Category Archives: Beyond India

Jaffa: Peeling the Big Orange

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Tel Aviv’s twin city Jaffa or Yafo is not just its oldest part dotted with historic relics; it is also its hippest quarter with cool cafes, boutiques and vibrant nightlife, discovers ANURAG MALLICK on a trip to Israel

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Listening to English cricket commentary on TV, I always wondered about the origin of the phrase “He has bowled a Jaffa”. It was a trip to Israel that finally cleared the mystery! But what in the world does an unplayable delivery have to do with a port town in a country that’s not a cricket-playing nation? The answer, is oranges…

Like the historic city it comes from, Jaffa’s famed fruit is a culmination of cultures – developed by Palestinian farmers from a Chinese strain brought by the Portuguese! Locally known as Shamouti, it evolved in mid-19th century from the sweet orange, introduced from China to the Mediterranean by Vasco da Gama in 1498. Unlike ordinary oranges, the Jaffa orange is sweet, practically seedless, with a thick skin that made it perfect for export. As crates of the fruit were shipped to Europe, Jaffa became synonymous with oranges. But what’s the cricket connection?

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After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, the British were stationed in Ottoman Syria to administer undivided Palestine. During the Mandate that lasted till 1948, the cricket-crazy British were based in Jaffa where they picked up the orange reference. Theory goes, if the line and length of a delivery was good, then even if the bowler had bowled a Jaffa (orange) it would have beaten the batsman. By the 1960s, Jaffa oranges became Israel’s emblem. If New York is the Big Apple, Old Jaffa is nicknamed Big Orange.

Jaffa (Yafo in Hebrew) is not just the oldest part of Tel Aviv; it is older than history itself. Supposedly named after Noah’s son Japheth who founded the settlement after the Great Flood, Jaffa is linked with the biblical stories of Jonah, Solomon and Saint Peter. Long before the Bible was written, a fishing village existed at this spot.

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Straddling the crossroads of religion, culture, commerce and politics, it is the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity. In Greek mythology, Andromeda was chained to a rocky outcrop near Jaffa’s harbour as a sacrifice to appease the sea god Poseidon before being rescued by Perseus. It is called Andromeda Rocks in her memory.

Jaffa’s history is like a flipbook through the greatest empires of the world and legendary conquerors, from Ramses, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Herod and Saladin to Napoleon. Every civilization worth its sea salt colonized the region’s sole port – ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantine, Ottomans and the Arabs. Jaffa survived everything from the Crusades, two World Wars and British intervention!

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Savouring spectacular coastal views from Hapisga Garden, we walked up Jaffa Hill, which has yielded archeological finds dating back to 3500 years. One of the monumental gates discovered here dates to 13th century BC when Jaffa was an Egyptian garrison under Ramses II. An older gate found underneath was destroyed during the conquest of Jaffa; an event retold at the Visitor Centre in Qedumim Square. The cast iron cannons were imported in early 18th century by the Ottomans to protect Jaffa from Bedouin raids by land and pirate attacks by sea.

Parts of the Old City have been renovated and the suburb is crammed with restored stone buildings, art galleries, souvenir shops, hip restaurants and sidewalk cafes. The Zodiac alleys are a maze of lanes leading to the harbour where the British-built Jaffa Lighthouse stands defunct. Overlooking the seafront, the minaret of Al-Bahr (Sea) Mosque, depicted in a 1675 painting by Dutch painter Lebrun, is Jaffa’s oldest existing mosque. According to folklore, the wives of local sailors and fishermen prayed here for their safe return.

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Located on the collision course of history, Jaffa has seen monuments built by one pulled down by the other and rebuilt or repurposed by yet another. St. Peter’s Church, a Franciscan Roman-Catholic basilica and hospice built in 1654 on the remains of a Crusader fortress, commemorates St Peter, who brought the disciple Tabitha back from the dead. On his 1799 military campaign of the Middle East, Napoleon Bonaparte stayed here during the siege of Jaffa.

The Jaffa Museum of Antiquities is located in an 18th century Ottoman building constructed on the remains of another Crusader fortress. Beit Zunana, an old mansion named after an 18th century Jewish landlord, was revamped into a hotel and later converted into a Libyan Synagogue. Famed Israeli artist Ilana Goor restored a 270-year-old building into a unique museum brimming with artefacts and antique vessels; its sculpture garden on the terrace offers terrific sea views. The Market House Hotel’s glass-floored lobby reveals the fascinating archeological ruins of a Byzantine Chapel below.

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Thanks to 400 years of Ottoman rule (1515-1917), several monuments are of Turkish origin. The majestic clock tower built in 1906 to honor Sultan Abdul Hamid II marks the city’s northern entrance. Mahmoudiya Mosque, the largest in Jaffa, was built by Abu Nabbut, Governor of Jaffa (1810-1820) and has a charming sabil (water fountain) for pilgrims. The Saraya (Turkish Governor’s Palace) built for Mohammed Agha in the 1890s was used as a post office and jail before becoming a soap factory. The New Saraya inaugurated in 1897 was bombed and only the facade and Romanesque columns survive.

Yet, for all the histories that Jaffa holds, it lies on the cutting edge of art and design. Walls are awash with street art while charming nooks have quirky boutiques and cafés. The best place to experience Jaffa’s bohemian flair is Shuk HaPishpeshim or Jaffa Flea Market. By evening, tables and chairs dot the pavements, transforming the whole area into a vibrant outdoor dining space. The stylish Puaa restaurant has furniture sourced from the flea market and every item is for sale!

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Despite the clash of civilizations, one thing that unifies everybody is food. Locals throng Abu Hassan for creamy hummus and msabbaha (hummus with chickpeas). Legendary sweet shop Abouelafia dishes out bourekas (stuffed pastries) proudly sporting ‘Abouelafia’s Co-existence Association’ t-shirts ‘Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies’.

Strolling down Jaffa’s cobbled pathways, I came across Ran Morin’s enigmatic sculpture ‘Oranger Suspendu’ where an orange tree grew out of an artificial stone suspended by steel wires. The Hovering Orange Tree is seen not just a metaphor for Israel’s prosperity, but the fate of its people, hanging between heaven and earth.

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FACT FILE

Getting there
The national carrier El Al flies direct from Mumbai to Tel Aviv-Yafo in 8 hrs while Air India takes 7hr 15 min from Delhi. Turkish Airlines flies via Istanbul and Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa.

Stay
Market House Hotel www.atlas.co.il
Margosa Hotel www.margosa-hotel.com
Old Jaffa Hostel www.telaviv-hostel.com

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Eat
Café Puaa
Bourekas and sweets at Abouelafia Bakery
Hummus at Abu Hassan/Ali Karawan
The Old Man and the Sea
Aladin Restaurant

Local guide
Ofer Moghadam Tours
Ph +972 587833799
www.ofermog.com

For more info, visit http://www.goisrael.in/

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 14 July 2018 in HT City Cafe, the supplement of Hindustan Times newspaper.  

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Germany’s Christmas Markets

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore the Christmas markets of Germany, counted amonthe oldest in the world 

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Christmas is the most awaited season for millions around the globe but Germany turns into a winter wonderland with its ancient Advent traditions and Christmas Markets dating back to 1393. Each city and town reinterprets the traditional Advent Calendar, opening up surprises and treats each day. The unique calendar created in 1851, is symbolic of the 24 days prior to Christmas, with each date or window highlighting a stunning artwork or special treat as a countdown to Christmas. Homes, shops and restaurants come alive with 3-D designs.

“Christmas markets are a lovely ancient tradition,” said our guide Jens Becker in Wernigerode, a quaint medieval town high up in the Harz region, 2½ hours from Hannover. With painted half-timbered houses and the spectacular 15th century RatHaus (Town Hall) in the cobbled Marktplaz, it’s at its loveliest in the festive weeks running up to Christmas with a 10m tall Christmas tree. One of the most spectacular Christmas Markets in the region, the Mayor cuts the gigantic stollen (cake) and declares the market open. Wernigerode is known for a special kartoffelklösse (potato dumpling).

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Local craftsmen and artists set up stalls around the Townhall and Nicolaiplatz to showcase their splendid offerings in wood, glass, wool and ceramic, besides incense burners, nutcrackers, painted sun-catchers, knitwear, stone sculptures, nativity scenes, stars and bells in every shape and size. The stunning 12th Century castle forms the perfect backdrop to the weeklong Castle Wernigerode Winter Market. There’s fairy visits, Nikolaus distributing gifts in the inner courtyard, a children’s train and a special Christmas train that chugs through the snow-covered landscape to Brocken.

Dresden is a beautiful city famous for its 600-year-old Christmas markets,” Becker continued excitedly. “I was there for the 579th market. They make amazing pastries and pies like Dresdner handbrot and have bakeries where children make their own confections. They also have the best mulled wine.” Dresden has a dozen Christmas Markets, each with a different theme or tradition. Striezelmarkt dates back to 1434 and is counted among the oldest in Germany. Its name derives from hefestriezel, a sweet delicacy better known as “Dresden Christstollen” (German Christmas Cake). The highlight is the world’s tallest Christmas pyramid and biggest nutcracker.

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The Christmas market at Leipzig dates back to 1767 and is among the largest and most beautiful in Germany, with a fairytale forest, a medieval market and the world’s largest freestanding Advent calendar. The traditional St Nicholas Christmas market surrounding the Old City Hall in Cologne offers travellers a taste of hot gluhwein or traditional mulled wine and reibekuchen (fried potato pancake with apple sauce) near Cologne Cathedral. At the Elves Christmas market, zip around in the specially created ice-skating rink, enjoy German beer or bite into a hearty bratwurst (sausage). At Rudolfplatz, step into a magical world at the Fairytale Market.

Bustling Berlin turns into a dreamland, ushering in the festive spirit with its sixty odd Christmas markets, besides concerts, performances and shopping bonanzas. With the tunning Gendarmenmarkt Square amplifying the beauty of the WeihnachtsZauber market, Berlin is one of the biggest Christmas party destinations in East Germany. In Hamburg, the Christmas market at the Rathaus sees days and nights of endless merrymaking with food ranging from hearty meats to crepes, seafood and cinnamon rolls. Every Saturday Christmas-themed parades and circus performers enliven the main market during season.

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Munich sparkles with its 14th century Nicholaus market at Marienplatz with Nativity scenes showcased at the Kripperlmarkt. Every day at 5.30 pm at Christkindlmarkt, traditional Christmas music from the balcony of the Town Hall greets revelers while in Frankfurt, trumpets blaring from the St Nicholas Church balcony herald the festivities. Stuttgart’s Weihnachtsmarkt is counted among the oldest and largest in Europe and each of the 300 decorated stalls vie for the coveted ‘most beautiful stall’ award. Another beautiful Christmas market is Heidelberg, an old city snuggled amidst hills and forests with a gorgeous view of the River Neckar from its castle.

Between the North Sea and the Harz mountains, experience a range of Christmas themes and settings. Emden has the only floating Christmas market in the freezing north while Wilhelmshaven turns into a romantic beach setting with splendid views of the winter sea. Osnabruck woos visitors to see its massive 6m high Nutcracker figure while the Oldenburg Lambertimarkt transforms into a gigantic Advent Calendar. In Stade near Hamburg, Santa’s helper Lucia, the Swedish Queen of Light wears a wreath of candles. In Bremen, Weinachtsmarkt whips up wonderful white mulled wine while newer Christmas markets showcase pirate ships, music concerts and niche artisan products by the River Weser with wellness and vegan fare at Findorffer’s Winterdorf.

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Nuremberg’s famous Christkindlesmarkt entertains over two million visitors in December alone. These Bavarian markets lined with neat stalls dressed with signature red-and-white awnings, sell handicrafts, candles, whiskered smoker dolls, handmade muppets and soft toys, music boxes and porcelain. Dig into delicious gingerbread, juicy Nuremberger sausages, iced lebkuchen and the yummy zwetcshgenmännle or ‘Nuremberg Plum People’– doll-shaped treats made of plums.

On the streets, you cannot escape the warm scent of roasting almonds and chestnuts. With carols in the air and shimmering streams of light raining down old timbered homes, with towns dusted with snow and silvery tinsel, soaring Christmas trees gleaming like towers of light, elves and angels gracing the streets and shop windows, you almost see Nicholaus and his reindeer dancing through the skies to drop gifts down every chimney hole, as you are wrapped in the magical realm of Germany’s Christmas markets.

Authors: This article appeared on 24 December 2017 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

 

Adrift on the Danube: Sketches of Serbia

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A former settlement of gypsies turned into a hip bohemian quarters, a pottery village, an Ethno Park, vineyards, lavish spreads against an idyllic countryside and a gorgeous sunset cruise, ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY experience the best that Serbia has to offer

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“Going to Serbia? Must be cold!” remarked a well-meaning friend. “No, that’s Siberia! This is Serbia. Novak Djokovic… Ana Ivanovic… Jelena Janković… Serbia?” we shot back. Until recently, our knowledge of all things Serbian was limited to its most famous tennis personalities. But thanks to the Serbian government’s visa waiver scheme launched in September 2017, we were among its first beneficiaries and got to know the Southeast European country a little better.

Of course, we knew Tito. We have a Josip Broz Tito Marg in Delhi, named after the Yugoslav communist statesman and founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement along with Nehru, Nasser and Sukarno. Even back then, Yugoslavia had a liberal travel policy that allowed foreigners to freely explore the country and its citizens to travel worldwide.

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Despite Marshal Tito’s efforts, in 1991 a decade after his death, the unified country of jugo-slavia or ‘southern Slavic’ ethnic states splintered into Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and the autonomous regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina.

We flew in via Moscow to the capital Belgrade and landed at Nikola Tesla airport, named after another famous son – the noted physicist and inventor. The quirky baggage carousel emerged from the boot of FIAT cars installed in the wall with the poster ‘Welcome to Belgrade, FIAT – Proudly made in Serbia.’

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“So how’s Slobodan Milosevic?” we asked our driver as a conversation starter. Met with a frosty stare, we knew we didn’t mean the controversial president. “The tennis player…?” “Oh, that’s Slobodan Živojinović! You know ‘Boba’ eh?” he said with renewed respect. “He’s retired now. All our names end with -ić (ich). Can be confusing.” He switched tracks on the car audio and a lady’s wailing voice greeted us. “That’s his wife – Serbian pop singer Lepa Brena.” He sighed and shrugged, as if it explained everything.

That evening, we walked down Belgrade’s buzzing pedestrian street Knez Mihailova, named after national hero Prince Mihailo, who expelled the Turks from the country. His bronze statue astride a horse dominates Republic Square. On the far end, Skadarlija was once a settlement of Gypsies in the abandoned trenches opposite the ramparts of Belgrade’s fortress Kalemegdan.

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Today, it’s a hip Bohemian quarter full of kafanas (coffee houses), breweries and traditional restaurants like Dva Jelena, where musicians play starogradska (Old Town Music). Over coffee, we sat with Alex from Balkan Adriatic, to tailor our Serbia itinerary. We set off early morning for Zlatibor in western Serbia, stopping at a bakery for some börek (baked filled pastries), the most popular Serbian breakfast, paired with yoghurt.

The signboards whizzed by as we tried to read them, in vain. It looked uncannily like the restaurant signs one finds in Goa these days… “Is it Russian?” we enquired. “No, it’s Cyrillic”, said Alex. “H is N, П is P, P is R, C is S, 3 is Z!” The script seemed as if the Underground was sending coded messages (‘Ha! Read this, Herr Goebbels’) or perhaps someone had too much rakija (local plum brandy) and jumbled up the letters. One thing was clear – mastering Cyrillic wasn’t happening on this trip.

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Driving past stunning lakes, forests and monasteries at Ovčar-Kablar Gorge, we reached the pottery village of Zlakusa. Mixing powdered flintstones with local clay, potters slowly turn the wheel by hand to create masterpieces. Seventeen local families have been practicing this art for generations. Each piece had two seals – the letter ‘3’ or Z to denote the village Zlakusa and the family’s name, in this case, Pottery Tesić. With amazing precision and practiced ease, Zarko Tesić shaped a large earthen dish with a lid, used traditionally to cook meat.

Terzića avlija is a charming Ethno Park at Zlakusa that served as the first school in town. A few houses in a pretty garden bedecked with flowers double up as museums with relics from the Balkan War besides photos, utensils and Partisan memorabilia. Shell casings had been modified into beautiful coffee filters. Guests can taste home made juices and traditional Serbian dishes prepared in the well-known crockery of Zlakusa, learn pottery or take courses in folklore dancing and stitching. There’s a strong tradition of wood carving too, on display at workshops along the way.

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For insights into Serbian craftsmanship and countryside life in a 19th century mountain village we visited Sirogojno where 50 wooden houses had been transplanted from surrounding villages. Each was meant for a certain purpose and equipped with tools of the trade – blacksmith workshop, barn, chicken coop, corn crib, bakery, tobacco store, tavern with cauldrons for making rakija, a wooden church and the oldest house with roof crosses (erected to prevent premature deaths), dating back to 1845.

The only open-air museum in Serbia, Staro Selo (Old village) also has a store selling locally made jams, preserves and Serbian dolls. Outside, local ladies knitted Sirogojno style sweaters, caps and scarves. One beckoned us to her handmade tapestry and treats of dried apples and apricots on strings.

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It was evening when we reached Hotel Mir Zlatibor. At Grand Restaurant Jezero, Alex swatted away the menu as one would a pesky fly, giving us a reassuring nod that supposedly meant, “I got this!” He ordered a typical Serbian mezze platter, a mixed meat pile-up, Escalope Karadjordje (pork escalope stuffed with kajmak or clotted cream) and Princess Donuts. Sips of vodnjika, a traditional brew, revived us from food coma. A word of caution: portions in Serbia are humongous, though you can order half portions!

Our food intake was an imminent threat to our wellbeing; ironical considering Zlatibor was a wellness destination. In 1893, on the insistence of local hosts, King of Serbia Aleksandar Obrenović established it as a health resort. In his honour, a fountain was erected at the spot where he had lunch and a small lake Kraljeva Voda, literally King’s Water, was built.

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The picturesque hotels and restaurants look lovely in the reflection of Zlatibor Lake. In summer, tourists take a stroll around it or go hiking, while in winter the lake freezes over and people come to ski on the slopes of Tornik. The local market is a great place to pick up honey, rakija, cheese and smoked meats.

At Drvengrad between Mount Tara and Zlatibor, we stumbled upon an ethno village so pretty it could pass off as a movie set. We discovered it actually was one, built by Serbian director Emir Kusturica for filming his movie “Life is a Miracle.” The village set-up had quaint wooden houses with streets named after eminent personalities like Djokovic and Ivo Andrić, Nobel-prize winning author of Bridge on the Drina. We took a guided tour of the art gallery, library, the ‘Underground’ cinema, the church of St. Sava and a souvenir shop. Visitors stay in log cabins, sold out during the annual Kustendorf Film Festival.

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At Mokra Gora we saw the famous narrow gauge heritage railway Šargan Eight that once ran from Belgrade to Sarajevo but was closed in 1974. Between 1999 and 2003 the Serbian Ministry of Tourism and Serbian railways rebuilt the section over the Šargan Pass with Kusturica’s help. Popularly named Ćira or Nostalgy, the train runs on the Mokra Gora-Šargan Vitasi route with the tracks forming a figure ‘8’.

We made our own figure 8 back to Belgrade after some wine tasting at Aleksandrovic winery and the mausoleum of Serbian kings at Topola Oplenac with a crypt covered in mind-numbing mosaic. Soon, it was Alex (meal) time again and his order at Knežev Han restaurant matched the grandeur of the Serbian sunset.

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We bid goodbye to our rallyist friend as archaeologist Luka Relic guided us through the remainder of our trip – from Nikola Tesla Museum, Tito’s memorial House of Flowers, Cathedral of St Sava and Belgrade Fortress overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers.

We explored the fort and museums of university town Novi Sad, medieval churches and Krusedol monastery in the Fruska Gora mountains and family-run wineries like Bajilo Cellar at Sremski Karlovci. In the old town of Zemun we took a sunset cruise down the Danube – the longest stretch of the river lies in Serbia – before wrapping up with delightful seafood at Šaran restaurant!

Krusedol monastery frescoes IMG_1964_Anurag Mallick

Back in Belgrade, after checking out the local craft beer scene with Luka we all met up for a farewell dinner at Zavičaj Ethno Restaurant. A lavish Serbian spread and enough rounds of rakija and dunia (quince brandy) later, Zoran the dashing owner of Balkan Adriatic decided it was time to experience Belgrade’s legendary nightlife.

What followed was a blur of music, lights and faces, as we dove in and out of clubs and splavs (party barges), barely in time for our return flight. But there was enough reason to come back – the legendary Iron Gates on the Danube, the Guča trumpet festival and of course Alex’s off-road trips and his goulash!

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Fly Turkish Airlines via Istanbul or Aeroflot via Moscow, and Air Serbia to Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade. Pottery village Zlakusa and “Terzića Avlija” ethno village are 185 km from Belgrade. Zlatibor is another 38 km away with Sirogojno and Mokra Gora nearby. Novi Sad is 94km/1 hr northwest of Belgrade. www.airserbia

When to go
The Kustendorf Film & Music Festival is held in January. Exit, an award-winning summer music festival is held at the Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad, the famous trumpet festival is held at Guča in August and a Rakija Fest in September in Belgrade.

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

Hotel Mir Zlatibor
Jovanke Jeftanović 125, Zlatibor
Ph +381 (0) 31845151
http://www.hotelmirzlatibor.com

Sirogojno village meal IMG_9164_Anurag Mallick

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

Knežev Han
Karađorđeva 4, Topola
Ph +381 34 6814411
http://www.knezevhantopola.rs

Grand Restaurant Jezero
Kraljevi Konaci bb, Zlatibor
Ph +381 (0) 66415415
http://www.grandrestoranjezero.com

Winery Aleksandrovic
Vinca, Topola-Oplenac
Ph +381 34 826555
http://www.vinarijaaleksandrovic.rs

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 on 13 July 2018 in Indulge, the weekend supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper.

 

Addis Ababa: The New Flower of Ethiopia

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Churches, museums, markets, coffee shacks and the legacy of Emperor Haile Selassie, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore Addis, the bustling capital of Ethiopia 

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Addis Ababa. The very name triggered memories of playing countries and capitals at school, conjuring images of exotica – Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, legends of Queen Sheba, the Rastafarian cult of Haile Selassie and smoky jazz bars. So it was no surprise that a routine transit at Addis turned into an extended stopover.

A quick online visa and we were soon flying in on the award-winning Ethiopian Airlines, collecting our ‘Sheba Miles’. Perhaps the first thing we learnt that we had been saying it wrong all these years; it wasn’t a-baba, but a-bay-ba!

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It was Menelik I, legendary son of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba and the first Solomonic Emperor of Ethiopia who brought home a copy of the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem. Around 19-20th century, his descendant Menelik II transformed the country with a wave of modernization.

At first glance, Addis Ababa seems like a busy chaotic capital full of urban squalor. Yet, as we drove up to the northern nook of Entoto, past roadside stalls selling traditional Ethiopian clothes and retro blue vans, we saw wooded hills full of juniper and eucalyptus. This is where the story of Addis Ababa began…

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During the early reign of Menelik II, Ethiopia had no permanent capital and the royal encampment served as the roving headquarters. It was atop Mount Entoto that Menelik based himself. In 1886, while he was on campaign in Harar, Empress Taitu Betul camped at a hot spring to its south.

She built a home and named it Addis Ababa (New Flower). Over time, a palace and soldier’s lodgings were added and a city developed. Most of the eucalyptus trees were imported from Australia, planted in late 19th century to supply firewood and timber to the newly founded capital.

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Today, the Maryam (St Mary) Church, Memorial Museum and Menelik’s Palace at Entoto draw only intrepid travelers with time on hand. In 1896, during the First Italo-Ethiopian War, Menelik led his troops against Italy’s invading forces from their colony in Eritrea and scored a decisive victory at the Battle of Adwa.

However, the Italians did invade Ethiopia in 1936. The Piazza district in the city center is the most evident Italian influence with Italian architecture and European-style shopping centers, restaurants and cafes. Here one can find Itegue Taitu Hotel, Ethiopia’s first hotel and the Hager Fikir Theatre, the oldest theater in the country.

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Addis Ababa is an imperial city suffused with churches, palaces and magnificent edifices. While returning from Entoto, we stopped by at the Gannata Le’ul Palace (Paradise of Princes) built by Haile Selassie in 1930, when he was anointed as Ethiopia’s emperor from its regent. He took on the name ‘Ras Tafari’, triggering the Rastafarian cult in Jamaica that believed in pan-Africanism. They regarded him as a messianic ruler, an incarnation of Jah (short for Jehovah or God) and the second coming of Christ.

This palace served as the main royal residence, while the seat of government remained at Menelik’s old Imperial Palace, also the current seat of government. Set amidst landscaped gardens beyond a majestic gate with twin statues of the Lion of Judah, we marveled at Haile Selassie’s opulent bedroom, study, Italian marble bathroom and the fascinating Ethnography Museum showcasing various tribes and their culture.

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Outside stood a Megalithic burial marker from the World Heritage Site of Tiya. After the Second Italo-Abyssinian War and the Italian occupation, the palace became the residence of the Italian viceroy who handed it to the Haile Selassie University (renamed Addis Ababa University in 1974).

In 1955, the National Palace (also called Jubilee Palace) was built to mark Emperor Haile Selassie’s Silver Jubilee. Modeled after the Buckingham Palace in London, it is the current residence of the President of Ethiopia. Located across Menelik II Avenue is the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

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The headquarters of the African Union is located in Addis as well and our local cabbie took us to the Chinese-built 200 million dollar AU Conference Center and Office Complex. The shiny chrome and glass building is treated like a tourist spot and proof of Ethiopia’s rapidly growing economy.

We visited the Holy Trinity Cathedral, once the largest Ethiopian Orthodox Cathedral where Haile Selassie and his family are buried, besides those who fought the Italians during World War II. Nearby is the Art Deco Parliament building with its clock tower and the world’s largest pre-fabricated building Shengo Hall – a parliament hall and convention centre constructed in Finland and assembled in Addis Ababa!

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Merkato, the largest market in Africa, was a bedlam of shops, vehicles being loaded and unloaded, goods being hauled and pavement stalls selling everything from spices, metal parts, automotive spares, clothes, shoes to plastic. While here, we visited Ethiopia’s biggest mosque, the Grand Anwar Mosque built during Italian occupation.

After the fall of monarchy in 1974, Ethiopia saw a period of military rule and communism and has monuments linked to them, besides a wealth of repositories – Ethiopian Natural History Museum, Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum and a museum at St George’s Cathedral, founded in 1896.

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At the National Museum of Ethiopia, we headed straight for Lucy, past the statues, helmets, coins and pottery. She wasn’t the way we imagined her… not half astride, ready in welcome, but supine, neatly arranged in a glass case like a broken bone necklace that she perhaps once wore. Discovered in Ethiopia in 1974, Lucy is a 3.2 million year old female fossil and the world’s oldest hominid species Australopithecus afarensis.

Locally known as Dinkinesh or ‘you are beautiful’ in Amharic, she was named after The Beatles song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ which was playing at the excavation camp all evening after her find. What we saw was only a plaster replica; Lucy’s actual skeleton lay hidden in a special vault. It was a lot like the soul of Addis. The flower may have withered and turned not so redolent any more, but still remained a thing of beauty…

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Ethiopian Airlines and Air India fly direct to Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa from Mumbai (5 hr 10 min) and Delhi (6 hr 50 min) www.ethiopianairlines.com

When to Go
Meskel is a 1700-year-old Orthodox festival marked by lighting a bonfire and processions at Meskel Square in September

Stay
Sheraton Addis, a Luxury Collection Hotel www.sheratonaddis.com
Radisson Blu Hotel, Addis Ababa www.radissonblu.com
Best Western Plus Bole www.bestwestern.com
Caravan Hotel www.caravanaddis.com

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For local travel
Ethio Travel & Tours (ETT)
Email ethiopiatravel@gmail.com
http://www.ethiotravelandtours.com

Eat Local
Injera (spongy sourdough flatbread) made of local super grain teff
Tibs (sautéed seasoned beef strips)
Shiro (powdered chickpea or broad bean stew)
Kitfo (raw minced beef mixed with spices and butter)
Ethiopian coffee, Tej (honey wine) and local beers like Dashen, Habesha and St George

Don’t miss
Highest viewpoint Entoto
‘Lucy’ at the National Museum
Ethnography Museum at Addis Ababa University
St George’s Cathedral & Haile Selassie’s tomb at Holy Trinity Church
Africa’s largest open market Mercato

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article originally appeared in the HT City supplement of Hindustan Times newspaper on 2 July 2018.

 

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

Sarawak Cultural Village-Ulang uru longhouse IMG_5468

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.

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!

MBK Mall

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/

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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

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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.