Tag Archives: Germany

Netaji Trail: The Bose particle

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On the 120th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY undertake a transcontinental journey in the footsteps of one of India’s most daring freedom fighters

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He travelled from Calcutta to Peshawar as an insurance agent called Mohammed Ziauddin. As Khan Mohammed Ziauddin Khan, a mute tribal Pathan, he travelled on foot and by mule to Kabul. In the guise of a radio telegraphist and an Italian count Orlando Mazzotta, he reached Germany, met Hitler and eventually took a submarine halfway around the world to Japan to raise an army in the hope of liberating India from the yoke of British rule. There are many heroes who fought for India’s independence, but few as enigmatic as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. We retrace his incredible journey from Kolkata to Kabul, Berlin to Burma and across the Far East – Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan and North East India to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands…

As a young radical returning from Cambridge to Calcutta, Bose quit the Indian Civil Service in 1921 and rose to the post of president of the Indian National Congress by 1938. In 1939, he showed up on a stretcher and despite being unwell, defeated Mahatma Gandhi’s candidate Pattabhi Sitaramayya. Differences with Gandhiji on his revolutionary ideals led to Bose being ousted from the Congress. After a hunger strike led to his release from prison, he was put under house arrest by the British.

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With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Bose saw it as an opportune moment to wrest freedom from the British. Indian support to the colonial cause during World War I in the hope of getting independence had yielded nothing, except Jallianwala Bagh and the Rowlatt Act. The time had come for more direct action and Bose could go to any length to see India free – even shake hands with the devil if he had to. He believed in the maxim, ‘An enemy of an enemy is a friend of mine’ and sought help of the Axis powers Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to oust the British.

Accompanied by his nephew Sisir, Bose escaped British surveillance on 19 January 1941 in a car that is now on display at his home in Kolkata’s Lala Lajpat Rai Sarani. Run as a memorial and research center, Netaji Bhavan also houses relics of Bose’s footprints. He crossed the Indian subcontinent from east to west, reaching Peshawar and Kabul. British presence in the area made him travel under disguise as he finally reached Germany on April 1941, where the leadership seemed sympathetic to the cause of India’s independence. In November 1941, with German funds, a Free India Centre was set up in Berlin, and soon Bose was broadcasting every night on Free India Radio.

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A 3,000-strong Free India Legion, comprising Indians captured by Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps, was formed to aid in a possible future German land offensive of India. Few know that the title ‘Netaji’ was given to Bose in Germany by Indian soldiers of the Indische Legion in 1942. The title was used by the German and Indian officials in the Special Bureau for India in Berlin, before it gained popularity in India. Meanwhile, the Japanese occupied Singapore and by January 1942, Rangoon was the next to fall. On 23 March 1942, Japanese troops landed in Port Blair and captured it without firing a single shot. By spring, changing German priorities and Japanese victories in the Far East made Bose think of moving to southeast Asia. Bose met Hitler only once in late May 1942 and the Fuhrer arranged for Bose to be transported by submarine.

On 8 February 1943, Netaji boarded the German submarine U-180 from Kiel and travelled around the Cape of Good Hope to the southeast of Madagascar, where he was transferred to the Japanese submarine I-29. This was the only civilian transfer between two submarines of two different navies during World War II. Bose finally disembarked at Sabang in Japanese-held Sumatra in May 1943. If the term ‘Netaji’ was coined in Germany, equally surprising is the fact that the Indian National Army (INA) was the brainchild of Japan! Japanese major and chief of intelligence Iwaichi Fujiwara met Pritam Singh Dhillon, president of the Bangkok chapter of the Indian Independence League, and recruited Mohan Singh, a captured British Indian army captain to raise an army that would fight alongside the Japanese.

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It had the blessings of Rash Behari Bose, head of the Indian Independence League. The first army was formed in December 1941 and the name INA was mutually chosen in January 1942. In February, from a total of 40,000 Indian personnel in Singapore, about 30,000 joined the INA, of which nearly 7,000 later fought Allied forces in the Burma Campaign and at Kohima and Imphal.

However, disagreements led to the first INA being disbanded by December 1942. Mohan Singh believed that the Japanese High Command was using the INA as a pawn and propaganda tool. He was taken into custody and the troops returned to the prisoner-of-war camp. However, with the arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose in 1943, the idea of an independence army was revived. In May, Bose travelled via Penang and Saigon to Tokyo, where he attended the Diet, met reporters and gave speeches addressing overseas Indians that were broadcast on Tokyo Radio. By July, Bose was in Singapore and it was with equal excitement that we arrived there on the INA trail.

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As we drove past Dhobie Ghaut, the guide pointed out Cathay Cinema (earlier, the Greater East Asia Theatre), where the India Independence League’s Assembly of Representatives met on a drizzly morning of 4th July. To a resounding applause, Rash Behari Bose handed over the reins of the organization to Subhas Chandra Bose. Over the next few days, soldiers of the INA lined up in the padang (ground) opposite the Singapore Municipal Office for inspection and new recruits eagerly joined the ranks.

With Japanese support, Bose revamped the Indian National Army (INA), composed of Indian soldiers of the British Indian army captured in the Battle of Singapore. Bose received massive support among the expatriate Indian population in south-east Asia as many Indian civilians from Malaya and Singapore enlisted. Those who could not, made financial contributions. The INA also had a separate women’s unit – the first of its kind in Asia. The Rani of Jhansi Regiment was headed by Capt. Lakshmi Swaminathan, a doctor from Chennai.

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The India Heritage Centre in Little India has a small section dedicated to the Indian freedom movement. A bust of Subhash Chandra Bose stands in front of a wallpaper made of INA postage stamps. The INA troops were under the aegis of the Provisional Government of Free India (Azad Hind) formed in October 1943, which had its own currency, postage stamps, court and civil code, and was recognized by nine Axis states. An INA uniform was on display while letters, cheque donations and photographs lined the wall. A magazine cover showed Captain Lakshmi in military attire.

The Provisional Government, presided by Supreme commander Bose, was formed in the Japanese-occupied Andaman and Nicobar Islands. On 30th December 1943 Netaji hoisted the Indian tricolor in British-free Indian territory for the first time at Ross Island. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands were renamed Shaheed Dweep (Martyr Island) and Swaraj Dweep (Self-Rule Island). As head of the government, Bose stayed in the British High commissioner’s house and a memorial commemorating his visit was erected near present day Netaji stadium in Port Blair.

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We followed the Bose trail past World War II bunkers dotting the island to Cellular Jail. When Netaji visited the infamous prison, he was welcomed by Admiral Ishikawa, who deliberately kept him away from incarcerated Indians and stories of Japanese torture. Like Singapore, the three year Japanese occupation of the Andamans was a dark chapter in history with innocent islanders tortured mercilessly on charges of espionage, often executed or imprisoned. Like the Changi prison, the Cellular Jail too bears testimony to the bravery of those fighting for freedom.

In early 1944, the INA marched through Kohima Pass and the national flag was hoisted in the Indian mainland for the first time at Moirang in Manipur on April 6, 1944. Kohima was strategically located on the lone road connecting the British supply depot at Dimapur (40 miles northwest) to Imphal (80 miles south). As part of Japan’s Operation U-Go, three columns aimed to cut off the Kohima–Imphal Road and surround Kohima. Between April and June 1944, Kohima witnessed the bloodiest and grittiest fighting seen in World War II.

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The Battle for Kohima was fought in two phases: the 13-day siege from 4 April and clearing Japanese forces from mid-April to 22 June to reopen the Kohima–Imphal road. Both sides suffered high casualties. Grenades were lobbed at point blank range across the tennis court in ‘unending snowball fights’ as soldiers dug holes to burrow or tunnel forward using plates, mugs, bayonets or anything they could lay their hands on. The carefully tended tombstones in the grassy clearing with pretty flower beds seemed a far cry from the bloodbath of WWII. The original Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) Bungalow was destroyed in the fighting and the historic tennis court could be distinguished only by the white concrete lines denoting the boundaries.

The 161st Indian Infantry Brigade’s stand at Kohima blunted the Japanese attack. With the opening of the Dimapur-Kohima road, the 2nd Division and troops from XXXIII Corps supported the counterattack in early May. General Sato, Commander of the 31st Division, ordered Japanese withdrawal, signaling the biggest Japanese defeat in history. British and Indian troops from Kohima and Imphal met at Milestone 110 on 22 June, formally ending the siege.

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The fierce hand-to-hand combat in the Battle of Kohima was a defining moment in the Burma Campaign and halted Japan’s foray into India. Near the entrance of Kohima War Memorial, the Kohima Epitaph bears the immortal words: “When you go home, tell them of us and say; For your tomorrow, we gave our today”.

Despite the reverses on the battlefield, Bose travelled across Penang, Rangoon and Saigon, mobilizing support among Indian expatriates to fight the British Raj. He had great drive and charisma and he coined popular Indian slogans such as ‘Jai Hind’, ‘Chalo Dilli’ and ‘Give me blood and I shall give you freedom’, which he said in a motivational speech at a rally in Burma on 4 July 1944.

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By 1945, almost half the Japanese forces and the INA contingent were killed. A vast number of INA troops were captured, defected or fell into British hands during the Burma campaign by March end. By the time Rangoon fell in May 1945, the INA was driven down the Malay Peninsula and disintegrated although some activities continued until Singapore was recaptured by the British. On 8 July, in Singapore’s Esplanade Park, Bose laid the foundation stone for a hastily-built memorial dedicated to the unknown fallen soldiers of the Indian National Army. On it were inscribed the proud motto of the INA – Etihaad (Unity), Etmad (Faith), Kurbani (Sacrifice).

Instead of surrendering with his forces or with the Japanese, Bose chose to escape to Manchuria in the Soviet Union, which he felt was turning anti-British. Taking off from Taihoku airport at Formosa in Taiwan, his overloaded plane crashed and he died from third degree burns in a military hospital nearby on 18 August, 1945. However, Bose was known for his miraculous escapes and dramatic appearances in the past. From eluding house arrest in Calcutta and his escape to Afghanistan and Europe under various aliases to his submarine journey from Germany to Singapore; his past exploits fuelled the myth of his future return.

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To the Japanese, he was no less than an Indian samurai. Some believed he had become a sanyasi (holy man) called Gumnami Baba. According to various stories, he was seen as a recluse in the Naga hills or on an abandoned island, was a member of a Mongolian trade delegation in Peking, was hibernating in Russia or in a gulag (prison) and was spotted in the Chinese Army. Most believed he was preparing for his final march on Delhi and would reveal himself when the time was right. There were several Bose sightings, one even claiming he met Bose “in a third-class compartment of the Bombay Express on a Thursday.”

Though INA’s military achievements were limited and the British Raj was never seriously threatened by it, the psychological impact was immense. Indian troops fought on both sides at the Battle for Kohima –Jats, Rajputs, Sikhs, Marathas and Gurkhas under the Allied forces versus soldiers of Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj. Had the eastern offensive through Burma and North East by Japan been coordinated with the German advance through Egypt, Iran and Iraq, a war on two frontiers would have stretched the British forces. A Japanese-INA victory and unfurling of the Indian flag could have prompted the Indian sepoy to switch loyalties. Even in defeat, the INA managed to ignite a revolt within the British Indian army.

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Several former personnel of the British Indian Army, captured fighting in INA ranks or working in support of the INA’s subversive activities, were court-martialed. The British charged 300 INA officers with treason and the first joint trial of Shah Nawaz Khan, Prem Sahgal and Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon took place at Red Fort in Delhi. All three were sentenced to deportation for life. The INA trials led to huge public outcry and became a rallying point. It was the last major campaign where the Congress and the Muslim League aligned together. Immense public pressure, widespread opposition and demonstrations eventually led to the release of all three defendants. Besides the protests of non-cooperation and non-violence, there was a spate of mutinies as support within the British Indian Army wavered. During the trials, mutiny broke out across the Royal Indian Navy from Karachi to Bombay and Vizag to Calcutta. In Madras and Pune, British garrisons faced revolts within the ranks of the British Indian Army as NCOs started ignoring orders from British superiors. Another mutiny took place at Jabalpur during the last week of February 1946.

There were several factors that guided British prime minister Clement Attlee to relinquish the Raj in India, but the most important reason was the INA activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which weakened the Indian Army – the very foundation of the British Empire in India. The RIN Mutiny made the British realize that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the Raj. When Singapore was recaptured in 1945, Lord Mountbatten, Head of Southeast Asia Command, ordered the INA War Memorial to be blown to bits. It was partly an act of vengeance for the pain the allies suffered in Imphal and Burma as well as an attempt to stamp out proof of INA’s existence. After the war, fearing mass revolts and uprisings across its empire, the British Government forbade the BBC from broadcasting the epic tale of the INA. In 1995, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, the National Heritage Board of Singapore marked the spot of the original INA memorial as one of the eleven World War II historic site markers.

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As we walked down Esplanade Park in Singapore, we struggled to find vestiges of the INA Memorial. The Cenotaph of the British Indian Army stood tall in honour of ‘Our Glorious Dead’ of the two World Wars. Further down, a Chinese memorial commemorated Singapore war hero and resistance fighter Lim Bo Seng. Yet, there was no sign of INA – just a few stone slabs with peepholes. Often relegated as a footnote in history and denied the importance in the story of India’s freedom movement, was a memorial too much to ask? A local passing by noticed our perplexed look and kindly explained, “There was a signboard, but they’ve recently removed it for renovation.” We breathed a sigh of relief. Mountbatten may have demolished the original memorial, but the spirit of Bose and the INA live on…

Back home in India, the stories surrounding Netaji had always been shadowed by mystery and controversy for decades. Imagine, it was only on 14th October 2015 that the Government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that it would declassify the famous ‘Netaji Papers’. Two months later, the whole country watched the broadcast of the event when the first lot of 33 declassified files were handed over by the PMO’s office to the National Archives of India. It was an emotional moment for several members of Netaji’s family and his admirers as the gesture promised to fill the many gaps and loopholes in tracing the legacy of Subhas Chandra Bose. Subsequently, 150 declassified files of the 250 files are now in public domain. Time and again, Netaji has reminded us how he would remain a statesman the world cannot ignore or bury in the dusty pages of history.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the special issue on Bose in the international biannual journal Re:Markings. 

 

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When the twain met: Germany Reunited

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PRIYA GANAPATHY travels to Brocken and the remote borderlands of erstwhile East & West Germany to bring back real life stories and anecdotes of the Cold War, 25 years after the German Reunification

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It was unbelievable, standing between two former Border police officers for a picture at the very border in Bad Helmstedt that once separated them. Decades ago, the now balding Helmut Maushake from East Germany and the grey-haired Lothar Engler from West Germany eyeballed each other in hostility; today they clasped hands like long lost friends.

Each held a piece of Germany’s post-war history and memories of a wired wall that was more than just a geographical demarcation. My weeklong trip took me to Germany’s borderlands, where locals narrated stories of an Orwellian past. A period that saw the clash of two different ideologies – capitalism and socialism, sparking off a Cold War between neighbours for forty odd years. Ironically, the Iron Curtain is now a Green Strip, with many of these stretches developed into national parks and historic trails.

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We stood at the wall’s western side marked by remnants of concrete that separated Bad Helmstedt from Beendorf. Once stretching for 1400km, it divided the Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany controlled by UK, France and the US from the Soviet Occupation Zone of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) or East Germany. As things got strained, the wall became impermeable, affecting the lives of thousands. Pointing to the information panel, they showed us the uniforms used while patrolling the border, recalling how a mere step across the wires could set off an alarm and result in death.

On a November winter morning, we were invited for the launch of Grenlehrpfad information trail to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall and 25 years of German Unification. Today, the former border area near Elm-Lappwald Nature Park is a popular walking and cycling site. We trudged along a path carpeted by autumn leaves past a lake with ducks paddling around.

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Behind us, a board captured the ironic humour of the Bad Helmstedt townsfolk with the words emblazoned across the German black, red and gold tricolour – “40 jahre am arsch der welt, jetzt mitten un Deutschland” meaning “Forty years in the world’s ass, now in the middle of Germany!” We laughed and thumped our glasses of beer and scooped into bowls of hot goulash.

The contrast between East and West was palpable. Easterners seemed more wary and guarded while talking of their grim past. West Germans, like our guide Jens Becker, were light-hearted and open. A frequent traveller to East Berlin, Jens elaborated how one needed ‘day visas’ and ‘transit visas’ for the highways. “The visa was given in the East and once you reached West Berlin, you returned it at the border.

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Back then, they even checked how long was your drive from one point to another. If you took longer, they suspected you were up to something. So no stopping to admire the scenery, getting lost or whimsical detours!” he revealed. Helmstedt was a key border point to reach West Berlin and Becker pointed out three famous checkpoints – Alpha, Bravo and Charlie.

Driving past fields and beautiful brick homes to Grenzdenkmal, we met local guide Hans Gunter Apun at what looked like a bus stop; it was a shelter near the inner German border in the former Soviet Zone. “The demarcation line that later became the border reminds us of a period that started in 1945 and ended in 1989, when the wall came down”, he explained. Hans lived 3km away in the British Occupation Zone. In 1945, the border was marked by a barrier of barbed wires. People tried to cross it at night using the cover of bushes.

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Before the war ended, the victorious Allied powers and anti-Hitler coalition of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin decided that Germany would lose the eastern territories, be divided into four occupational zones, with France invited to occupy parts of Germany. Berlin, the capital of the Third Reich, was also divided into four sectors. In Berlin, you still see sideboards – Former American or British Sector. After the war was over in 1945, everybody was euphoric. At first the four powers unanimously administered Germany as a whole – socially, economically, politically. But that did not last long.

“Things changed in 1946-47 because of ideological differences”, Apun explained. “The Western allies had a different vision from the Soviet Union’s Eastern zone on how to organize public life. And that caused all the problems, friction and confrontations in the following forty years. The more the two sides disagreed, the more the East reinforced its border. They built walls near villages, towns, any habitation. But never on the Western side!”

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“We were allowed as close to the border as we wished,” Apun chuckled. “The West German Border Police warned us, ‘Sir don’t put your foot there – it may cause diplomatic problems!’ People on the other side were not allowed to even go near the border.” By 1961, obstacles prevented cars from crossing. The entire 1400km border had a strip of land 10m wide, which was always ploughed and raked, to detect footprints of potential refugees!” Apun remembers.

At Sorge, in the restricted zone of the former German inner border (also the smallest town in the county with just 86 people), we met the lovely Mayor Inge Winkel. She ran a small museum to keep the past alive, replete with a model of the region, original signboards, warnings, black-and-white pictures of border posts with a collection of tickets, permits and passes issued to people. A 13km stretch of the wall was retained as a reminder why history must not repeat itself. The town’s name, Sorge, meant ‘worry’ or ‘preoccupation’.

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Sharing glimpses of her life in the GDR, Inge rued how a special 5km stretch called Sperrgebeit was a Closed Zone where everyone was prohibited. It was cleared of vegetation and one needed a special permit if you lived there. Another 500m near the border was closed to all. Minefields were planted with danger signs cautioning people not to venture further. She remembers how some young people made a dramatic escape from east to west before the walls were reinforced. “We had a very hard winter and were hit by snow as high as the fences, so people with skiing skills managed to escape to the other side!”

A short drive past a railway track led to the entrance of the open-air museum showcasing Sorge’s actual border. The razor straight pathway cutting through tall trees could pass of as a scenic walking trail if it wasn’t for the strange stray relics around – wired fences, dog runs for patrols, and a perforated concrete cylinder that allowed water to flow but prevented anyone from swimming through canals and escaping! Further down the path was a watchtower called B-Tower.

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The trickiest part was that the high security border lay deep in the Eastern side and people coming from the freer Western side didn’t actually realise they had reached Eastern territory, for which they could be shot! The ground near the fence was always bare, often poisoned so nothing could grow and officers could check for footprints. We posed for pictures at the border fence that once emanated frissions of shock.

In the lovely half-timbered town of Wernigerode, the famous heritage train Brockenbahn took us to the highest hill in the Harz mountains. Being the best vantage to survey the region, Brocken used to be a high security area. A watchtower intercepted radio signals and an old domed listening post at Urian was used for Stasi surveillance. The TV tower and museum display old espionage and communication equipment besides geological history. Over 50 shows of the famous rock opera ‘Faust’ have been performed on the summit.

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The Brockenbahn chugged past fir forests. The foliage had begun to turn in late fall and we saw how the Cold War had left several tracts along the border undisturbed for decades. Nature takes over where man is scarce. The transformation of a virtual Death Zone into a place brimming with life was inspirational. Fauna that had long disappeared, now returned.

Today people walk their hounds, hike, cycle, picnic and enjoy peace and tranquillity that now pervades the region. Twenty five years on, the changes were more than geographical or political; the old border had transformed the emotional, ecological and cultural fabric of Germany.

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FACT FILE
Getting there:

Fly to Hannover and drive 122km to Wernigerode in Saxony Anhalt, from where Bad Helmstedt, Grenzdenkmal and Sorge are short drives away. From Wernigerode, the heritage steam train Brockenbahn takes you on the Harz Narrow Gauge Railway to Brocken in the Harz mountains. www.hsb.wr.de

Stay:
HKK Hotel Wernigerode +49 (0) 39439410 www.hkk-wr.de

For more info, www.germany.travel

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 15 January 2017 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

Wonderful Wernigerode

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PRIYA GANAPATHY goes for a walk in a beautiful painted German town in the Harz region to discover its captivating history, architecture and legends

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On a chilly winter morning I stepped out of HKK Wernigerode Hotel to explore the town of old brick buildings, stone-grey churches and half-timbered houses painted in myriad colours. Time had almost stood still in this town in Germany’s Harz district, renowned for its ancient Christmas markets and witch festivals. At the Marktplatz (Marketplace), I was treated to the loveliest homes and hotels I’d ever laid my eyes on. Wernigerode is defined by its idiosyncratic architectural style. Poet Hermann Lӧns called it “Bunte Stadt am Harz” or “the colourful painted town in the Harz foothills”.

Apparently, places in Germany suffixed with ‘rode’ indicate forests cleared of trees for tilling. The old city of Wernigerode was founded during the Great Clearings, nearly 1100 years ago by monks from a neighbouring district. They set up a chapel and a small castle to spread the faith in the Harz region. Locals claim the city was named after the Prior of the monastery. With abundant wood and rich mineral ores like gold, silver, copper and iron, the region saw quick growth in craft and trade. Most houses in Wernigerode have a half-timbered style and Wernigerode Public Gardens has a miniature section called “Little Harz” with a collection of 50 prominent landmarks in the Harz.

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The canary-coloured Bimmelbahn, named after the tinkling ‘bimmeln’ sound made by the toy train, trundled cheerily along the narrow cobbled street, ascending to Wernigerode Schloss, the town’s most popular sight. Looming above the city, the castle is a 1.5km hike from the marketplace. The only other access is by foot or horse-drawn carriages, adding to its old world charm.

The fairytale castle blends neo-Baroque and neo-Gothic styles. Fronted by a sprawling garden, it commands a fabulous cityscape of red-roofed buildings punctuated by arrowheads of church spires. In the inner courtyard stone sculptures of griffins and fierce gothic animals guarded wide steps and stone walls riddled with creepers and vines.

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A model of the original 12th Century castle, a former hunting lodge for German royals, is on display. The lavish interiors flaunt exquisite red and blue silk damask wall panels, monogrammed motifs, parquet floors, hunting trophies and gilded portraits. The grand Festaal (banquet hall) decorated with the stag crest of the House of Stolberg-Wernigerode spells out the opulence enjoyed by Kaisers and Dukes.

We noticed a raised deck with a special door. Back in the day, guests had to wear a special hat and thick cape called the ‘smoking jacket’ before entering the smoking lounge. This ensured they didn’t stink up the place with the odour of tobacco smoke clinging to their clothes. In 1950, the castle was refurbished into a museum and opened to public. Its unusual treasures include gifts, silverware, traditional dishes, recipes, menus and a book compiled by the French chef of the Stolberg family.

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Wernigerode’s fascinating history came alive during the guided city walk with the genial Werner Kropf. Goethe, who wrote the classic “Faust” came here in 1777 at the age of 28 to study mining in the Harz. Mining’s loss was music’s gain! Till 1870 it was a small town of 6000 inhabitants and after the foundation of the German Reich, it saw great development. One of the factories that opened in the 1800s was Hasserӧder, the largest and most famous brewery in Germany, which still exists. They produce beer that Germans swear by – about 1million litres per day! In 1899, the railway network through 140km of the Harz mountains to the highest point Brocken, was completed.

Despite several fires, few Baroque style homes managed to survive and are comparatively prettier than the simpler new homes. But what the latter miss out in ornamentation, is made up for in colour. Perhaps the cutest house was Kleinstes Haus, Wernigerode’s smallest house which belonged to postal worker Mr Nettelmann. Wedged between two houses (they skipped building the side walls!), the home built in 1792 is just 3m wide with two rooms, a small hall and kitchen! In 1900, it still managed to house a family of ten. Today the heritage house has been converted into a museum.

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Many houses are over 500 years old and retain remnants of Renaissance period artwork and woodwork with large overhangs, paintings and carvings. We saw a wonky house with a clever signboard in German nailed to its wall “There are not so many days in the year as there the number of years of this house!” Dating back to 1597, it stood crooked because the foundation was damaged by the flooding rains. Art, humour and beauty came together in these lanes.

We halted at the unusual Museum Schiefes Haus, formerly a water-powered mill built in Baroque style in 1680. It was built straight but today leans forward, earning fame as the Crooked Mill in town. Apparently its foundations too, eroded over the centuries as the little brook flowing alongside sometimes swelled into a flood. Today, it inclines 130cm, making it more tilted than the Leaning Tower of Pisa! It features models of mills inside. Its slope is so sharp it’s difficult to balance, like you would on a ship in the high seas. A landscaped Floral Watch designed in 1974 stands nearby.

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Wernigerode’s historic Rathaus or Town Hall in the heart of town was originally built in 1277 as a Spielhaus (playhouse). People gathered here to meet and have beer, play cards every evening, watch theatre or celebrate a wedding. When Wernigerode became a town, they declared it a Marktplatz.

As it prospered, the administration decided on a makeover for the Rathaus in 1936. They invited a young 27-year-old architect brimming with new ideas from his wanderings around Germany to decorate the building. He moved the oriels lying around in a corner for centuries to the roof and added two oriel towers.

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This stunning highlight became a signature of Wernigerode. Sitting pretty in shades of burnt orange, its Mayor Oriel windows (the Mayor’s office lies behind it) frilled by garden plants, the Rathaus is touted as the most beautiful Town Hall between the Atlantic Sea and the Ural Mountains. The inside story is that the administration short-changed the architect on his fee. So, he avenged it by ordering his craftsman to chisel images in the likeness of the administrators to publicly lampoon them. Enraged, they didn’t give him another project!

The building’s façade is beautiful with sculptural embellishments and the figures details even their costume and expression! One figure highlighted the typical attire of a farmer’s wife, another depicted a lumberjack with his axe. A row of wooden sculptures highlight the professions of the time – butcher, farmer, baker, miner, sweeper, the sixth was the artist himself, a carpenter, metalsmith, builder, potter, painter and a gunsmith.

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The centrepiece is the gilded and tiered Benefactor’s Fountain, built in honour of those who rendered exemplary service and contributed to local welfare. Many of the town’s buildings have been renovated into restaurants. The magnificent Gothic Haus built in 1440 was converted into a heritage hotel and restaurant in mid 19th century and was transformed into a 4-star hotel in 1992.

Another timbered heritage hotel Weisser Hirsch or The White Deer, stands opposite the fountain. With 70 restaurants, hotels and cafés, the town is a popular holiday spot. Though Wernigerode is relatively small, it receives an astonishing 3 million visitors a year, of which a million stay at least one night!

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Dampfladen (Steam Shop) stocks steam train souvenirs. The quirky 135-year-old bookshop Juttner’s Buchhandlung has 18 heavy bells hanging outside that chime everyday at five minutes past 12, 3 and 5pm in traditional folk tunes! Nearby, a metal sculpture of an owl and a hanging book highlight it as treasure-trove of wisdom.

Café Wein on Breite Strasse, the long pedestrian-only street, has a chocolate façade laced with pink flowers in its windows that made it look good enough to eat! Built in 1583 as a Renaissance style building, it has been run as a Viennese style café since 1898. The present owner Mrs Zeigermont is a gracious octogenarian who welcomes all her visitors personally. Her cakes are to die for!

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The second marketplace of Wernigerode was also a venue for Walpurgisnacht, the night dedicated to the Witches of Brocken. Every year between 30th April and 1st May, thousands gather here dressed like witches and wizards. Marked by binge drinking, all night dancing and loud music, the festival marks the end of winter and celebrates the onset of spring. We could almost hear the Witches of Brocken Hill cackling and cheering us on for a cold night of revelry.

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Getting there: Fly to Hanover (130km) and take a train to Wernigerode (2.5 hrs) by the German Federal Railways (Deutsche Bahn) and ‘Veolia’ Transport trains.

When to Go: Wernigerode has a busy calendar with the Town Hall Festival in mid-June and a Wine Festival in June end. The Chocolate Festival began two years ago and takes place in end October. The centuries old Christmas Market begins on 1st December and goes on till Christmas.

For more details, visit www.wernigerode-tourismus.com/ and www.germany.travel

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Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of Imperia magazine.

Stags Only: The best bachelor holidays

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Planning a bachelor party with the boys? Skip Las Vegas and Bangkok and try these holiday ideas from ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY.

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So you’re getting hitched and your wild lifestyle is threatened by an Extinction Level Event (read marriage). Mad drunken parties with the boys, binge eating, dirty weekends, scanning dance floors and bars for fun, checking out the ‘scene’, ah the joys of bachelorhood… All this might seem history to the groom apparent, however, your friends couldn’t care less. They just want you to ride into the sunset of marital fidelity with all guns blazing. The idea is to go out and have fun. Here’s how to make it a bachelor party to remember… or forget!

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Get high in Dubai
What better way to celebrate with your mates than getting high together? And what better place than the world’s tallest building and the loftiest observation deck? Just short of a kilometer (828 m, 160 stories) At The Top in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is as high as it gets. Make it special with a signature taster menu (caviar, truffles, foie gras) at the stylish SKY lounge and Atmosphere restaurant at level 148, manned by top chef Jerome Lagarde.

But there’s no reason you can’t get higher! Feel the adrenaline rush as you skydive from 13,000 ft over Palm Jumeirah or get on a hot air balloon, chopper, gyrocoptor or a Sea Wings seaplane for an aerial tour. Dubai is the place for bad boys to have a good time, with dune-bashing, belly-dancing and adventures like Ski Dubai (Middle East’s first indoor ski resort) and iFLY Dubai (indoor sky diving and wind tunnel experience).

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Easy rentals make it easy to zip around in your dream luxe car or set sail on the Persian Gulf in a luxurious yacht with Jacuzzi, barbeques and champagne. Pimp it up with model hostesses, resident DJ and bouncers. And if you don’t mind getting wet, strap on a hydrojet equipment and get set for shred sleds, jet packs and jet blades.

Stay in style at Palm Jumeirah at Anantara Resorts as you go party-hopping at Sanctuary in Atlantis nearby, Zero Gravity, White Dubai, Trilogy, Rattlesnake, Ku-Bu, Cyclone or Ibiza club Blue Marlin, a weekend-only beach bar. With Dubai’s diverse expat mix, it’s like attending the UN’s sorority bash.

Jet Airways flies to Dubai and Abu Dhabi

For more info, www.visitdubai.com

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Get lucky in Hong Kong
For King Kong fun, head straight to Hong Kong. Terrific street food, night markets, rooftop bars, a vibrant ‘scene’ and the world’s largest permanent light and sound show Symphony of Lights; what’s not to like? The central party district of Lan Kwai Fong, Wan Chai and SoHo buzz with bars and clubs like Magnum, Volar, Play, Dragon-i, Ce La Vi, the world’s highest bar Ozone at Ritz Carlton and Aqua Spirit rooftop bar overlooking Victoria Harbour.

To up the ante, take the hour-long ferry to Macau, a mecca for boys who like to party hard. Like HK, a Special Administrative Region (SAR), the Portuguese presence in Macau over four centuries gives it an exotic appeal – from its food, culture to architecture. Having the world’s highest population density (20,497 people per sq km), two islands south of the mainland Coloane and Taipa were joined in a massive land reclamation project to form the Co-tai Strip, a 5.2 sq km gambling haven.

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In 2007, it turned the tables on Las Vegas as the world leader in gambling revenue. Most of the 30 million visitors to Macau are drawn by 24-hour gambling at the 33 casinos and integrated resorts – Venetian Resort, City of Dreams, Sands Cotai, Galaxy Macau Resort and Wynn Palace, which opened this year. Event planners like Ludih can help you organize the ultimate stag bash with stretch limos, VIP access at clubs and private parties in luxury hotel suites.

Jet Airways flies to Hong Kong

For more info, visit www.macaotourism.gov.mo

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Go beer guzzling in Germany
Beer by the tankards or ‘ein mass’ (one measure in a large mug), pigging out on red meat (sausages to steaks) and busty bier mädchen (beer maidens) dressed in dirndls (Alpine peasant costume) and tight-fitting bodices that make Hooters seem like a church choir; Germany is custom-built for a boys’ week out. Beer Bike Tours combine two of the best German specialties – beer and engineering – plonk with your pals on stools around a small bar and quaff beer while pedaling your beermobile. It’s a good way to burn off what you’ll put on.

Drive from north to south Germany on the Deutsch Fachwerke Strasse (Half-Timbered House Road), checking out local brews at the 1200 breweries between Bremen and Munich. Pop in at Munich’s famous beer hall Hofbräuhaus and the Bier & Oktoberfest Museum. Or head straight to Berlin, legendary for its hedonistic club scene and endless party hours. There’s hardly a block in Berlin without a bar though the top spots are in the hipster district of Kreuzberg.

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Check out Berlin’s oldest biergarten Prater or rent a raft and float down the Spree River. Go dancing at the open-air Club der Visionaire off the Spree or Matrix in an abandoned train station – almost every club in Berlin is built in an abandoned something! Split up into smaller groups to get into clubs like Sysiphos or the infamous techno haven Berghain.

The German love for kink is apparent in strip clubs like Golden Dolls or CP Club and adult entertainment venues like Artimis and Kit Kat Club. For a mad time, visit during the 16-day long Oktoberfest (mid-September to first Sunday in October)! Don’t forget to take home a stein (no, not a stain but a stoneware mug) as a memento.

Jet Airways flies to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, from where its codeshare partners Etihad and KLM have several connections to Frankfurt, Munich or Berlin.

For more info, visit www.germany.travel

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Rum tasting in Mauritius
If you were considering Mauritius for your destination wedding or honeymoon, your bachelor party might be a good way to scope it out. Sensuous Sega dancers and fire-eaters by the beach, endless rum tasting sessions at rhumeries like Chateau de Labourdonnais, Chamarel, L’Aventure du Sucre and Saint Aubin and riding out to reefs for diving or snorkeling with the boys; Mauritius is not your average lazy tropical paradise.

There’s a lot for the adventure enthusiast – SeaKart, UnderSea Walk, Sub Scooter and Submarine tours with Blue Safari (the only sub operation in the Indian Ocean), the world’s third longest zipline and Quad Biking at La Vallée des Couleurs and Casela Nature Park. And if you’re into golf, there are over a dozen world class courses.

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With all the action packed in a relatively small island nation (65km long, 45km wide) and plush beachside resorts like Shanti Maurice, Sofitel Imperial and Radisson Blu Azuri, no adventure is far away. Dine on the best of French, Caribbean and Creole cuisine and wash it down with rum macerated with tropical fruits and spices.

Jet Airways flies twice a week from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to Mauritius

For more info, visit www.tourism-mauritius.mu

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Bar hopping in Dublin
Few cities have the pulse and vibe of Dublin where the pub, the poet and the pint are seemingly inseparable. The Irish are a friendly lot and it’s easy to strike up a conversation, make new friends and party like a local. Start your pilgrimage with a visit to the Guinness Storehouse and their St James Gate Brewery where they teach you everything from how to pour the perfect pint o’ Guinness and how to drink one!

For a traditional Dublin pub experience with a live band, Irish music and food, The Merry Ploughboy Irish music pub is a must do. Wowing audiences since 1989, they even have a pick-up and drop facility from town. Go on a Dublin Literary Pub Crawl with quirky book-themed tours in the footsteps of famous authors through Dublin’s cobbled streets. Professional actors double up as guides performing from the works of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.

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Sounds too dense? Hit the Temple Bar area to wet your whistle at Kitty O’Shea’s, The Hole in the Wall and The Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub that opened in 1198. Not into beer? Take the scenic Giant’s Causeway Coastal route and head for an Irish whiskey experience at The Old Jameson Distillery (reopening after a makeover in March 2017).

Jet Airways flies to London, from where you can fly to Dublin or Belfast.

For more info, visit www.ireland.com

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Go Down Under in style in Australia
If you’re all set to change your FB status from Single to Married (or It’s Complicated), go down under in style by celebrating Down Under. Base yourself in Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD) and you’re just a hop, skip and jump from all the entertainment – bars, restaurants, gentleman’s clubs and a variety of shows. Plus, in CBD, the trams are free!

Stay at Citadines on Bourke Street or check into luxe tents at St. Jerome’s with scenic views and bespoke brewery tours run by the Temple Brewing Co. For whiskey tastings, there’s The Humble Tumbler, Bar 1806 and Whisky & Alement. Australia is the perfect place for XXXX fun and we don’t mean Castlemaine!

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Take the fun out to sea with a stripper cruise or have a poker party with topless barmaids and nude waitresses. Drive out of town with your mates to Philip Island for surfing and to watch penguins, seals and wallabies in the wild. The Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit which hosts the Moto GP in October also has a 720m go-karting track. Continue the party on the Great Ocean Road past the Twelve Apostles to Sydney if you have more time… and stamina!

Jet Airways flies to Singapore, from where its codeshare partner Qantas flies to Melbourne and Sydney

For more info, www.visitmelbourne.com

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Island hopping in Indonesia
Imagine this. The moment you land in Bali, you and your Wolf Pack is whisked from the airport to your private pool villa in Semenyak where party girls welcome you with chilled Bintangs. Your pool party has its own DJ, with VIP access to top clubs at night and cruising on a luxury yacht with your bevy of beauties. Yes, in Bali, everything is possible.

If you don’t want to depend on an event planner, DIY, but don’t DUI. Choose a regular hotel in the main tourist hub of Kuta so you’re never far from action. Catch the sunset at beach shacks like Ku De Ta, Potato Head, Cocoon or Mozaic, then go late night clubbing at Sky Garden in Legian. The next day, recover with Balinese massages and foot reflexology. In the posher precinct Semenyak, you can have your own pool villa with party spots like Bounty, Mirror and Koh close by.

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Fly out to Labuan Bajo in Flores, where you can go diving and deep sea fishing or head out on a boat trip to Komodo Island to watch giant reptiles. With getaways like Sulawesi, Lombok and nearly 18,000 islands (of which 8844 are named and 922 permanently inhabited), you are indeed spoilt for choice.

Jet Airways flies to Bangkok and Singapore, from where its codeshare partner Garuda Indonesia flies to Bali

For more info, visit www.indonesia.travel

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Glamping in Oman
Oman may not seem like the most obvious choice for a bachelor party, but if you’re looking for good clean fun, the Desert Nation has quite a few surprises. Smoke sheeshas on the sands like a Bedouin, swim in wadis with barbecue parties at Wadi Bani Khalid, trek in the Al Hajar mountains or go dune bashing, quad biking and sandboarding with your buddies at Sharqiya Sands.

But perish the thoughts of basic ‘Abdullah and the Camel’ sort of tents, Desert Nights Camp will spoil you silly with glamping (glamour-camping). Tents fit for sultans dressed up with plush rugs and drapes, the nomadic strains of the darbouka (stringed instrument) and oud (percussion) and the tantalizing aroma of barbecued meat, Oman is as sensory as its aromatic frankincense. Fly from Muscat to Khasab for 4X4 drives across rugged terrain and luxury dhow cruises with dolphin spotting and snorkeling at Telegraph Island.

Jet Airways flies to Muscat

For more info, visit www.omantourism.gov.om

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Explore the coffee shops of Amsterdam
Amsterdam has all the ingredients to threaten your marriage, so go at your own peril. A lot of the stuff illegal elsewhere is legit here. Much as the city likes to shrug the tag, over half a million tourists are drawn by visions of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Amsterdam’s legendary coffee shops, currently trimmed down to 220, come with elaborate menus offering everything from Moroccan Ice to Malana Cream for a Cheech & Chong stoner holiday.

There’s no better example of Amsterdam’s drug tolerance than Bulldog Leidseplein, formerly a police station, decorated with criminal artifacts! Scour the top forty listed in the local Mellow Pages: A Smoker’s Guide to Amsterdam and pop by at the award-winning Green House, The Grasshopper or Barney’s for a hit. The Cannabis Cup in November used to be a great time to visit until the recent clampdown. Another mandatory pitstop is Amsterdam’s red light district De Wallen, where you’ll learn a new meaning to the term ‘window shopping’. For those racked by guilt, look out for the “Pimp Free Zone” sticker.

Jet Airways flies to Amsterdam

For more info, visit www.holland.com

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Get unreal in Montreal

With its trendy bars, nightclubs, strip clubs, every sort of club, Montreal is not called Sin City of the North for nothing. Get party girls to go clubbing with you, visit lap dance bars, try naked sushi or get your freak on at Kamasutra Club and Club Supersexe. St Laurent is a buzzing entertainment quarter while Crescent Street has great bars like Mad Hatter and Churchill’s, which has daily happy hours.

Montreal has a certain French flair and many time their bachelor parties in time for the cold winter sports season (thus justifying the need for warmth) or events like the jazz festival. Looking for an all-expense paid pre-arranged tour? Connect with www.connectedmontreal.com

Jet Airways flies to London Heathrow from where its codeshare partner Air Canada flies to Montreal, Toronto and other destinations

For more info, visit www.canada.travel

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unabridged version of the article that appeared in the October 2016 issue of JetWings International magazine.

Ale and Arty: The history of beer

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On the occasion of International Beer Day, celebrated on the first Friday of August, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY trace the journey of beer in a lager than life story

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After water and tea, beer is the third most popular drink in the world. Such was its value in the ancient world that it was part of the daily wages of the workers who built the pyramids in Egypt! Before learning to make bread, prehistoric nomads used grain and water to make beer – it’s almost as if man had learnt to drink before he learnt to eat. Speaking of priorities, if the world was coming to an end and you were reprimanded for stowing away a few cases of beer, tell them that Noah’s provisions on the Ark included beer.

Besides being the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world, beer is also the oldest, with a history of nearly 12,000 years. It dates back to the early Neolithic Age or 9500 BC, when cereal was first farmed. As hunter-gatherer tribes settled into agrarian civilizations based around staple crops like wheat, rice, barley and maize, they stumbled upon the process of fermentation and thus started brewing beer. According to anthropologists, beer was the driving force that led nomadic mankind into village life…It was his appetite for beer-making that led to crop cultivation, permanent settlement and agriculture.

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Though the earliest known alcoholic beverage is a 9,000-year-old Chinese brew of rice, honey and fruit, the first barley beer was born in the Middle East and is recorded in the written history of ancient Iraq and Egypt. In Mesopotamia, the oldest evidence of beer is a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet depicting people drinking a beverage through reed straws from a communal bowl.

The early beer was cloudy and unfiltered and was usually drunk with a straw to strain the bitter solids from the brew. As early as 3000 BC, the Babylonians had nearly 20 different types of beer. They were so finicky about the quality of beer that if someone brewed a bad batch, he would be drowned in it as punishment!

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Some of humanity’s earliest known writings refer to the production and distribution of beer. The Code of Hammurabi included laws regulating beer and beer parlours. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the ale-wife Siduri dispenses this ancient advice to Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk – ‘Fill your belly. Day and night make merry’. Early Sumerian writings contain numerous references to beer; including The Hymn to Ninkasi.

Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir (barley bread) in the big oven, Puts in order the piles of hulled grains, You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground…You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort… Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat, It is like the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.” At a time when literacy was limited to the privileged, the prayer to the beer goddess doubled up as a method of remembering the recipe for the common folk! It also gives us a deep insight that in olden times the ‘brewsters’ were mostly women.

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The Finnish epic Kalevala, based on centuries old oral traditions, devotes more lines to the origin of beer and brewing than it does to the origin of mankind. Beer was spread through Europe by Germanic and Celtic tribes in 3000 BC, when it was brewed on a domestic scale. By 7th century AD, beer was being produced and sold by European monasteries. The early European beers contained fruits, honey, plants, spices and narcotic herbs like hemp and poppy. Hops were a later addition, first mentioned in Europe around 822 by a Carolingian Abbot and in 1067 by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen.

From 1000 AD, beer began to be bittered with wild herbs such as bog myrtle, lemon balm, borage, St John’s wort or elderberries. Hops were added to beer to reduce the putrefaction caused by micro organisms. The 12th century Old Icelandic poem Alvíssmál says, “Ale it is called among men, but among the gods, beer.”

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The practice slowly spread across Europe and reached Britain by the middle of the 15th century. The British drinking song ‘Beer, Beer Beer’ gives an apocryphal origin – ‘A long time ago, way back in history, When all there was to drink was nothin’ but cups of tea, Along came a man by the name of Charlie Mopps, And he invented the wonderful drink, and he made it out of hops.’

The popularity of the English pubs, alehouses and taverns in the 17th century gave rise to a popular phrase. Keeping a watch on the alcohol consumption of patrons was always a big problem for bartenders, who would sometimes scribble ‘p’ or ‘q’ on the tally slate to indicate the pints and quarts consumed. As a reminder, the bartender would recommend his patrons that they ‘mind their Ps and Qs’ in all honesty. Today, the bartending term implies to mind one’s manners.

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One reason for the beer’s universal popularity in the medieval age was the poor quality of drinking water – rivers and canals were often contaminated by animal or human waste and beer seemed a safer alternative to drinking water. In the Middle Ages, the largest brewers were the monasteries. Besides generating a large revenue, beer was a refreshing break from the austere lifestyle and could be enjoyed even while fasting. In some monasteries, it was permissible to have as much as five litres a day.

Not surprisingly, it led to quite a few tipsy clerics. Legend has it, Alpirsbach in Germany was so named when a glass of beer slipped from the hand of an inebriated monk and rolled into the river, causing him to exclaim, ‘All Bier ist in den Bach’ (All the beer is in the stream)! Even today, Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu is brewed from pure spring water. The oldest monastic brewery Klosterschenke Weltenburg has been brewing its delicious dark beer since 1050. With over 1200 breweries scattered between Bremen to Munich, Germany is easily a place of pilgrimage for beer lovers with Munich’s Hofbräuhaus in Bavaria the most famous beer hall.

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In 1516, William IV, Duke of Bavaria, adopted the Reinheitsgebot (purity law), perhaps the oldest food-quality regulation still in use today, where the only allowed ingredients of beer are water, hops and barley-malt. Prior to the late 18th century, malt was primarily dried over fires made from wood, charcoal or straw, and in 1642, from coke. Beers made from malt roasted with coke is called ‘pale ale’ though the term wasn’t used until 1703. Thus early beers had a smoky flavour and brewers constantly tried to minimize it.

With the invention of the steam engine in 1765 and the onset of the Industrial Revolution, beer moved from artisanal and domestic manufacture to large scale production. Technological advancements of the 19th century brought about great advancements in the beer making process. The development of hydrometers and thermometers allowed the brewer more control of the process and greater knowledge of the results.

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In 1817 Daniel Wheeler invented the drum roaster which led to the creation of dark, roasted malts, contributing to the rise of porters and stouts. Porter, a darker version of beer, was invented in England while stout is a more full-bodied or stouter version of porter. The discovery of yeast’s role in fermentation by Louis Pasteur gave brewers methods to prevent the souring of beer caused by undesirable microorganisms. In 1864, he also developed pasteurization to stabilize beers – 22 years before the process was applied to milk!

In the nineteenth century, beers from the Bow Brewery in England were exported to India by sea. By the time the pale ale reached Indian shores after a long sea voyage, the beer would get spoilt. In order to prolong its shelf life, brewers added more hops (a natural preservative), and the India Pale Ale or IPA was born – a refreshing bitter brew for the tropical climate.

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It was another accident that gave the world its number one stout – Guinness. At the St James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, the Irish ground barley was overheated, resulting in the trademarked ‘Black Stuff’. And the rest was history. Today, the Guinness Storehouse is Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction. Visitors begin their journey at the bottom of the world’s largest pint glass (the hollow of the building is shaped like one), continuing up through seven floors filled with interactive experiences.

See the Director’s Safe with a sample of the original starter yeast, check out Arthur Guinness’ 9000-year-old lease for the brewery site, learn to pour the perfect pint and drink using the five senses. At the top, have a pint in the rooftop Gravity Bar for higher education of a different kind. Beer enthusiasts often say that the Guinness in Dublin tastes better than anywhere else. This is largely due to the hard mineral-rich spring water from the Wicklow Mountains favourable for stout.

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Regions have water with different mineral components better suited to making certain types of beer, thus giving them a regional character. Pilsen has soft water well suited to making pale lager, such as Pilsner Urquell while the waters of Burton in England contain gypsum, which is ideal for pale ale. The process of adding gypsum to water by some brewers is called Burtonisation! Recently, the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in Switzerland’s most famous spa town had brewed a special beer called Quell 36.5 made from the healing thermal waters of the Tamina River!

Singapore’s iconic beer brand Tiger runs an excellent Brewery Tour as well. In a 45-minute guided tour, unravel 80 years of brewing history at the Visitor center as you challenge yourself with a specially created multimedia brewing game, a tour of the brew house and learn to tap your own beer in the packaging gallery. A 45-minute beer appreciation session follows as you sample the range of brews at the Tiger Tavern.

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Beer forms part of the pub culture of beer-drinking nations such as Germany, Belgium, UK and the US, and led to the evolution of activities like pub crawling, pub games, drinking songs and beer festivals. In 1810, Munich established Oktoberfest as an official celebration. Held between mid-September and the first Sunday in October, the 16-day event draws over six million visitors and nearly 5 million litres of beer are consumed! A special dark, strong beer called Wies’nbier is brewed specially for the occasion. The Bier & Oktoberfest Museum in Munich, housed in a 14th-century timber-framed building, enshrines all the Oktoberfest regalia from earlier editions.

In the 1830’s Bavarians Gabriel Sedlmayr of Munich and Anton Dreher of Vienna developed the lager method of beer production. And as German immigrants moved to the US the 1850’s, brewers introduced cold maturation lagers, giving rise to brands like Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors, Stroh, Schlitz and Pabst. However, modern brewing took off in the late 1800’s due to critical factors like commercial refrigeration, automatic bottling, pasteurization and railroad distribution. In the 1870’s Adolphus Busch employed double-walled railcars and a network of icehouses to make Budweiser the first national brand.

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Today, the US is leading the way in the latest global trend of craft beer. A microbrewery or craft brewery is usually independently owned and produces small amounts of beer, characterized by their emphasis on quality, flavour and brewing technique. In Bengaluru, a city that has long loved its draught beer and wears the crown of India’s ‘Pub Capital’, craft beer has taken off with brewers boldly using Indian flavours. Till a few years ago, words like basmati, banana, clove and coriander would have seemed out of place in a brewery; not any more.

When the American craft brewery from Ann Arbor, Michigan, came to India in 2012, it introduced signature varieties like Sacred Cow IPA, Brasserie Blonde, ChaiPA, Garam Masala Pale Ale and the malty Belgian tripel. Windmills Craftworks in Whitefield, known for their excellent beer and American diner fare in a jazz theatre setting with book-lined walls offer great Stout, Helles, Hefeweizen (German wheat beer), Golden Ale and IPA. With equipment and a brewmaster imported from the US, they stick to the international nomenclature. And if you haven’t made up your mind yet, start with a tasting set of six.

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The spirit of experimentation goes on at Toit where patrons can imbibe coffee and chocolate ‘Dark Knight’ stout, Basmati Blonde – described as a ‘love child of India’s Basmati Rice and German Pilsner malt’, besides special ales infused with chilli, passion fruit or millet and jaggery. Be it Porter at Barleyz or Apple Cider at Prost, Wheat at Vapor or Stout at The Biere Club, craft beer lovers are spoilt for choice.

With aficionados loving the complexities of craft beer over regular bottled beer, the trend has established strong roots in cities like Mumbai, Gurgaon, Chandigarh and Pune. Here, in Bengaluru, love for the amber fluid is quite strong. If you throw a stone, chances are you’ll either hit an app developer or a microbrewery.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the Cover Story on 31 July, 2016 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

Flying Colours: Holi across India

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India is the land of festivals and no other festival has captured people’s imagination as Holi, the festival of colours, accompanied by music, mirth and feasting. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY capture the celebrations across the country. 

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While Holi is played across India, its regional variations are as myriad as the hues that colour the festival.Be it murals in temples and havelis or miniature paintings, Holi is a recurrent theme in Indian art and literature. Neither does any other Indian festival have so many Bollywood songs dedicated to it. Gabbar Singh’s immortal lines in Sholay were not ‘Diwali kab hai’ or ‘Dussehra kab hai’, but ‘Holi kab hai’!

In sacred Brajbhoomi, at Lord Krishna’s birthplace Mathura and Vrindavan, where he grew up, Holi is celebrated with great pomp for 16 days. Special pujas are held until Rang Panchami to commemorate the divine love of Radha and Krishna. Legend has it that Krishna developed his blue skin as a child when the she-demon Putana poisoned him with her breast milk. In his adolescence, Krishna often despaired whether the fair-skinned Radha will like him because of his dark skin. One day, tired of his constant pestering, his mother asked him to colour Radha’s face in any colour he wished. Krishna goes ahead and does it and in doing so, Radhe-Krishna become a couple. Ever since, the playful colouring of Radha’s face has been commemorated as Holi.

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Armed with pichkaris (water guns) and gulal (coloured powder), tolis or bands of men trawl the streets. But as if drenching each other with coloured water and painting faces black and blue wasn’t enough, people decided to whack each other with sticks! Radha’s village Barsana near Mathura celebrates a sadomasochistic brand of Holi called Lathmar Holi. Men from Nandgaon impersonating Krishna, come to play Holi with the ladies of Barsana who beat them up with lathis. The festival begins with a ceremony in the Radha Rani temple – the only temple in India dedicated to Radha. The procession of men marches down the Rang Rangeeli Gali (Colourful Street) where lathi-wielding women await them gleefully.

The tradition commemorates the event when Krishna stole the gopika’s clothes from the bathing ghat and Radha and her friends decided to teach him a lesson. Songs are sung in earthy Braj bhasha as chants of ‘Sri Radhey’ and ‘Sri Krishna’ rend the air amid clouds of colour. Males sing provocative songs to invite the women’s attention, who reply with well-oiled lathis as men protect themselves with leather shields. The next day, gops from Barsana go to Nandgaon in a reciprocal gesture so that everyone gets a fair, sound beating.

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Outside Braj, in rural hinterlands of UP-Bihar, Holi lasts for seven days with colour and often degenerates into mud-slinging and dunking people into pits of keechad (sludge). In Kanpur dehaat (rural), a grand fair called Ganga Mela or Holi Mela is celebrated on the last day at various ghats along the banks of the Ganga. The fair, started by freedom fighters during the first war of independence in 1857, marks the official end of the Holi celebrations in Kanpur.

In Gujarat, Holi is celebrated for two days. On the first evening people light a bonfire (holika) and offer raw coconut and corn to the fire. The second day is dhuleti, the festival of colour, where vibrant hues are applied to each other. The coastal city of Dwarka, once Krishna’s capital, celebrates Holi with festivities at the Dwarkadheesh temple and comedy shows held across the city.

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Ahmedabad celebrates Holi like Janmashtami, with a pot of buttermilk suspended over the streets as boys form human pyramids to reach and break it. Girls try to stop them by throwing coloured water while gops heckle the girls. It commemorates the pranks of Krishna and the cowherd boys to steal butter. The boy who manages to break the pot is crowned ‘Holi King’. Afterwards, they all set out in a large procession issuing mock warnings to people that Krishna might come to steal butter from their homes.

The word Holi itself originates from Holika, the evil sister of demon king Hiranyakashipu. According to Puranic lore, Hiranyakashipu had earned a boon from Lord Brahma that made him almost invincible. He grew arrogant, demanding that everyone worship him. His son Prahlad however, remained steadfast in his devotion to Vishnu. This angered Hiranyakashipu, who subjected him to torture. One day Prahlada’s evil aunt Holika tricked him into sitting on a pyre – she wore a magical cloak that would protect her. As the fire raged, the cloak flew from Holika and shrouded Prahlada. Holika burned while Prahlada survived. Vishnu appeared as Narasimha, ‘part-man, part-lion’, and killed Hiranyakashipu.

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The next day after the fire cooled down, people smeared the ash on their foreheads, a ritual still observed by some. Over time, people started using coloured powder instead of ash. The bonfire is a reminder of the symbolic victory of good over evil. Falling in the Hindu month of Phalguna (Feb-March), Holi marks the agricultural season of the rabi crop. The festival is also a harbinger of spring and a celebration of love. Since it occurs on the first day of the panchang (Hindu calendar), Holi is hailed as the beginning of the year. People often undertake spring cleaning at home. It is an auspicious time for new beginnings, to forgive and make up, momentarily forget differences and celebrate with music, gaiety and laughter.

The Kumaoni Holi in Uttarakhand is a musical affair with many forms. In Baithki Holi and Khari Holi, people sing songs based on classical ragas. Baithki Holi or Nirvan Ki Holi begins in temple courtyards, where Holiyars sing Holi songs set to classical music and people join in. The songs are sung in a particular order based on the time of day. At noon, the songs are set to Peelu, Bhimpalasi and Sarang ragas, while evening songs are based on Kalyan, Shyamkalyan and Yaman. Khari Holi is celebrated in rural Kumaon with men in white kurta-pyjamas dancing in groups to the tune of ethnic musical instruments like dhol and hurka. Women too have fun, often with bawdy songs, in private assemblies called Mahila Holi.

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Across Kumaon, the cheer or Holika pyre is made amid great ceremony at the Cheer Bandhan fifteen days before Dulhendi. A green Paiya tree branch is placed in the middle. Every village fervently guards its cheer as rival mohallas from the neighborhood try to playfully pilfer each other’s pile. The colours used in Holi are sourced naturally. Chharad is made from flower extracts, ash and water and thus Dulhendi is also known as Chharadi. During Holi. walls and courtyards of rural houses in Punjab are decorated with drawings and paintings by women. This art, similar to rangoli in South India or mandana in Rajasthan, is known as chowk poorana locally. Flowers, plants, peacocks, palanquins and geometric patterns form key motifs.

In east India, Holi is called Phaguwa in Bihar’s Bhojpuri dialect and Phakuwa or Dol Jatra in Assam. Neighbourhood kids roam around to collect dry twigs, branches and leaves to make a large wood pile, often competing for the largest bonfire. On the eve of Phalgun Poornima, people light the holika pyre. They put dried cow dung cakes, wood of the araad or redi tree, grains from the fresh harvest and food offerings. The next day the festival is celebrated with colours from morning to afternoon. In the evening, families visit their friends and relatives for Holi Milan and apply abeer (coloured powder) to each other or daub the feet of the elderly for blessings. It’s an open house with an array of food laid out for visitors.

JetWings Holi

Holi is synonymous with feasting and kitchens are abuzz days before the festival with elaborate preparation of sweets, savouries and other delicacies. Women make gujiya, malpua, laddus, khoa barfi, kheer, namakpare (namkeen) and shakarpare in large quantities to welcome guests. The highlight and often the cause of all revelry is bhang. A lot of time is devoted to grinding cannabis into a smooth paste, used to make bhang kulfi or pedas, fried into pakodas or spiking milk infused with dry fruits as thandai. For lunch, people prefer to be vegetarian with poori-sabzi (usually kathal or jackfruit) and dahi vada.

In Assam, Holi is closely associated with the Vaishnava satras of Barpeta. On the first day, clay huts are burnt while on the second day people play with colour. In Bengal, Holi is called Dol Jatra or the Swing Festival. Icons of Radha and Krishna are taken around the streets on a dol (decorated palanquin). On the morning of Dol Purnima, people dress up in saffron or white clothes, wear garlands and sing and dance to the tunes of the ektara (single stringed instrument). Women dance around the swing and sing devotional songs while men throw coloured water and abeer at them. The tradition of celebrating Vasantotsav (Spring Festival) at Shantiniketan through music was started by Rabindranath Tagore. Typical traditional sweets like basanti (saffron) sandesh, payash (kheer) and saffron milk are offered to visitors.

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In Odisha, the icon of Lord Jagannath is taken in a procession called Dola Melana with bhoga being ritually offered to the deity. Holi is also part of the Konkani spring festival Shigmo, which lasts for about a month. In Goa and Maharashtra, Hindus worship the fire as they perform Holika Dahan, followed by Dhuli vandan or playing with colours and haldune or offering of yellow (turmeric colour) to the deity.

In some cultures, the significance of fire is associated with the burning of Kama, the God of Love. Legend has it that the demon Tarakasura could be killed only by Shiva’s son. But after Sati’s death, a grieving Shiva withdrew into a shell. Without the procreative will, all creation and life came to a standstill. Kama shot Lord Shiva with his love dart to arouse his feelings towards Parvati, but was burnt to cinders after Shiva opened his third eye. Down south, children in north Karnataka collect firewood for weeks and the wood pile burnt on the eve of Holi is called Kamadahana. In Sirsi, Holi is celebrated with a unique folk dance called Bedara Vesha or Hunter’s Dance, performed at night across five days before the festival.

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The colors of Holi have run beyond India’s borders to wherever the Indian diaspora has emigrated – Malaysia, Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, US and UK. In countries where ISKCON is fairly active, Holi translates into one big community party. Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Utah, Holi NYC in Brooklyn and several cities across Germany celebrate Holi: Festival of Colors on a grand scale. Thailand has a similar water festival called Songkran, derived from the word ‘Sankranti.’ No matter where you go, the infectious spirit of Holi remains the same, a time to let your hair down and scream ‘Holi hai!

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the Cover Story in the March 2016 issue of JetWings International magazine. 

Haute Springs: World’s top thermal baths

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For centuries, the earth’s thermal springs have been harnessed for their curative and restorative properties. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out top spa regions across Europe.

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What better way to beat the winter chill than soaking the warmth of thermal baths that spring forth from the bowels of the earth? While India has its share of hot water springs known for their healing properties – from Tattapani, Vashisht and Manikaran in Himachal Pradesh to Surajkund in Jharkhand, thermal baths around the globe have raised the bar on relaxation and rejuvenation experiences. Here’s a list of top international hot spa destinations where the beau monde (fashionable elite) submerge in nature’s bathtubs. It’s time to get out of your thermals and get into one!

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Bad Ragaz, Switzerland
Bad Ragaz, a tiny town snug in the foothills of the Pizol Mountains in Switzerland’s St Gallen Canton, has been a famed destination for health care since Baroque times. The concept of wellness dates back to 13th century, when hunters discovered the hot springs and Benedictine monks built the first bathhouse near the source. Monks risked life and limb to lower people down into the thermal waters of the cavernous Tamina gorge, sometimes leaving them there for a week to heal! Back in the day, only the Russian aristocracy could afford such luxuries. Channeling the pure 36.5˚C ‘blue gold’ waters from a spring deep within the splendorous Tamina Gorge in the Pfӓfers, the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz is Europe’s award-winning top Wellbeing Thermal Spa and Medical Resort. The warm healing waters form a vast watery oasis comprising the azure colonnaded haven Helenabad, the Sportbad and Garden pool besides a dreamy white public Tamina Therme replete with an outdoor waterfall and panoramic views of snowy peaks.

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A place for blissful wintertime rejuvenation, Bad Ragaz is an ideal sanctuary for personal wellbeing. Indulge in massage and aqua therapies, beauty treatments, specially designed health packages and menus, romantic private couple spa suites and outstanding cuisine in a choice of 8 elegant restaurants (including the Michelin-starred Abestube relaunched as Swiss top chef Andreas Caminada’s gourmet nook ‘Igniv’). True to the vision of its founding architect Bernhard Simon, the Grand Resort retains much of its historic architecture. Bad Ragartz – the triennial art festival virtually transforms the whole place into a sculpture park. Other wonderful distractions include its backyard casino and wine-tours in nearby villages of Malans and Maienfeld, visits to the highlands of Heididorf which inspired Johanna Spyri’s literary children’s classic, winter sports in Pizol’s ski resorts, mountain biking, quaint horse carriage rides and tours in the Schluchtenbus to Tamina Gorge and Altes Bad Pfӓfers (old thermal spa). 2015 marked the 175 Year Anniversary of routing the Tamina waters to the resort where guests have the privilege of enjoying its abundant curative powers on tap or, in its waterfalls, pools, saunas and steam chambers.

Getting there: Fly to Zurich and take the train to Bad Ragaz, 1 hr away.

For more info, visit www.resortragaz.ch/en.html, www.myswitzerland.com

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Bukowina Tatrzańska, Poland
South of the old Polish capital of Krakow on the Slovakia border lies the tiny village of Bukowina Tatrzańska. Tucked at the base of the Tatra Mountains, thermal geysers have been used for their restorative powers throughout the Carpathian range for centuries. But the geothermal health complex at Bukovina Hotel is the largest of its kind in Poland. Thermal waters rich in sulphur, calcium, chloride and sodium are piped from fissures as deep as 2400-2700 m. Rejuvenate in 20 indoor and outdoor swimming pools equipped with hydro-massage, choice of eight saunas including Roman, Finnish, Highlander, Floral and Infrared, besides spa and wellness treatments. With thermal waters ranging from 30 to 38°C, the outdoor pools are popular in winter as well! The adventure sports hub and Poland’s winter capital Zakopane is just 14 km away. Enjoy all things Polish with a traditional meal and highlander music at Bakowo Zohylina Wyznio and pick up unique local souvenirs such as the ciupaga (shepherd’s axe), highlander hat or oscypek (mountain cheese).

Getting there: Fly to Krakow and drive 80km south to Bukowina Tatrzańska.

For more info, visit www.termabukowina.pl, www.poland.travel

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Black Forest, Germany
Wellness has been a longstanding tradition in Germany with health resorts harnessing natural springs and spa towns often prefixed with bad meaning ‘bath’. The invigorating climate, woodland air and therapeutic waters create the perfect recipe for wellness vacations. From iodine-rich salt waters of Bad Bevensen in the heart of Lüneburg Heath to Bad Driburg, a family-run mud and mineral spa set in a nature reserve, there are plenty of other options. Bad Harzburg’s  saline thermal spring wells, the mineral and saltwater spa of Bad Salzuflen, the restorative properties of spring water, Ahr wine & Eifel mud at Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, the erstwhile royal spa of Bad Homburg vor der Höhe and the 150-year-old Bad Reichenhall in the Alps known for treating respiratory illnesses. In Bavaria, get pampered at the mineral spa and golf resort of Bad Griesbach or in the sprawling 120,000 sq m pools at the legendary spa resort Bad Füssing. However, Germany’s largest nature reserve Black Forest, has the highest number of hydrotherapy, climatic, thermal and mineral spa resorts. From the world-famous thermal spa Baden-Baden or salt-water spa and climatic health resort Bad Dürrheim, the Northern Black Forest Spa Route is a 270 km circuit of idyllic valleys, mineral springs, spa towns and health resorts, besides immaculate half-timbered buildings, castles, palaces, monasteries, lakes, coniferous forests, peat bogs and vineyards. Relax in the bubbling waters of mineral baths and peat spa at Bad Rippoldsau, the adventure pool at Bad Wildbad or Paracelsus Spa at Bad Liebenzell.

Getting there: Fly to Zürich, Frankfurt or Stuttgart and drive to Black Forest

For more info, visit www.schwarzwald-tourismus.info, www.germany.travel

Pamukkale Turkey Thermal bath

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Steamy hamams (Turkish bath), soft Turkish towels and stepping out of a thermal pool into the comfort of a bornoz (thick traditional bathrobe), there’s no place like Turkey for hot water relaxation. The country ranks among the 7 richest places in the world in terms of thermal sources. The presence of seismic faults has blessed the vast country with nearly 1300 hot springs across Anatolia, with temperatures ranging between 20-110oC. Start at the historic capital Istanbul with several hamams designed by master architect Mimar Sinan for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Many have been restored and modernized to provide a superb hamam experience – Çemberlitaş Hamamı, the five-century-old Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı or Roxelana’s Bath and Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı, part of a historic mosque complex dating to 1500. An hour’s cruise by ferry south of Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara and a short taxi ride gets you to Termal, 11 km southwest of Yalova, a resort popular in Roman times and rebuilt by the Ottoman sultans. However, the highlight is the UNESO heritage site of Pamukkale. Perched on a 200 m high cliff overlooking the plains of Cürüksu in southwest Turkey, the name literally means ‘Cotton Palace’ after the calcite-laden waterfalls and dazzling white terraced basins resembling fluffy cotton clouds. The nearby thermal spa city Heirapolis established at the end of the 2nd Century B.C thrived throughout the Greco-Roman and Byzantine periods. Soak in the ethereal crescent basins in pools of warm 35°C water and dream of a once vibrant city full of baths, cathedrals, churches, necropolis and theatre; now in ruins.

Getting there: Fly to Istanbul and Denizli, from where Pamukkale is just 50 km.

For more info, visit https://goturkey.com, www.yalovatermal.com

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Budapest, Hungary
Thanks to a unique geological feature, Budapest sits on over 100 thermal springs that feed the city’s famous bathhouses. It’s called the ‘City of Baths’ for good reason. Budapest is the world’s only capital blessed with thermal waters. Enjoy a unique spa experience at its prime health spa resorts like Four Seasons Gresham Palace or Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget. Take a dip in any of the historic thermal baths in town – the Széchenyi Baths in City Park ranks among Europe’s largest public baths and boasts 18 pools. The century old Gellért Baths, built in Art Nouveau style with a Romanesque swimming pool, is easily Hungary’s most photographed spa. Budapest is also one of the few places to experience traditional Turkish baths built during the Turkish occupation of Hungary in 16th-17th century. Designed with traditional octagonal roofs, domes and pools, the typical Turkish baths at Király, Császár or Rudas Bath hark back to a bygone era where public bathing was not mere indulgence but a way of life.

Getting there: Fly to Budapest via London, Paris, Dubai or Doha.

For more info, visit http://visitbudapest.travel

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the January 2016 issue of JetWings magazine.

The Wooden Road: Germany’s Half Timbered House Trail

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While autobahn is great for speed enthusiasts, ANURAG MALLICK enjoys slow travel on a driving holiday across Swabia in Baden-Württemberg, taking the southern Red Route of the German Timber Frame Road through medieval towns with half-timbered houses and vineyards        

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Having caught the last flight to Stuttgart in the group, I had the least amount of time to do justice to the extensive spread at Restaurant Trollinger at the Mövenpick Hotel just outside Stuttgart Airport, let alone shower and change. But it was a taste of what lay ahead. Patience, I said to myself, as we got ready to take on the Deutsche Fachwerke Strasse.

The historic German Timber Frame Road runs 3,000km north to south through medieval towns with cobbled streets and half-timbered houses, heritage walks by guides in period costume and Swabian cuisine dished out at cellars, weinstube (wine restaurants) and biergartens (beer gardens). We were covering the 772km-long southern Red Route, a dramatic landscape where both history and geography had been shaped by the course of rivers and receding ice after the last Ice Age.

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It was a short drive from Stuttgart to the charming little town of Bietigheim-Bissingen (actually two, for the price one). In 1975, Bietigheim and Bissingen, 3km apart, became twin towns. Locals fondly call them Bi-Bi! Anette Hochmuth from the German Framework Road greeted us near the town square and led us through the Unteres Tor (Lower Gate), the last surviving original gate.

Quirky art was typical of Bietigheim with sculptures like Kuhriousum (a cow on a milk can), Die Schwätzer (The Gossipers) and the outré Villa Visconti or House of Heads sporting a façade with heads of celebrities. We walked to the Marktplatz, the medieval town centre lined with spectacular buildings like the Rathaus (town hall). It was built in 1507 in the Black Forest region, dismantled and brought on rafts down the Enz River and reassembled here. Near the Old Latin School, Hornmoldhaus was one of the best-preserved Renaissance houses in South Germany with exquisite woodwork and painted interiors. It housed the Stadtmuseum (City Museum) and a miniature model of the town.

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The reason they were called half-timbered houses was because of the wood-saving skeleton with self-supporting timber and curtain walls that had a filling of clay, mud, hay or brick. The method was both ecological and aesthetic. Stone was the privilege of the elite, which gave rise to the German expression steinreich or ‘stone rich’.

We continued to the wine village of Besigheim, surrounded by the Neckar and Enz rivers. Dominating the market square was the Town Hall built in 1359 and the charming Dreigabelhaus or Three-gabled house. The traditional Restaurant Ratsstüble is a great place to try Swabian delicacies. Swabia, a historic region in present day Baden-Württemberg, boasts its own distinct culture and cuisine. Our visit co-incided with Spargelzeit or Asparagus Season and the local favourite white asparagus was on the menu. Also on offer was Maultaschen, pasta stuffed with minced meat, spinach, onions and breadcrumbs. And thereby hangs a tale.

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During Lent, ‘good’ Christians usually refrained from meat, but the cheeky Cistercian monks of Maulbronn Abbey were unwilling to do so. They hid the meat inside the pasta so God would not be able to see it! Since it looked like a tasche (bag) and came from Maulbronn, it was called Maultaschen. Nicknamed ‘Swindlers of the Almighty’, the coarser Swabian dialect was less charitable – the tongue twister Herrgottsbescheißerle means ‘God’s little bullshitters’!

Next up was Schorndorf, a 12th-century medieval town famous as the birthplace of Gottlieb Daimler, born here in 1834. His house and birthplace display his drawings, memorabilia and photos, tracing his transformation from a baker’s son to the inventor of the first small, high-speed petrol engine. The Galleries for Art & Technology had several of his inventions, automobiles and the first motorised bike. Daimler was working on an electric engine long before there was running water and electricity.

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In 1350, when Schorndorf’s fortifications were expanded to encircle the burgeoning town with new walls, people appropriated the old city walls to save money. One such specimen was a crooked house on Rommelgasse simply known as The House on the Wall. The houses were so close together one wonders if they could have built a common wall and reduced costs. But a small alleyway separated the houses, to prevent fires from spreading rapidly.

Rather more poignant were the cobblestone-sized memorials we literally stumbled upon. Started in 1996 by Gunter Demnig, these Stolpersteine or stumbling stones were created to commemorate victims of the Holocaust, put outside the house where they were last seen before being deported to concentration camps. Like Schorndorf, nearly 50,000 Stolpersteine can be seen across 18 countries in Europe, making it the world’s largest memorial.

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In under an hour, we reached Esslingen, an old town with 1,200 years of architecture, criss-crossed by cobbled alleys, and the Burg (castle), with vineyards draping its slopes like a royal cloak, lording over town. One had to climb 300 steps for a view of Esslingen from the summit. For now the only fortification we were interested in was of the liquid kind as we ambled into Sektkellerei Kessler—Germany’s oldest producer of sparkling wine. After learning the secret of champagne in France, Georg Christian Kessler returned to set up his own company in 1826. Within the 1,000-year-old walls of the keller (cellar) they produced 1.5 million bottles annually.

Our eloquent guide Mr Roe took us on a tour of the inner city. “German history is too complicated with kings and kaisers fighting for power. After a glass of sekt you forget everything in any case,” he announced. And, thus, we set off to see the most important of the 800 monuments in the Altstadt (Old Town). Schelztor, the square gate tower, had a quirky installation of a man balancing on a pole. The Skywalker, designed by artist Van der Goetze in 1994, symbolised the medieval maxim that if you could support yourself for one year and one day, you became a free citizen.

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Esslingen was the most important European town in the 13th century, superseding even Rome. It lay on the Route 66 of the Middle Ages, connecting Antwerp in the north to Venice in the south, crossing the Neckar River. Esslingen am Neckar prospered due to the two bridges that levied a high toll tax offering safe passage to merchants, thus developing as a trading location. It was the oldest, longest and widest stone bridge in Germany. Esslingen also had the oldest continuous timber-frame front with nearly 200 half-timbered houses.

The Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall), with large doors for easy passage of wine barrels, was the best example of Swabian Allemanic architecture. The Rathaus served as a covered market where the baker, candlestick maker and other craftsmen exhibited their goods. Occasionally a death sentence would be carried out in the top window. The new Town Hall built in 1422 was an architectural marvel with nine bells that played over 200 melodies. Each day was represented by a different statue of the ruling planet, which changed daily thanks to a rotary device.

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After an early dinner at the cosy Weinkeller Einhorn with its recurrent unicorn motif, we continued to scenic Blaubeuren, tucked amidst wooded slopes and rocky outcrops in the valley of the Danube. Being springtime, there was enough daylight to squeeze in a Segway tour to Blautopf (Blue Pool), source of the Blau, Germany’s most beautiful karst spring. Coursing through a 12km-long network of limestone caves and caverns, it emerges from the base of the Swabian Jura (Alps) ending in a 22m deep funnel-shaped pool. The spire of the Benedictine monastery and the water mill mirrored in its blue waters is heart-achingly beautiful.

Blaubeuren’s historic town centre was one of the best-preserved in Germany with lovely lanes to stroll around dotted with shops, cafés and inns. We stopped by at Urgeschichtliches or Prehistoric Museum to see its most prized object. It looked like a dressed chicken, but the 6cm sculpture was a remnant of the last Ice Age—a 40,000-year-old figurine of Venus carved from mammoth ivory. Excavated from the Hohle Fels cavern, 4km southwest, it is counted among the world’s oldest sculptures and is the oldest representation of a female figure.

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At Biberach, another interesting female figure waiting for us. Dressed in a medieval style gown and her hair covered in a scarf (back then if you let your hair loose, you were a loose woman), the ‘wife of the master weaver’ welcomed us to the year 1533. “Watch out for the horseman,” she cautioned, as a motorcar passed close by. It was an entertaining city walk to Weberberg, the medieval craftsmen’s settlement.

In 16th century, around 400 looms were located along the lane and a quarter of the population lived off the weaving trade. Fustian, a cloth made of flax and cotton, was a big hit in the Middle Ages and the source of Biberach’s wealth. Since the flax had to be kept damp, weavers worked in the dank environment of the cellar, often developing chronic coughs. We continued our walk to the stunning Marktplatz (market square) dominated by the Stadtpfarrkirche or St Martin’s Church.

Biberach-Marktplatz or town square IMG_0781_Anurag Mallick

Dinner was at Weinstube Goldener Rebstock where we had been granted the community table. Usually anyone walking into the restaurant could occupy a free seat there and successive people bought the next round. For this, the table came with a bell with the word ‘stammtisch’, which we were told not to ring, unless we wanted to buy the whole restaurant a round of beer. We were happy with our steamed potatoes with cheese platter and *seele (literally, ‘soul’) German footlong with ham.

The next day we came to Pfullendorf, between the river Danube and Lake Constance, where a ‘robber from the 1820s’ took us on a tour. Starting from the northernmost and highest point, Obertor (Upper Gate), the robber decoded secret signs marked on wealthy houses and how money was hidden on wooden beams. The Altes Haus (Old House), built in 1317, was one of the oldest townhouses in Southern Germany with a museum tracing the town’s history. We ended the tour at the subterranean restaurant Felsenkeller with a meal of mashed potatoes and ham baked inside a whole loaf of bread.

Pfullendorf-Heritage walk with medieval era robber IMG_1025_Anurag Mallick

Any more food and we would have rolled down the steep vineyard slopes all the way to Meersburg. It was located on the northern shore of Bodensee or Lake Constance, the largest lake in Germany. Our guide Jutta said the lake freezes once every century (the last time was 1963), an event celebrated with a procession of St John’s statue. Literally, the Castle on the Lake, Meersburg’s baroque skyline was shaped by wealthy prince bishops who employed the famous baroque architect Balthasar Neumann. The Alte Burg (Old Castle) is said to be the oldest in Germany that’s still inhabited.

We explored the chapel in the baroque palace Neues Schloss (New Castle), the Rathaus (Town Hall) and the oldest medieval inn Zum Baren (The Bear) dating back to 1250. Staatsweingut Meersburg is the best place to learn about the region’s wine. Descending sharply to the lakeshore, the vineyards have southern exposure and limestone rich soil originating in the Ice Age, unique to German viticulture. With lovely views of boats and yachts on the lake, lined by pretty hotels and restaurants, Meersburg was the prettiest wine village in Germany. Ironically, the best view of the vineyards does not belong to Meersburg, but to Constance.

Meersburg-Vineyards by the lake IMG_1491_Anurag Mallick

Legend has it that on the manor Haltnau Wendelgard, all the vineyards belonged to a not-so-pretty lady, her face disfigured by a harelip. She longed for love and wrote a letter to the Mayor of Meersburg that if he or a member of his town council took her out for dinner every Sunday, and gave her a long kiss, all the vineyards would become part of Meersburg.

She must have been rather unsightly as the proposal was unanimously rejected. She then wrote the same letter to the Mayor of Constance. Our guide, Frau Jutta remarked, “We don’t know whether the men of Constance were blinder, greedier or less sensitive, but ever since, the vineyards have belonged to Constance and not to Meersburg.” It was time to swig one for the road.

Meersburg-Lake Constance IMG_1502_Anurag Mallick

FACT FILE

Good to Know
Deutsche Fachwerke Strasse or The German Timber Frame Road is a 3,000 km tourism trail that starts from the fishing town of Stade at the mouth of the Elbe River in north Germany and ends at Meersburg on Lake Constance in the south. Divided into six colour-coded regional lines, the route connects nearly 100 towns with half-timbered houses, historical sites and diverse geographic zones – Elbe River to Harz Mountains in Lower Saxony (Blue Route), Harz to Thuringian Forest (Orange Route), Weser Hills via North Hesse to Vogelsberg and Spessart Uplands (Brown Route), Lahn Valley and Rheingau (Yellow Route), the confluence of Rhine and Main into Odenwald (Purple Route) and Neckar Valley, Black Forest and Lake Constance region (Red Route).

Getting there
By Air: Fly to Frankfurt Airport and take a connecting flight to Stuttgart, capital of the in Baden-Württemberg region.

Getting Around
From the airport, depart by private coach on the Red Route (772 km), starting with Bietigheim-Bissingen, 25 km north of Stuttgart and Besigheim, 8km north of the twin towns. Ludwigsburg, 15 km south of Besigheim has more hotels and is a good overnight stop. Bypass Stuttgart town and drive 35 km to Schorndorf and another 35 km to Esslingen. Continue 76 km southwest to Blaubeuren for an overnight stop. Cover Biberach, 41 km south, and Pfullendorf (53 km further away) en route to Meersburg, 37 km on the northern bank of Lake Constance. Meersburg to Stuttgart is 186 km.

Pfullendorf-Distance marker IMG_1114_Anurag Mallick

Stay
Romantik Hotel Friedrich von Schiller, Bietigheim
Hotel Blauzeit, Friedrichstrasse, Ludwigsburg www.blauzeit.com
Hotel Ochsen, Marktstrasse, Blaubeuren www.ochsen-blaubeuren.de
Flair Hotel zum Schiff, Bismarckplatz, Meersburg www.hotelzumschiff.de

Eat & Drink
Try Swabian delicacies like pancake soup, spätzle (local noodles), maultaschen (stuffed pasta), seele (long baguette) and white asparagus. Wash it down with Apfelschorle (apple soda) or wine schorle (wine with soda), Kessler sparkling wine cellar at Esslingen, regional wines like Lemberger, Blaufränkisch, Dornfelder, Riesling, Kerner, Müller-Thurgau and Trollinger, besides German beer like Dinkelacker and Holgenbrau.

Pfullendorf-Felsenkeller dining in a cellar IMG_1219_Anurag Mallick

Restaurant Trollinger, Mövenpick Hotel, Stuttgart Airport www.trollingerstubn.de
Must try: German buffet spreads

Restaurant Ratsstüble, Besigheim http://www.ratsstueble-besigheim.de
Must try: Asparagus soup, maultaschen, spätzle

Felsenkeller, Heiligenberger Straße 20, Pfullendorf www.felsenkeller-pfullendorf.de
Must try: German beer, ham baked inside a whole loaf of bread, Swabian mashed potatoes

Weinkeller Einhorn, Esslingen http://www.weinkellereinhorn.de
Must try: Roast beef, German style pork chops, with cellar dating back to 729

Restaurant Golden Ente, Biberach www.zur-ente.de
Must try: Duck liver, leg and breast of duck, rump steak with roasted onions & spätzle

Restaurant Goldener Rebstock, Biberach www.goldenerrebstock.de
Must try: Seele, Potato cheese platter, German beer and excellent whiskey collection

Schwabian cuisine-Duck breast at Restaurant Ente Blaubeuren IMG_0709_Anurag Mallick

Sektkellerei Kessler, Esslingen http://www.kessler-sekt.de
Must try: Germany’s oldest sparkling wine maker of Hochgewächs, Jägergrün, Cabinet & Rosé and Kessler Creations like Riesling and Weissburgunder

Brennerei Rossle, Blaubeuren-Seissen http://www.brennereiroessle.de
Must try: Schnapps and liquors in exotic flavours like apple, peach, orange, ginger and vanilla

Staatsweingut Meersburg http://www.staatsweingut-meersburg.de
Must try: Secco white sparkling wine pairs well with cheese, the dry Meersburger Lerchenberg Muller-Thurgau is excellent with asparagus, the slightly almondy and buttery Hohentwieler Olgaberg Weissburgunder goes with everything, the Meersburger Jungfernstieg Spatburgunder Blanc de Noirs is ideal with white meat whereas those who love spicy, hot, Indian food might prefer the special Rosé Gutswein Spatburgunder Weissherbst.

Meersburg-Staatswine IMG_1441_Anurag Mallick

See
Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart documents over 125 years of auto industry history in a single continuous timeline www.mercedes-benz.com
Gottlieb Daimler Gebursthaus (Birthplace) in Schorndorf www.daimler.com

When to go
Christmas markets in winter at Stuttgart (one of the oldest and biggest in Europe, started in 1692) and Baroque style medieval Christmas market in Esslingen are held in Nov-Dec

Bietigheim-Horse sculpture IMG_9949_Anurag Mallick

Guided Tours
A 2 hr guided walking tour from the old own centre of Bietigheim-Bissingen is offered every Sunday at 10:30 am from Easter to October. www.bietigheim-bissingen.de www.3b-tourismus.de

The Tourist Information at Markplatz in Pfullendorf organizes free town tours every Friday 10 am between May to October, covering the old town, the Rathaus, Steinscheuer (a granary converted into a library) and other half-timbered houses. http://www.pfullendorf.de

Meersburg’s Tourist Information on Kirchstraße 4 offers 1½ hr guided walks at 10:30 am on Tues/Thurs of the historic Old town, past the fortress, on the terrace of the New Castle, into the Castle Chapel and the Wine Museum. It is free for Lake Constance Experience Ticket holders or € 5.00 per person. www.meersburg.de

For more info, www.germany.travel

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the August 2015 issue of Outlook Traveller. Read the story on OT at http://www.outlooktraveller.com/trips/on-a-ride-through-swabia-driving-in-germany-1007936

Travel in Style: Around the World in 2014

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out 14 exciting destinations and new ways to explore the world in 2014 

River safaris, luxurious cruises, coastal drives, seaplane ride to private island resorts, salt mine tours, sightseeing on the run, Vinotherapy holidays, wildlife watching tours and spectacular festivals; the new year promises many new experiences for the global traveller. 

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Poland 
Besides Auschwitz, Sobibor and Oskar Schindler’s factory in the old capital of Krakow, Poland has a lot more to show than its war wounds. Listen to legends of dragons, mermaids and fairytale castles as you discover the legacy of composer Frederic Chopin. Visit the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw where his heart is enshrined or take the Royal Route from the reconstructed Old Town to Łazienki Park lined with palaces for a meal at the Belvedere. Try hot chocolate at Wedel’s Chocolate Lounge or warm your cockles with a glass of mulled wine, Polish mead and smoked Oscypek (mountain sheep cheese) served with cranberry sauce. But for something truly spectacular, head to Wieliczka’s Kopalnia Soli, the world’s oldest salt mine still in operation and perhaps the oldest corporation! Marvel at its jaw-dropping saline architecture with altars, statues and chandeliers carved out of rock salt by mine workers, ending the tour with dinner in an underground chamber. Head south to the winter capital of Zakopane for a funicular train to the top of Mount Gubalowka for snowmobile rides against the stunning backdrop of the Tatra mountains. At the unique Bukovina Hotel, bathe in therapeutic thermal pools channeled from 2400m deep geysers! With ICE Krakow, a new convention centre slated to open in 2014, Poland makes for a great destination for holidayers and corporate groups alike.

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Ireland   
After clocking a million visitors at Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland takes its maritime legacy a notch up with the renovated SS Nomadic, the feeder ship used by first-class passengers to board the Titanic. Get a dose of adrenalin at SKYTrek, a new outdoor high ropes activity centre near Belfast and head out to the Coastal Causeway Route. The 120-mile drive along the North Antrim Coast ranks among the world’s top road trips. Stop over for English tea and scones at the Londonderry Arms Hotel, once owned by Winston Churchill and try Irish cuisine at Bushmills Inn. En route visit Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge over a deep chasm and Dunluce Castle, a medieval structure dramatically perched on a cliff. At Giant’s Causeway marvel at the hexagonal basalt columns formed 60 million years ago, when molten lava cooled suddenly on contact with water. Enriching the scenic walk are excellent audio guides explaining Irish folktales behind the distinctive formations like the Camel, the Wishing Chair and the Harp. The recently opened £18 million visitor centre has a great interactive exhibition and souvenir shop. The Causeway Crossing Marathon in May, Adventure Travel World Summit at Killarney in October and Giants Causeway Coast Sportive cycling tour in November make it a great year to visit Ireland.

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Oman 
Just a 2½ hr drive from Dubai and an hour’s flight from Muscat, Mussandam is emerging as Oman’s hottest destination. With a rich sea-faring tradition, Oman’s northern-most governorate overlooks the strategic Strait of Hormuz, with Portuguese-built forts-cum-museums at Khasab and Bukha. Go dolphin sighting on a dhow cruise in the fjords of Mussandam (described as the Norway of Arabia) and watch amazing marine life while snorkelling at Telegraph Island, named after an undersea telegraph system set up by the British in 1854. Head on an off-road drive to Jebel Harim (Mountain of Women), named after local women who flocked to the hill to escape pirates when their husbands were away fishing. Hunt for fossils and petroglyphs high in the mountain caused by the collision of the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates. Enjoy Arabic platters and fresh catch from the sea at Golden Tulips hotel and pick up Omani halwa and dates at the new Lulu Hypermarket.

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Alligator Snapping Turtle, River Safari © Singapore Tourism Board

Singapore
Embark on a journey of discovery at the brand new River Safari, Asia’s first and only river-themed wildlife park in Singapore. Explore eight freshwater habitats with over 5,000 aquatic and terrestrial animals representing 300 species. Meet rare giants such as the giant river otter, giant salamander and the Mekong giant catfish. From the mighty Mississippi to the majestic Yangtze, stroll through freshwater galleries and walk-through exhibits. Watch giant pandas at the lush Giant Panda Forest, Southeast Asia’s largest panda exhibit and witness the annual flooding of the Amazon jungle at the Amazon Flooded Forest, the world’s largest freshwater aquarium. Located between Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, it has all the makings of a wild holiday.

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© Shangri-La Bosphorus Hotel

Turkey
With films like Skyfall, Ek Tha Tiger and Race 2 shot in Istanbul and the sea resort of Antalya, Turkey has captured the imagination of the Indian traveler. Roam around the iconic Blue Mosque, spice-scented bazaars and narrow streets around the Golden Horn, gaze at the soaring dome of Hagia Sophia, soak yourself in a hammam (Turkish bath), drop by at the upscale boutiques of Nisantasi or visit the Dolmabahce Palace with opulent chandeliers and rooms built for Ottoman sultans. Go on the perfect romantic holiday or opt for a stylish wedding at the Shangri-La Bosphorus Hotel. Travel Shop Turkey’s new Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours offer a new way to discover the country beyond Istanbul – boutique cave hotels in the underground city of Cappadoccia, the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Trojan Horse of Troy, one of the Seven Churches of St John at Pergamon, the ancient city of Ephesus, the calcium pools of Pamukkale and the beautiful scenery of the Mediterranean coast.

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Run Cape Town © South African Tourism

South Africa
Ever done Sightseeing on the Run? Run Cape Town offers Running Tours of the city through its streets, with Western Cape Tourist Guide Philippa sharing anecdotes and history of major sights. With a backdrop of Table Mountain, an incredible coastline and great weather, Cape Town is the perfect city to discover on foot. The Historic City Centre tour can be adapted to routes of 5km, 8km or 12km (1 hr 40 min) with new running tours at Darling, Lions Head and Gugulethu. Stellenbosch Wine Festival from 24 Jan–2 Feb 2014 promises tasting programs from over 75 wineries in the beautiful surroundings of Die Braak. But don’t just sip your wine; try vinotherapy, South Africa’s hot new trend with treatments inspired by merlot, chardonnay and pinotage. Librisa Spa at Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town offers a special head-to-toe Vine Secret Vintage Experience. Or perhaps Your Highness may prefer Constantia Uitsig’s signature treatment Les Aromes Du Vin?

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Holi in Berlin © German National Tourist Office 

Germany
With special focus on its 38 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Germany is celebrating the ‘Royal Heritage Route’ in 2014 to mark the 300th anniversary of Hanover’s succession to the thrones of UK and Ireland. The year also marks the 300th birth anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s illustrious second son CPE Bach, about whom Mozart remarked to a Viennese patron “Bach is the father. We are the children!” The six ‘Bach cities’ of Weimar, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Berlin, Potsdam and Hamburg where the composer lived and worked are planning year-long celebrations. With concerts, exhibitions, conferences and festivals celebrating his life and work, it’s Bachanalia of another kind! Germany’s exciting electronic scene is abuzz with clubs and nightspots in Berlin. Let your hair down with thousands of revelers during Holi at Olympic Park. Events like the Berlinale International Film Festival in Feb, the Long Night of Museums in March and Long of Night of Opera and Theatre in April promise a lot of action for any visitor.

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Magical sunsets © Royal Caribbean Cruises

Royal Caribbean Cruises
From dramatic landscapes of the Arctic to South America’s beaches, rainforests and tango salons; ancient temples, open-air markets and cuisine of the Far East to culinary trails in Australia and New Zealand, Royal Caribbean Cruises is a great way to explore the globe. Get aboard the largest and most innovative cruise ships in the world including Allure of the Seas in the Caribbean and Asia’s largest cruise Mariner of the Seas that sails from Singapore. The 7-Night Argentina & Uruguay Cruise aboard the Splendour of the Seas has several fixed departures in Jan-April. On-board amenities include surf simulators, ice skating rinks, zip line, sports courts, casinos, aqua sports and Broadway-style entertainment. Tirun Travel Marketing, India’s premier cruise counselors in 2013, offer exclusive holidays and exotic Spa at Sea packages. Choose from Elemis Aroma Spa Seaweed Massage, rasul organic mud baths on Royal Caribbean International or award-winning AquaSpa treatments aboard Celebrity Cruises.

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Private pool © Song Saa Island, Cambodia

Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia’s fastest growing city, serves as the gateway to the world famous Angkor temples and ruins of a string of Khmer capitals between the 9th to 15th centuries. But there’s more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat, the world’s largest single religious monument, the massive stone faces of Bayon at Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm’s Buddhist temples entwined by roots. The once inaccessible Koh Ker has been recently de-mined and reachable by a new toll road. But for something truly offbeat, visit Song Saa, the first and only private island resort in Cambodia. Arrive in style by a private seaplane from Siem Reap (1hr 15min) or Phnom Penh (1 hr). Luxuriate in Jungle, Overwater and Ocean-view villas built from sustainable materials with private pools as you indulge in the Sanctuary spa. Try watersports, nature walks and excursions to 20 deserted islands nearby like The Sweethearts that spans two islands connected by a footbridge over a marine reserve. The best part, there’s wi-fi all over the island!

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Canada by VIA Rail © Canadian Tourism Commission

Canada 
North America’s oldest tourist attraction, the legendary Maid of the Mist retires in 2014 after 165 years of service. Replaced by a Frisco-based company, the Hornblower will take tourists to Niagara from the Canadian docks past the base of the American Falls into the basin of the magnificent Canadian Horseshoe Falls. For a different perspective, take a Heli-Tour or ‘Journey beyond the Falls’ in a lift. However, as the second largest country in the world, Canada offers much more. Traverse the country on a budget with great deals and circuits from VIA Rail and try the recently launched Canadian Signature Experiences. Relive Canada’s railway building heritage and castles at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. View wild polar bears at Churchill by all-terrain Tundra Buggy or saddle up for the Calgary Stampede, billed as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’. Go dog-sledding, glamping in forests, culinary boot camps or Aurora tours to view the Northern Lights, which will be at their best in 2014. If Toronto’s CN Tower Sky Walk seems too urban, go for a Cliffwalk at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in Vancouver. And if all this seems too much, just chill with some Inniskillin Ice Wine!

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Thailand
Beyond the known haunts of Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui, Krabi and Bangkok’s 426 bejeweled temples, the famed City of Angels now offers a range of immersive experiences. Learn to prepare and feast on a full course of delicious traditional Thai fare at Amita Thai Cooking Classes run by Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon. Set in a cherry wooden cottage and organic garden by a canal, the sprightly cooking expert gives you a hands-on approach to a range of dishes. Get a good workout with a round Thailand’s famous martial art – MuayThai Kickboxing classes at S.Vorapin Boxing Gym. Soothe your tired muscles as you learn the intricacies of authentic Thai massage – traditional Wat Po or relaxing hot stone massages at RarinJinda Wellness Spa. Immerse yourself in the luxury of Siam Kempinski Hotel, a stone’s throw from Siam Center’s buzzing malls (MBK, Platinum and Pratunam). Shop till you drop at Asiatique Riverfront and dine at Baan Khanitha or Supatra River House, a ferry ride across the Chao Phraya River to gorge on exotic Thai fare. A short drive to Kanchanaburi lets you pay tribute to those who lost their lives building the Death Railway to Burma during WWII at historic sites like the Bridge on the River Kwai, the War Cemetery, Jeath War Museum and Hellfire Pass Memorial as you unwind in swanky tents at Hintok River Camp, a former Japanese military base.

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Daranshi Oreum, Jeju © Korea Tourism Organization 

Korea
Psy’s global success after Gangnam Style has elevated not just K-Pop but Korea Tourism into instant international stardom. In a witty Wiki Korea campaign, Psy introduces concepts like Gi (universal energy) and Heung (inner joy), besides tourism icons like Korea’s famous dish samgyeopsal (pork belly), Myeongdong Cosme Road and Jeju Olle Trail. The largest volcanic island in Korea, Jeju recently won the Global Geopark certificate and ranks among the New7Wonders of Nature. Visit its famous sites like Hallasan National Park, Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak and Manjanggul Cave, the world’s longest lava tube recognized as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. A high-speed train connects Korea’s capital to its largest port city Busan, which hosts famous international fireworks and film festivals. But with historic sites like Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces and the traditional Bukchon Hanok Village, Korea’s surely got Seoul!

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Zell am See © Austrian National Tourist Office

Austria
Stunning mountainscapes, green pastures, lakes and ice; the alpine beauty of Austria’s Zell am See and Kaprun circuit is breathtaking. Besides the country’s highest mountain Grossglockner and the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, Austria boasts 267 peaks over 3000m, nearly 342 glaciers and mighty waterfalls like the 1,247 ft high Krimml Waterfalls, the tallest in the country. The newly opened waterfall center Wondrous Worlds of Water offers interactive experiences with an aquatic theme. Experience the world’s biggest ice caves at Eisriesenwelt or visit the 900-year-old castle of Burg Hohenwerfen, with a falconry centre, weaponry and museum. At Saalbach, a 20 min hike along the highest treetop path in Europe takes one to the end of the valley in Hinterglemm. Combined with the Golden Gate Bridge and a newly introduced high rope course, it’s an unparalleled alpine experience. Visit the baroque city of Salzburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a fortress, cathedral and church steeples.

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Felicite and Sisters Island © Raymond Sahuquet

Seychelles
Thrumming with the strains of Creole music, Seychelles is a tropical paradise with 115 unique islands. Hop by plane or ferry between the 16 islands that provide stay options. Victoria, the world’s smallest capital, is so tiny you can explore it on foot while the largest island Mahé alone has 65 beaches! Nearly a fifth of Mahé’s landmass constitutes the Morne Seychellois National Park, named after the country’s highest peak. Enjoy dramatic views from Mission Lodge and Tea Factory as you learn the secret behind Seychelles tea – the cool crisp air of Mount Morne Blanc. Praslin, Seychelles’ second largest island once had such dense vegetation that explorers mistook it for the original Garden of Eden! Explore Craft Villages, Takamaka Bay Rum Distillery or go birdwatching for the Seychelles Black Parrot, one of the rarest in the world, besides the best fishing, snorkeling and sailing!

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 5 January 2014 in  Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald.