Category Archives: Beyond India

Finding Rastapopoulos: Scouring Sarawak for the Proboscis Monkey

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From proboscis monkeys to Irrawaddy dolphins, Sarawak in Borneo is a paradise for lovers of wildlife, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

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It was a Tintin comic set on a volcanic island in the Far East that introduced us to the proboscis monkey. In ‘Flight 714,’ its bizarre pendulous nose reminded henchman Allan of his mobster boss Rastapopoulos. As we flew in from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching, we were excited to encounter the fascinating creature in flesh and blood.

Called bayou in Malaysia and bekantan in Indonesia, it is also nicknamed monyet belanda (Dutch monkey) or orang belanda (Dutchman), after Dutch colonisers who often had similar large noses and potbellies! Marooned in Borneo’s wilderness, creatures had evolved anatomical oddities to adapt to their environment – pygmy elephants, bearded pigs, finless porpoises, gliding lizards and swimming monkeys with webbed feet.

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The proboscis monkey is an endangered Old World Monkey endemic to Borneo, Asia’s largest island whose 140 million year old rainforests are among the oldest in the world. The flagship species was present in all three nations that shared the island –Indonesia to the south, besides Brunei and the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah to the north. Little wonder that the monkey was chosen as the mascot for South Kalimantan and Visit Malaysia Year 2014 and Malaysia’s Year of Festivals 2015.

The drive from the airport to Kuching’s historic riverfront was short and our room at Hilton Kuching overlooked the Sarawak River, Fort Margherita and the Legislative Building. We gorged on local fare like beef rendang, kari ikan (fish curry), nasi lemak (coconut rice) at live laksa counters, ahead of our wild adventure.

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Borneo’s jungles are home to just 6000 proboscis monkeys and the best place to see them in Sarawak is the coastal area and riverine stretches of Bako National Park, home to troupes of 275 or more. The park’s location at the tip of the Muara Tebas peninsula at the mouth of the Bako and Kuching rivers made it the ideal habitat.

We drove past the legendary Mount Santubong shaped like a reclining lady to the fishing village of Kampung Bako. Over a cup of local coffee we watched tiny blue mangrove crabs flit about in the mud, and took a 20-minute boat ride to Telok Assam beach, which fronts the park. We disembarked to a jaw-dropping landscape of dramatic cliffs and marbled sandstone formations.

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Nearly 75 million years ago, this area was submerged under the sea. Tectonic movements led to the formation of sandstone hills which underwent erosion over millions of years, creating magnificent geological shapes along the rugged coastline – rocky headlands, white sandy bays and steep cliff faces with pink iron patterns, veins and honeycomb weathering. Wave erosion at the base of the cliffs had carved out fantastical sea arches and sea stacks. One looked like a gargoyle, another like a cobra’s head.

We waded through ankle high waters and reached the Park Headquarters after a short walk. Established in 1957, Bako is Sarawak’s oldest national park. At 27 sq km it is also one of the smallest parks in Sarawak, yet packs a lot for its size – jungle streams, waterfalls, bizarre rock formations, secluded beaches, nature trails and varied biodiversity.

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Almost every type of vegetation in Borneo can be found here – rainforests, mangroves, padang (grasslands) and peat swamps. In the forested patch around the park headquarters we spotted silvered langur, long-tailed macaques, Bornean bearded pigs and Grass green whip snake.

Bako has a network of 18 walking trails marked out for visitors – ranging from 700m/30 min to 12.8km/6-7 hours. Teluk Delima and Teluk Paku are the best trails to spot the proboscis monkey. Their 3.5 to 5.5 inch long nose helps them attract suitable mates! When threatened, blood rushes to their nose, causing it to swell into a resonating chamber that amplifies warning calls. We spotted our first proboscis monkey with great difficulty on a treetop; its appendage silhouetted against the sky.

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Our guide Sam also pointed out a ball-like creature hanging upside down from a branch. Soon, a baby emerged from the mother’s shroud-like sac. This was the Sunda colugo or Malayan Flying Lemur. Being shy, nocturnal and solitary creatures, colugos spend most of the day curled up in tree hollows or hanging inconspicuously under branches. To reach distant food sources without encountering terrestrial or arboreal predators, it can glide up to 100m over the rainforest canopy using its patagium or expandable membranous skin!

Besides plantain squirrels, monitor lizards, otters, Bornean Terrapin and nocturnal creatures like pangolin, tarsier, slow loris and palm civet, Bako has over 150 bird species including endemics like Bornean Bristlehead and Bornean Peacock Pheasant. Though a popular day-trip from Kuching, visitors can stay overnight in forest bungalows. The area also has estuarine crocodiles which feature prominently in the culture and beliefs of the Sarawak people.

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Sarawak Cultural Village, site of the Rainforest Music Festival since 1998, is a unique award-winning ‘living’ museum that offers an insight into local culture. Stretching around a lake in a sprawling 17-acre site, replica buildings represented every major ethnic group in Sarawak – Bidayuh and Iban longhouses, sword-making shed of the Orang Ulu, Penan jungle settlement, Melanau tall-house, Malay town house and Chinese farmhouse.

In each dwelling, costumed tribesmen carried out traditional activities. We crossed a Bidayuh bamboo bridge, watched the vibrant 45-min cultural performance at the theatre and sampled ethnic Sarawak cuisine at Restaurant Budaya. A small souvenir shop stocked masks, instruments, clothes, collectibles and sapé (Bornean lute) music CDs.

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From Damai Beach Resort we left on a boat cruise around Mount Santubong to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphin, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins and more proboscis monkeys, their orange fur glinting in the afternoon sun. After exploring typical kampungs or Malay coastal villages, we drove to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre.

For over two decades, young orphaned orangutans and those rescued from captivity, have been rehabilitated here and now survive and breed in the wild. We watched them trapeze and spar in the branches as their whoops and calls echoed through the forest. Sarawak was alive…

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Malaysia Airlines flies via Kuala Lumpur to Kuching International Airport, Sarawak. From Kuching, drive 37 km to Kampung Bako, from where the park entrance is 20 minutes by boat. Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is 24 km from Kuching.
www.malaysiaairlines.com

When to visit
May to September is peak season at Bako. The Rainforest Fringe Festival (6-15 July 2018), which started last year, is a 10-day spectacle of art, craft, music and design. www.rainforestfringe.com The famous Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival is being held on 13-15 July, 2018 http://rwmf.net

Tip
Wear long pants, hiking shoes or sandals. Carry a bug spray and a light rainproof jacket for the rainforest microclimate.

What to Do
Bako National Park
Ph 082-370434, 082-248088
www.sarawakforestry.com.my

Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV)
Daily cultural performance: 11:30am, 4pm
Ph +60 82-846 108, 846 078
www.scv.com.my

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
Ph +6082 618324/5
Timings 8am-5pm

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Where to stay

Hilton Kuching
Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak
Ph +60 82-223 888 www.hilton.com

Hotel Pullman Kuching
1a Jalan Mathies, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak
Ph +60 82-222 888 www.pullmankuching.com

Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites
Ph +60 82-258 000 www.merdekapalace.com

Damai Beach Resort
Teluk Bandung, Santubong
Ph +60 82-846999 www.damaibeachresort.com

Damai Puri Resort & Spa
Teluk Penyu, Santubong
Ph +60 82-846900, www.damaipuriresort.com

For more info, visit www.tourism.gov.my and www.sarawaktourism.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 18 June 2018 in the HT Cafe supplement of Hindustan Times newspaper.

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West Java: Paddling around Pangandaran

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PRIYA GANAPATHY traipses around Jawa Barat from Bandung to Banjar by train, bus, boat, bicycle and rubber tube to experience real Javanese culture and cuisine that thrives in its kampungs (villages)

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There’s more to Indonesia that Bali’s beaches or temples like Borobodur. With over 17,000 islands strewn across the world’s largest archipelago, the opportunities for offbeat explorations are endless. I found myself on a train from Bandung to Banjar, as Jawa Barat (West Java) slowly unfolded its pastoral charms. We chugged past lush mountains and brown swollen rivers slithering like snakes through the countryside where farmers in conical hats toiled in their fields. At Banjar, we tried pecel, a local salad served on banana leaf that tingled with spices, crunchy fresh vegetables and peanut sauce.

We took a bus to the lyrically named Pangandaran, a peninsular tract between Central and West Java. Welcomed with traditional batik blangkon (knotted headscarf), worn by Indonesian men, we tucked into an Indonesian buffet at the beachside Hotel Arnawa, replete with fountains and rooms facing a large curvy pool. Later, we set off on bicycles for a cross-country ride to explore surrounding fishing hamlets.

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Located at the isthmus in Java’s south coast, with a national park occupying the fanning headland, Pangandaran is Javanese for ‘a place to make food or earn a living.’ Villagers in thatched huts gutted fish, sorting and drying them outside as cats prowled about picking at the dried fish strewn around. We pedalled past overturned boats lying in open beaches and rode down lanes lined by pretty cottages half-hidden by trees laden with jackfruit, oranges and hairy rambutan.

Pangandaran has two beaches, one on the west and another on the east. At its narrowest point, the neck is only 200m apart! Local guide Taufiq remarked, “It offers the most spectacular panoramas of both sunrise and sunset.” It began raining and we took shelter nearby.

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A young vendor tempted us with a cartload of snacks – from brown whirly putumaya made of brown sugar to the candy-coloured green and pink cetil or gurandil made of cassava. Klepon was a green orb garnished with coconut shavings with a syrupy centre that dribbled down our chins…

Hauling our bikes onto a raft for a river crossing, we cycled onwards to Tegal Jambe, a kampung (village) where villagers had arranged a cultural program. Shy ladies offered us local rainbow-hued sweets, snacks, steamed roots and fruits neatly adorned in woven baskets.

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A chime of woody clicks, tinkles and thrumming beats announced the troupe of black-clad musicians who enthralled us with a superb kentongan (bamboo slit-drum) performance. Led by a comedian–like leader, the Rombongan Bojong Jati ensemble entertained us with traditional Javanese music on angklungs (bamboo instruments).

The predominant home industry here is making gulah merah (brown sugar). Fresh palm nectar tapped from flowers is heated in a large vessel till it caramelises and thickens. Once poured into a mould and cooled, the palm sugar is tapped out as roundels. Being a coastal area, the brackish soil imbues the nectar with a hint of saltiness! Villagers demonstrated how to shin up coconut trees barefoot, strip nipah palm leaf to weave baskets and scoop out tender atap chee (palm fruit). Translucent, like shelled lychee, it is widely used in local sweet dishes.

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Secret Santirah

Most visitors head to Green Canyon for hiking, boating, kayaking and bodyrafting, but we trundled in an outsized bus on an undersized road to the quieter Santirah. “When it rains, the Green Canyon turns murky but Santirah remains clear,” Taufiq revealed. The river tubing or bodyrafting adventure along a pristine 1½ km stretch lasts two hours. Great for all ages, it involves perching on the edge of a large rubber tube, leaning back with feet tucked in the crook of the arm of the person seated in the tube ahead. Thus, with limbs interlinked, the group whooshes down the river, like a human caterpillar!

A clean gurgling river with delightful rapids, four limestone cave tunnels and five waterfalls to soak under, you savour the filigreed canopy of evergreen trees opening into sun-drenched emerald pools and thrilling cliff jumping; Santirah was the highlight of my trip. Being the only ones around, save dragonflies and butterflies hovering overhead, this was a secret side of West Java few knew of. We refuelled at a local shack with fried gorengan (batter-fried cassava and bananas), mi goreng (chicken noodles) and susu jahe (ginger milk)!

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After a short busride to Batukaras, we took a boat cruise into the mangrove tracts along the Cijulang or Green Canyon River, named after the reflective green and blue plankton. Aboard the thatched craft, Shane Josa Resort had arranged a lip-smacking seafood lunch of fried fish, crayfish and batter-fried prawns with rice and local greens.

Disembarking at the Sinjang Kalang pier, we hung around the surfer hangout Batukaras Beach sipping honge juice at RM Kang Ayi. The strange fruit of the torch ginger, shaped like a pineapple-lollipop studded with berries, was blended into an aromatic pink juice with a tart salty-sweet bite.

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Back in Pangandaran, we witnessed Kuda Lumping – a scintillating traditional horse dance at Bamboo Restaurant performed by dancers with painted horses and puppets who slipped into a trance after consuming a shaman’s magic potion. They say, a trip to Pangandaran is incomplete without catching the famous sunrise.

Though deadbeat, I left early, defying the cloudy weather to watch dark waves gilded by the first sunrays. Fisherman silhouetted against the horizon drew in their first catch as children leapt in the waves, awash with the refreshing spirit of dawn.

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Fact File

Getting there
Fly to Bandung via Kuala Lumpur (13-14 hrs) on Malindo Air or via Changi on Singapore Air (15-16 hrs). From Bandung take a train to Banjar and a 2 hr bus ride to Pangandaran or a direct 7hr bus journey from Bandung.

Where to Stay
The Arnawa Hotel, Pangandaran
Ph 0265 639194
www.thearnawahotel.com

Shane Josa Resort, Batukaras
Ph 082295695133
http://shanejosa.com

Mini Tiga Homestay, Pangandaran
Ph +62265639436, +6287826393801
https://minitigahomestay.weebly.com

Gino Feruci, Bandung
Ph +262 224200099
www.ginoferuci.com

Hotel Bidakara Grand Savoy Homann, Bandung
Ph +262 2242332244
www.savoyhomann-hotel.com

For more info, www.visitindonesia.co.in

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in HT City/Cafe, the supplement of Hindustan Times newspaper on 21 May, 2018. 

Immersive Thailand

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Thai kickboxing and cooking classes, boat rides in canals and bicycle trails, wine appreciation tours and scenic excursions around Bangkok; Thailand is luring tourists with local immersive experiences, discover ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY

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No authentic travel experience in Thailand is complete without experiencing the food of the region. From the first sip of our lemongrass welcome drink, to inspiring décor with distinctly Thai themes – lotuses, wooden antiques and filigreed lamps shaped like fingernail adornments of traditional dancers, Thailand unlocks its surprises in a burst of new images and colours.

A good place to start is Bangkok’s Sky Restaurant at the Baiyoke Sky Hotel with a sumptuous buffet and spectacular night view from a revolving deck. Riverside dining hotspots like Baan Khanitha at the shopping mecca Asiatique and the Supatra River House along the Chao Phraya River provide an explosion of flavours – hearty seafood and pork dishes, unique combinations of steamed rice with neem flower gravy and green beef curry, stir-fried veggies, flat noodles with tofu, mildly sweet salad of raw papaya, carrot and prawn… besides platters of cut mango, sticky rice and coconut ice-cream with frozen tapioca flowers for dessert.

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Be it tom yum goong (shrimp soup) at street food stalls or kluay tod (banana fritters) from vendor carts, you could get more adventurous with odd bites like bamboo worms, crispy spiders and bugs on skewers around Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Thailand is often called Venice of the East because of its canals! A boat ride took us past beautiful pagoda temples painted in bright colours with gilded edges glinting in the sun and charming old wooden houses lined with potted plants and orchids hanging from the roofs. Boats doubled up as small floating markets with hawkers selling provisions and mementos as motorboats whizzed by with tourists. Along the banks, water monitor lizards sunned themselves on the edges.

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We stepped off the small jetty in front of a heritage cottage to be welcomed by the charming Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon who runs Amita Cooking Class set in an organic vegetable and herb garden, right by the canal. Having lived here all her life, she smiles, saying, “The canal was very clean and quiet earlier but with tourism, it has become busy with boats.” In a four-hour session, Tam helped us whip up a range of dishes at our individual cooking stations.

With her rooster Soya Sauce strutting around like a sous chef and pet hill myna Basil punctuating her demo with entertaining screeches of Sawadeeka, laughs, coughs, whistles, siren calls and random Thai phrases, Tam took us through some delicious traditional Thai items with most ingredients sourced from her organic garden – Phay Thai (soft rice noodles stir fried with prawns and tamarind sauce), Gai Phat Met Ma Muag Himmaphan (stir fry chicken with cashew nuts), Tom Kha Gai (chicken in coconut soup) and Tab Tim Krob (water chestnuts in syrup with coconut milk). The most interesting aspect was Tam’s mastery in creating natural colours by crushing flower petals and vegetables, to make the dessert bright and appealing! It felt wonderful to eat what we had cooked.

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All this food deserved a good workout and a round of Muay Thai Kickboxing classes at Sor Vorapin Boxing Camp sounded perfect. After a hectic warm-up that tested our stamina, we donned our boxing gloves, ready to pummel our fists like Brad Pitt in Snatch or Fight Club. Our coach explained the intricacies of Thailand’s unique martial combat.

“Muay Thai is a great way to keep fit, besides being one of the best forms of self defence. You make a move to knock down your opponent rather than use force. It’s all about focus and opportunity and striking with your fists, elbows, knees and legs. That’s why it’s called the Art of Eight Limbs.” Thanks to our encouraging coaches, we pulled out all our punches and it left us feeling powerful and energised.

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The gym was located in the famous ‘hippy market’ area so we decided to make the most of it. Funky dresses, tie-n-dye t-shirts, footwear and accessories for a steal, hair pieces in pop colours, parlours to get braids, massages and tattoos sandwiched between snack shops – this was a shopper’s dream. The harbour front at Asiatique is lined with old warehouses that have been converted into shopping stalls and restaurants.

From clothes stalls to designer boutiques and artists at work to relaxing restaurants and people walking their fancy pooches, the place buzzes with action. Siam Center is surrounded by malls such as MBK, Siam Paragon, Platinum and Pratunam, though a night market experience is a must!

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We headed out to lovely excursions around Bangkok – night safaris at Khao Yai National Park, rafting and soft adventure in Nakhon Nayok, golfing holidays at Royal Hills Golf Resort to wine tasting at Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand’s emerging wine county – there’s lots to do. Spread over 2000 acres below the Payayen mountains, PB Valley is Thailand’s largest vineyard. At GranMonte Asoke Valley Winery, Nikki Visootha Lohitnavy, Thailand’s only female oenologist and viticulturist taught us a thing or two about Thailand’s New Latitude wines.

For a ‘knowledge tour’ of Farm Chokchai, Thai girls in plaid shirts and cowboy hats act as guides on the largest agro tour in Asia. The sprawling 8000-acre dairy farm has 5,000 cows with rodeo shows, pony rides, petting zoos, Wild West town, animal shows and lasso tricks. We tried our hand at milking cows, with scoops of dairy fresh ice cream and juicy beefsteaks at the Steak House.

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Kanchanaburi, Thailand’s western province offers a heady blend of nature and history. A 3 hr drive took us to the site of the World War II military camp where the JEATH Museum is a window into a darker past. The museum documents Japanese atrocities on prisoners of war from America, England, Australia and Thailand.

POWs were forced into labour to build a bridge and meter gauge railway line in just a year (1942-43), cutting through hard rock and cliffs of the Tenasserim Hills. It is said that one life was lost for every sleeper laid across the 415km track linking Thailand to Burma, earning the epithet ‘Death Railway’.

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An Audio tour captures recorded sordid memories of the surviving POWs. We walked along the historic Bridge over the River Kwai (which inspired the David Lean movie of the same name). The original iron bridge suffered great destruction by Allied bombings in 1944 and was renovated. At Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, rows of stone tablets between flowering shrubs marked over 7000 persons who sacrificed their lives in the railway construction.

At Hintok River Camp, a former Japanese military base for POWs, we stayed in tented camps close to HellFire Pass and Memorial Museum. Driving around Kanchanaburi reveals the beauty of Thailand’s countryside with waterfalls and riverside nooks. We stopped by for a soak under Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi, or Khao Pung Falls, a gorgeous cascade and picnic spot where locals love spending a few relaxing hours.

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It was a royal retreat in the early 20th century and has a vintage steam locomotive on display. It was through the Three Pagodas Pass at the border that Buddhist teachings reached Thailand from India in the 3rd century.

Back at the camp, after a hearty meal of grilled meats and Thai fare, we chatted around a bonfire late into the night. The next morning, we hopped onto our mountain bikes for a ride to an ancient monastery just 2km away. We pedalled down the country road, past houses and temples and an old hanging bridge before halting at a splendid cluster of five colourful Buddha statues symbolising the different births of Buddha on earth.

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At the monastery, we offered food to Buddhist monks. In the peaceful silence of the temple, we knelt and bowed our heads in prayer. As we received traditional blessings from the head priest, we realised what a befitting end it was to our journey. We were truly blessed to experience a side of Thailand that went beyond the clichéd itinerary of beaches, massages and bazaars.

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FACT FILE

Getting there
There are several direct flights from India to Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand that take 3½ – 4½ hrs.

Where to Stay
Siam Kempinski Hotel
Ph +66 2 162 9000 www.kempinski.com

Intercontinental Bangkok Hotel
Ph +66 2 656 0444 www.ihgbangkok.com

Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort
Ph +66 2 476 0022 www.anantara.com

Hintok River Camp, HellFire Pass
Ph +66 8 1754 3898 www.hintokrivercamp.com

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Where to Eat
Bangkok Sky Restaurant
Ph +66 2656 3000 www.baiyoke.co.th

Baan Khanitha, Asiatique
Ph +66 2 258 4128 www.baan-khanitha.com

Supatra River House, Chao Phraya River
Ph +66 2 411 0305 www.supatrariverhouse.net

What to Do
Amita’s Thai Cooking Classes
Ph +66 2 466 8966 www.amitathaicooking.com

Muay Thai Kickboxing classes, Sor Vorapin Boxing Camp
Ph +66 2 282 3551 www.thaiboxings.com

GranMonte Vineyard & Winery
Ph +66 36 227 334 www.granmonte.com

PB Valley Khao Yai Winery
Ph +66 36 226 415 www.khaoyaiwinery.com

For more info, www.tourismthailand.org

Absolutely Fantastic Holidays Ph +66 29 549 401 www.absolutelyfantasticholidays.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of JetWings, the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways. 

Suite 16: Special places to stay in Mauritius

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From private beaches and butlers to in-house golf courses, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out 16 special places to stay in the tropical paradise of Mauritius

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There’s a lot that makes Mauritius unique – the world’s third largest coral reef, multi-coloured earth and other geological wonders, experiences such as walking with lions at Casela or swimming with dolphins, rum tasting at rhumeries (rum factories) like Chamarel, St Aubin, Chateau Labourdonnais and L’Aventure du Sucre, besides spectacular marine adventure – Sea Karting, UnderSea Walk, Underwater Scooter and submarine rides.

But what makes a holiday in the island nation of Ilé Maurice unforgettable is its special places to stay. Here, resorts come with more than sea-facing rooms; think world-class golf courses, dive centres, private butlers, gourmet French and Creole cuisine, besides Sega dancers and fire-eaters performing on white sandy shores after a magical sunset. Here are our top picks.

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Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita, Beau Champ
Easily the pick of the resorts in Mauritius, the luxurious Four Seasons is located on a 64-acre private sanctuary on the east coast with 136 pool villas. Each villa comes with a private plunge pool and garden, alfresco rain showers and a spacious verandah, offering enough privacy to honeymooners or families. There’s an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Ernie Els and a 1-hour golf initiation session is offered free to guests every day. You have four friendly giant Aldabra tortoises for company and 10 water sports to keep you entertained. Try homemade pastas and Italian cuisine at Acquapazza, amble down for some fine dine at The Chef’s Table or chill at the O-Bar open-air lounge at one of the largest lagoons on the island.
https://www.fourseasons.com/mauritius/

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The Residence Mauritius, Belle Mare
Sunlight filtering in through wooden shutters, a soft palette of white and beige interiors and the relaxing aroma of ylang ylang; The Residence offers classy colonial style comfort. The resort’s central feature is a large pool while its 135 rooms and 28 suites come with garden and ocean views. There’s a choice of dining options – light lunches at The Verandah, contemporary world cuisine at The Dining Room and oceanfront dining at The Plantation.

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The Sanctuary Spa has treatments inspired by luxury French brand Carita. ​Inspired by a sugarcane plantation house, the Planters Kids Club by the beach offers treasure hunts, snorkeling, cooking classes, picnics, pony rides and other fun activities. Get expert coaching from fitness expert Stephan Manique or have your personal butler attend to more mundane chores like unpacking, running a bath, ironing or taking care of your laundry.
http://cenizaro.com/theresidence/mauritius/about

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One & Only Le St. Geran, Belle Mare
South African hotel tycoon Sol Kersner’s One & Only chain takes holidaying to another level with special bespoke experiences. Stay in plush rooms with views overlooking a lagoon, the ocean or sandy beach. Go on a carefully curated art trail in Port Louis or cruise aboard the luxury speedboat Legend 33 to The Cathedral and Fosse aux Requins (Shark Pit) for diving with sharks. Accompany celebrity Executive Chef Marc de Passorio to the vibrant Flacq Market to shop for groceries followed by a guided cooking session at the resort. Can’t cook? There are dining options aplenty – Pan Asian at Tapasake, industrial-style grill house Prime, La Terrasse overlooking the pool and grilled seafood at La Pointe at Palm Grove beach.
https://www.oneandonlyresorts.com/one-and-only-le-saint-geran-mauritius

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Constance Prince Maurice
Designed by architecture genius Jean Marc Eynaud and designer David Edwards, Constance Prince Maurice is named after Prince Maurice Van Nassau, after whom the Dutch named the island Mauritius in 1598. Set amidst lush tropical greenery, the resort is based on the principles of Feng Shui. Beds stand high above floor level to help the circulation of Qi while Archipel restaurant has concrete columns at the centre of the hall to increase the concentration of energy. It has an intimate and secluded setting with an Infinity pool, U Spa by Constance and exceptional cuisine. Families who opt for beach villas get complimentary access to Constance Kids Club, while golfers have two 18-hole championship courses to choose from.
https://www.constancehotels.com/en/hotels-resorts/mauritius/prince-maurice/

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Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, Trou d’Eau Douce
Located on the untouched eastern coast, Le Touessrok’s a winner because of its two isles of paradise just off the resort’s pristine shore, open only to Shangri-La’s guests. Ilot Mangénie features a trendy beach club and on-island butlers while Ile aux Cerfs has a spectacular 18-hole championship golf course designed by golf pro Bernhard Langer. The Chi spa at the resort is a pamper haven. Japanese restaurant Kushi features exclusive Wagyu beef menus and traditional omakase set menus while Le Bazar presents international cuisine with a twist. Guests also get to interact with chefs at the show kitchen. If visiting between 12 April-26 May this year, the resort is bringing South African icon The Test Kitchen (voted the best Restaurant in Africa in 2016), a unique culinary journey curated by Chef Luke Dale Roberts.
http://www.shangri-la.com/mauritius/shangrila/about/

Dinarobin Resort Mai2014 Aérien

Lux Grand Gaube
With 5-star resorts stretching from Reunion, Turkey to Vietnam, everything about Lux Resorts promises world-class luxury and indulgence. After setting up resorts at Le Morne and Belle Mare in Mauritius, they continue their promise of ‘a lighter, brighter holiday experience’ with the opening of Lux Grand Gaube in December. Award-winning designer and interior designer Kelly Hoppen MBE blends an east-meets-west sensibility. Partnering with British swimwear brand Orlebar Brown, the resort has created an exciting new capsule collection of swim shorts for men. LUX roped in street artist and French designer Camille Walala to bring her bold geometric prints, patterns and murals to Mauritius. It has a busy event schedule with expert-led workshops and guest DJs. To top it, each LUX resort is 100% carbon neutral!
https://www.luxresorts.com

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Shanti Maurice, St Felix
Tucked away from the busy north, Shanti Maurice is a 36-acres oasis by the sea in the quiet south. Walkways lined with tropical foliage lead to private villas with thatched roofs and large balconies that face the garden or the sea. Ringed by a coral reef, the resort has only non-motorized water sports like windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling and kayaking so as not to disturb guests. Enjoy lovely massages at the in-house Nira Spa and a range of culinary experiences.

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Rum Shed offers spiced rum, prawn pancakes, calamari and signature cocktails like Rum Dawa using ginger infused rum, Waw Mojito with cardamom & lime infused rum and Bab Daiquiri with banana and vanilla infused rum! In the resort’s herb garden ‘La Kaze Mama’ (literally ‘Mum’s House’) dishes out Mauritian and Creole cuisine. The lantern-lit Fish Shack has seafood and beachside barbecues with Sega dancers and the sound of waves breaking on the reef.
www.shantimaurice.com

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Radisson Blu Azuri Resort & Spa, Roches Noire
A unique lifestyle beach resort integrated within the coastal village of Azuri, like many sights in Mauritius, it is built around a sugarcane factory. The old dilapidated chimney overlooking the pool has been left untouched as a relic of the past. Fringed by coral reefs and clear blue waters, one may snorkel and kayak without leaving the comforts of the resort. Of the 100 odd rooms, the Superior Rooms are located on the beachfront with a plunge pool and private access to the beach, making them ideal for couples. Breakfasts are generally served at Le Comptoir restaurant (the ‘Eye Opener Juice’ of strawberry lemonade really lives up to its name) while Ocean One Beach Club & Restaurant overlooks the surf. Luxuriate at the Spa by Decleor, go on a mangrove kayak safari or explore the lively Flacq Market, the largest outdoor market in Mauritius.
www.radissonblu.com/en/hotel-mauritius-azuri

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Hotel Sofitel Mauritius L’Imperial, Flic en Flac
Spread over 9 hectares of tropical gardens, the reception and restaurant open out to a large swimming pool that seems to spill onto a white sandy beach with the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean stretching into the distance. Located on the west coast, it is one of the best spots to catch the famed Mauritian sunset, though one can be prepared for Sega dancers, fire-eaters and acrobats to put up a show on the beach with dinner by the sea. They have a great dolphin cruise as well and flippers are available at Christine Sofitel Boat House for snorkeling right on the property.
www.sofitel.com/Mauritius

Shandrani Hotel View 

Shandrani Beachcomber Resort & Spa, Blue Bay
Pioneers of the hospitality industry in Mauritius, Beachcomber Hotels have been around for 65 years with a bouquet of top-notch resorts across the island. Set on a private peninsula lapped by the Blue Bay Marine Park, Shandrani is the first fully inclusive 5-star resort in Mauritius with 327 rooms. Spread across 57-hectacres, it has three beaches, a 9-hole golf course, a sailing school, a dive centre and Beachcomber Spa that uses their signature product range ‘Be Beautiful’.

Shandrani Beachcomber Resort & Spa

Lying in the shadow of the historic Le Morne mountain, Beachcomber’s Hotel Dinarobin is named after the original name of Mauritius given by Arab sailors in 15th century. Along with its twin resort Paradis, it’s set on a 150-acre patch with a 7km beach view. Dinarobin’s exclusive Zen suites at the farthest point are ideal for adults. Wake up to sea views from your private verandah, enjoy kite surfing at the lagoon and pamper yourself with wat-su (water shiatsu) treatments and in-house wellness routines like Gommage and Santayana massage. The best part? You pay for one and enjoy the facilities of both resorts – 8 restaurants, 2 spas, 2 sports centres, a spectacular golf course and shuttle service every 15 minutes.
www.beachcomber-hotels.com

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The St Regis Mauritius Resort, Le Morne
Tucked away on a southwestern nook of the island, the resort comes with 172 guest suites. The colonial theme leads to the 1904 Bar with its signature St. Regis mural painting. Try La Belle Creole Mary, a local interpretation of the legendary Bloody Mary, created 75 years ago at St. Regis New York. The highlight is the food with Franco-Mauritian fare at Le Manoir Dining Room, platters of oysters and grilled prawns at the oceanfront Boathouse Bar & Grill and trendy Asian-inspired Thai, Malay and Vietnamese dishes at Floating Market. They also run the more private St Regis Mauritius Villa with a 143 m beach frontage and the signature St. Regis Butler Service.
http://www.stregismauritius.com

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20 degrees Sud, Grand Baie
Part of the Relais & Chateaux group, the small boutique hotel on the north coast has only 29 rooms and 7 suites, offering an intimate holiday experience. Enter through the beautiful oak door to experience one of the best-kept secrets of Mauritius. Located in an old coconut grove and inspired by a Mauritian Creole style, the interior design is by prestigious Belgian decorator Flamant. Choose from Charm and Beachfront rooms to Austral suites with private plunge pools. Mauritian master chef Sanjeev Purahoo stirs up a wide repertoire of dishes at L’Explorateur restaurant and La Voile, a beach concept under a Bedouin tent with a view of Coin de Mire. The highlight is a cruise on the M/S Lady Lisabeth, the oldest motorboat in Mauritius. Children below 12 are not allowed at the resort.
http://www.20degressud.net/en/

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La Pirogue, Flic en Flac
Part of the international Sun Resorts chain, La Pirogue resembles a traditional fishing village set amidst a coconut grove surrounded by lush gardens. Each bungalow’s thatched roof is reminiscent of the unfurled sail of a local fishing boat, from which the resort derives its name. Bright coloured interiors and themes define this boho-chic hotel with spacious Beach Pavilion rooms and Garden Bungalows. With signature experiences like Sun Golf, Spa, fishing and multi-cultural food, it’s perfect for those looking for a big resort holiday.
https://www.lapirogue.com

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The Westin Turtle Bay Resort & Spa, Balaclava
The 5-star hotel is a tranquil hideaway in the historic Balaclava area overlooking Turtle Bay, a protected marine park on the north-west coast of Mauritius. Natural tropical elements like local teak and lava rocks combine well with contemporary design as The Westin brings its proprietary products to the table – Heavenly Spa By Westin, New Balance gym gear on hire at nominal rates at the WestinWORKOUT Fitness Studio and SuperFoodsRx dishes like whole-wheat blueberry pancakes, all-natural roasted turkey wraps and black bean hummus. Grab a bite at Seasonal Tastes, relish Frontier cuisine at Kangan or sushis and more at Mystique Beach Bar & Lounge.
http://www.westinturtlebaymauritius.com

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Angsana Balaclava Mauritius Hotel, Turtle Bay
Set in a secluded cove in Turtle Bay adjacent to a coastal village on the picturesque northwest coast, Angsana Balaclava Mauritius is a tropical oasis. Its stylish suites and villas feature private infinity pools and hammams, besides an award-winning spa and gourmet cuisine. There’s international Asian-fusion and Mauritian Creole cuisine at Oryza, lunches at Passion Chill and foodie excursion and cooking class rolled into one at Epicurean Delight. Enjoy Destination Dining with a private dining experience on the beach or a catamaran cruise dinner. Admire the Port Louis skyline and its magnificent mountain backdrop sipping champagne and nibbling on delightful canapés. Cycle through the lovely coastal village of Petit Gamin, take pics against vast sugarcane fields and have a picnic lunch on the quiet beach of Le Goulet.
https://www.angsana.com/en/mauritius/balaclava-mauritius

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La Plantation D’Albion Club Med, Albion
Spread over 21-hectares, Club Med’s ‘5-trident’ beach resort has an all-inclusive policy with full-board gourmet cuisine, bar, snacks and sports activities. Imbued with a laid-back vibe, it has two pools (including an overflow pool), Flying Trapeze classes, an adults-only Zen Zone and a Petit Club Med kids club where little ones can learn about local animal and marine life. The Club Med Spa by Cinq Mondes Paris is the perfect place to pamper yourself as you enjoy delicious Creole and Continental fare at The Distillerie with two terraces overlooking the sea or pool. Dine at The Phare, named after the lighthouse at Albion 6km away, the only lighthouse on the island that is still in use and a worthy excursion.
https://www.clubmed.com.au/r/La-Plantation-d%27Albion-Club-Med/y

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For more info, contact
Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority
www.tourisme-ilemaurice.mu

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. Photos courtesy respective hotels, except Shanti Maurice, Radisson Blu Azuri & Sofitel (by authors). Four Seasons – Ken Seet. This article appeared on 9 May 2018 in Conde Nast Traveller India online. Here’s the link: https://www.cntraveller.in/story/16-gorgeous-hotels-for-your-next-holiday-in-mauritius/

 

Gourmet Dubai: Culinary treasures from the Oyster Shell

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Global cuisine, fine dining and festivals such as the Dubai Food Festival; ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore the delicious melting pot that’s Dubai

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Home to an expat population of 85% and over 200 nationalities, Dubai brings the best of the world on a platter. The sheer choice of cuisines, themed restaurants, Michelin-starred chefs and unique food festivals make Dubai a dream destination for foodies. But below the glitzy skyscrapers is a Dubai that still preserves its strong Arabic culture, heritage and hospitality.

The perfect place to start is Ewaan at Palace Downtown, where a massive traditional spread of rice, meats, salads, grills and desserts is laid out. Relive ‘Arabian Nights’ with energetic tanoura and belly dance performances every Wednesday with authentic delights like lamb juzi (spiced rice with lamb), fish sayadieh (like a biryani), meat kebbeh and a live grill. There’s a range of exotic drinks – Turkish coffee, Moroccan Maghrebi mint tea and Qamar Al Deen, a juice prepared from dried apricot paste. Sample exotic desserts like Um Ali (creamy bread pudding and cinnamon nut stuffed baklava), borma almond, mafrouka pistachio and chaibeyat as a veiled lady fries fresh luqaimat (spongy dessert).

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Dining in Luxury

Fine dining in Dubai has reached dizzying heights. At the quiet Armani Hotel Lobby inside Burj Khalifa, a graceful hostess ushered us to an express elevator, which transported us to the 122nd floor in 45 seconds. Perched at 670 feet, At.mosphere is the world’s highest restaurant ‘from ground level’. The change in air pressure makes your ears pop like a champagne cork as you disembark.

A cantilevered staircase connects the restaurant to the lounge offering the best view in town and top-notch French cuisine by Michelin Chef Jerome Lagarde. A minimum spend policy of 250-500 AED per person guarantees window seating while a nine-course festive menu featuring caviar, foie gras, langouste, truffles, oysters and sea scallops, comes at a princely 880 AED.

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Al Mahara, literally ‘The Oyster Shell’ in Arabic, at the opulent Burj Al Arab is designed to wow any diner. Walk past gilded interiors through a shimmering tunnel into the restaurant dominated by a stunning floor-to-ceiling aquarium. As you are mesmerized by marine life swimming by, award-winning chefs stir up sea bass with almond sauce, Maine lobster with seaweed butter and poached tsarkaya oysters.

In the world’s tallest hotel JW Marriott Marquis, Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar (no longer with the establishment) reincarnates Indian food into a contemporary form at Rang Mahal (Palace of Colour), dominated by plush orange and black interiors and massive temple pillars. The Navratan Menu features Lasooni Scallops to Meen Moilley, culminating in a Modern Art Dessert Canvas of assorted Indian sweets ‘painted’ by the chefs. For Indian fine dine at its best, head to Indego by another Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia at the luxurious Grosvenor House.

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Encased in a beautiful two-storeyed glass facade, La Serre fuses the charm of a Parisian street café with the buzz of Downtown Dubai. The traditional boulangerie on the ground floor bakes the freshest breads in town while the first floor bistro offers the perfect vantage. In elegant white interiors, dine at the Chef’s Table on house classics – Tarte Flambée, lentil salad, rigatoni with white truffles, grilled veal chops and whole seabass baked in salt crust.

Chic and modern, the beach-facing Sea Fu is the signature restaurant at Four Seasons on Jumeirah Beach and one of the top seafood restaurants in Dubai. Expect Med-style dishes and Asian-influenced delicacies in a cool, loungey atmosphere, overlooking the spectacular Arabian Gulf. Try the Sea Fu platter, seafood fettucini and crispy prawn with wasabi lemon dressing.

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One of Madinat Jumeirah’s hot new launches, folly by Nick & Scott boasts award-winning cuisine that requires booking weeks in advance. The stunning arched hallway of the Arabian court at One&Only Royal Mirage leads to their lovely Moroccan restaurant Tagine. We dropped in at EauZone for Asian mezze, grilled hammour fillet and steamed miso seabass.

At Four Points by Sheraton on Sheikh Zayed Road, dine amidst contemporary art or enjoy a stunning rooftop view of the Dubai skyline and fast-moving traffic from Level 43, the rooftop Sky Lounge. In Palm Jumeirah, the Signature Brunch at Social by world-renowned chef Heinz Beck at Waldorf Astoria is a culinary tour de force.

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With 5-star hotels aplenty, there’s no dearth of fine dine options, sometimes within the same hotel. The Beach House at Anantara, The Palm has relaxed beach side dining with views of the glittering Dubai shoreline as you relish Med fare, tapas, seafood and signature cocktails like ‘After the Storm.’ Anantara’s Mekong is counted among Dubai’s top Pan-Asian restaurants.

Relish authentic Far East preparations in rickshaw-style seating at oriental tables with overhead lights in birdcages. The Sharing Platter of crispy and Vietnamese spring rolls, Tod Mun Goong (Thai shrimp cake), Plah Goong (prawn salad with lemongrass), BBQ minced prawn on sugarcane skewer, Gai Hor Baitoey (chicken pandan) and chicken satay is highly recommended.

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Food festivals galore

There’s no better showcase of global and local flavours than Dubai Food Festival (DFF), the perfect hangout for the gourmand and the glutton. Besides pop-ups and street food awards, the Restaurant Week saw 15 top-end restaurants offer a 3-course menu for AED 199. Tum Tum Asia, voted among the Top 10 Hidden Gems at DFF, brings typical pan-Asian street flavours into a purely 100% vegetarian menu, thanks to the ingenuity of Indian celebrity chef Akshay Nayyar and owner Prakash Adtani. The vibrant décor inspired by street art and tuk-tuks has a quirky lip-smacking menu of dimsums, satays, kebabs, sushi, baos and Thai curries, presented imaginatively.

This year, Etisalat Beach Canteen captured Dubai’s eclectic multicultural milieu and was the heart of DFF. Funky food trucks and homegrown eateries served global fare and experimental, artisan food with tastes as varied as Polish dumplings at Zapie Kanka, falafel burgers and charcoal lemonade at BurgerItch, spicy Tacos at Maiz and Spanish churros from Churros Factory to bizarre presentations of Bubble waffles with chocolate injections and Butter Beer, a creation of American Chef Ian Klienman at the Inventing Room.

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Adding to the food fiesta was live music, yoga on the beach, kite surfing, paddle boats by the bay besides cooking demos and Master Classes by renowned chefs. From fresh buns to berry pistachio pancakes and ‘freaky fries’, we tried That Place Café’s fusion food of bun-based dishes paired with pasta, potatoes, sheesh tawook and curry. Decadent desserts are also served in a delicious bun, so you could say, no one can eat just bun!

The second edition of Miami Vibes Food Festival celebrated soul food in a happy beach-like vibe combined with festival founder Elham al Arif’s love for Miami. From mid-Feb through March, the parking lot of Green Planet in Dubai’s City Walk became a lively pink-splashed outdoor avenue amidst pink sun decks, beach umbrellas and giant flamingoes. On offer was live entertainment and food truck culture featuring global fast food – burgers (including hot pink ones), sushi, rainbow sandwiches, local Koshari meals, sour khameer (Arabic pastry), Hakiki Turkish ice-cream and gourmet desserts shaped like exotic flowers from Dolci e Salato.

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Eat Organic

Comptoir 102, winner of the Best Healthy Café in Dubai, is a classy craft boutique on Jumerirah’s Beach Road that morphed into a café and organic restaurant. Chef Erwin Jmaampoc emphasized that their unique food is nutritious, wholesome and sourced from local organic farms. The ever-changing contemporary menu is dictated by season and harvest with sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, super foods and vegan options. Impeccably presented, each morsel assures healthy goodness in a relaxed ethnic setting. Don’t miss the hearty Avo’ Club, Acai Bowl and juices that come with tempting health and beauty oriented names!

In the cooler months from mid-October to mid-April, Ripe Outdoor Market convenes at Zabeel Park every Friday with organic fruits and farm fresh vegetables, gourmet pickles and pestos, exotic white honey from Kyrgyzstan, food stalls and over hundred kiosks selling boutique and lifestyle products.

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At Carli’s Chimneys, we tried Black Rose, a charcoal-activated ice cream the owner picked up from Vienna. Another seasonal cultural extravaganza is Global Village, bringing together flavours, arts and entertainment from across the world. We sipped kerkade (hibiscus iced tea) and savoured Egyptian cuisine at Al Dahhan.

The seaside marina boardwalk Club Vista Mare in Palm Jumeirah is lined by fine restaurants like Simply Italian, Gursha (Ethiopian) and Aji (Peruvian) besides shisha bars. BoxPark Dubai, the hip entertainment quarter on Al Wasl Road has trendy boutiques and niche cafés housed in 220 shipping containers with a lady DJ spinning tunes from a converted food truck! No matter when you visit, Dubai is ready to tantalize your taste buds. It’s surprising that Dubai does not have its own Michelin star restaurant yet, but we might just have to eat our words soon.

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Dubai International Airport (3-4 hrs).

When to go
Dubai Food Festival is held in Feb-March. www.dubaifoodfestival.com
Ramadan in May-June has great spreads for iftar and suhour.

Where to Eat
At.mosphere, Burj Khalifa
Ph +971 4 888 3803
www.atmosphereburjkhalifa.com

Al Mahara, Burj al Arab
Ph +971 4 301 7600
www.jumeirah.com

Ewaan, Palace Downtown Dubai
Ph +971 48883444
http://www.addresshotels.com

Mekong, Anantara The Palm Dubai
Ph +971 4 567 8304
www.dubai-palm.anantara.com/mekong/

One & Only Royal Mirage
Ph +971 4 399 9999
www.oneandonlyresorts.com

Rang Mahal, JW Marriott Marquis
Ph +971 4 414 0000
www.jwmarriottmarquisdubailife.com

La Serre-Sea bass baked in salt crust

La Serre, Vida Downtown Dubai Hotel
Ph +971 4 428 6969
www.laserre.ae

Indego by Vineet, Grosvenor House
Ph +971 4 317 6000
http://www.indegobyvineet.com

Sea Fu, Four Seasons
Ph +971 4 270 7777
www.seafudubai.com

Four Points by Sheraton, Sheikh Zayed Road
Ph +971 4 323 0333
www.fourpointssheikhzayedroad.com

Ripe Organic Food & Craft Market
Ph +971 4 315 7000, 380 7602
www.ripeme.com

For more info, www.visitdubai.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the May 2018 issue of JetWings magazine.  

Galway Girl: An Irish Jaunt

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PRIYA GANAPATHY takes a Railtours Ireland trip down the Wild Atlantic Way to Galway via Limerick, Bunratty Castle and the Cliffs of Moher, the most popular day trip from Dublin

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One would think that a Van Morrison music tour and a weeklong Literary trail in and around Belfast should have satisfied my hunger for Irish art and culture. Yet, I was chugging to Dublin for an excursion to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher. My Dubliner cabbie Thomas Brennan chatted me up, “The interesting thing about Ireland is that there are no snakes, no earthquakes, no gales, no mountains, no wildlife to speak of. It’s not too hot, not too cold. So we’re all moderate people – products of our environment. Which is why Dublin is a nice place to be.”

By 6am I was ready for Dublin Hueston Station where my Railtours Ireland guide, Andy Geraghty promised to be “in a bright yellow jacket doing star jumps on the platform!” Being a combination of rail and road, the tour would take me past coastal towns, castles and cliffs along the Atlantic, wrapping up in gorgeous Galway, the cultural epicenter of Ireland. The town shot to fame with Ed Sheeran’s cheery hit Galway Girl, though people swear that Steve Earle’s original track in the film P.S. I Love You was far more Irish and way better.

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We changed trains at Limerick Junction in County Tipperary and disembarked at Limerick’s Colbert Station, learning that the Republic of Ireland’s railway stations were renamed in 1966 after rebels, who gave their life for Irish Independence. I was curious whether Limerick gave the literary ‘funny little poem’ its name or vice versa. “Not sure” replied Andy. “But I can recite one for you.”

“There was a man from Nantucket, who kept all his money in a pocket. His daughter Nan ran away with a Man, and as for the pocket, Nan took it.” In 16th and 17th century, Limerick was considered the most beautiful city in Ireland because the best-looking girls were from here. Few know that the city is also famous for its ham! Originally an old industrial town, Limerick seemed like a smaller version of Belfast.

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Our next halt was Bunratty Castle and Folk Park in County Clare. The pretty guide Elizabeth glammed up in period costume explained the 15th century castle’s history in the Main Guard, a vaulted hall. Its Minstrel’s Gallery is still used for Bunratty Medieval Castle Banquets every night where visitors are served medieval meals and plied with large glasses of Ireland’s infamous drink, mead!

I was fascinated by the tapestries, the spy-holes and special Ladies Window in the Great Hall, once out of bounds for women and a stunning carved oak dowry cupboard from Germany. Gracing the walls were gargantuan prehistoric antler trophies spanning up to three meters that belonged to Giant Irish Deer, one of the largest deer that ever walked our planet, but extinct for ten thousand years. They were retrieved from the oxygen deficient boglands, which ensured their fine state of preservation.

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On the fringes of Bunratty, an outlying castle served as a vantage. “Any approaching enemy would be signaled by lighting a fire on its roof. So when one arrived at Bunratty, the friendly O’Briens would greet you with a red carpet. They’d pour burning oil on you, throw excrement mixed with lime, or chop your head off, the usual ‘warm welcome’ the O’Briens gave everyone,” Andy quipped wickedly.

The journey was filled with delightful anecdotes on Irish history and culture, their love for superstitions and folklore. We heard stories about the Fairy Tree that stalled the motorway construction and Rag Trees and Holy Wells with therapeutic powers and the origin of the world famous Irish Coffee. This wizardly concoction of whiskey, coffee and cream created by chef Joe Sheridan in 1937 at Foyens near Shannon beats all the fancy coffees of today!

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Though Doolin’s candy pink coloured thatched houses and stores on Fisher Street looked good enough to eat, we stepped into Gus O’Conners, a little pub for a quick lunch of Seafood Chowder. A quick hop into a small chocolate shop run by Mary and Noreen who make artisan homemade chocolate and fudge and Wilde Irish chocolate and we were off. Apparently, Doolin is a mecca for Irish music.

En route we were treated to views of the Aran Islands. The farthest one was Inis Mor (big island) with Inis Meain (middle island) and Inis Oirr (small island) nearby. Depending on the weather, the islands are accessed by ferryboats or small sea planes nicknamed “vomit comets”. The islands are renowned for their gorgeous woolen weaves or Aran sweaters, hand-knitted by the island women.

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A 10-minute drive from Doolin were the majestic Cliffs of Moher, one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe and the top sight in the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s most famous tour along the west coast. We were warned about how it could be “very rainy, windy and biting cold or so misty you can’t see past your nose”. They sometimes closed the Cliffs for safety reasons. We got lucky with great sunshine, clear blue skies and strong winds that promised big waves.

Named after the Moher Castle that once stood here, the cliffs stretch for 8km. Hags Head is perched on the left at 120m while O’Brien’s Tower on the right is the highest point at 214m. The cliffs unfold in a jagged line into the horizon and the setting’s raw beauty leaves visitors spellbound, who take an adventurous Cliff Walk or a Fossil Trail.

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Moher flagstones were a prized item in the 19th century and were specially shipped to London to pave building fronts and floors of the Royal Mint. If I hadn’t hogged in Doolin, I swear the gusts of wind could’ve flipped me over the cliff. My hysterical laughter mingled with other visitors’ who were equally astonished by the wild winds.

We staggered drunkenly, negotiating our way along the boundary for better views. Interestingly, the Audio Visual Interpretation Centre with a coffee shop, restaurant and souvenir shop is buried in the hill to avoid ruining the aesthetics of the spectacular landscape.

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The Burren, literally ‘a great rock’ in Irish, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Park that stretches for 250 sq km. Photographers, botanists and researchers flock to capture images of its unusual cracked karst glacial landscape that comes alive in spring with Arctic, Mediterranean and Alpine plants growing together in the furrows.

Near Black Head Lighthouse the panoramic arc of a full rainbow across the blue waters of Galway Bay welcomed us. In a land that believed in leprechauns, it was the closest I came to finding my pot of gold.

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Galway was once a walled city and the Vikings had set up trading posts wherever they could navigate their boats. The swift-flowing River Corrib was harnessed hydroelectricity years ago ensuring that Galway had electricity long before London! Maroon and white flags fluttering from city’s buildings hailed a recent win in hurling, a 3000 year-old game unique to Ireland touted as one of the fastest field games in the world!

A few hours is woefully short to experience the energy of this University town. I knew I had to return. The vibe is so youthful and electric with lively Irish music everywhere. I hung around the legendary Eyre Square before strolling down Shop Street to see St Nicholas Church and the Lynch Window where James Lynch, a former Magistrate had hanged his own son Walter for murdering a sailor; coining the word ‘lynch’ before rambling around old world buildings housing pubs, cafes, art galleries, theatre companies, boutiques and shops selling Claddagh rings.

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At Salt Hill, a popular seaside resort near Galway’s city centre, the lovely promenade offered a brilliant sea view. I could have stayed and danced with strangers to Galway Girl but I made a wild dash to the station for my train back to Dublin. Bing Crosby’s soulful 1947 Irish classic Galway Bay, echoed in my ears:

If you ever go across the sea to Ireland, then may be at the closing of your day. You will sit and watch the moonrise over Claddagh and see the sun go down on Galway Bay…. But if there is going to be a life hereafter and somehow I am sure there’s going to be. I will ask my God to let me make my heaven In that dear old land across the Irish Sea.’

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Fact File

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Dublin via Abu Dhabi

Stay
Spencer Hotel
Excise Walk, IFSC, Dublin 1
Ph +353 1 433 8800
http://www.thespencerhotel.com

Travel
Railtours Ireland
Ph 1-877-451-4783
http://www.railtoursireland.com

Lynk Taxis
http://www.lynk.ie

For more info, www.ireland.com, www.tourismni.com, www.discovernorthernireland.com

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of JetWings magazine.

Mauritius: Sweet taste of freedom

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Mauritius celebrated its 50th year of independence on 12 March 2018; ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY present a round up of the festivities and the island nation’s centuries old ties with India

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As we landed in Mauritius, a pearly drop in the Indian Ocean, striped flags fluttered gaily in the untamed tropical breeze. In vast fields that stretched from mountain to sea, sugarcane stalks swayed in celebration as we joined 1.3 million Mauritians commemorate 50 years of Independence since British rule. Immigration officer JL Juste reminisced, “I was four when we got Independence. Back then, there were only sugarcane fields. Now there’s tourism, resorts, industries…”

The British were not the first to colonize the island. Until the early 1500s nobody knew of its existence besides African sailors and Arab traders. The Portuguese were the first humans to set foot on it in 1505. The Dutch colonized it in 1598 and named it Mauritius after Prince Maurice Van Nassau. They introduced wild boar, tobacco, slaves from Africa and sugarcane from Java by mid-17th century. The French, who had occupied nearby Reunion, came to Mauritius in 1715 and laid the foundation of the sugar industry. The British took over in 1810 and made Mauritius their stronghold for the next 150 years.

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How a virtually uninhabited, unknown speck of 790 sq miles became the global leader in sugar production by the 1800s under colonial rule is a bittersweet story of ambition, grit and hardship. After the abolishment of slavery in 1834, plantations were deserted as slaves fled to nearby towns and empty lands. The British had to bring indentured labour from their populous faraway colonies as some Indian spice and Chinese flavour was stirred into the cultural cauldron that’s Mauritius.

In capital Port Louis, we stood by the footprints that marked the first landing site of indentured immigrants at Aapravasi Ghat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Led by officer Ramavtar Vedanand, we walked up the old basalt steps to the bathing area, Immigration Depot and other historic relics. What began as an experiment of using ‘free’ labour instead of slaves, created one of the biggest migrations in history.

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Immigrating in waves and tracing their ancestry to Odisha, Bihar and Tamil Nadu, the Indian influence is palpable. Despite its Creole culture and Franco-Mauritian and Afro-Mauritian population that converses in French or Creole, you notice the Indianness everywhere – in food, clothing, faces and names (though more elaborately spelt)! English may be the administrative language but locals ‘think in French’, hum tunes in Bhojpuri and celebrate Thaipusam, Ougadi and Shivratree.

“The Mauritian personality presents the best of everything,” chuckled Roselyne Hauchler of Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority. “We have the tolerance of the Indians and their patience guided by the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, the English way of life and pragmatism, and the welcoming warmth, hospitality and love for fine things from the French and Dutch! That’s why, we get along with everyone!”

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In an exclusive interview, Tourism Minister Anil Kumarsingh Gayan said, “Our association with India goes back a long time and today we see the blossoming of those ties. Mauritius is a beautiful country with temperate climate. When it’s monsoon in India, we have winter here with 15-16 degrees.

Despite its small size, it is very multi-cultural, like a miniature United Nations! Only in Mauritius can you catch the sunrise and swim with dolphins at 8am, have lunch and walk with lions and see the famed Mauritian sunset with a sundowner and Sega dance on a beach – all in a day.”

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On the eve of Independence Day we witnessed the gala street parade with dodo tableaus at the Mahebourg waterfront. The narrow winding roads were packed with people heading for the regatta to enjoy a day out, shopping and feasting on fried noodles and dholpuri (improvised Bihari dal paratha) at street food stalls.

Pointes des Regates, a unique boat race of traditional rowboats or sailboats, is a Mauritian sporting tradition that originated in 1874 as contests between fishermen. Sailboats did a ballet on waters that were bluer than a bluejay’s wing with the lofty Lion Mountain providing a dramatic backdrop.

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It was a bright sunny day and the mood was electric. Local musicians performed on stage as Sega dancers twirled their frilly skirts and moved sensuously to the beat followed by a Koli (fisherman) dance and other traditional dances from India. Despite its roots in Africa, the Sega evolved over the years with fusion from other cultures, including some inputs from Bhojpuri (The Bhojpuri Boys is a popular music band here)! Young men belted Creole songs to the beat of the traditional ravane (percussion instrument like a dhol).

On 12 March, the stalls were jam packed in capital Port Louis at the legendary Champs de Mars, the second oldest racetrack in the world to witness the flag hoisting ceremony and 21-gun salute. The Republic of Mauritius flag was raised for the first time right here in 1968. The 50th year of Independence saw gravity-defying manoeuvres by Sarang, the team of Indian Air Force helicopters and a phenomenal rifle drill by the IAF’s Air Warrior Team.

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There were dog marches, a horse parade courtesy the Mauritius Turf Club, a drill by the Mauritius Police Force, vibrant cultural performances and a fireworks display that provided a befitting finale. It was a proud day for us as the President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind presided over the celebrations as chief guest.

Mauritian PM Pravind Kumar Jugnauth explained how the two countries enjoyed a special bond that went deep, going beyond government interactions to the very hearts of people who take pride in the shared heritage and ancestry. As the Indian tri-colour flew alongside the Mauritian Les Quatre Bandes, the motto ‘lame dan lame’ (hand in hand) rang true…

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Things to See/Do:
Aventure le’Sucre (Sugar factory), Mahebourg Museum, Grand Bassin, Black River Gorges, Casela wildlife park, La Vanille Crocodile park, Undersea Walk, Sea Karting, Snorkelling & scuba, Nature hikes, Rum tastings, Multi-coloured earth, Curious Corner and the island’s highest waterfall at Chamarel

Upcoming events:
Festival Culinaire Bernard Loiseau (25 Mar-2 Apr)
Chamarel en fete (8 Apr)
Mauritius Tour Beachcomber – Mountain Bike Race (17-19 May)
Dodo Trail (8 July)
Mauritius Marathon (15 July)
Festival International Kreol (17-26 Nov)
Porlwi Festival of Contemporary Culture, Port Louis (Dec)

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 16 March, 2018 in Indulge, the weekend supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper.

 

Belgrade: A Serbian Sojourn

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Located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, Belgrade, the historic capital of Serbia is packed with forts, churches, quaint kafanas (coffee houses) and riverside splavs (barges), discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

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As the haunting drone of the trumpet on Izgubljeno jagnje (The Lost Lamb) played on the car stereo, our Serbian tour guide and archaeologist Luka Relič saw our spellbound faces and remarked, “I was there at Guča (Gucha) in Dragačevo district for the annual trumpet festival. It was fantastic. The audience is in the valley below as four trumpeters on four surrounding hills simultaneously play Sa Ovčara I Kablara – a nationalist song often associated with Tito. That is how the week-long trumpet festival officially begins.”

Miles Davis was right. Like him, we too ‘didn’t know you could play trumpet that way.’ The jazz legend had made this famous remark after attending the Guča Trumpet Fest, Serbia’s famous folk festival and the largest trumpet and brass band event on the planet.

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We didn’t visit during Guča but just the tunes and tales were enough to give us goosebumps! Though folk music has always been ingrained in Serbian society, their love for the trumpet took root during the rule of Prince Miloš Obrenović who ordered the formation of the first military band in 1831.

Ever since, the trumpet has played an intrinsic part of Serbian life. From births, engagements, marriages or funerals, the tunes range from lilting notes to mournful dirges or robust martial marches, as the occasion demands. That evening, we experienced live music at Skadarlija, the hip Bohemian quarter of capital Belgrade.

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Till the 1830s, gypsies squatted in the abandoned trenches opposite the ramparts of Belgrade’s fortress Kalemegdan; today it buzzes with tourists and locals who flock to its kafanas (coffee houses/taverns) and breweries. At traditional restaurants like Dva Jelena (Two Deer), local musicians play starogradska (Old Town Music).

At one end stands Belgrade’s oldest beer brewery BIP (Beogradska Industrija Piva), founded in early 19th century, though we sampled excellent craft beers at Samo Pivo (literally, Just Beer) and Serbian House of Beer.

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The main Republic Square in Belgrade is beautiful, dominated by the bronze statue of Prince Mihailo of the Obrenović dynasty, a national hero who expelled the Turks from Serbia and liberated seven cities under Turkish rule in 1867. Designed by Italian sculptor Enrico Pazzi and erected in 1882, it was the first monumental equestrian statue in Serbia. When the statue was unveiled, 101 cannons were fired and all the churches in Belgrade rang their bells.

We ambled along Knez Mihailova, described as the most beautiful pedestrian zone in southeast Europe. The walking avenue is lined with shops, hotels, souvenir stores and a lovely gallery on murals and Christian art from various monasteries across Serbia. We took a sip at Delijska ćesma, a lovely public well with drinking water that was reconstructed from old drawings and photos. Interestingly, even in India we use the word ‘chashma’ for a spring. With Turko-Persian influence in both our countries, words like damad (son-in-law), sapun (soap) and kitap (book) lent an air of familiarity.

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As we entered the Belgrade fortress, the oldest part of town, Luka explained how it had been occupied by many nations – Bulgarian, Hungarian, Austrian, Roman, Ottoman, Byzantine, German to Mongols, Goths and Huns! “And now Indians,” we remarked! “But you come in peace,” Luka defended us bravely! “That’s what you think!” we countered.

“Serbia is a friendly European country, really affordable and after we write about it, you could be dealing with hordes of Indian tourists.” We even taught Olga the octogenarian vendor at the park how to say “I love you” in Hindi (it was her idea). Imagine the shock, or delight, on the faces of avid Indian travelers to Belgrade accosted by the 80-something Olga professing her love!

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We too were in for a shock. Besides Tito postcards and souvenirs, Olga had old Serbian currency notes printed in 1993. The war in Bosnia and Croatia led to massive inflation and the government started printing extra currency and kept adding zeros in the bank notes. Soon they were worthless but were now great collectibles. “I am the richest woman in Serbia,” said Olga who has been running her mobile shop for over 62 years. “I’m so rich, I live in a huge park and go home only to sleep,” she chuckled.

The fortress and the large grounds in front are collectively called Kalemegdan, derived from the Turkish words kale (fortress) and meydan (field). Walking through the Stambol Gate, we walked to the Monument of Gratitude to France, erected for their help to Serbia in World War I. The fort’s highest point overlooks the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. When viewed from the Pannonian side from across the rivers the fortress appears white, leading to the city being called ‘Beo grad’ (White City) or Belgrade.

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Pobednik, the Victor statue stood tall on a column, built in 1928 to commemorate Serbia’s victory over Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires during the Balkan Wars and the First World War. Luka told us how the statue was originally meant to be at Terazije Square but landed at this spot as the “ladies of Belgrade were offended by the nude sculpture!”

We were lucky to witness a wedding at the Ružica (‘Little Rose’) Church inside Belgrade fortress. Besides harmonica and trumpets, it is a common practice to wield the Serbian flag at important functions. Inside the church was an ornate chandelier entirely made up of bullets! After a quick look at the Roman Well, we headed past what was one of the few remaining Islamic monuments in Belgrade – the tomb of Damad Ali Pasha, a Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire 1713-16.

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Dominating the Belgrade skyline is the Cathedral of St Sava, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world and dedicated to its founder St Sava. Currently under renovation, we saw its just completed crypt suffused with gold paintings. Josip Broz Tito’s mausoleum The House of Flowers is set in a garden full of sculptures donated to the communist statesman and former Yugoslav leader. There’s also an interesting museum with gifts from across the world given to Tito during his long tenure, besides relay torches with touching messages on scrolls.

Belgrade is packed with museums. The fascinating Nikola Tesla Museum, founded in 1952, preserves 160,000 original documents and 5,700 personal items of the famous inventor and physicist after whom the Tesla unit and Belgrade’s airport are named. Time your visit to catch the short film and science demonstration at the top of every hour. Founded in 1844, the National Museum is scheduled to reopen in 2018.

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Luka told us how a filming crew from a UK TV show, visiting the museum saw the signs in the local Cyrillic script and remarked ‘They could be keeping aliens and we wouldn’t know’. Set up in 1958 and renovated last year, the Museum of Contemporary Art was the first contemporary art museum in Europe and has a massive collection of 35,000 works ranging from Roy Lichtenstein to Andy Warhol.

One of the city’s unique aspects are its kafanas (café/tavern) and the oldest one in Belgrade is the enigmatic ‘?’ or Znak pitanja (Question Mark). Though it changed many hands and was known by different avatars, in 1892 the tavern’s new owner wanted to change the name to Kod Saborne crkve (By the Saborna Church), a move opposed by the Serbian Orthodox church. The owner temporarily put a question mark on the door, which became its identity and remains so till date. Thankfully, there were no people of questionable intent!

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Famous Serbian linguist Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, who created the Cyrillic alphabet frequented the kafana in the early 1830s. We enjoyed our thick strong coffee served in quaint cups on low carved tables and dropped by at the Cathedral Church of St. Michael the Archangel next door. Here, Vuk lies buried in front of the main entrance, making peace between the kafana and the church, alongside Serbian kings and princes.

After an ethnic feast at Zavicaj restaurant, we were off to experience Belgrade’s legendary nightlife at its many clubs and splavs (party barges) moored on the banks of the Sava and Danube Rivers. The longest stretch of the mighty river is in Serbia and we enjoyed a boat cruise from the old town of Zemun taking in the bright lights of the city. Belgrade was truly a grade above.

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade is reachable from India via Moscow or Istanbul. Zlatibor is 213 km away with Sirogojno nearby.

Where to Stay
Metropol Palace
Bulevar Kralja Aleksandra 69, Belgrade
Ph +381 11 3333100
http://www.metropolpalace.com

Hotel Moskva
Terazije 20, Belgrade
Ph +381 113642069
http://www.hotelmoskva.rs

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Where to Eat

Dva Jelena
Skadarska, Belgrade
Ph +381 11 7234885
http://www.dvajelena.rs

Zavičaj Ethno Restaurant
Gavrila Principa 77, Belgrade
Ph +381 63 369670

Šaran Seafood Restaurant
Kej Oslobođenja 53, Beograd
Ph +381 69 2618235
http://www.saran.co.rs/en/

Kafana Question Mark
Kralja Petra 6, Beograd
Ph +381 11 2635421

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Local tours
Balkan Adriatic DMC
Parmak Zoran
Ph +381 11 3625036
http://www.balkan-adriatic.com

Tour Guide: Luka Relic
Ph +381 65 9890305
relic.luka@gmail.com

For more info, visit http://www.serbia.travel

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the February issue of JetWings, the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways.

 

 

 

The Writing’s on the Wall: Street Art Tours

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Move over London, New York and Berlin, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore the new urban trend of street art tours at cool quarters around the globe

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In India, a man standing near a wall means only two things. He’s either sticking a poster (despite the ‘Stick No Bills’ sign) or perhaps creating ‘public nuisance’, ignoring messages like ‘Jo peshab kar raha hai wo gadha hai’ (The one urinating is an ass). Even printed tiles of gods are not enough to dissuade non-believers, who often gouge out their divine eyes before going about their business without the guilt of ‘being seen’. But elsewhere, the idea of spraying on a gritty urban wall is a lot more beautiful and aesthetic.

For the longest time, graffiti was a form of social protest and expression, done on the sly, cocking a snoot at authorities. The aerosol can became the new weapon of choice as street gangs emanating from the hip hop culture marked their territories. Street art became synonymous with dissent, as staid subways and derelict public spaces were reclaimed as hipster haunts. Today, street art has transcended into a powerful form of cultural expression that mixes socio-political commentary, folklore and mythology, vitriol and humour, personalities and quirky art. Yet, there’s a fine line of illegality between graffiti and street art as the latter is often commissioned.

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At 18, legendary British graffiti artist Banksy had a life-changing moment. While spray-painting a train with his Bristol gang, the British Transport Police landed up and everyone ran helter-skelter. His mates made it to the car but Banksy had to hide under a dumper truck. As he lay there, engine oil leaking all over him, he figured he had to shorten his painting time to beat the law or give it up completely. The stenciled plate under the fuel tank was the inspiration behind his signature style! He says, “All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars. This is the first time the essentially bourgeois world of art has belonged to the people.”

Banksy’s first prominent wall mural was The Mild Mild West in 1997 depicting a teddy bear lobbing a Molotov cocktail at three riot police. He turned the idea on its head when he showed a masked street protestor lobbing a bouquet instead of a bomb. Today, his art sells for millions and can be found everywhere from Paris, Barcelona, Vienna to the Gaza Strip. Street Art Tours are the latest city trend, a showcase of cutting edge art and the seamy urban underbelly of offbeat and parallel sub-cultures. Beyond the usual haunts like Brick Lane in London, New York and Berlin, there are other exciting destinations for your graffiti tour.

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Israel has a buzzing local street art scene, which got a shot in the arm in the early 2000s thanks to Banksy’s visit to Israel and Palestine. While graffiti is illegal in Israel, it’s everywhere in Tel Aviv. The local municipality turns a blind eye to it, especially in Florentin in the south of town. We trawled the street art hotspots of Elifelet Street, HaMehoga Street, 3361 Street and Hanagarim Street. Much of the graffiti is painted on doors and gates of various establishments, better explored in the afternoon, when the shutters are down and artworks can be seen fully. Local graffiti artist Doiz offers 3hr street art tours in Florentin on Tuesdays.

While most graffiti artists remain anonymous, their signatures or themes are recognizable. Tel Aviv artist Sened is known for kufsonim (mini-boxes) or abstract cube characters developed from ready-made stencils. Know Hope’s works have a little pigeon as a visual cue, ID (Imaginary Duck) has tiny duck figures while DEDE’s art features black and white squirrels, cats and Band-Aids, symbolizing both wounds and healing. Michal Rubin who signs her works as MR does colourful animal figures that look like stained glass paintings.

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Broken Fingaz Crew, Israel’s best-known graffiti collective have taken their pop-art murals beyond the clubs of Haifa to Europe, North America and Asia. Since 2013, the walls of the 7th floor of Tel Aviv’s central bus station have been spray-painted by more than 160 street artists from Israel and across the globe. All over the city, you can find ‘035’ sprayed on walls and garage doors by former soldiers of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) emblazoning their army unit number!

In Singapore, the local street art scene first emerged in the old Arab quarter of Kampong Glam in the hipster Haji Lane, Victoria Street and Aliwal Street. Tourists flock to the colourful bylanes for selfies. At the Art Precinct of Bugis-Bras Basah, a low wall next to Peranakan Museum on Armenian Street is emblazoned with art commissioned by the National Heritage Board to celebrate their 20th anniversary.

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Nearby, an independent arts enclave The Substation has funky graffiti all over. Bras Basah Complex features ‘Rainbows’, part of a larger street art initiative called ‘50 Bridges’ by the Australian Commission of Singapore. It celebrated Singapore’s 50th year of independence with 50 pieces of street art across the island. Wherever you go – sidewalks, subways or pedestrian pathways at Clarke Quay – there’s art at every footstep.

Though graffiti is banned in Dubai, the modern Arab nation is a little more indulgent when it comes to street art. As part of ‘Dubai Walls’, the first outdoor urban art show in the United Arab Emirates, world famous street artists were invited in 2016 to create street art at the posh retail promenade City Walk. There’s Nick Walker’s iconic ‘I love DXB’, Belgian artist ROA known for his animal depictions, ICY and Sot, Iranian refugee stencil artists currently based in Brooklyn and Japanese artist AIKO. The spectacular wall etching of a bedouin by Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto or ‘Vhils’ is part of his series ‘Scratching the Surface’!

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UK-based artist Stuart Pantoll aka Slinkachu, infamous for ‘abandoning miniatures since 2006’ had set up scenes across City Walk using toy figurines as part of his ‘Little People Project’. In ‘Under the Stars’ burnt matchsticks doubled up as firewood while a spilt glass of milkshake created ‘Oasis.’ On closer inspection, ‘Shifting Sands’, a pile of sand near a mop features a caravan of camels while a lady in a hijab carries shopping bags with a trail of actual designer tags!

Down Under, Melbourne teems with graffiti. After someone put up a framed artwork and stuck it to the wall in 2007 at Presgrave Street off Howery Place, the alley became a bit of an artists’ shrine. Walkers are bemused by the strange arrangements, curious collections of plastic dolls, installations of rats with parachutes, 3D graffiti to a miniature Mona Lisa with three plastic soldiers pointing guns at her. Melbourne has its own Banksy – except he’s called Kranky! In 2008, Union Lane, a tiny alley between David Jones and the Book Building was given to local street artists as a graffiti mentoring project. Every alley in Melbourne’s CBD (Central Business District) is suffused with art.

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A small bylane running off Flinders Lane between Exhibition Street and Russell Street holds another gem. The stuffy sounding Corporation Lane was officially renamed after Australian rock band AC/DC on 1 October 2004 by a unanimous vote of the Melbourne City Council. Melbourne’s Lord Mayor John So launched ACDC Lane with the words, “As the song says, there is a highway to hell, but this is a laneway to heaven. Let us rock.”

Bagpipers played ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)’ whose video was filmed one lane away at Swanston Street. The trademark lightning bolt or slash between ‘AC’ and ‘DC’ in the band’s name went against the naming policy of the Office of the Registrar of Geographic Names, so the punctuation was omitted. A month later, local artist Knifeyard painted the lightning bolt above and below the street sign!

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Even in rainy and windy Copenhagen where the sky and mood may scream grey, you will find explosions of colour on street walls and homes. They even have a legal wall for graffiti artists! Districts like Nørrebro, once gloomy and gritty haunts are now hipster areas with an eclectic multi-national air besides the bohemian art-infused district of Christiania.

Celebrating Nørrebro’s cultural diversty is Superkillen, an award-winning urban design park. The Red Square swoops up into a skateboarding ramp while the Black Square incorporates unusual objects – an octopus shaped slide from Japan, benches from Brazil, litterbins from the UK and random advertising signs of Chinese beauty salons and Russian hotels. The red mural of Chilean president Salvador Allende, by famous street artist Shepard Fairey stands out.

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They say if the walls of a city could talk, Belfast would narrate the most colourful stories. Tracing the Belfast Murals could turn your visit into a guided tour of the most significant moments in Northern Ireland’s history and culture – the Potato Famine, the Industrial Revolution and sinking of the Titanic. During the Troubles, thousands of landless Irish who were mainly Catholic flocked in who were building the mills and factory workers houses, settled here in what is called The Falls Road today and the area around The Diamond. Political paintings bore faces and flags representing the Irish Republican tradition. This area of Belfast became quite polarized with one side being nearly all-Catholic and pro-Irish, while the other more Protestant and pro-British.

Crossing over to the other side, we saw pro-British depictions on Shankill Road with the Peace Lines separating the two. An International Wall depicted uprisings across the world. At the Peace Wall hundreds of messages on love and peace were splattered and scrawled – ‘Together we are better’, ‘And she whispered words of wisdom’ from the Beatles song “Let it Be” and ‘I hope to come back when there are no walls to write on.’ One German visitor wrote “Where I come from in Berlin, peace walls mean division”.

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Another fabulous area in Belfast for street art is the Cathedral Quarter. We walked down ‘radical streets’ towards The Muddlers Club, a pub and restaurant that’s virtually an institution, named after the Belfast members of society who met here in secrecy to conspire against British rule 200 years ago! Interestingly, this part of Belfast also provides a perfect contrast to the Troubles Murals and presents an alternative narrative.

All along we came across stunning artworks, contemporary styles and genres, personalities ranging from musicians to sport stars and literary geniuses to cartoons and optical illusions. Take a guided 2-hour Street Art Tour around this area and you will not be disappointed. However, a grand redevelopment plan of the Cathedral Quarter threatens these artworks, which has the local community up in arms.

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In Lima, Peru, the streets of bohemian Barranco, an art district is a treasure trove of urban art. Birdman, a riveting piece by Jonathan Rivera ‘Jade’ was the winning entry for Las Paredes Hablan or ‘The Walls Speak’ contest organized by the municipality on the theme ‘Barranco: History, Culture, Tradition’. It’s home to Lima’s best artists, writers, photographers and musicians.

Imagine their shock when in 2015, the Mayor of Lima, Castaneda Lossio decided to cover all of Lima’s street art with yellow paint as it was his political colour. Sixty murals were destroyed and the angry artistic community decided to revolt. They formed a collective and organized ‘muraliza el barrio’ a street art festival claiming ‘They erased one, we will paint a thousand’. The rebellion has just begun…

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the cover story on 4 Feb, 2018 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

Dubai: In a new light

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ANURAG MALLICK seeks out new experiences in Dubai, a dynamic city that keeps reinventing itself

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So you think you’ve done it all – been ‘At the Top’ of Burj Khalifa, shopped at DSF and Dubai Mall, trawled the gold and spice souks, done a dhow dinner cruise, hopped across Dubai Creek in an abra (local water taxi), gone dune bashing and sightseeing on a SeaWings aerial tour, had your belly full with belly dances and the tanoura, maybe even gone skydiving – and you wonder if there’s anything new in Dubai to explore. Dubai is not a city that rests easy on its laurels. It is restive, always striving to improve or notch a new record. No sooner have you turned your back and come visiting again, there’s something new to surprise you…

Strolling down Dubai’s City Walk lined with designer stores and restaurants, you might mistake it for a European capital. The first phase of the urban living concept by Meraas tantalizes visitors with funky street art. As part of ‘Dubai Walls’, the first outdoor urban art show in UAE, globally renowned street artists were invited in 2016 to create street art in Dubai’s urban landscape. Despite being a modern country, graffiti is banned here, so this was indeed an evolutionary leap.

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I was blown away by the path breaking wall etching of a bedouin carved by Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto or ‘Vhils’, part of his series ‘Scratching the Surface’! UK-based artist Stuart Pantoll aka Slinkachu, infamous for ‘abandoning miniatures since 2006’ had set up scenes across City Walk using toy figurines as part of his ‘Little People Project’. ‘Shifting Sands’, a pile of sand had a caravan of camels, in ‘Under the Stars’ burnt matchsticks doubled up as firewood while a spilt glass of milkshake created ‘Oasis.’

Nearby is The Green Planet, Dubai’s first indoor tropical rainforest and the first biodome of its kind in the Middle East, launched in September 2016. The unique expedition of over 3000 plants and animals is conceptualized around the world’s largest man-made indoor tree – a giant kapok mimicking a highrise forest. Take the elevator to the fourth floor and walk down a ramp, leisurely exploring exhibits on each floor.

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Well informed naturalists guide you through various habitats – Butterfly Balcony, Canopy Tree House, Forest Cascade Trail and Flooded Forest Tunnel as visitors are encouraged to touch snakes and Talk with Biologists. From creepy crawlies like Goliath Bird-eating Tarantula to rare reptiles like Madagascar Day Gecko, Green Basilisk and Rainbow Boas, the cacophony of birds from 51 species will make you feel you’re in an Amazon jungle. The highlight is a two-toed sloth named Liam John Barker – inspired by a young boy with a passion for animals.

As the temperature lowers, all the action turns outdoor. Dubai’s brand new attraction is Ripe Market organized every Friday at Zabeel Park, where organic and boutique lifestyle products vie for your attention in a flea market-meets-carnival atmosphere amid grassy lawns and palm trees festooned with flags and streamers. One section is dedicated to an organic farmers market with fresh produce that reaches farm to fork within 48 hrs, and products like Olive Grove pickles, The Salad Jar and vegan hand-formed Field Burgers made of barley, carrots and celery!

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Another section has apparel, trinkets and funky stuff like Mango Beat natural amplifiers made of mango wood and Wild Wood eco-friendly designer sunglasses. Food stalls sold everything from biryanis to bagels, even Black Rose charcoal activated ice-cream at Carli’s Chimneys!

Dubai really enjoys its food and Ewaan at Palace Downtown is the perfect place to try out lavish buffets of Arabic dishes, finger foods like meat kebbeh, falafel, tahina, fattoush salad, large platters of lamb juzi and fish sayadieh (like biryani), Arabic grills of seafood and meat, Moroccan tea and Turkish coffee, besides olives and dates. Try lesser-known treats like Qamar Al Deen (juice from dried apricot paste) and desserts like baklava, borma, mafroukeh, chaibeyat and Um Ali (creamy bread pudding with stuffed baklava). On weekends, they have special Arabian dance performances and live counters of logmat (Arabic sweet).

One & Only Royal Mirage Eauzone IMG_1821

Even though there are no Michelin star restaurants in Dubai, several Michelin-star chefs run fine-dine restaurants here. In March 2017, Dubai had its first ever pop-up restaurant for world-renowned Indian chef Gaggan Anand at the opulent Celebrities restaurant at One&Only Royal Mirage. Overlooking the Palm Island Bay with a 1km private beach, South African magnate Sol Kersner’s luxurious resort is spread over 65 acres and is a complex of three hotels – The Palace, Arabian Court and Residence & Spa. Its Grand Gallery has seven domes with colours of the mosaic patterns on the floor representing different hues of sand of the seven emirates.

The sculpture of Seven Bedouins astride camels retells the tale of their desert journey from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. As per folklore, they were caught in a sand storm and got lost when a palace appeared before them, where they rested, feasted and were entertained, and as suddenly, it disappeared. They realized it was a mirage and this palatial resort was imagined as that ‘Royal Mirage.’

One & Only Royal Mirage bedouin sculpture IMG_1878

It was as much a museum and art gallery with an award-winning traditional oriental Hammam and eight themed restaurants (from French to the Moroccan Tajine). We headed to Eauzone, a modern restaurant with an Asian twist for some delectable seafood like hammour with tamarind sauce. “We have guests proposing on the beach, dinner under the stars in a private gazebo or helicopter rides for birthdays and anniversaries,” said Elizaveta, the PR co-ordinator. “Nothing is impossible in Dubai!”

If Mall of the Emirates has ski slopes and snow adventures at Ski Dubai, Dubai Mall has a 150 million year old dinosaur. We retired to our hotel Four Points by Sheraton on Sheikh Zayed Road for a terrific 360-degree night view of the cityscape and traffic on the arterial road from the rooftop Level 43 Sky Lounge.

View of Sheikh Zayed Road from Level 43 Sky Lounge IMG_1574

The restaurant also has an art gallery. Being centrally located, it had free shuttles to the beach and was well placed to attractions like City Walk and Dubai Mall. Their other branch in Bur Dubai is close to Dubai Museum, Meena Bazaar and the old Al Fahidi historical precinct also known as Bastakiya.

Dubai Mall saw 85 million visitors last year. Not content with footfalls, it created the world’s largest video wall as advertising space to catch eyeballs! The Underwater Zoo and Aquarium offers experiences that are truly immersive – from shark encounters to feeding frenzies of giant trevally and sharks. We took a backroom tour to see how they prepare fish food and take care of the 10 million liter tank with 23,000 fish and 300 species.

Dubai Aquarium tour IMG_1429

The city’s hot new attraction is Dubai Parks & Resorts, a vast complex of entertainment parks located far south just short of Abu Dhabi. It had by far the largest parking lot I have ever seen. The best way to negotiate it is a VIP tour so you skip the cues, get your own tour guide who plans out your rides with a buggy drop to your vehicle.

We started from Motion Gate and its 5 theme zones – Studio Central, styled like 1920s New York with old Hollywood songs blaring, Smurf’s Village, Dreamworks, Colombia Pictures and Lion’s Gate, which opened in October 2017, with a Hunger Games hovercraft simulator. Each zone has its own rides, roller coasters, simulators, F&B outlets and retail shops.

Bollywood Park IMG_2258

There’s a separate Legoland water park for kids between 2-12 and Riverland. At Bollywood Parks Dubai, the world’s first Bollywood theme park, chase Don down the streets of Dubai in ‘Don: The Chase’ or try the Krrish flight simulator and Ra:One 4D in the Hall of Heroes. The largest zone Rustic Ravine has faux mud floors, lanterns and a rural setting for a Sholay interactive dark ride, a Dabangg live show and a Lagaan roller coaster simulator!

Costumed dancers burst into live performances at Bollywood Boulevard while the Royal Plaza serves as an event space with Broadway style theatrical Jaan-e-Jigar staged at Rajmahal Theatre. FYI, Mughal-e-Aazam fine dine restaurant is the only establishment that serves alcohol. You could even reshoot epic sequences of skydiving, bull racing and Tomatina from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, with yourself in it! Indeed, in Dubai, everything is possible…

Dubai Parks & Resorts IMG_2184

FACT FILE

Getting there
Direct flights from India to Dubai take 3-4 hrs. National carrier Emirates has the world’s biggest fleets of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s. www.emirates.com

When to visit
Nov-Mar is ideal with events all year round – Dubai Shopping Festival (Jan), Dubai Food Festival (Feb-Mar), Al Marmoom Heritage Festival and camel race (April), Al Gaffal Dhow Race (May), Ramadan/Eid (June), Dubai Summer Surprises (July-Sep).

Where to Stay

Four Points by Sheraton
Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai
Ph +971 4 3230333
http://www.fourpointssheikhzayedroad.com

One & Only Royal Mirage
Ph +971 4 399 9999
http://www.oneandonlyresorts.com

Four Points by Sheraton Bur Dubai
Khalid Bin Walid Street
Ph +971 4 397 7444
http://www.fourpointsburdubai.com

Anantara The Palm Dubai
Palm Jumeirah
Ph +971 4 567 8888
http://www.dubai-palm.anantara.com

The Green Planet IMG_1724

Things to Do

The Green Planet
City Walk, Al Wasl and Al Safa road junction
Ph +971 4 317 3999
http://www.thegreenplanetdubai.com/en
Entry Adults AED 95, Kids AED 70

Dubai Parks & Resorts
Sheikh Zayed Rd, Opp Palm Jebel Ali
Ph +971 4 820 0000
http://www.dubaiparksandresorts.com
Entry MotionGate AED 235, VIP AED 595, 11am-10pm

Bollywood Parks Dubai
Ph +971 800 2629464
http://www.bollywoodparksdubai.com
Entry Q-Fast AED 100 onwards, 4pm-12

Ripe Organic Food & Craft Market
Fri: 9am-4pm, Zabeel Park, Gate 2
Sat: 9am-3pm, Times Square Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road
Sat: 12pm-9pm, Al Barsha Pond Park
Ph +971 4 315 7000, 380 7602
http://www.ripeme.com

Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
Ground & Level 2, The Dubai Mall
Ph +971 4 448 5200
http://www.thedubaiaquarium.com

Ski Dubai
Mall of the Emirates
Ph +971 44094000
http://www.malloftheemirates.com

For more info, visit www.dubaicalendar.ae, www.visitdubai.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the January 2018 issue of JetWings magazine.