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

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.

Varkala: Kerala’s stunning coastal town. Have you discovered it yet?

With its clean, quiet beaches, Varkala is a secret that Kerala has hugged to itself. Our Correspondent Sarita Santoshini stumbled upon it.

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This coastal town is a five hour bus drive from Cochin and sits 75 easy kilometres from Kovalam, Kerala’s more celebrated beach beauty.

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The lagoons by the long stretches of beach in Varkala are draped in serenity. A century old ashram lets you heal your inner-self, and a temple island draws you towards its quiet beauty.

The town itself is slow and unspoiled; but plenty of adventure awaits you on its fringes. Take lessons in surfing or paragliding in ideal weather between October and May; wander around and stumble upon thriving fish communities that add soul to the place and you will come back with enough stories and pictures to keep you happy till you decide to head back again.

Following a receptionist’s advice,  our correspondent Sarita walked towards “a narrow lane” and to her surprise stumbled on a stunning sidewalk along the edges of a cliff, the North Cliff Beach. Restaurants, cafes and resorts line the road for almost a kilometre, with the vast Arabian Sea glimmering on the other side.

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Here, coconut groves hide another surprise: Black Beach; so named after the colour of its sand. Varkala beach is locally called Papanasam Beach, whose northern part lies below the cliff. At the southern end are the mineral water springs whose medicinal properties attract people from all over the world.
Another gem in the heart of Varkala is the Shiva- Parvathi temple. It is on the uninhabited Ponnumthuruthu Island, midst the lush forest and a chirpy bird life. Here you can reach by boat from Nenduganda Village.

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The historical Anjengo Fort dates back to the East India Company. There’s a lovely view from the lighthouse.

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Driving through this hamlet in the evening you’ll pass through vibrant houses of all sizes, men and women chatting away as they dry their catch of the day, group of church-goers saying their daily prayers and glimpses of beautiful stretches of the sea that the Latin Christian Makuva community lives beside. It’s good to see that the community has held its identity, in spite of tourism slowly commercialising everything.


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This story was published in our Nov-Dec 2013 issue. To subscribe, visit magzter.com

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.

What does bungee jumping feel like?

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Avid adventurist Jupiter Huidrom says it was his life’s most frightening and freeing experience.

Over to him:

 

The Bote Khosi River

“The moment had arrived. My friend who fears heights was the first to go, surprising me with his alacrity. Hearing his screams echo down the gorge, I felt the goosebumps rise along my arms.  The Bungee Master tied the harness on me, and I stood there, unable even to quake…I was so numb. I took three steps  toward the edge of the bridge. It was  the longest walk of my life.

The 160 m high suspended Steel bridge

And when I heard his voice “Ready…On a count of 3, 2, 1… and jump,” there was a sudden rush of emotions in my heart. Countless moments of my life flashed in my mind. My mom. Home. My office desk back in Delhi. And then I jumped.

Everything inside me froze as I plummeted toward the river, though I could feel each and every part of each and every bone. I so wanted to scream, but I was frightened as hell. At the same time, I felt so free that I closed my eyes and lived every second of the fall.

And when I was finally suspended, I thought it was over; only to realise I was upside down, spinning continuously. Below me, the monstrous river gushed in full flow. I reached desperately  for the bamboo that would pull me back up to the river bank.

The moment I felt solid earth beneath my back, I let out the pent up air from inside my lungs, and cried—bawled—like a baby!  My friend who had jumped first hugged me. We cried, and then we jumped  around crazily, as we didn’t know how to deal with the sudden rush of emotions.

If you asked whether I conquered my fear by jumping once, the answer is No! Because when we stepped on that bridge again, it shook as before, and I felt the same fear. ”

This is part of our May-June 2013 Cover Story, focusing on the Himalayas. Buy your copy of the issue here.

Quick secrets from a biker, please?

What’s it like to be a biker? Rake Chauhan is one of the founders of Born2Ride, a club for motorcycle enthusiasts. We caught up with him (puff, pant!) at Delhi’s Revv Cafe.

Snippets from the chat:

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Adrenaline rush on a Harley?

When the speed-o-meter touches maximum: 220 kmph.

Define your Harley.

Never ending customisation. Everything can be changed on a Harley.

Leather jacket, tattoos, Death Metal, boots, Ray-Ban, rugged define a typical biker. What defines you?

A good heart is what most bikers have.

Are you a Back Door rider?

We have different rankings. Lead – lead keeps an eye out on the road like a pot hole or traffic on the opposite / wrong side / technical problems in bikes, Sweep – biker who is the last man in the group to ensure that no man is left behind and Marshall– biker between the lead and sweep and takes care of the traffic which passes through and to organize the group in single or  double lane. Me and another person are the lead.

A route you are waiting to cruise on and why?

Leh in India, Route 66 in USA and Trail of the Dragon (318 curves in 11 miles, North Carolina, US)

 Do you ride solo?

Sometimes; or when I am in a certain mood.

Sex, money, power, hunger, clothes OR fuel, CC, tyres, kick start, accelerator, roads and you?

It’s a no-contest: the second option, of course.

Rake Chauhan spoke to  Subhashish Bharuka. This article was published in Travel Secrets magazine Sept-Oct 2012. 

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