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How to Shop Smart Abroad: 3 Useful Tips

How to order coffee in Thailand

What is Rassolnik?

This traditional Russian soup is known to have existed as far back as the 15th century, when it was called ‘kalya’. Today, famous with the name Rassolnik, the authentic Russian dish is prepared mainly with veal and lamb kidneys (or pork and beef kidneys), pearl barley, sorrel leaves and some pickled cucumbers! Yes, you heard it right. A ‘pickle soup’ it is!

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No matter how bizarre it may sound, but this bribing Slavic blend is definitely a bowl of happiness.  Rassolnik or rassoljnik, as it is known, varies from family to family and region to region. Some include barley and potatoes and is so thick, a spoon can stand up in it. Others make it with prime cuts of meat instead of offal.

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Despite of all the variations, the belief behind the recipe stays common, i.e. it is the one of the easiest and surest way of curing hangovers!  This is due to the fact that this savory soup helps the body to hold water and counteract the dehydration produced by over-imbibing, which causes hangovers.

What is Lussekatt?

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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What is a glogg?

How do I Get a Better Hotel Room Without Paying Extra?

Superior Seafacing Room

Scout for soft openings: New hotels are generally keener to please, so check out hot new properties on hotelchatter.com, and pick up the phone!
Time your trip right: big city hotels have lower occupancy on the weekend, so that’s when your chances of getting an upgrade are higher. In leisure properties, weekends are packed, so try and travel mid-week.
Do some research and call the hotel in advance: Check out the property on-line, and identify the rooms and suites you like. Then write an email or make a phone call to request one of those rooms, even if they show non-available on-line. Remember, cancellations happen all the time.
Spell out exactly what you’re looking for: Don’t vaguely say, ‘May I have a better room.’ Much better to ask for a room with a view, or a bigger suite, or whatever it is that you’re looking for.
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Don’t book the cheapest room: go for a mid-range suite, so that you can be bumped up to a really nice one.
Check in between 3 to 5 pm: Most rooms are given out during this period, so the front office is surer of cancellations and availability.
Dress to impress: No need to turn up in a tuxedo, of course. Just be well-groomed—it will earn you more points than a sloppy, bedraggled appearance.
Be Nice: Hotel staff get to deal with some really pesky and nasty sorts. Strike a difference with your politeness. If the manager does award you an upgrade, let him/her know you’ll be happy to commend them in the Feedback Form.
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Play the emotional card: tell them you’re visiting on a special occasion. Tell them you love the hotel, and that it’s your third visit here (they’re not going to pull out records). It works like a charm. (Just don’t tell them you read it here).
Turn a glitch to your advantage: Baggage reached your room late? Faucet leaking? Request management to upgrade your room, in exchange for a No Complaints.

Take me on a Harry Potter Tour. I’m a fan!

What exactly is a champagne breakfast?

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It is, well, exactly as luxurious as it sounds: Breakfast served with champagne or sparkling wine and fruit juice, usually orange and/or peach.

This special treat is generally reserved for special occasions such as an Anniversary, Mother’s Day or a holiday. High-end hotels and vacation resorts often serve champagne breakfasts served in three elegant courses: bread, cake and fruit, followed by the main course, and finally, coffee, cheese and biscuits.

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To give you a clearer idea, here’s the romantic champagne breakfast menu at the Governor’s Suite in Hartness House, an Inn in Vermont, USA.

Ice-chilled Champagne in a bucket with two crystal flutes;

Freshly-squeezed Orange or Carrot-Apple Juice;

Freshly baked Crumb-topped Blueberry muffins
and Orange marmalade;

Strawberries with Framboise Creme Parfait;

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Your choice of:
Smoked Salmon and Green Onion Omelet, or
Almond and Graham Crusted French Toast; or
Governor’s Eggs Benedict

French Press Columbian Coffee with Cream

Decorated with a beautiful silk Rosebud in Vase and newspaper

This indulgence for two can be yours for an extra $75 USD!

The Titanic: Tell Me 10 Tantalising Facts

Although the Titanic lies in 13,000 feet of water, the tragic story still captures minds and hearts throughout the world.  1st September 2015, marked the 30th anniversary of the discovery of the Titanic, when a team led by American oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard and French diving engineer Jean-Louis Michel discovered the ship’s final resting place.

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Here are 10 things you may not know about the Titanic and its home – Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland:

  1. Titanic’s design was conceived over a glass of wine and fine food! Lord Pirrie and J. Bruce Ismay decided speed would be balanced with quality of accommodation. It is rumoured that when Pirrie enquired as to the length of the ship, Ismay replied, glass of wine in hand, “build me a stable ship that will not disturb the sediment in these fine wines.”

2. The ship had three wheels for steering. Titanic’s funnels were wide enough to drive a train through!

3. Due to the size of the Olympic-class ships, of which the Titanic was one of three, the shipyard, Harland and Wolff in Belfast had to prepare for two years to be able to build them!

Titan Belfast, Northern Ireland (Image By- Nitin Gopal Srivastva)
Titan Belfast, Northern Ireland
(Image By- Nitin Gopal Srivastva)

4. The famous staircase, which was among the most luxurious appointments on the ship, was inspired by the staircase at Belfast City Hall, which can still be visited today.

5. Titanic was stocked with literally tons of food and drink – including 40,000 eggs and 15,000 bottles of ale!

6. At Titanic Belfast, visitors can view Dr Ballard’s high definition footage of what Titanic looks like today and can learn more about individual items in the wreckage using the interactive pods.

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7. The building can hold over 3,547 visitors at any one time, the same number as the capacity of Titanic. Titanic Belfast’s overall shape represents the bow of the ship. The hulls are also the same height of Titanic from keel to Boat Deck!

8. The last letter ever to be written on board the Titanic by Essex-born Esther Hart and her seven-year-old daughter Eva just eight hours before the ship hit an iceberg and sank in April 1912 is on display. It recently sold at auction for a world record sum of £119,000.

9. At Titanic Belfast, guests are now transported onto life size plan Titanic’s deck promenade as part of the experience. Guests can walk on deck, look out to sea, hear the ocean, hold onto the railings and feel the ships engines rumbling as if they were on the ship itself.

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(Image By- Nitin Gopal Srivastava)

10. It’s not only the galleries that tell the story of the Titanic but the surrounding buildings. On the plaza surrounding the Titanic Belfast is one of the largest maps of the Northern Hemisphere at 10,000 m2 and follows the route of the Titanic from Belfast.

Titanic Belfast is an iconic six-floor building featuring nine interpretive and interactive galleries. Explore the sights, sounds, smells and stories of Titanic, as well as the City and people which made her. It is the world’s largest Titanic exhibition!

Info courtesy: Tourism Ireland

Input researched by: Khushboo Tiwari

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.

Ever explored every inch of a country in just two days?

Impossible! – You said? Not when we are talking about Leichtenstein. In this tiny nation, you can become a local expert over the space of just two leisurely days.

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At just 160 sq km, the lovely Liechtenstein lies between Switzerland and Austria; an easy one-hour drive or train ride from Zurich. Its population is a little over 35,000. The nation has no airport. It maintains no military.

But why would you want to go to so small a place at all?

Precisely because it is among the world’s top 5 micronations, with some of the highest living standards and the most magnificent scenery (two-thirds of the land is covered by snow-capped Alps.)

Despite its small size, Leichtenstein offers some staggering pleasures – skiing across the lovely Upper Rhine valley, cycling down a flower-laden trail, plunging into a cold-water lake, tasting the finest wine from the royal cellar. Or be, just be.

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We checked hotels.com for accommodation options, and were delighted to find Hotel Meierhof, a four-star property with fabulous views for a peak-season tariff of just about Rs. 10,000 a night. We spotted some homey Bed-and-Breakfasts and Mountain Huts, enchanting and affordable.

Oh, and they even have a prince who lives in a 700-year-old castle atop a rock.

We’re already in love with this fairy tale land: aren’t you?

I’m longing to watch whales: on land. Where to go?

Travel Secrets writer Vikalp Dubey has only one recommendation; book your tickets to South Africa for this one.

Every year, end of September, southern right whales wash ashore, and the sleepy little town of Hermanus celebrates this with a festival.

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“Southern right” is a variety of stocky, black-bodied baleen whales with no dorsal fins.

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Image: http://www.dehoopcollection.com/

The whales are always the star performers at the Festival, but key roles are also played by musicians, crafters, sports celebrities and thousands of people celebrating Spring.

Cool fact: In 2005 Zakes Mda wrote the novel The Whale Caller in which the Whale Crier of Hermanus is the main character, a man who gets enthralled by a Southern right whale he names Sharisha. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

Ever driven 1.5 Km away from Udaipur?

Boban Paul did. And discovered untouched Jhadol.

Udaipur: the ‘City of Lakes’. Apt label. But then, a label has its limitations. Tourists in Udaipur city get limited to the banks of the beautiful lakes and the large corridors of the lake palaces. Very few loosen the reins of the Adventure Horse, venturing into territories beyond the city. On a recent trip, my work took me to a block called Jhadol, about 1.5 hours from Udaipur city by car. udaipur Green shrubs, palm trees and flat open fields stretched for miles. Jet-black strips of tarred road alternated with potholed dusty brown patches. Then we began our ascent up a winding tarred path, and gaped at what we saw in front of us. There were multiple ranges of green mountains, standing naked to the open black and blue sky. They were arranged one behind the other and it seemed as though in front of us was a sea of green, with waves building up one behind the other. As we drove further up, a meandering stream of water ran by our side, playing hide and seek through the trees on the roadside. The sound of the water rumbling over pebbles was clear and beautiful. The fusion of the cool air around the stream and the precipitation from trees on the roadside cooled the air to the point of making it chilly, especially in the shade of the trees. The rain was like icing on cake – it cleared out the dusty haze. This short ride was like a massage for my senses – my body was lightened by the cool, feather touch of the air and my soul was soaked in the mesmerising sights and sounds. www.jhadol.com

I’ve heard there’s a floating village in Peru. True?

On the bosom of the mighty Amazon river, our correspondent Kristen Cashman stumbled upon a peculiar Peru secret – a village where banks and churches float.

At the end of a three-month trip through Latin America, I found myself with an afternoon to spend in Iquitos, Peru. Perched on the banks of the Amazon River, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and the largest city in the world not accessible by road but only by plane and boat, Iquitos is the country’s jumping-off point for trips upriver to remote jungle lodges.

After weeks of solo travel, I was feeling a bit lonely, so I sought out an American Cafe for lunch: The Yellow Rose of Texas. Gerald, the boisterous Texan who ran the place, introduced himself as soon as I sat down and was happy to oblige when I asked him for advice on how to spend the afternoon. “Walk down to the riverfront,” he said, “and hire a boatman to take you on a tour of the floating village of Belen.”

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Following the map that Gerald had sketched for me on a napkin, I passed through the Belen Marketplace, a sprawling bazaar where vendors sold fruit and veg, fish, meat, and eggs, as well as sundry supplies and trinkets.

Beyond the market I emerged onto the banks of the river, where my eyes drank in a crowded riverscape of thatched huts floating on the water. Several young men sat by their boats, eager to take visitors on a tour of their village. I negotiated a price with a pair of teenagers who approached me — one lanky and gaunt-faced, in a faded black T-shirt that said “Kool,” and the other compact and muscled, with the deep-set eyes and wide, prominent cheekbones common among the locals. Soon I was seated in their skinny wooden boat gliding along the river.

Churches, petrol stations, restaurants, and hundreds of family homes — all were essentially large rafts, tethered to pilings, accessible only by boat. I was surprised to see utility poles with streetlights and electrical wires punctuating the primary thoroughfares.

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A lovely young woman sat on a dock, shampooing her hair in the river. An old man stood waist-high in the water, brushing his teeth. Groups of children jumped off a dock and wrestled in the opaque brown water. A woman in fetal position napped on a front porch. A group of men in a pub waved and called to me through a window as we passed. Boats zipped by in all directions, some loaded down with passengers, others piloted by only a child or two.

The still water reflected the bright blue sky and puffy clouds above, except where thickets of emerald green aquatic plants pierced the surface from below. My guides pointed out notable buildings to me but otherwise were quiet, our communication limited by my rudimentary Spanish. Every so often, to cool himself off, the lanky one dipped his hat in the river and then placed it back on his head, rivulets streaming down his face. For about an hour they navigated the dug-out canoe through crowded central canals, then skirted the edge of the settlement, then returned me to the launch where they had picked me up.

peru floating village

Until that day, when I had imagined Amazonian culture, I pictured shamans and tribes people in remote jungles, untouched by modern culture. The people of Belen, on the other hand, lived and breathed the river, without solid ground beneath their feet, yet they were part of a greater, twenty first-century urban culture. They straddled two worlds — the traditional and the contemporary, the aquatic and the terrestrial — in a way I hadn’t known was possible.

Stepping from the boat back onto the cement, I effusively thanked my guides, and said a silent thank you to Gerald for tipping me off to this other face of Iquitos.

The Story was first published in Travel Secrets Magazine's March-April 2014 issue.

Help me find a good getaway resort near Kanyakumari.

Your question got here just in time! Leading Bollywood cinematographer Sachin Krishn spent a weekend at  ANANTYA RESORTS in Tamil Nadu. Reading his review, we said to ourselves, “It doesn’t get more filmy, fun and fab than this!” By the time this story ends, I bet you would be reaching for the phone to make a reservation at Anantaya.

Five kilometres off the Trivandrum-Kanyakumari highway, and we are beginning to get restless. Forget the smooth, lush road to El Dorado that would lead us to the southernmost tip of the subcontinent and then on to the resort where waters from three oceans join…this potholed nightmare is getting more and more akin to the surface of the moon.

“Anantya Resort, Anantya resort…!” I ask a wizened, geriatric local who stares vacantly at me with his fading eyes. No response. Nada. Zilch.Three more kilometres down, and the heart begins to sink. The terrain is getting more and more desolate, bumpy, cut off. The last rays of the fast sinking winter sun are a metaphor for my heart at that precise point.

“Anantya Resort, uncle…ANANTYA RESORT….! CHITTAR LAKE…!,’ I plead one last time before I decide to throw in the towel and turn back. This time, after processing my desperate plea in his head for a pregnant half minute…this angel of mercy raises his hand..and points his gnarled finger slowly in a particular direction; like Steve Bucknor playing third umpire. “You mean…there…?!,” I ask, choking with emotion. This is how Dharmender must have felt during his Yaadon ki Baraat reunion moments. Faarsht righttaa…then ooorr kilomettraa”’ the grainy voice professes. The lungi clad figure recedes, the car moves on, I turn back and am sure I see a halo behind his head.

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I crane my neck out of the window to witness the emergence of the almost mythical destination, first hand. And sure enough… within minutes, the weary eyes are treated to a blink-and-miss board by the narrow, tree-lined road that reads…”Anantya Resorts…Infinite Experiences.” The mood in the chilled Innova is suddenly upbeat. The driver sits up, the wife straightens up, I close my eyes with relief.

One step down the car and on to the gravel path before the Thai-villa style reception, and we are suddenly barraged by a bevy of Hawaiian-shirt-clad staff…front office manager, bell boys, et al. I’m still trying to get over the fact that I have managed to find this tucked away resort.

Know before you Go: The resort is in Kanyakumari district, not in the city proper. The city is around 55 kilometres away. It’s a comfortable day trip, loaded with sights to see and savour en route.

The beaming staff does not let us take even our water bottles ourselves. As the friendly front office manager leads us to our villa, the reality of where I am begins to slowly sink in. The resort is a sprawling vista of countless rubber trees, tall, firm, dark…that whisper to each other conspiratorially as the soft wind caresses their branches.  Somewhere amidst these rubber trees are clusters of rooms, villas, and restaurants that make up the resort. It is a full moon night, and the aesthetically subdued, soft, warm lights all around the endless acres do little to destroy the intensity and magic of that pale yellow light from the sky above.

Anantaya Resort Kanyakumari hotel

The staff leads us to one of the 21 villas on the property. Ours is going to be a Veda Villa, complete with its private garden, a little lily pool by a gazebo that overlooks an endless sheet of glass reflecting the scattered clouds of this magical full moon night. The glass, I realise, is the still waters of the sprawling Chittar Lake. Majestic. Silent. Deep. Just like me, I say to myself, tongue firmly in cheek. But the connect has already happened. So much so that I stand frozen at the villa door, gaping at the lake before me. Upon being goaded softly by the bell boy to enter the room, I come to, and take a step inside the ‘room’ which could well ingest the whole of my Mumbai apartment, as well as half that of my neighbour.

This room in the middle of nowhere is replete with luxuries…two split air cons, coffee maker, mini bar… heck…even a private jacuzzi outside the loo that overlooks the lake. What next..! There I was, just about 15 minutes back, preparing to head to the fields with a Bisleri bottle in hand if I did not find my destination in the next half hour, and here I am…deciding whether to jump into the jacuzzi, or occupy the inviting, disinfected throne and begin the download.

Anantaya Resort Kanyakumari hotel

Size is one thing. This room has good vibes. And that matters to me the most. “Yes, I’ll take it,” I tell the staff. The wife sighs with relief. She knows how finicky I am when entering hotel rooms for the first time. The luggage is deposited promptly, and we are set for the next two days.

A quick round of ablutions, and I am set for my evening walk. I put on my keds, and head out to survey the resort. Five minutes later. I am a changed man. What I stare at now is a sight only a blessed few will savour in their entire lifetimes. Crystal clear, softly lit, gurgling blue waters of the infinity pool, merging into the pale yellow, silent waters of the stunningly fabulous lake. Like a nubile, ebullient girl, falling into the lap of her strong, silent lover.

Know before you go: Do NOT miss the sunrise at the Veda villa side of the resort. You will witness not one but two balls of fire. One rising up the sky from behind the hills, and the other, sinking deeper into the still waters of the lake. And yes, for posterity (read Facebook) do carry that full frame camera in your kit.

Behind the lakes is an island of rubber trees. Behind the island, the silhouettes of the last vestiges of the Western Ghats. And somewhere beyond them, the full moon, staring at my stunned visage. “Ghar, ghar ke aage garden, garden ke aage…,” Sridevi’s cult dialogue reverberates in my filmy brain. This cannot be happening. This is probably green screen, where these images have been computer generated to make it all seem perfect.

Anantaya Resort Kanyakumari hotel

Know before you go: The resort is a part of the sprawling Vaikundam rubber plantations where you can enjoy, understand and witness the process of tapping latex from trees first hand. What’s more, the efficient and enthusiastic resort staff is more than willing to arrange private dos at the helipad situated at a vantage point right in the middle of the plantation. It does NOT get more exotic than this. Period.

My reverie is broken as I hear human voices in the vicinity. ‘Unnnnbeliavable….. this is just so…..’. I realise the voice belongs to a familiar person. Me. I gape at the sight until I realise I have two cameras with me in the room. Forget permanence. Just savour this moment. Forget trying to capture this, just let it be, and find your own release. I nod my head in amazement at God’s capacity to create and man’s genius to tap his creations. Yes. It is in tandem with nature that all life thrives. It takes me a good bit of eternity to take it all in, after which, I head back to the villa to find the wife struggling with TV channels. Now, why would one come all the way here to watch TV…I ask myself, butI know better than to ask her. To each his own.

Know before you go: Serious tipplers must carry their own bottle of malt. The only available nectars right now at the resort are wine and beer. And yes, the nearest booze shop is around eighty thousand rubber trees away.

Soon, we are sitting at the restaurant by the pool. Or is the pool by the restaurant..? I’m sure inanimate objects and addresses do not have an ego. The aesthetically done up restaurant does not interfere with the pristine surroundings at all. In fact, like the resort itself, it is seamlessly integrated into nature. The first bite of piping hot starters, and I realise that even the underbelly of the beast is well oiled. The food is delectable.The service, with a smile. The view before us, unparalleled.

It is the kind of place where you will be excused for inadvertently holding the hand of a pretty lady sitting next to you. In my case, though, the hand belongs to the lovely wife. No excuses required. “Pch…,” she frets, fiddling with her cell, “No signal…!” Now, why would someone come all the way…well, I remind myself…to each his own.

Know before you go:Make the brochure kept in the villa your bible for any day trip around the resort.

The next day, we head out to Kanyakumari city. I have not had to Google anything to find out how I must plan a day trip from the resort. The extremely well written and informative brochure laid out in a well designed folio in all the villas tells you all that you need to know about the resort, the plantations of which it is a part, and its surroundings. The brochure is so good that I decide to keep it with me for the duration of my trip to the fabled Land’s End.

By the time we are back, it is night, and time to savour the resort again. Yes, it is a place that you want to come back to, after a hard day’s fun.

I’m in Madrid, Spain. Lead me into an offbeat tavern.

maderid old quarter tavernFollow us into Meson del Champignon, an enchanting taverna in the Old Quarter of Madrid.

Located beside the grand Plaza Mayor, this cobbled medieval stretch of lanes and bylanes houses some of Spain’s oldest taverns and restaurants. The tradition is to go tapas hopping here, washing them down with wine and beer. By the end of the trail you are sure to be loosening up your belt.

At the Meson del Champignon, it’s everything mushroom, down to the art on the walls. The place is shaped like a cave.

To us, the de-stemmed mushrooms were presented as caves, too, into which went extra virgin olive oil, garlic, herbs and a little pepper. That’s it. The simplicity was what blew us away.

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Grilled or filled: every mushroom tapas here is an absolute treat.

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An elderly gentleman provided song and music to deepen the Spanish effect.

Website: http://www.mesondelchampinon.com

What’s the drive from Cyprus airport to Nicosia like?

You arrive at the Larnaca airport, so named because it lies just four kilometres from the city of Larnaca.

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It’s a one-hour drive to Nicosia. Expect to see mostly open road and blue skies. The ride is very smooth and virtually bump free.

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Notice that the board says “Lefkosia.” That’s the Turkish name for the capital city of Nicosia.

Close to the airport is the Larnaca Salt Lake, next to which stands a mosque. It’s a place of great religious significance:

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According to legend, Muhammad’s paternal aunt, accompanying her husband on an Arab raid on Cyprus in 649, was attacked by Byzantine forces here. Unfortunately, she fell from her mule and broke her neck. She was buried on the spot, and the Hala Sultan Tekke was built around her grave.

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That is why, the mosque is the fourth most important holy place in the world for Muslims.

The mosque complex itself was built in a series of stages in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A shrine was built by Sheikh Hassan in A.D 1760. Later, the mosque was constructed in its present form around A.D 1816/17.

The Salt Lake itself is a special protected area, where 85 species of birds congregate and migrate. When we went, there were no flamingoes around, but on a bird-rich day, the Lake is sure to be worth a longer stopover.

That’s the only stopover worth making on the short trip, but it is indeed a serene experience after your long flight. Once you are on your way again, the landscape opens up, with whirring windmills cheering you along the way!

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(Pix: TS Photo Editor Nitin Gopal Srivastava)

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