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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.

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.

Where should I go for adventure in the Philippines?

Try Puerto Princesa, says TS writer Aarohi Roy. Find out why…

Puerto Princesa – They call it ‘the city in a forest’. And true it is. If you take a plane from Manila, in less than an hour, you will see this tiny piece of inhabited land in the middle of wilderness. You can reach via waterways too, but the sight from the top is breathtaking.

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When you land, the smell, the sight and the sound invite you to an irresistible journey amidst nature. This underrated town actually has a lot of decent places to stay, eat and hang out. You can find them in here.

Talk to a local about the places you can visit here, and you will be stunned. The city has it all—from hills and cliffs to hundreds of miles of white sanded beaches to underground caves and rivers to the wildest possible animals. You can island-hop from Honda Bay for lunch picnics, snorkeling and non-stop swimming. Pssst.. Some beaches and islands are so virgin that no one will notice if you skinny dip!

But the star of the “Puerto Princesa show” is the Underground River. A few hours drive will take you to this completely God-made wonder. It has actually been awarded as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Nature’. The entrance itself will paralyze you to gawk at it. The complete boat ride through the dim-naturally-lit caves under unbelievable rock formations is definitely worth the trip.

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This is probably one of the few places in the world, where we will recommend a tour guide. Not because you’ll get lost, or won’t do without one—but just because the guides here are famous for being witty, amusing and very knowledgeable.

Then there is “Firefly watching” at Iwahig River. It’s like a natural light show. You go on a boat ride to this perfect spot to first witness the sunset and then the nature’s way of lighting the world at night.

At the end of the day you can visit the City Baywalk—a street dedicated to mellowed night life and great eating joints. Take a walk, feel the night breeze and enjoy your dinner.

What better way to spend a week like this in Puerto Princesa. Snorkel, jump off cliffs, visit Baker’s Park—the amusement park, try your first delicious crocodile and their special shipworm delicacy ‘tamilok’ and live like pampered royalty.

Read more: Visit Puerto Princesa

 

What are Some of the Best Camping Sites in India?

We took the question to Aloke Bajpai, Founder and Partner of The Explorers. A certified mountaineer and skier, Bajpai has also trained in river rafting. His advice:

Being a city dweller with not enough time for extended vacations, I find camping by a lake or in the woods with friends to be a perfect getaway. Fortunately, one is never too far from a great camping spot in India.

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Maharashtra, according to me, provides abundant camping opportunities that lie only kilometers away from the bounds of its capital city Mumbai. I have fond memories of a weekend in Tikona Fort that sits on a scenic hill and is accessible through an easy 45-minute trek. Once there, we had uninterrupted views of Pawana Dam and Tung Fort in the day and a clear sky for star gazing at night. Peth Fort in Karjat also makes for a great site owing to the presence of Peth village at the base and the ample open space available to pitch a tent at the top. Tandulwadi is another camping site located very close to Mumbai.

Tandulwadi Image: tandulwadi2013.blogspot.com
Tandulwadi Image: tandulwadi2013.blogspot.com

Those in Bangalore can drive to Madikeri in Coorg for a weekend of camping amidst coffee plantations or to Chikmagalur if you are looking for some adventure and great sunset views. The best experience, however, can be had in a camp site in Bheemeshwari where you can go for fishing, birding and wildlife spotting by the majestic Cauvery River.

Bheemeshwari Image: www.junglelodges.com
Bheemeshwari Image: http://www.junglelodges.com

From Delhi, you could drive to the hill station of Dhanaulti in Uttarakhand. There, you will find established camp sites on the meadows with a backdrop of the beautiful snow-capped Himalayas. If you are looking for some place even quainter, the valley of Rajgarh that lies 40 kilometres from Solan in Himachal Pradesh is the best option. Longer Himalayan expeditions like Parvati Valley trek and Chandratal trek also provide excellent camping opportunities.

Dhanaulti Image: www.packngo.in
Dhanaulti Image: http://www.packngo.in

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
• Study the map carefully to have an idea of where the motorable roads will lead you.
• When looking for a secluded spot, remember to ensure that there is a water body in the vicinity.
• If possible, camp close to a village that can provide you food as well as safety in case of any emergency.
• Check if your camping spot requires permission of the Forest Department.
• Reach the camping site at least 3 hours before sun down. Once there, get a clear perspective of the surroundings to be able to navigate later in the dark.
• Practise how to pitch a tent well in advance; remember to mark a snake pit around it and light a fire only at an adequate distance.
• Carry essentials like sleeping bag, a good torch, first-aid kit, adequate water, Swiss knife, as well as a stove and food supply if you plan to cook.

 Visit www.explorersindia.com to pick your adventure  trip!

Input: Sarita Santoshini

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.

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