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A Foodie’s Guide to Railway Stations in India

Posted on 12 February 2014 by Ashish

Announcements blaring over loudspeakers, frantic passengers running to and fro, the somewhat intimidating sound of railway engines, and a mish mash of emotions ranging from sadness at partings to happy unions at platforms – yes, there is something electrifying about railway stations. There is another often overlooked but indispensable element and that is FOOD. Surprised? Well, it’s true and here we present some food for thought on railway stations in India.

Ixigo-infograph-food-guide

Amritsar – Lassi

Whether you are at Amritsar railway station to catch a train, or have arrived here after a tiring journey, a glass of cool refreshing Lassi will immediately rejuvenate you. Not to mention that the aloo parathas here will also leave you craving for more. After all, you are in Punjab!

New Delhi – Kullu’s Aloo Chaat

For some, life has become too fast to even enjoy some fast food. Well, lots of such busy souls are to be found at New Delhi Railway Station and the ones who crave Indian fast food may easily grab a plate or two of the delectable treats dished out at Kullu’s Aloo Chaat.

Agra – Panchi’s Petha

If you are visiting Agra by train, start your trip on a sweet note by treating your taste buds to the famed Panchi’s Petha at Agra Railway Station. The taste of these Pethas are bound to linger on your taste buds when you think of Agra later.

Kota – Kachori

Tanking up on Kachoris at Kota Railway Station has a charm of its own. The best part is that you can have these delicious concoctions anytime – right from a hearty morning breakfast to a fulfilling evening snack.

Bhopal – Chana Masala (Boiled chickpeas with chilli peppers)

If you are a health freak but can’t stand to give up on your regular fix of street food then here’s some lovely news for you. The chholas at Bhopal Railway Station are a perfect blend of health and taste.

Surat – Dhokla

If you are hungry at Surat Railway Station then the good old Dhoklas are just what you need. The Dhoklas here are pretty well known and prove to be quite light on the tummy unlike many of the other varieties of street food.

Mumbai – Maushi chi tapri

Maushi chi tapri translates as aunt’s stall. Ask any local about Maushi chi tapri at Mumbai Railway Station and you will find a place to gorge on lots of mouth watering preparations.

Bangalore – Lemon Rice

Nothing like a fulfilling meal of Lemon Rice at Bangalore Railway Station. No less satiating is the taste of Vada Sambar here. Wash it all down with a glass of one of the fresh fruit juices at the station.

Ernakulam – Fried Yellow Bananas

Ernakulam, a part of God’s Own Country or Kerala, promises loads of beautiful unique memories. However, make sure that you don’t miss out on some of the little delights. For instance, enjoying the taste of fried yellow bananas at Ernakulam Railway Station is surely not to be left out.

Hyderabad – Hyderabadi Biryani

The very name ‘Hyderabad’, often conjures images of mouth watering biryanis and the Hyderabad Railway Station is no exception. Especially popular is the Chicken Biryani.

Puri – Halwah

Puri is definitely a holy place and there are many divine elements here for both believers and atheists alike. One of these is the celebrated food in Puri and you may very well start your gastronomic adventure with the delectable Halwah at Puri Railway Station.

Howrah – Sandesh

You may not be surprised to know that Howrah Railway Station is a lovely place for the ones with a sweet tooth. Yes, we are alluding to Sandesh. So, indulge in these sweet temptations.

Guwahati – Tea (Assam blend)

No prizes for guessing this one. Yes, we are definitely referring to Tea and the tea at Guwahati Railway Station is not simply one of the varieties easily found across the length and breadth of the country. It is Assam Blend Tea and the taste will grow on every sip.

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Golden Triangle – A trip to discover the three jewels of North India

Posted on 03 September 2013 by Meenu

Witness the confluences of the three major cities of India, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and experience the entrenched culture of royal India.
The cultural land of India has witnessed an escalating growth in number of tourists, who pay a visit to this opulent land to explore and experience the exotic blend of headiness, brewing up the subcontinent of India. Pay vote to India with your feet and witness the confluences of the three major cities Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, which claim to be the major hubs of political, social and cultural activities. Golden Triangle tour can also be termed as an introductory as it makes you to witness the most admired and popular sights and wonders of India. The course between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur has been an authentic ‘India 101′, a preface to those on fixed travel schedules.
Exhibiting the religions of India, an integral part of India, Golden Triangle tours gains a status of being the most admired and sought after travel circuit in India. It opens you up with the glorious sight of magnificent Taj Mahal, imperial elegance of New Delhi and the splendor of the pink city of Jaipur. Delve into the condolence of this glamour terrain and experience a diverse variety of Golden triangle tours in India, which will take you to the route of endurance.
Start off with your tour with the landmark of India, Delhi, exploring the historical legacy of India. The city is stippled with a myriad of imposing forts and monuments are as given below along with n number of other tourist attraction that will truly enthrall the soul of the visitors. The following are:
Red Fort: Red Fort was built in 1639, when Shah Jahan decided to shift his capital from Agra to Delhi. Within eight years, the Red Fort- Qila-i-Mubarak, which happens to be Delhi’s first fort, got completed.

Witness the confluences of the three major cities of India, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and experience the entrenched culture of royal India.

The cultural land of India has witnessed an escalating growth in number of tourists, who pay a visit to this opulent land to explore and experience the exotic blend of headiness, brewing up the subcontinent of India. Pay vote to India with your feet and witness the confluences of the three major cities Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, which claim to be the major hubs of political, social and cultural activities. Golden Triangle tour can also be termed as an introductory as it makes you to witness the most admired and popular sights and wonders of India. The course between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur has been an authentic ‘India 101′, a preface to those on fixed travel schedules.

Exhibiting the religions of India, an integral part of India, Golden Triangle tours gains a status of being the most admired and sought after travel circuit in India. It opens you up with the glorious sight of magnificent Taj Mahal, imperial elegance of New Delhi and the splendor of the pink city of Jaipur. Delve into the condolence of this glamour terrain and experience a diverse variety of Golden triangle tours in India, which will take you to the route of endurance.

Start off with your tour with the landmark of India, Delhi, exploring the historical legacy of India. The city is stippled with a myriad of imposing forts and monuments are as given below along with n number of other tourist attraction that will truly enthrall the soul of the visitors. The following are:

Red Fort: Red Fort was built in 1639, when Shah Jahan decided to shift his capital from Agra to Delhi. Within eight years, the Red Fort- Qila-i-Mubarak, which happens to be Delhi’s first fort, got completed.

Red Fort, Delhi

Red Fort, Delhi

Jama Masjid: The Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, commonly known as Jama Masjid, is the main mosque and happens to be in Old Delhi. It was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and was completed in the year 1656. It is one of the largest mosques in India.

Jama Masjid, Delhi

Jama Masjid, Delhi

Qutab Minar:Located in Qutb complex, Mehrauli in South Delhi, Qutab Minar was built by Qutub-ud-din Aibak of the Slave Dynasty, who took possession of Delhi in 1206. This red sandstone tower stands o a height of 72.5 meters and is covered with intricate carvings and verses from the Qur’an.

Qutub Minar, Delhi

Qutub Minar, Delhi

Lotus Temple:The Lotus Temple is a Bahá’í House of Worship and is situated in South Delhi and has been created in a shape of a lotus. It was built by Bahá’í community.

Lotus Temple, Delhi

Lotus Temple, Delhi

Akshardham Temple: Akshardham Temple is the largest Hindu temple in the world. Built in 2005,  Akshardham has been sprawled on the land of about 100-acre. The monument is carved intricately and possesses high-technology exhibitions along with an IMAX theatre, a musical fountain, a food court and gardens.

Akshardham Temple, Delhi

Akshardham Temple, Delhi

Humayun’s Tomb: Humayun’s Tomb was built for Humayun’s widow, Hamida Banu Begum. It was designed by a Persian architect named Mirak Mirza Ghiyas. The construction of this structure was begun in 1562 and completed in 1565.

Humayun's Tomb, Delhi

Humayun's Tomb, Delhi

Taj Mahal: The Taj Mahal is acknowledged as the “crown of palaces”, is a white marble mausoleum nestled in the Mughal city of Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. It was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal is widely recognized as “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”.

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

Fatehpur Sikri: Fatehpur Sikri is a city and a municipal board in Agra district in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. The city was founded in 1569 by the Mughal emperor Akbar. It served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585.

fatehpur-sikri

Agra Fort: Agra Fort is a monument, a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. It is located about 2.5 km northwest of its more famous sister monument, the Taj Mahal. The fort can be more accurately described as a walled city.

Agra Fort, Delhi

Agra Fort, Delhi

Take a route to the concluding destination of the travel circuit and experience the traditional Rajasthani Culture. The applauded city of Jaipur happens to be a part of the imperial state of Rajasthan and is admiringly acknowledged as the pink city. Explore and experience the colorful culture and cuisine of Rajasthan in the pride city of Jaipur by strolling down the streets of Rajasthan and witnessing the long established forts and palaces, which are well maintained and preserved in the city. The preserved relics in the city are City Palace which is the aggregate of Mughal, European and Rajput architect, Jantar Mantar which is also recognized as the place of astronomical instruments, Jaigarh Fort, Sisodia Rani Garden etc. The famous attractions are:

City Palace: It includes the Chandra Mahal and Mubarak Mahal palaces and other buildings. The palace complex in Jaipur was the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur, the head of the Kachwaha Rajput clan.

City Palace, Jaipur

City Palace, Jaipur

Hawa Mahal:It is literally named as the “Palace of Winds” or “Palace of the Breeze”, is a palace in Jaipur, India. It was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, and designed by Lal Chand Ustad in the form of the crown of Krishna, the Hindu god.

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

Amer Fort:It is also spelled and pronounced as Amber Fort and is located in Amer. Nestled atop the hill, Amer Fort was built by Raja Man Singh I in a very artistic style. It has large ramparts, series of gates and cobbled paths, the fort overlooks the Maota Lake, at its forefront.

Amber Fort, jaipur

Amber Fort, jaipur

To know more about the glorious history and extravaganza of India just embark upon the tour of North India and be aware of the accomplishments of the legendary figures of India.

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Take a sip of luxury aboard Palace on Wheels

Posted on 30 January 2013 by Lena Attwood

Have you ever experienced unparalleled and encouraging expedition which even cut through the boundaries of the expected? If – “NO”- then this is the time to plunge into the colors of Indian luxury aboard India’s first heritage luxury tourist train, Palace on Wheels. The train was introduced in the year 1982 by Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) along with Indian Railways to promote tourism in Rajasthan. Just after a few years of – its inception the luxurious Palace on Wheels got PATA Gold Award and also caught the attention of major world media organizations including MTV, BBC, MDR of Germany, National Geographic and several others.

Palace on Wheels Exterior

Palace on Wheels Exterior

Unmatched hospitality and impeccable service makes the experience all the more rewarding. Journeys on the train are insight into India’s overwhelming history and vibrant culture. The Royal Forts & Palaces, the adventurous field, beautiful lakes surrounded by hills, vivacious Bazaars, traditional Rajasthani dinner offered during the train journey makes it the first choice of travelers in search of majestic experience in India. The train, which is an epitome of luxury blended with mesmerizing and charming beauty of Rajasthan justify, its title of 4th best luxury train in the World.

This is undoubtedly the exceptional rail ride that one can enjoy in India; but what makes this train stand at India’s No. 1 heritage luxury train? Let us have glimpse of some of the aspects of the train:

Cabins: With impeccable hospitality measures, the Palace on Wheels comes equipped with avant-garde amenities like central air conditioning, channel music, en-suite bathrooms with running hot & cold water, comfortable beds, writing desk and a chair to sit. Carpeted walls, royal furnished facilities, use of rich fabric & colorful paintings are most lucrative features of the deluxe abode onboard.

Palace on Wheels Cabins

Palace on Wheels Cabins

Facilities on board: Dining car, bar, Rejuvenation spa, lounge, khidmatgar (Personal Attendant), indoor games, newspaper/magazine, off train cultural events & onboard events compels every traveler to enjoy this ride of a lifetime. For on board amusement, guests can enjoy different indoor games like chess, cards, carom board and crossword puzzle in the lavishly appointed lounge car. Luxuriously appointed and gracefully adorned, train has a total of 14 fully air-conditioned sedans which can accommodate up to 88 passengers in a single journey.

Dining Car, Palace on Wheels

Dining Car, Palace on Wheels

Bar, Palace on Wheels

Bar, Palace on Wheels

Journey: The Itinerary in itself is a magic box which opens up new surprises day by day over 7 nights & 8 days of journey. During the journey the train chugs through some of the precisely chosen locales of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh including Delhi, Jaipur, Sawai Madhopur, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur and Agra. Along with a stroll to the history lane of Rajasthan, guests aboard the train get a chance to explore its natural treasure trove with adventurous jungle safaris to Ranthambore and Keoladeo Chana National Park in Rajasthan.

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

Jeep Safari

Jeep Safari

Palace on wheels is synonym to “Grand Luxury Voyage on Iron Wheels” It has left no stones unturned to relieve the pomp and pageantry of the bygone era when the Rajputs used to be the undefeated rulers of Rajasthan, the cultural heartland of India.

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Maharajas’ Express: A palatial way to explore India

Posted on 08 January 2013 by Lena Attwood

Inviting you to a world of exotic forts, royal palaces, age-old monuments, inspiring landscapes, sun-kissed sand dunes, mystic cities, and diverse wildlife is India’s latest luxury train – the Maharajas’ Express. From the royal interiors of the train to the select destinations, everything aboard this luxury train soothes your mind, calms your souls and yet excites your wild streak.

An Exterior view of Maharajas' Express train

An Exterior view of Maharajas' Express train

Conceived by the Indian Railways in 2010, the train flaunts the rich architectural heritage of the Kings of the bygone era. Where history is at your doorstep and luxury is at your command, a journey on board the Maharajas’ Express offers all luxurious comforts and amenities to the guests. A masterpiece in every sense of the word, it is adorned with two very finely decorated dining restaurants, a relaxing lounge, a well-stocked bar and majestic cabins designed to recreate the magic and elegance of the personal state carriages of Maharajas of the colonial era. The train carriages are fitted with panoramic windows to offer the vista of rolling landscape as train travels through some of the most fascinating landscapes and countryside of India. Sylvan parquets, intricate carvings and palette of soft hues characterize the interiors of the train. All cabins have individual temperature control, LCD television sets, DVD players, direct dial telephones, internet, even live television and electronic safe-deposit box. One of the many highlights of a trip aboard the luxurious Maharajas’ Express is the food with something to delight every appetite from berry compote pancake with fresh watermelon juice for breakfast, to filet mignon, smoked beef saltimbocca or prawn tikka for dinner. From Italian, French, Mediterranean to Mexican and Indian, every cuisine has got a place on the la carte menu of the two restaurants – Rang Mahal and Mayur Mahal aboard this train.

Rang Mahal Restaurant - Maharajas' Express

Rang Mahal Restaurant - Maharajas' Express

The train travels across some of the most captivating landscapes in India, covering well-known tourist destinations including Delhi, Mumbai, Agra, Jaipur, Ranthambore, Khajuraho, Udaipur, Varanasi and more. The medley of beautiful landscape, charismatic culture, diverse traditions and mystical history of India comes alive in the 5 exclusive Maharajas’ Express journeys, which have been recently launched by Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) this year – Heritage of India, Treasures of India, Gems of India, Indian Panorama and The Indian Splendour.

Out of the 29 sites in India inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, the Maharajas’ Express journeys cover six of them, namely: Taj Mahal (Agra, Uttar Pradesh), Fatehpur Sikri (Uttar Pradesh), Agra Fort (Agra, Uttar Pradesh), Jantar Mantar (Jaipur, Rajasthan), Khajuraho Temples (Madhya Pradesh), and Ajanta Caves (Maharashtra). Amidst all this sheer extravaganza and opulence, Maharajas’ Express lets its guests explore India’ most exotic and colorful locations of the Indian sub-continent like the battle scarred forts, the palaces of breathtaking grandeur and whimsical charm, wildlife parks and sanctuaries surrounded by barren mountains and the raw natural beauty of lakes and water bodies. The off-train excursions have been carefully planned keeping in mind the comfort and luxury of the guests. None of the journeys have been overloaded with trivial destinations to keep to trip enjoyable and invigorating. The peerless wonders included in the journeys on offer are eloquent reminders of the rich heritage that India is blessed with!

Champagne breakfast overlooking Taj Mahal

Champagne breakfast overlooking Taj Mahal

All in all, a journey aboard this luxury train offers a kaleidoscopic fiesta that lures you with its magical richness and stunning variety. No wonder the train has already bagged two major awards to its credit – 1st Runner up in the Conde Nast readers choice travel award 2011 and CNBC travel award 2010 under category of “Best Luxury train”.

All these luxuries and amenities come at a cost, which is a whopping USD 3580 per person per journey. The price can go up to USD 22000 for the grand presidential suite, which spans over an entire carriage!

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The Barely Remembered Elephant Man

Posted on 25 November 2010 by Joel Quenby

The little-known story of an intrepid Second World War rescue operation out of Burma by a British tea-planter dubbed ‘The Elephant Man’ recently made international headlines

The life-saving elephant trek (by Gyles Mackrell)

The life-saving elephant trek (by Gyles Mackrell)

Visitors to Southeast Asia often go trekking on elephantback—notably in the Golden Triangle region, straddling the Northern Thai, Myanmar and Laotian borders. Such outings often take in visits to hill-tribe refugee camps before participants make their return-leg ride back to base-camp via a raft or oversized inflatable inner tube. This kind of organized tourist jungle jaunt is so consistently popular it has become an established backpacker rite of passage. Most punters are unaware, however, that such expeditions have a venerable, historic heritage.

“It’s a remarkable story of courage, spirit and ingenuity,” said Dr. Annamaria Motrescu of Cambridge University Centre of South Asian Studies. Moreover, the escapade “took place at a time when no one was sure what the consequences of the war in the Far East would be.”

The mission in question was executed back in 1942 by a British tea-planter named Gyles Mackrell—dubbed by the press of the time as “The Elephant Man.” It saw the colonial-era trader braving torrential monsoon floods on elephantback in order to rescue hundreds of refugees from starvation. The episode played out amid the chaotic British retreat from Burma, while Japanese forces plundered a brutal advance in South and Southeast Asia.

Researchers are piecing together the unlikely tale of derring-do via Mackrell’s personal cache of letters, diaries and amateur films shot during the expedition, bequeathed to the Centre of South Asian Studies by Mackrell’s niece.

“The story is a sort of Far Eastern Dunkirk, but it has largely been forgotten since the war,” said Dr. Kevin Greenbank, archivist at the centre. “Without the help of Mackrell and others like him, hundreds of people fleeing the Japanese advance would quite simply never have made it.”

Born in 1889, Gyles Mackrell had spent most of his life in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, where he was an area supervisor for tea exporters, Steel Brothers. He was 53 when the Japanese mounted an initially devastating assault on British-held Burma in January 1942. By March, the Burmese capital of Rangoon was evacuating; in April, the army was beating a full retreat.

Tens of thousands of people—many of whom were wounded, sick and starving—fled on foot, trekking hundreds of miles through thick jungle towards the safety of the Indian border. Those who did not die en route and made it to the border in May then faced flooded narrow river passes dividing the two countries. Some groups of refugees consequently forced to camp out on the riverbanks stayed alive on food supplies airdropped by the British Royal Air Force (RAF). Other, less fortunate exiles had to subsist on fern fronds.

Mackrell knew the jungle and fluently spoke the dialects of local hill-tribes. Crucially, his work also granted him access to pachyderms—apparently the only reliable means of crossing the monsoon-flooded rivers.

“I promised to collect some elephants and move off as quickly as I could,” he wrote in his diary, after receiving an S.O.S. on June 4 from a group of refugees who had managed to cross the Dapha River by making a human chain.

In a series of epic forced marches, Mackrell reached the Dapha by June 9. He sighted a group of 68 soldiers

Route taken by Mackerell (hardly the better-known "Elephant Man")

Route taken by Mackerell (hardly the better-known "Elephant Man")

trapped on an island mid-river. The films Mackrell shot show elephants tusk-deep in torrential rapids, struggling to make progress downriver. But when the waters fell briefly in the early morning hours, a window opened in which the soldiers were evacuated.

In the following weeks, Mackrell and his colleagues set up camp on the Dapha to help across a stream of refugees. His rescue party were themselves frequently short of supplies and fever-stricken; at one stage Mackrell himself had to go back to Assam to recuperate, before returning to the Dapha upon his recovery.

The dramatic operations had saved around 200 people by the time they ceased in September 1942. Mackrell even rescued the final group of refugees against the orders of the British government, who, acting on faulty intelligence, had ordered his party to relocate.

The archive features a note by Sir R. E. Knox, from the Treasury’s Honours Committee in London, noting the risk of death Mackrell faced during the evacuation “could be put, very roughly, at George Medal: 50% to 80%.” Indeed, Mackrell eventually received the George Medal. He was briefly celebrated as “The Elephant Man” in the British press in 1942—though “Mackrell was embarrassed by the attention he received,” according to Dr. Motrescu.

However, as the war progressed, his exploits became a forgotten historical footnote. He died in retirement in Suffolk in 1959. A short film chronicling the epic rescue mission using Mackrell’s footage is online at Cambridge University’s YouTube channel.

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India’s Grandest Royal Spa

Posted on 22 October 2010 by Nellie Huang

Plush, stylish and regal: Kaya Kalp – the Royal Spa gives new meaning to royal treatment. From the extravagant wellness treatments to the paradisical landscaping, the spa is especially designed to provide a living experience of regal being. Voted by many as one of the best spas in India, the Royal Spa is a perfect blending of old-world charm and modern-day spa pampering.

Stepping foot into the spa, it’s easy to see how Kaya Kalp has gained such recognition. Davina Hassell, the Spa Manager, guides me around the lavish property and explains, “The spa industry in India is still in its growing stage. I’m proud to say that Kaya Kalp is at the forefront of it and we’re working hard to strive for growth.”

The flagship Kaya Kalp spa located in ITC Mughal Agra Hotel is India’s biggest spa to date, sprawling over 99,000 square feet in area. Since opening its doors in 2008, the spa has already nabbed 8 prestigious awards, one of which is the Best City Spa awarded by Condé Nast Traveller.

Agra-ITC-Mughal Royal-Spa-Kaya Kalp- Relaxation Room

Mughal Interior

Inside the spa, the Mughal mood is infectious. Kaya Kalp is designed using many elements from Mughal dynasty architecture: from latticework to bronzed lamps to velvet upholstery. Delhi-based architect and landscape designer, Pradeep Sachdeva, uses the pomegranate fruit as the theme of the spa – a fruit representative of the Mughal dynasty. Ruby red pomegranate designs can be seen in the design on the walls, ceiling and white terrazzo flooring.

The spa ground extends to the lush, tropical gardens. Running fountains flow, while fragrant flowers and fruit bearing trees blossom under the sunlight. Adapting the garden concept brought in by Baber, the first Mughal Emperor, the Kaya Kalp – Royal Spa adds in that eden atmosphere that can be felt all over the city. We are after all in Agra, the garden city most famous for India’s emblem, the Taj Mahal.

Kaya-Kalp-Lobby

Spa Treatments

After an exhausting day of visiting the city’s numerous monuments, a rejuvenating spa treatment is just what you need. From traditional Ayurvedic rituals to chakra balancing and gem stone massages, there is a large assortment of holistic treatments and spa journeys on offer. A Royal Mughal hammam, resembling those of the old Persian days, is another interesting feature of the spa. Enjoy a deep cleansing body scrub, an oil massage, a scalp massage or simply lounge around the bath. Couples who want some intimate privacy can opt for the Taj Mahal Romance treatment, which includes Ayurvedic massages, guided meditation and Shirodhara therapy enjoyed together.

Kaya Kalp poolPomegranate Journey

Curious to try out the spa’s most unique treatment, I book myself in for the Pomegranate Journey. My therapist first cleans my feet with water – a tradition used by the South Indians to welcome guests into their houses. To begin the journey, we start with a Pomegranate ritual scrub. Kaya Kalp’s signature blend of natural fruits such as pomegranate, lime and ginger, mixed with organic brown sugar allows the body to be gently exfoliated. It deeply cleanses, polishes and softens the body. Next, I get a deliciously healthy bath of pomegranate fruit essence, while sipping freshly squeezed pomegranate and lime juice. After feeling utterly relaxed, my treatment culminates with an Indian aromasoul ritual massage where my body is instantly revitalized with the use of traditional aromatherapy.

Towards the end of my journey, I feel enlighted – physically rejuvenated from the spa treatments, and intellectually enriched from experiencing India’s culture and history.

Agra-ITC-Mughal Royal-Spa-Kaya Kalp-Treatment Rm2

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The Faces of Rajasthan, India

Posted on 21 October 2010 by Nellie Huang

Stretching across Northern India, the region of Rajasthan pulsates with invigorating energy and vibrance. The cacophony of deafening sounds, blinding sights and fragrant smells in India never fail to awaken the curiosity in me. Splashed in bright rainbow hues, Rajasthani cities are distinguished by colours: Jaipur, the chaotic capital, is known as the ‘Pink City‘ for its reddish palaces while the desert city of Jaisalmer is dubbed the ‘Golden City’ for the honeycombed fort that rises above the golden sand.

Against the backdrop of the cities, the streets of Rajasthan are filled with natives dressed in bright orange saris and bulky red turbans. Its spirited people are the reason why this part of India draws million of tourists to its doorstep. Warm, friendly and happy – it’s hard not to get infected by the spirit of Rajasthan. To get a taste of Rajathan, here are some of portrait shots of its beautiful people.

A tribal lady in the Thar Desert

A tribal lady in the Thar Desert, close to the northwest frontier with Pakistan.

A Hindu lady sitting on the window sill of the Amber Fort, Jaipur.

A Hindu lady sitting on the window sill of the Amber Fort, Jaipur.

On the stairs of the Jagdish Hindu Temple in Udaipur, an old lady sells offerings in the form of colourful jasmin flowers and coconut leaves.

On the stairs of the Jagdish Hindu Temple in Udaipur, an old lady sells offerings in the form of colourful jasmin flowers and coconut leaves.

On the streets of Jaisalmer, a lady smiles for the camera.

On the streets of Jaisalmer, a lady smiles for the camera.

Swaggering moustache and multi-coloured turban: a typical Rajasthani man gets ready to milk his cow.

Swaggering moustache and multi-coloured turban: a typical Rajasthani man gets ready to milk his cow.

Hindu ladies, dressed in beautiful saris, stroll through the courtyard of Amber Fort, Jaipur

Hindu ladies, dressed in beautiful saris, stroll through the courtyard of Amber Fort, Jaipur

A priest sits on the stairs of Jagdish Temple, Udaipur.

A priest sits on the stairs of Jagdish Temple, Udaipur.

Mother and son pair strolling through downtown Jaisalmer.

Mother and son pair strolling through downtown Jaisalmer.

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Lonely Planet’s backpackers’ tips for Asia

Posted on 10 September 2010 by Joel Quenby

Lonely Planet’s Tom Hall recently gave the UK’s Guardian newspaper his picks for the hottest tickets for young travelers looking for economical ways to navigate the region

INDONESIA: The Eastern Islands

Flying into Flores, though LP says go by boat (by Prilfish via Flickr Creative Commons License)

Flying into Flores, though LP says go by boat (by Prilfish via Flickr Creative Commons License)

LONELY PLANET SAYS: Flores is home to world-class diving, volcanic lakes and empty white-sand beaches. Start … from Bali via Komodo or Rinca on a Perama boat—you’ll pick up enough suggestions on the way to work out the rest for yourself!”

PHILIPPINES: El Nido

Volcanic beauty: El Nido (by Vanna GocaraRupa via Flickr Creative Commons License)

Volcanic beauty: El Nido (by Vanna GocaraRupa via Flickr Creative Commons License)

LONELY PLANET SAYS: “If you’re in search of stunning coastline and beaches, El Nido in northern Palawan is the place. This small, chilled-out town has plenty of amenities, but development remains slow meaning accommodation can be limited and the place never gets too busy.”

ASIA: The Andaman Islands

Not a lot in Havelot, I mean Havelock (by Kai Hendry via Flickr Creative Commons License)

Not a lot in Havelot, I mean Havelock (by Kai Hendry via Flickr Creative Commons License)

LONELY PLANET SAYS: “Two and a half hours by ferry from Port Blair, the islands’ main town, Havelock, is a pretty good approximation of a backpacker paradise, with great snorkeling,  and cheap eating and lodging.”

ASIA: Bangladesh

Boating at dawn near the Bay of Bengal (By joiseyshowaa, courtesy of Flockr Creative Commons License)

Boating at dawn near the Bay of Bengal (By Joisey Showaa via Flickr Creative Commons License)

LONELY PLANET SAYS: “This underrated country might just be the world’s best-value country for travelers. Marvelous meals will cost less than US$1, and a midrange hotel room less than $10.”

ASIA: India’s Northeastern States

in Northeastern India (by Old Fashind via Flickr Creative Commons License)”]Technicolor melting pot and spotting rhinos  [inset] in Northeastern India (by Old Fashind via Flickr Creative Commons License)

Technicolor melting pot and spotting rhinos [inset

LONELY PLANET SAYS: “India’s final frontier—the “seven sister states” of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizaram, Nagaland, and Tripura—hides obscure tribal societies, forested hills and the feeling you’re breaking new ground.”

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Traveling the ‘Eat Pray Love’ way

Posted on 06 September 2010 by Joel Quenby

Elizabeth Gilbert’s autobiographical travel yarn is a literary showcase for Bali’s exotic tropical locations. Here is our guide to four of the tale’s Indonesia-related travel recommendations

Movie star parade. Javier Bardem and some Pretty Woman wander a Balinese market

Movie star parade. Javier Bardem and some Pretty Woman wander a Balinese market

American writer and Travel + Leisure contributor Elizabeth Gilbert authored a bestselling 2006 “chick-lit” memoir of post-divorce globetrotting: Eat Pray Love. Her yarn was adapted into a movie and is now an international box-office sensation.

The original Pretty Woman, Oscar-winning Julia Roberts, plays “Liz” as desperate to escape her miserable existence in New York as a respected, profitable writer. So the 34-year-old hits the global byways seeking enlightenment (a journey outside her comfort zone, she never hesitates to tell everyone).

After attempting to eat Italy out of pasta and then go spiritual in India, Gilbert/Roberts lands on the Indonesian isle of Bali, which she thinks is “a fairly simple place to navigate … It’s not like I’ve landed in the middle of the Sudan with no idea of what to do next.”

However, this once-carefree paradise was shattered by terrorist bombs killing more than 200 young Australian tourists in 2002. The hangover of terrorism persists. New York Times movie desk don A.O. Scott, among others, criticized Gilbert’s, “Western fetishization of Eastern thought,” concluding the flick was, “unlikely to change anybody’s life or even to provoke emotions anywhere near as intense as those experienced … by its intrepid heroine.”

Not many cared, if 170 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List means anything. The book resonated with readers to the tune of more than 1.35 million copies, after 15 printings. Gilbert was on Oprah, and her book translated into 40 languages. Now the movie has given rise to a new customer for Balinese tour operators: spiritual seekers.

Not that Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika was complaining in 2009: “We have to be thankful, because the presence of the Hollywood movie star has given birth to Bali’s new title, ‘Island of Love,’” he said, “which will of course support our tourism.”

As for Elizabeth Gilbert, will Bali be forever in her heart? For those seeking a stretch, she recommends yoga tours of Bali with, “my sweet friend Mario at the Ubud Inn, at mariourip@yahoo.com.

UBUD-DING CREATIVE HUB

“It isn’t near any beaches, so the tourists who come to Ubud are a self-selecting and rather classy crowd; they would prefer to see an ancient temple ceremony than to drink piña coladas in the surf.”

A view over Ubud, Bali's cultural hub (by Brian via Flickr Creative Commons License)

A view over Ubud, Bali's cultural hub (by Brian via Flickr Creative Commons License)

“This could be a lovely place to live for a while,” wrote Elizabeth Gilbert of Ubud, Bali’s arty cultural hub, where traditional painting, dance, carving, and religious ceremonies still thrive. The author spent four months cycling through quiet villages on the slopes of Mount Batur, sampling Indonesian food, acquainting herself with locals, taking yoga classes—and writing a certain book.

Ubud is famous for holistic traditions; here lie foundations upon which Bali’s thriving spa industry are mounted. Even its very name derives from the word ubad, describing the abundance of medicinal plants indigenous here. Rock-cut temples tucked into layered rice terraces also grace the landscape. The Balinese worship a unique composite of Indian cosmology, Tantric Buddhism, local animist traditions and ancestor worship.

Local medicine man (in reality, as in the film) Ketut Liyer claims Ubud is a rare tap of the earth’s healing energy. That is tricky to confirm, but the place is demonstrably removed from Kuta’s surfer scene and Seminyak’s trendy shopping. This is Bali’s hippie chill-out zone, where alternative lifestyles are staples. Ubud has twice hosted the Bali Spirit Festival—an annual celebration of yoga, dance and music.

PENESTANAN FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

“The medicine man, as it turned out, was a small, merry-eyed, russet-colored old guy with a mostly toothless mouth, whose resemblance in every way to the Star Wars character Yoda cannot be exaggerated.”

Julia Roberts cycles Penestanan to study The Force with Ketut Liyer

Julia Roberts cycles Penestanan to study The Force with Ketut Liyer

Just outside Ubud lies quaint Penestanan where a signboard indicates the Hindu-style compound where the small, weathered seer from Eat, Pray, Love lives. Gilbert learned meditation with this local balian (shaman).

Gilbert describes Ketut Liyer as “a priestly figure, somewhat mystical.” Nobody knows Ketut’s age, but his business card offers health, meditation, palm reading, astrology, painting, woodcarving, homestay … Plus a map to his front porch.

Many Indonesian communities prefer traditional healing to science. Medicine men address spiritual as well as physical needs, blending massage and meditation with herbal recipes. Ketut hails from long line of mystics; his grandfather inducted him into the family trade—after he had died, incidentally. That’s right, the deceased man apparently mentored his grandson via the medium of dream.

After the movie’s release, Time said, “his bamboo mat is an almost necessary stop on Bali’s increasingly popular spiritual tourist circuit.” The Yoda-alike’s bank account is no longer empty. Ketut charges almost the average weekly wage, US$25, to read your palm. For that price, though, he will say you are smart—and live to be 110-years-old.

Traditional Balinese Healing

“Thank God my best friend in Bali is a healer,” and I ran into Wayan’s shop … She took one look at me and said, “You sick from making too much sex, Liz.’”

Wayan Nuriyasih's Traditional Balinese Healing: a small clinic, home and restaurant

Wayan Nuriyasih (top left) in Traditional Balinese Healing: a clinic, home and restaurant

To Gilbert, Wayan Nuriyasih is a “strikingly attractive Balinese woman with a wide smile and shiny black hair down to her waist.” She can be found in Traditional Balinese Healing—“a very small medical clinic and home and restaurant all at the same time.”

The gentle herbalist speaks proficient English, although, “because she is Balinese, she immediately asked me the three standard introductory questions,” according to the writer. “Where are you going today? Where are you coming from? Are you married?” (Despite this stock-standard patter, Gilbert lingered five hours on her first visit and later raised $18,000 to build Wayan a better house.)

Wayan treated the author’s urinary tract infection with strange noxious potions. “In less than two hours I was fine, totally healed.” After that, Gilbert “would trust Wayan with any illness whatsoever,” reckoning her “one of the most successful businesswomen in Ubud.” (In fairness, bloggers also rave online about Wayan’s miraculous abilities.)

Gilbert had previously noticed Wayan’s shop’s blackboard with a curious handwritten advertisement for the Multivitamin Lunch Special outside a nondescript building behind a restaurant garden of ginseng, aloe vera and jasmine. The “delicious and nutritious” concoction of water spinach, ginseng, salty seaweed and spicy tempeh comes with each ingredient carefully labeled with its healing properties:

Red rice: for a healthy heart
Grilled coconut: relieves rheumatitis
Tomato chutney: healthy for gums
Mutabilis leaf: relieves stomach gas
Bean sprouts: strengthens weak muscles

Maya Ubud Resort & Spa

The grand Maya Ubud - where Elizabeth Gilbert wrote sections of 'Eat, Pray, Love' in 2006

The grand Maya Ubud - where Elizabeth Gilbert wrote sections of 'Eat, Pray, Love' in 2006

Where better to base a pilgrimage than the very hideaway where Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the Balinese section of her memoirs back in 2006? (Maybe you can even reserve the exact room occupied by the author in her moments of literary inspiration.)

Set amid 10 hectares of landscaped garden enveloped by steep valleys, the layout of Maya Ubud Resort & Spa flows from its hilltop vantage point down to rice paddies besides the Petanu River 30 meters below. Pitching itself as a “spacious, stylish, luxurious environment in which to enjoy some of life’s better moments,” the resort has won loads of awards. VIP International Traveller readers voted it Most Beautiful Wellness Resort Worldwide in 2006.

“The task in Indonesia was to search for balance,” wrote Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love—a balance between pleasure and devotion, specifically. Well, Devotion To Pleasure Leaving One Balanced is probably the mandate of the therapists at Maya Ubud’s riverside spa, who cater to romancers in customized couples’ thatched treatment pavilions.

The resort’s website convincingly essays its spa’s sensual wares: “soothing hands … aromatic herbs, oils and lotions … flower-filled baths … treatments that smooth, stimulate, and pamper … private treatment pavilions provide individual oasis in which refreshing and aromatic oils sooth and relax.”

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Five great Asian beers

Posted on 23 August 2010 by Joel Quenby

From Bia Lao to Asahi Black, we round up the region’s top ales

Asia is producing more beer than Europe for the first time since records began, says Japanese brewing giant Kirin Holdings. It sounds like a bar trawl is in order…. But where does the well-intentioned novice drinker start? Here’s a rundown of experts’ handpicked favorites.

A picher says a thousand burps, at an Asian beer festival (By Graham Hills via Flickr Creative Commons License)

A picher says a thousand burps, at an Asian beer festival (By Graham Hills via Flickr Creative Commons License)

Economists say Asia bounced back from the financial crisis quicker than in the West, while its beer production also surged 5.5 percent from the volume produced in 2008, according to researchers from the Kirin Institute of Food and Lifestyle.

“The guzzlers of Munich’s beer halls are the stuff of bacchanalian legend: now they have to contend with rivals hailing from the bars and street stalls of Hanoi and New Delhi,” claimed the BBC.

While Asian drinkers still consume less on average than Europeans, Vietnam led the region’s boozy surge, followed by India then China. The popularity of Vietnamese labels like 333 (pronounced “ba ba ba” locally) leaped 24.3 percent. Two other labels—Hanoi Beer and Saigon Beer—were official beverages at this year’s Berlin International Beer festival.

Joe Tucker, president of RateBeer.com, recently hand picked his recommendations for Men’s Health magazine. Here are his top picks—plus the mandatory inclusion of an honorary member: a perennial, trusted golden elixir—from a relatively unexpected font of beery wisdom.

Asahi Kuronama Black

Dusky jewel: Asahi Black (by James Cridland via Flickr Creative Commons License)

Dusky jewel: Asahi Black (by James Cridland via Flickr Creative Commons License)

“Crack this open for a rich, roasted accompaniment” to meaty dishes, says Tucker. Never mind the likes of Guinness, Asahi Kuronama Black is billed as Japan’s favorite dark beer. Brewed in Osaka, this silky textured and shadowy toned brew blends three different roasted malts. This wanton mix-and-match approach apparently gives Asahi Black a unique nutty flavor and warming, smooth-drinking characteristics.

Baird Rising Sun Pale Ale

"Today's the day when teddy-bears get utterly paralitic": Baird Beer (main pic: Jeremy Deades via Flickr Creative Commons License; insets from BairdBeer.com)

"Today's the day when teddy-bears get utterly paralytic": Baird Beer (main pic: Jeremy Deades via Flickr Creative Commons License; insets from BairdBeer.com)

“Infused with a citrus aroma, this brew will balance the tartness” of acidic, pickled foods, apparently, according to the expert. “This hoppy, brisk and refreshing Pale Ale is indescribably complex,” exclaims the website of Baird Beer, founded in 2000 in Numazu, Japan, by the husband-and-wife team of Bryan and Sayuri Baird. RateBeer.com, meanwhile, says the 5.2% percent “quenching brew” fits the “American west-coast style.”

Kiuchi Hitachino Nest Beers

Hitachi Nest beers, as seen on Kiuchi Brewery's website

Hitachi Nest beers, as clinically presented on Kiuchi Brewery's website

Tucker vouches for the Belgian White Ale, but “load up the fridge with Hitachino’s crisp, clean Real Ginger Ale and Japanese Classic Ale, too.” Kiuchi Brewery (est.1823) in Naka, Ibaraki Prefecture, produces beer, sake, and shochu. The Nest Beer brand—with its distinctive owl logo—started producing “top-fermented ales” in 1996, blending European beer-making technology with some traditional sake brewing methods (its XH Hitachino Nest Beer is matured in wooden shochu casks, for example). The quaff became available in the US in 2000 and has won numerous international awards.

A century old and still going strong: San Miguel, the result of Spanish-Filipino brewing smarts

A century old and still going strong: San Miguel, the result of Spanish-Filipino brewing smarts

San Miguel Premium Lager

Filipinos love a beer: it is the most commonly consumed alcoholic drink in the country. The San Miguel varietal is “easy to drink and a good palate cleanser,” says Tucker. The first such beer was produced in Manila in 1890 via a royal grant from colonialists Spain—hence it being named after a brewery in Barcelona. A hundred years later, San Miguel Corporation is one of the country’s few global conglomerates.

Honorary Mention: Bia Lao

Bottled since 1973 on the outskirts of Vientiane by the Lao Brewery Co., Bia Lao has drawn plaudits from the esteemed likes of Time magazine—which described it as “foaming magic” in its Best of Asia Awards 2004—and The New York Times. Perhaps those ancient stone jars were actually ancient beer kegs. Time describes the pilsner as “an arrestingly crisp brew and also the universal accompaniment to the local cuisine.

“There’s no stinting on quality,” its plaudits continued. “Bia Lao is made from Pilsen malt imported from France, Hallertauer Magnum hops and dry yeast from Germany, and local rice and spring water.”

Time reckons that these factors “propelled Bia Lao to the top of Asia’s beer league. So have the brew’s emotional connotations. For wherever you are in the world, one sip of Bia Lao and you are instantly transported to a riverside bistro in Vientiane. The long lunches, the French-colonial streets, the wats [temples] and murmuring monks: it all comes back with exquisite precision.”

"Mmmm...Bia Lao" (by garycycles via Flickr Creative Commons License)

"Mmmm...Bia Lao" (by garycycles via Flickr Creative Commons License)

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Amy Ma

Food & Drink + Hong Kong

Amy is a regular contributor to the South China Morning Post and Wall Street Journal amongst other publications. [...]

Pua Mench

Hong Kong

Pua is a writing and traveling enthusiast based in Hong Kong, with a weakness for all things related to the culinary arts and healing modalities, and a passion for sustainable living. [...]

Kim Inglis

Wellness Spa

Kim has been an editor and journalist for over 20 years, more than half of which has been spent in Asia. [...]

Nellie Huang

Travel Adventures + Singapore

Nellie has been published in Food & Travel magazine and Lifestyle, and is a contributing author of V!VA's Guatemala Guidebook. She writes to travel, and travels to write. [...]

Sarah Jane Evans

Travel Adventures + Borneo

She has published travel articles in Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia in publications including: Vacations and Travel magazine... [...]

Carrie Kellenberger

Photo Blog + Taiwan

She has traveled throughout Asia, finding work as a writer, editor, educator, voice over artist, photographer, and nightclub singer. [...]

Mark Lean

Kuala Lumpur

From writing about music, Mark expanded his focus to design, fashion, food and travel. In recent years, he has explored the highs and lows of Asia. [...]

Joel Quenby

Entertainment + Asia News

Joel is a British writer and journalist who's lived, worked and traveled in Southeast Asia since 2002. He's filed yarns for numerous publications...[...]

Alex Gunn

Chiang Mai

After several diverse careers as a circus performer, school teacher, psychotherapist, stunt pilot and university lecturer he can now be found poking about far flung markets, museums, restaurants and odd places in and around Chiang Mai.. [...]

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