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Disneyland, Hong Kong– Find your fantasy (Guide, 17 FAQs, 15 tips)


‘Are you crazy?’, ‘It can’t be done’ – dreams and imagination routinely evoke such statements  from a world rooted in cold facts. Disney won’t have any of that questioning though – from a genie in a bottle to clocks with feelings, the brand brings to life impossible scenarios and lovable characters that keep you believing in fantasies.  After all, imagination shouldn’t die as shoe sizes  change. But before I move on to aspects that help with all you need to know about Disneyland Hong Kong, let me elaborate just a bit more on why adults should visit.

You might have started off watching an animation movie ‘for the sake of your kids’, but split your sides at the antics of a sloth ironically named Flash in Zootopia, Read More

Buddha Statue at Ratnagiri in Orissa
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Top 10 Things To Do in Orissa/Odisha (attractions to visit and tips to help you)


Update – The music and dance festivals in Odisha were all held in January and February 2017 so we’ll have to wait and see if the Konark Dance & Music Festival will be held in December 2017 or early 2018. The others will be in 2018 now.

Odisha, or Orissa as we know it, is a relatively undiscovered tourist destination in Eastern India. While most Indians visit for religious (foremost being Jagannath Temple in Puri) or historical/architectural (the Sun Temple in Konark) reasons, there is much more to the state.

What struck me during my visit was the astonishing natural beauty Orissa is blessed with – lily ponds, mountains and beaches dot the landscape of Eastern Orissa. It could give Kerala a run for its money over the title ‘Land of the Gods’.

This post was chosen as one of the top 10 photography blog posts from India- find the link here 

Baggout

By the developmental yardstick, Orissa definitely falls behind most other states. But the fact that 22 % of its people – tribals – live off the land (fishing, growing crops and hunting) seems to have worked in favor of keeping its ecosystems intact and the countryside pristine.

So, here is my take on the 10 reasons to visit Orissa/Odisha

1. DOLPHIN WATCHING – Chilika Lake, the world’s second largest brackish water lake in the world, itself is worth experiencing.

An added attraction is the Irrawaddy dolphin, a funny stub nosed playful thing, related to the Killer whale. Found in rivers and lagoons of Asia, their numbers are rapidly falling. Catch a glimpse of these rare creatures in the Chilika lake.

To know how to reach Chilika, how to hire a boat, where to stay and more tips, click here

TIPS

  • Rent OTDC (Orissa Tourism Development Corporation) boats, not the private ones – these are covered, spacious and quieter (you can get closer to the dolphins if you stay quiet too)
  • It’s a long ride – carry a few snacks and water for kids

Irrawaddy Dolphin

Irrawaddy Dolphin (photo courtesy – http://www.the hindu.com)

Dolphin picture from www.thehindu.com Photo by Vasanth Asokan

2. BIRD WATCHING – Incidentally, the Chilika Lake is also a favourite with migratory birds – it hosts over 160 bird species during the peak migratory season.

The Nalabana Bird Sanctuary, in the middle of the lake, gets completely submerged in the monsoon and reveals itself in winter to guests like the Dalmatian Pelican, Spoon Billed Sandpiper, Asiatic Dowitcher, Flamingos, White Bellied Sea Eagle, Goliath Heron etc.

TIP

  • The best time to visit is November to February.
White Heron at Chilika Lake

White Heron at Chilika Lake

 

3. NANDANKANAN ZOO – I agree that keeping animals in a zoo is cruel. But compared to other zoos in India, creatures at the Nandankanan Zoo seem to be in better hands.

Among the 126 species of animals it claims to house, the Royal Bengal White Tiger is its most prized inhabitant.

TIPS

  • The park is closed every Monday and remains open from 8 till 5 on other days.
  • Parents with little kids needn’t worry – battery operated vehicles take you around the zoo.
  • You can skip the safari – unless you reach during feeding times. We went during the afternoon and the animals  were asleep
Playful elephants - young adults

Elephants playing at the Nandankanan Zoo

Here’s a link to a video of cute little elephants playing at the zoo.

4. BHITAR KANIKA WETLAND – Gahirmatha Beach, part of the Bhitar Kanika Wetland, is the world’s most important nesting site for the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle. In 1991, over 600,000 turtles nested along the coast of Orissa in a week alone (source – Wikipedia).

With one of the largest Indian mangrove ecosystems, the wetland also houses one of the largest populations of saltwater crocodiles in India.

TIP

  • You can stay overnight at Sand Pebbles Jungles Resort inside the National Park

Turtle

Photo courtesy – “Green turtle swimming over coral reefs in Kona” by Brocken Inaglory. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

 

5. SUN TEMPLE, KONARK – Built as a chariot of the Sun god, it is a glorious display of Indian architecture. It’s difficult to describe the beauty and intricacy of the stone work – you just have to see it.

TIPS

  • Since this is not a functioning temple, everyone (foreign tourists included) is allowed entry
  • Open from 6 am to 8 pm.
  • Extensive repairs were on when we visited in November 2014
  • A word of warning – quite a few sculptures display sexual acts. So, if you’re the prudish parent that most Indians are, you might not want to take children along.
  • Keep a day aside for Konark and visit the Chandrabhaga beach close by – just sit and watch the waves – it’s too rough to take a swim

Sun Temple Konark

A wheel of the Sun God’s chariot at Sun Temple, Konark

Wheel detail at Sun Temple, Konark

Wheel detail showing Narsimha avatar of Lord Vishnu at Sun Temple

 

6. LINGARAJ TEMPLE, BHUBANESHWAR – The Lingaraj Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva is the most iconic and one of the oldest temples of Bhubaneshwar. Apart from its religious significance, the temple is worth taking a look at for its stupendous stonework. With a 180 feet tall spire and over 60 smaller shrines in the temple complex, it offers a lot to absorb.

 TIPS

  • Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple. A viewing platform to the right of the main entrance offers a distant view.
  • It’s not easy for Hindus too – local priests or Pandas, hassle you, telling you to perform some puja or the other. Don’t get into an argument – just smile and walk away.
  • Photography is not allowed inside Lingaraj and Jagannath Temple
Lingaraj Temple, Bhubaneshwar

“Lingaraj temple Bhubaneswar 11005” by I, G-u-t. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

 

7. JAGANNATH TEMPLE, PURI – Images of the Rath Yatra (chariot procession) at this temple in Puri are now beamed across the world.

For Hindus, the temple is a must visit as it is one of the ‘char dhams’ (four most sacred sites). This is also why the temple is so crowded. While the temple itself is impressive and exudes a certain serenity, the Pandas (priests) kind of take away from the experience.

TIPS

  • In 2015, the rath yatra begins on July 18 and ends on July 26
  • Again, non-Hindus are not allowed inside, but can see it from outside (Singha Dwar)
  • Beware of pickpockets
  • The Pandas are very aggressive. Don’t accept anything at all from them – they take money even for holy water.
  • If you want to engage a Panda for a puja etc., negotiate a rate early on and ask which services and what kind of Prasad is included
Jagannath Puri temple from outside

Jagannath Temple (Puri) from the outside

 

Jagannath Puri-Lion's Gate or Singha Dwar

Lion’s Gate or Singha Dwar, Jagannath Puri, at night

 

8. RATNAGIRI – If you haven’t visited too many Buddhist sites, this is an interesting one. Spread over a largish area, the main monastery houses a sizeable stone carved Buddha seated in the ‘Bhumi Sparsha mudra’ – a pose showing the state when he attained enlightenment. The numerous votive stupas/plaques (left behind by visitors to commemorate visits or gain spiritual benefits) are intricately carved and interesting for their detail.

TIPS

  • Visit the Archaeological Museum nearby before you go to the site – it’ll help you understand things better.
  • It’s a good idea to reach there early morning since the precinct is open to the sky and it gets quite hot

 

Buddha Statue at Ratnagiri in Orissa

Buddha statue at Ratnagiri in Orissa

 

At the Buddhist site of Ratnagiri

Inside the precinct of the main Buddha shrine

 

9. RAGHURAJPUR – What better way to remember a place than to return with a few mementoes. Raghurajpur, the village of artisans, has on display the traditional arts and crafts of Orissa.

You can buy paintings on cloth (pattachitra), palm leaves (talapattachitra), silk (on traditional tusser silk), stonework items like statuettes, paper weights, side tables etc., toys and masks made of papier mache, wood carvings and toys…

TIP

  • If you don’t have time to visit Raghurajpur, you can visit the state run handicrafts emporium in Bhubaneshwar

Orissa is also known for its weaves/handloom – Bomkai and Sambalpuri saris in Ikat print are treasured possessions of Indian women. You could buy a dupatta/odhni and use it as a stole. Else just buy fabric and stitch it into a garment of your choice.

TIP

  • Swarga Dwar market on the Puri beach offers good prices and variety
Sita Ram wedding scene on Pattachitra

Pattachitra showing Sita waiting to garland Rama after he breaks the bow

 

Dashavatar on talapattachitra

Talapattachitra showing ten forms (dashavatar) of Lord Vishnu

Click here for an article from Nat Geo Traveller India on more artisan villages in Odisha and what you can shop for over there.

10. ODISSI DANCE PERFORMANCES – Odissi, in my opinion, is the most graceful Indian dance form. If you visit during December-February, you will be able to watch a performance at one of the dance festivals.

TIPS

  • The cultural festivals scheduled every year are Konark Festival, Konark Dance and Music Festival, Rajarani Music Festival, Mukteswar Dance Festival and Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav

Watch a clip of Odissi and other Indian classical dances by clicking here

UPDATE In 2016, the festival dates out so far are –

Rajarani Music Festival – January 18 to 20

Mukteshwar Dance Festival – January 14 to 16

Konark Dance and Music Festival – February 19 to 23

  • For other festivals, check this link
  • You could also watch a performance of Gotipua, an earlier form of Odissi, at Raghurajpur Artisans Village
Odissi dancers

An Odissi Dance Performance

 

So, do I see you packing your bags? I know this list is not exhaustive – it’s not meant to be. What about sharing your thoughts on why you think Orissa makes an ideal travel destination. Let’s hear it.

 

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Free tourist visa for Indians, more reason to visit Thailand


Thailand is full of beautiful temples like the Wat Chalong in Phuket. Couldn’t resist clicking this beautiful door

Indian travellers to Thailand can get a visa free of cost now, making it one more reason to visit the country if you were sitting on the fence. The government has made the single entry visa free for Indian citizens till 31 August, 2017. Visa on arrival is not free but the fee has been halved to 1000 Thai Baht for the same period.

Most people would prefer the visa on arrival as it’s convenient, but if you are travelling as a family even four visas means 4000 THB or 8000 rupees (1 THB = 2 INR approx.). If you save that, it could go a long way in Thailand. So make sure you apply for visas beforehand.

Here is the lowdown on all you need or want to know about Thai visas in general and for Indians in particular. Read More

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Wanderlust on World Dance Day – Indian Dance Forms


A Kathak dance recital by Uma Dogra and students

If you have wanderlust and happen to visit India, one of the ‘must-dos’ on your list should be  watching a dance performance. Whether Bollywood or classical, we Indians love our dance.  A birth, wedding, or in some communities even death, we will find an occasion to shake a leg.

Each state in India has its own special dance form – from the exuberant Bhangra of Punjab to the graceful Odissi of Orissa.  While we have more folk dances than we can count, only eight classical dance forms are recognized.

So, for this week’s photo challenge on WordPress, I decided to Read More

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Thangassery Lighthouse – 4 reasons to go, 10 places to visit in and around Kollam


There is a joy in not knowing about things till you discover them and I believe it’s one of the reasons childhood is so wonderful.

At 5-6 years of age when I first saw a lighthouse, I didn’t know the science behind sending signals out to sea, but an incredibly strong beam sweeping the inky blackness of the ocean seemed no less than magic.

Growing up in Chennai, one of the things we looked forward to apart from chomping on the South Indian papad or ‘appalam’ at weddings, was a visit to Marina Beach. Read More

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When doors become a work of art- Rose Gate at City Palace, Jaipur


Jaipur isn’t one of the most visited cities in India without reason. Within its City Palace is the Pritam Niwas Chowk, a courtyard with four gates known as Ridhi Sidhi Pol (‘pol’ means gate).

With exquisite carving and inlay work, each gate is coloured and detailed differently based on themes that represent four Indian seasons and Hindu gods. Read More

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Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary or Keoladeo National Park – where killing fields made way for a sanctuary (birding, travel, photo tips)


Lesser Whistling Ducks cosy up in Bharatpur

Lesser Whistling Ducks cosy up in Bharatpur – this species is often confused with the Fulvous, but can be identified by a dark crown (head) and chestnut rump

It’s awfully loud, definitely above legally permissible sound limits. Yet, none of the spectators complain, their eyes focused on those causing the ruckus. These aren’t school boys in a fist-fight, or riot police battling crowds. They are young painted storks in Keoladeo National Park (Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary) who’re voicing their hunger, excitement, and perhaps disapproval of each other’s behaviour.

Perched close to one another, they might remind you of Jungle Book’s lovable vultures. Read More

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Anahinga or Indian Darter at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary


anahinga-or-darter-at-bharatpur-bird-sanctuary

With colours and shapes that match their habitat, animals are masters at the art of camouflage. Despite being such a large bird, this Anahinga was not too easy to spot at Keoladeo National Park (earlier called Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary).

Soon, more pictures coming up along with the history of the park, its birds and tips to help you visit.

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Here’s one for your cultural bucket list – Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai


Sannidhi, an amalgam of seven Indian classical dance forms, performed at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in 2012

Sannidhi, an amalgam of seven Indian classical dance forms, was performed at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival earlier

Arts festivals seem to me the best way of getting acquainted with a part of the intangible we call culture. Whether it’s classical dance or the latest fusion music, traditional crafts or modern art, these festivals bring together a variety of experiences that one wouldn’t normally get to enjoy simultaneously at a venue.

It’s why I’m planning to visit the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) and if you’re in Mumbai between February 4 and February 12, 2017 you too should drop in. A mix of performing arts, heritage walks, workshops, film screenings, and activities for children, the KGAF is what every lover of creative expression looks forward to each year. If these don’t excite you, the shopping and street food will. Read More

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Go Hollywood in Thailand: Phi Phi, James Bond Island (which tour to take, prices, tips)


The Thai islands near Phuket and Krabi are among the most picturesque ones I have come across. Take a look at what you can expect to see on the  James Bond and Phi Phi Islands tours, go through travel tips to improve your sightseeing experience, and get an idea of the costs as well as  how to choose between  the two tours.

Cruising through aqua blue waters, lounging on white sand beaches, and snorkeling with fishes that are every bit as colorful as the ones I see on Discovery Channel makes me realize how worthy Phi Phi and James Bond Island are of their place in tourism brochures.

Local guides talk about Leonardo Di Caprio’s ‘The Beach’ having been filmed on Phi Phi Leh and Roger Moore’s ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ shot on an island which was later named after the enigmatic Mr. Bond. Read More

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May the New Year bring you closer to achieving your goals


|| Vakratunda Mahaakaaya
Suryakoti Samaprabha
Nirvighnam Kuru Mey Deva
Sarva Kaaryeshu Sarvadaa ||

( Oh Lord with a curved trunk and a mighty body who has the luster of a million suns, I pray to thee to remove the obstacles from all the actions I intend to perform)

It’s rather unusual to begin a New Year determined by the Gregorian calendar with an invocation to a Hindu God. However, I am Indian and for centuries my country has embraced all that is good, and celebrated festivals of all faiths. Read More

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Stanley Market, Hong Kong – a walk down leisure lane


A dog, cigar dangling from lips and teeth slightly bared, seems about to spew “What is the interest for my family?” (‘Godfather’) or some such dialogue from a mafia based movie. His neighbor, a cow in a tie, stares at me with tiny, gleaming eyes. This isn’t some weird dream, though.

I’m at Stanley Market in Hong Kong and these are just harmless creatures painted on canvas. A street market stocked with reasonably priced souvenirs and sundry impulse purchase items like hats, Stanley stands out in my mind because of quirky paintings like these, and that of Tintin and the inimitable Captain Haddock racing down a street in a Ford. Read More

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Vallonne Vineyards (Published in Lonely Planet Magazine India)


A cowherd watches an egret as it glides around like a paper plane before settling down near him. His buffaloes, the egret’s brethren, and a few Black Ibis languidly forage on their daily turf, unmindful of the chitter chatter of smaller birds that excitedly welcome the day.

From the balcony of my room at Vallonne Vineyards in Nashik, I wish I could watch this scene unfold every day.

Even though the vines are  shriveled up at the moment, being off season for grape production, they’re set against a backdrop that is fascinating at any time of the year – the Sahyadri mountain range and waters of Mukhne Dam’s reservoir.  If you’re visiting Mumbai, you could make the 3-4 hour trip Read More

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Singapore on a layover – when missing a flight doesn’t hurt


Missing a flight could be a good thing. OK, here’s the rider – ‘if you have a connecting flight, the onward flight is of the same/partner airline and the missed connection is not your fault’. Allow me to elaborate.

After a holiday in Thailand with my husband and daughter recently, I am in a taxi to Phuket airport for a flight to Mumbai. Along the way, rain drops begin to fall on the wind shield, sliding down in a wet trail before the wiper banishes them. Having been through several notorious Mumbai monsoons that make you wish you were waterproof, small showers Read More

Chinese fishing net Ashtamudi sunrise
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Caught in the net at Ashtamudi


Chinese fishing net Ashtamudi Lake at sunrise

An easy meal for birds at Chinese fishing nets in Ashtamudi

Ashtamudi Lake in Kerala offers one of the best backwaters experience that the South Indian state is so well known for.  Part of a river with little or no current, the backwaters lie parallel to the Arabian Sea Coast – an environment conducive to fishing.

As in Cochin, the fishermen here use Chinese fishing nets to haul in their catch, rather than going out to sea in huge boats. While the big fish might elude them, prawns and smaller fish that do take the bait are enough to eke out a living. As an impartial observer, it seems like a more eco-friendly and less labor intensive way of fishing to me.  Read More

Mother and daughter having fun
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My daughter and I – finding each other through travel


My daughter Sharanya and I look down at the Alaknanda river. “Let’s go,” I say and we begin the hard climb down an uneven, slippery section of the hillside. At one point, a Mango tree, felled by a storm the previous night, lies across the trail. We just edge around it and keep going.

Reaching the river, we settle down on one of the grey boulders strewn along the banks. The sky is a clear blue and we can still smell the earthy fragrance that follows a shower.

A younger Sharanya might have balked at the threat posed by the difficult descent, but she is now a teenager. Mindful of the fact that I might slip, I have left my camera in the hotel room. That’s when it strikes me: both of us have changed.

There was a time when I would have neither bothered about my safety nor gone anywhere without my camera. Read More