport you deep into the woods, offering vistas of partly-frozen creeks and snow-clad pine and spruce, uneven land, large rocks and limbs providing a unique gestalt. They are responsive and easy to drive, right hand controlling gas and left hand, the brake. As promised, the machine virtually stops on its own with the release of gas.

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There are 3,000km of groomed trails in the Grey-Bruce area, with no dangerous lake or water crossings. Trails are signposted and easy to follow. Mike witnessed myriad tracks, a large hare, perhaps a wolf but no actual wildlife, and although the trails he travelled were graded ‘Limited,’ they are fine with deer, white owls and the sheer beauty of nature in Grey County’s winter wonderland. Gloves, pants, helmet and boots kept them warm. There are two kinds of snowmobile enthusiasts: hard core, racking up as many kilometers as possible and the recreational, out of pure enjoyment. Many people even show up in business suits, the office goers.

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Next it was ‘Hike!’ that they repetitively shouted as teams of dogsled raced along a circular route at Doug Nixon’s Rob Roy Dog Sledding Adventures. The Alaskan and Siberian huskies, harnessed in two teams of two dogs per sled make you wonder how four dogs are able to carry each sled and the large musher. Mushers stand on two thin runners with a brake pedal in the middle. After a few sprints you get the feel of it, leaning into the turns, the sled easily maneuvers on the terrain.
It was minus 2 C, but the owner, Doug, said that these snow dogs liked it colder at minus 10-15 C. They are born outside and live outside.

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This experience was shared in the November-December 2012 issue of Travel Secrets magazine.

Help me plan a trip to Ghana

Excellent choice! If you ever happen to be in the western part of Africa, do not pass up on the opportunity to travel for a week in Ghana. Terrains change from thick rainforests to vast savannas within a day’s travel. Elephants forage a few meters away, as you watch in awe. Get to know the slave culture of yester years first hand or watch true ancient African culture surround you.

TS Correspondent Nirav Shah was lucky to explore this land a couple of years ago. He swung on rope bridges high up the rainforest canopy and climbed the highest peak in Ghana. Here are a few tips from him to make the best of your trip.

 Where to go and What to do

Cape_Coast_Castle_GhanaCape Coast: An idyllic ex-colonial coastal town frequented by foreigners, famous for its sea food, slave castles and night life. Relax by white surf beaches and do canopy walking at the Kakum National Park, a rain forest that is a short taxi ride away. Thin rope bridges connect huge trees hundreds of feet above the ground. Visit the imposing Cape Coast and Elmina castles for a lesson on the infamous days of the slave trade. On a lighter note – don’t miss hilarious shop names of shops here.

Image: Anthony Pappone on flickr
Image: Anthony Pappone on flickr

Kumasi: Alternatively known as the ‘Garden City’ for its beautiful flowers and plants, this town is the seat of the Ashanti King – a powerful ruler of a tribe that once lorded over most of West Africa. Kumasi is steeped in cultural heritage, and has attractions such as Fort Kumasi, the Hat Museum and the Kumasi National Cultural Center. It also has a decently maintained zoo that boasts of a diverse variety of birds and animals.

Independence_Square,_Accra,_GhanaAccra: The capital of Ghana, this city is a typical urban centre with traffic snarls, pollution and busy markets. While Accra does not boast of many tourist attractions, it is a good base from which to explore different regions of Ghana. Photography enthusiasts should not miss out on photo walks through the bustling markets here!

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Mole National Park and Larabanga Mosque: Located in the northern part of the country, this is where you can experience a savanna environment. Standing 20 meters away from a herd of male elephants with no vehicle to run back to, or watching antelope jump around as you walk in the park can definitely be your trip highlights. However, sighting the lion is a rarity that requires persistent exploration over more than one day. The Larabanga mosque – the oldest mosque in West Africa built in the 15th century is a few miles from the park, and is a must-visit.

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Wli Waterfalls: The Volta region in East Ghana is inarguably the most beautiful; and the existence of stupendous waterfalls such as the Wli waterfalls, the highest waterfalls in Ghana at 60M bear testimony to this. Bathing under the cascade is refreshing, especially when you have thousands of bats resting on the cliff walls. A challenging 3 hour hike can take you to the upper reaches of the wall where the the waterfall takes on a vivid beauty.

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Mount Afadjato: When in a country, why not climb its highest peak! Especially when it is like Mount Afadjato, Ghana’s highest sole-standing mountain located in the Volta region that takes an hour to summit with the help of a guide. The view from up the mountain is incomparable, and a hike around it is a the perfect way to explore the rain forest.

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Tafi Atome Monkey Village: A visit to this village demonstrates a locale where humans and monkeys cohabit and live together. Definitely a must-visit if you want to overcome your fear of our closest animal brothers.

Know before you go

Transport: Accra is the ideal airport to look for a flight to. While taxis are available for inter and intra-city travel; using state buses and tro-tros (shared taxi vans) are a cheap option for the budget traveler. Ghana has good quality roads and hence travelling long distances usually does not take much time.

Telephone: SIM cards of multiple service providers e.g. MTN are easily available.

Currency: The Ghanian currency is the Cedi, with current rates at 1 Cedi = 30 INR

Visa: Visa applications have to be made to your nearest Ghanian embassy, and require ~1 week for processing.

Some useful websites and blogs:

Ghana Tourism Authority

Ghana Tourism official website

Ghana in Living Colour – Intrepid Travel

Two years in Ghana

Easy Track Ghana

Ghana Guide and Blog

 

What are some of the best Monsoon getaways in India?

We took your question to Aloke Bajpai, Founder Partner of The Explorers India, a travel organisation that specialises in experiential tourism and adventure.

Over to him:

Come monsoon and most people begin to dread endless traffic and having to wade to office through water logged roads. But you only have to travel a short distance from the cities to soak in a light drizzle, the sound of a gushing waterfall, the sight of abundant greenery, and the monsoons don’t seem so bad at all.

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Pack a light lunch, put on a trench coat and head on a monsoon hike – it’s the best way to welcome the rains. To begin with, those in Mumbai could trek from Vasai to the waterfall in Tungareshwar. The flattish path lies between thick woods and is a great way of being close to nature without being too far from the city.  The adventurous can either consider Chanderi for a difficult but worthwhile two-day hike or embark on the gradual climb to Kalsubai, Sahyadri’s highest peak. If you’re considering a trip to the hill station Matheran this season, skip the toy train or road and trek through the Garbett Plateau instead. You’ll be rewarded with great views as soon as you begin.

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As most national parks close entry to visitors come rains, you could drive to the small town of Ramnagar in Uttarakhand from Delhi and hike through the buffer zone of Corbett National Park. It’s highly recommended for wildlife enthusiasts who can learn about the flora, spot birds and animals from a close distance, and enjoy the trek all the way till Nainital. Rishikesh and Kasauli are great bases for some short monsoon treks as well and so is B.R. Hills in Karnataka.

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Another activity that is best enjoyed in the monsoons, especially in Mahrashtra, is Waterfall Rappelling. Kune waterfall near Lonavla can be accessed after a two-hour long trek and once there, through a certified agency and guide, one can start rappelling at a height of 75-80 feet. Kondana caves near Karjat are a good spot too. For those interested, rain-fed rivers like Kundalika and Pej offer opportunities of rafting.

Cycling through the countryside also makes for an extremely pleasant activity during monsoon. Karnataka provides plenty of traffic-free, scenic routes to cyclists. The Bangalore-Mysore Highway is a great way to start and you can cycle onwards to Ramnagara, a small town about 50 km from the city known for its 400 year old Big Banyan Tree, and Manchinbele Dam. Those in Mumbai can consider cycling towards Vasai to the beachfront of Arnala or you could take the route from Alibaug to Murud Janjira that goes through Korlai fort and small hospitable villages.

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If you can, however, manage to take a few days off work, skip all the above options and escape to Wayanad in Kerala instead. Whether it be a trek in the drizzle from Kalpetta to Soochipara falls, gliding through the backwaters or cycling across stretches of tea gardens and forests – you’ll have plenty to do and thank the rain gods for.

 Aloke Bajpai spoke to TS Correspondent Sarita Santoshini.

Photos courtesy The Explorers India

I’ve seen most of the touristy Switzerland. Somewhere fresh this summer?

You can always come to us for just the right advice! Travel Secrets Editor Shubhra Krishan discovered a stunning Swiss gem on her recent trip. It’s the Klosters region, quiet, lovely and relatively tourist-free, unless you count Prince Charles, who is a regular guest!

Why Klosters

If you are taking a holiday in Switzerland, you probably have greenery and serenity in mind. Klosters ticks those boxes in bold! And if it is adventure you seek, there’s plenty of that to be had here, too.

Nestling in what has remained the rural part of the Prättigau (Graubünden), Klosters, with its romantic village-like atmosphere, stands in stark contrast to the nearby Alpine metropolis of Davos. It’s a tiny town dotted with shops selling outdoorsy sportsgear, and cosy restaurants. A silvery river streaks across the town, and big mountains gaze indulgently down upon the town.

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Hotels and homes all over Klosters are laden with flowers. The combination of wood, greenery and brilliant blossoms is heady and irresistible!

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The photo above shows Hotel Alpina: we stayed here and totally loved it. Not only is it beautiful, but located right across the small railway station. The cable car up to a gorgeous mountain is also across the road. The rooms have a homely touch, breakfast is delicious, and the staff warm and welcoming. This hotel is proof that you don’t need to be a five-star to be a five star experience!

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See? This is a house in Klosters…one among dozens we gaped at! So much beauty, sprinkled all over, just like that!

Lazy, sunlit lunches in Klosters are a food lover’s dream come true. Our dream came true at this one:

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Every delicious dish here reflects the freshness and beauty of the region.

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And how can you ever leave without indulging in Switzerland’s best-loved comfort food, starring potatoes: yes, we’re talking about Rosti!

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Paired with local wine and sunshine, all this good food is the perfect recipe for an afternoon snooze. We took our cue from this bovine beauty and treated ourselves to a nap, too!

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The valleys of Klosters will take your breath away. It is easy to lose track of time gazing in the distance and feeling your soul heal. Far in the distance, on gleaming tracks, the bright red streak of a train passing by, is stunning against the green backdrop: quintessential Switzerland!

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A whole mountain of adventure awaits to be explored: your kids are going to be floored!

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To hear more of our adventures in Klosters, grab a copy of Travel Secrets magazine’s May-June 2015 issue.

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