Chintao Gardens


Where the Heavens meet Earth

Chintao Gardens is a new historical development in Yunnan, South West China, and one of the most interesting investment properties in the China market at the moment. The property is a traditional Chinese house located in an ecologically balanced setting in Tengchong, Yunnan Province. Considered the top healthcare treatment district in China, the area boasts zero pollution levels, pure rivers with drinkable water, and a fantastic geography of 97 volcanoes around small villages.

Formerly serving as the headquarters for the Tenchong Anti-Japanese Army, the property housed the Chief of Staff of the Chinese-American forces during WW1. Managed by Arne Langaskens, a Belgium citizen, the land was bought directly through the Chinese government, meaning buyers are able to easily transfer the property under Chinese law. The land has been approved for personal residences, hotels, restaurants, and other commercial businesses- developers around the area are quickly investing in all of these options. This beautiful property is located on 3,735 square metres of land, approximately 740 kilometres away from the provincial capital of Kunming being additionally situated at an altitude of 1,600 meters above sea level means the property is surrounded by some of the world’s most pure and healthy supply of fresh air.

In addition to the proliferation of boutique hotels, the 5th biggest real estate developer in China just bought 55 acres of land which they will be developing with legendary golf designer Roger Packard, indicating a promising level of luxury for visitors and investors. Having worked alongside legends such as Tiger Woods, Packard is working closely with the developers on a 1200 villa resort, with 5 star hotel and golf course. “From my garden you can see the whole project, everyone who goes to these places have to pass my property” says Arne, “the area is made for Golden Business- the people who visit here are people who pay- these are the people with real money to spend”.

Chintao Gardens is located in Tengchong County, and is of great historical importance as it has been part of the Southwestern Silk Road since the Western Han Dynasty, serving as an important trade channel to both South and West Asia. Located in the West of Yunnan, and neighbouring Myanmar, it is known as one of China’s most famous scenic spots, and an important site for historical and cultural towns. Eight minutes from the property is the village of Heshun which was nominated in 2005 as the most beautiful historical village in Yunnan province. The village houses many unique cultural assets, including what once was the biggest village library in China with countless extremely valuable books and historical manuscripts.

Tengchong County is almost entirely surrounded by volcanoes, and located at the base of a mountain range on land built up by piles of ancient volcanic magma.??More than 80 steam springs, hot springs and heat springs have been found in Tengchong, making it the second largest natural heat field in China. Whilst visiting the district you can also visit Yuanlong and Kui Pavilions. The county is also the hoetown of the famous Chinese philosopher Ai Sipi, and houses the threefold cloud laffer and Taoist temple that hands half way up the neighbouring Yunfeng mountain. Rich in minerals such as jade and other precious stones, the area is also world famous for the purchase of Jade and tea, with over 500 shops that sell natural jade and tea. “Everything natural and beautiful is found here” says Arne, and it is all right opposite my property- at my door.”

Located 20 minutes away from Hump International Airport, direct flights connect the city to Shanghai. Beijing and Kunming, with future plans to connect with more international destinations, including Hong Kong. The area is fast becoming a “Number One Tourist Destination”, says Arne. It is also creating quite a stir within  Chinese circles, Arne explains that most of his clients are from Beijing and Shanghai, so the Asian market is the one he is for http://www.798district.com/chintao cusing on.

All this talk of indescribable beauty, a pristine environment and luxury living, Arne makes me wonder what is keeping me in my seat. I will soon be visiting: www.798district.com/chintao

Written by Rebecca Gabbai

Cruise to Taiwan


I have read numerous reviews on the good, subtle and bad aspects of cruising but I can only speak for myself and my family that we enjoyed every minute of it. This is our 3rd cruise and it only gets better especially on the 70,000 tonnage Legend of the Seas. Dock in Tsim Sha Tsui cruise terminal with the backdrop of the magnificent Hong Kong skyline sits this gorgeous legendary ocean liner by Royal Caribbean International that accommodates up to 2076 guests.

We stayed in a balcony cabin. Surprisingly it is very spacious. Enough to fit 3 passengers. Rooms are tidy and our room attendant is simply awesome. He is extremely helpful and friendly. There are so many different nationalities of employees catering to the many different countries of guests onboard.  It is a fabulous mix and Legend of the Seas has it all.

Gone are the days when our perceptions that cruising is boring  and for the older generations.  Activities on board raging from a 9 hole mini golf course, rock climbing, mind boggling shows and total relaxation from the ships's spas ensure you are never dull. Shore excursions to various parts of the region captivates your travel senses and what about the food? There are four restaurants onboard this magnificent cruiser. What it lacks in numbers, it makes up for a constant arrays of good food flowing throughout the day and night. Your tummy will never rumble and what is better then munching whilst you away.

Our trip was a 5 Night Gem Of Asia Cruise to Taiwan. Shores excursions starts on the 2nd day from Hualien to Kaohsiung. 

Full Day Hualien Taroko Tour

Hualien County, facing the immense Pacific Ocean in the east and leaning against the grand Central Mountain Range in the west, is famous for its beautiful scenery. The natural resources in Taroko National Park, East Coast National Scenic Area, East Rift Valley Scenic Area and Yushan National Park make Hualien the most beautiful county in Taiwan.

Situated near the rocky east coast of Taiwan, Taroko Gorge rates as one of the island's biggest tourist attractions. A fantastic 19-kilometer-long canyon, the gorge is a breathtaking spectacle of craggy rocks and cascading water. The Gorge offers tourists a fabulous opportunity to see nature at its best. The rugged landscape and isolation have meant that the east coast has mostly escaped the industrialization and urbanization of other parts of the island. The area is largely unspoiled and offers visitors the chance to see an astonishing array of geological wonders, an abundance of flora and fauna indigenous to Taiwan, and fascinating aborigine culture.

Eternal Spring Shrine was built to commemorate the 212 personnel (military veterans) who died during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway, which runs right over the mountains connecting the east and west coasts of Taiwan. The highway was carved out of the sheer cliffs at a cost of some US$11 million and was completed in 1960. Today, it remains one of the greatest feats of engineering in Taiwan's history. Instead of lighting incense to commemorate those who died, worshippers light cigarettes for them.

Swallow's Grotto offers fantastic views of the gorge and the impressive cliffs opposite. Typical limestone formations, such as swallow holes, can be seen in the cliffs. The famous "Indian Head" rock is said to resemble the profile of an American Indian chief, his face being craggy rock, and his head dress the vegetation growing on the cliff edge.

Tunnels of nine turn also offers breathtaking views of the gorge. This winding tunnel is the longest tunnel on the Central Cross-Island Highway. Sections of the tunnel are open, revealing heart-stopping sheer drops and craggy rocks. Totally man-made, the tunnel is a tribute to the obstinate perseverance of the men who devoted their lives to creating this spectacular road. The tunnel is at one of the steepest sections of the gorge, at certain places the gorge is so narrow that the sky becomes invisible.

Half Day Kaohsiung City Tour

Start your journey at the Lotus Pond Scenic Zone and visit the Confucius Temple built in 1976. It was modeled after a temple at Qufu in Shangdong Province, the homeland of Confucius. Next, head to the spring and Autumn Pavilions were completed in 1951. A photo stop & tour to the Chiming Tang (Temple), Taiwanese Taoism believes in multiple gods. Finally spend some time for walk along the Chijin old street before drive back to ship.

The Spring and Autumn Pavilions – Two massive pavilions dedicated to Kuan Kung, the God of War, the Spring and Autumn Pavilions were completed in 1951. In front of the Pavilions is a statue of Kuanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, riding a dragon. According to legend, Kuanyin appeared above the clouds riding on a dragon, signifying that believers must erect an image depicting this event between "pavilions of summer and autumn". The present-day structures are a result of this vision.

Chiming Tang (Temple) – was built in the 1970s, instructed by the Yuankuang God himself and the Jade Emperor to their devotees. The Temple was originally a two-storied palace, decorated with color drawing, sculpture and molding the gilded images of all saints and immortals. Taiwanese Taoism believes in multiple gods, and the humanized god (of either great figure of the history or of the legends), both Confucius and General Kuan Yu, and General Yuch Fci and Cheng Cheng Kung are all among the figures worshipped in the Temple. After the completion of the Southeast Palace, the Wu-li pavilion was constructed as the station of welcoming all the saints. The octagon golden roof is especially appealing. The main hall of the Temple-Lingshiau Holy Palace and Sankuan Palace were only completed in 1995-as part of the devotees' donation to thank to all the gods & goddesses.

Chijin Old Street – is the earliest developed area in Kaohsiung. Its excellent location (cold and warm flows intersect) brings in an abundant fishes. It was once occupied by the Dutch in early 1642, you can still see vaguely the Dutch influence. You can find the oldest Temple of Kaohsiung located on the this area – the Tien Ho Temple of over 300 years built in Ching Dynasty, with southern-style architecture). Other remains include the Chiho Light House (the second light house of Taiwan, also built in Ching Dynasty), Christian Kirk Church (the earliest established Christian Church in Taiwan built in 1865) etc. On the street, there are also small shops and stands selling Taiwanese tradition souvenir and goodies. There is section for seafood where vendors gather to sell fish, shrimp, crab and octopus and dried food as well.

Legend Of The Seas eases through the waters. A sense of tranquility on the South China Sea. You are spoilt rotten because you get treated so well when you are on this ship. In a sector that is becoming more competitive in Asia. Royal Caribbean International has got it all right and I can’t wait to be on my next voyage with them again.
     

For more information, please visit: http://www.royalcaribbean.com

Written by AK

Trekking Across Nepal




A Himalayan Pilgrimage With One World Trekking

Adventure Travelers Can Combine Treks To Cross The Tibetan Regions Of Nepal

Indeed the western regions, even today, remain Nepal’s wildest. The Tibetan word for pilgrimage means literally ‘going around places’ and such journeys are undertaken for not only religious merit but the pursuit of knowledge.” -excerpts by David Snellgrove from his book ‘Himalayan Pilgrimage’

It has been said that at least once in a lifetime everyone should experience Nepal on foot and we at One World Trekking Adventure Travel (http://www.oneworldtrekking.com) agree! Starting in Fall 2010, we’re offering a series of treks that not only allow travelers to experience Nepal on foot, but to actually walk across Nepal on foot!

In 1956—a few years after Nepal opened its borders to foreign visitors – adventurer David Snellgrove embarked on an epic trek across the Tibetan-speaking regions of Nepal. Traveling more than 1,000 miles over a span of seven months, he journeyed from the plains of India to cross the high mountain passes of Dolpo, Mustang, NarPhu, Annapurna and Manaslu. Snellgrove's book, titled 'Himalayan Pilgrimage,' is an insightful and valuable resource for adventurers planning a visit to these secluded regions of Nepal that even today remain relatively little-traveled.

Snellgrove's groundbreaking journey has inspired us to create our new Himalayan Pilgrimage Series. Starting with the Dolpo & Snow Leopard Trek this September 7 to October 5, 2010 (Outside Magazine Trip of the Year 2010, http://oneworldtrekking.com/dolpo-trek.htm), we will offer you a selection of epic trekking trips that can be undertaken individually, or combined, to complete a traverse of the remote, Tibetan-inhabited lands of northern Nepal.

In 2011 the trekking series continues with two unique and exciting itineraries. East of Dolpo lies the Buddhist regions of Mustang, the Annapurna Circuit and the lost valleys of NarPhu. From September 2 to 28, 2011 our new NarPhu Valleys to Mustang Traverse (http://oneworldtrekking.com/narphu-mustang-trek.htm) will lead us first along the famous Annapurna Circuit and then north into the Lost Valley of NarPhu. Hidden by swirls of mountain mist, the magnificent panoramic view of the Annapurna massif appears remote and forbidding as we journey farther into the land around it. From this seemingly ancient Tibetan region we then make a high and wild traverse over the recently opened Teri La Pass (18,200 feet) and into the Kingdom of Mustang.

The 8,000 meter peak of Manaslu is certainly the focal point of our October 2 to November 3, 2011 unique and seldom-traveled itinerary that links the extraordinary circuit around Manaslu with a traverse of the northern Annapurna Range (http://oneworldtrekking.com/manaslu-trek.htm). The trek culminates with a high and challenging cross over the Thorong La Pass at 17,765 feet.

Each trip in One World Trekking’s Himalayan Pilgrimage Series will be led by an experienced Western trekking guide and fully-supported by a team of Sherpa guides, cooks and support crew. Sign up for one or sign up for them all and secure your spot to experience Nepal the way it is best experienced: on foot.

For more information on how you can join one of these extraordinary walking journeys, please visit the website at http://www.OneWorldTrekking.com.

Destinations – Hunston


The style-savvy residents of the country’s fourth largest city know that there’s no place like Houston.

With more than 2.2 million residents, the city attracts visitors and transplants with a wonderful mix of world-class arts, booming business, pro sports and award-winning cuisine.

As the rest of the country discovers what locals have known all along, Houston is finally enjoying the recognition it deserves. Just last year, the city landed on several “best of” lists, including the Travel + Leisure roundup of America’s Favorite Cities and the Hotwire.com index of most affordable U.S. vacation destinations.

See for yourself, here in Houston, where much of daily life happens outdoors, thanks to mild, year-round temperatures. Take time to explore the eclectic, culture-filled neighborhoods, gallery spaces and attractions, which offer diverse flavors that can only be found here.

Take the food, for example. Countless cutting-edge chefs have made a home in Houston, where diners eat out more than residents of any other city. Here, you’ll find James Beard Award winners and internationally renowned chefs serving up innovative cuisine that frequently catches the attention of foodies in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and Saveur.

But the stylish dining scene is only a slice of Houston’s epicurean offerings—a fact that the city’s culinary masterminds intend to prove with the recently launched Houston Culinary Tours. Each of the intimate, 16-person, chef-led tours aim at showing the underbelly of the city’s food scene—one taco truck and ethnic market at a time.

Venture downtown during your stay and discover a thriving professional arts scene, with professional resident companies in ballet, opera, symphony and theater; only four other U.S. cities can say the same. And the nearby Museum District stakes its claim as the country’s fourth largest, with 18 cultural powerhouses set within blocks of one another.

We have our own version of Central Park, too, offering nearly 1,500 acres of green space in the heart of the city. Just inside the loop, Memorial Park is home to a public golf course, swimming pool, tennis courts, trails and more. Downtown, Discovery Green park is outfitted with WiFi, a farmers market, dog runs, fine dining and ice-skating during the winter—just one more of the 650-plus urban green spaces filling the city.

Not surprisingly, businesses also recognize the allure of Houston’s offerings. Twenty-nine companies on the Fortune 500 list call the Energy Capital of the World home. Aeronautic research is unsurpassed at NASA headquarters—the facility responsible for putting the first man on the moon—and Texas Medical Center remains the largest in the world with 47 highly lauded research and treatment institutions.

Come. Live like a local for a few days and discover why Houston’s mix of international appeal and Southern charm have captured the imagination of tastemakers the world over.
 

Cuban Charm



This Caribbean island with a controversial political situation is an amazing destination for those who look for lively nights, good music, friendly people, wonderful natural environment and history

Cuba is often known as The Pearl of the Caribbean, there are hundreds of reasons to consider this island a jewel, it might be its enchanting and friendly people, its history, the beautiful scenery or the ancient cities and towns.
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean (110,860 sq km) and it enjoys a subtropical climate that provides it with sun and enough water to maintain an exuberant vegetation and a constant green shade combined with pure turquoise clear waters. Its many attractive locations make it always hard to decide which places to visit, so after exhaustive research we opted for two areas: Holguín and Santiago de Cuba on the southern coast and then the legendary Havana (La Habana in Spanish) and the touristy town of Varadero in the Hicaco Peninsula, both on the northern side.

Entrada Barrio Chino La Habana

The south
Our first destination was the province of Holguín. The appealing beaches of Guardalavaca, Caletica and Esmeralda attract many visitors and once you step on them the reasons become obvious. Crystal clear warm waters, white sand and a rich flora adorn the area. Hotels and resorts in that area often offer all inclusive packages, a real treat in a country famous not only for its delicious fruit and juices, its lobster and seafood, but also for the world renown mojito, daiquiris and cuba libre made with the best rhum in the world. Daiquiris are made with rhum, lime juice, ice. Add fresh mint leaves and you’ll have a mojito. For a cola flavour refreshing drink combine rhum with cola (remember, coca-cola is not available in Cuba) and you will have a cuba libre.
Those looking for sun, warm water and relax, the south of Cuba is the ideal destination. Comfortable hotels in tranquil beautiful natural surroundings adorned by palm trees and the constant noise of the waves and birds flying around. If this is too calm for you and you want action you can choose water sports such as windsurfing, kayaking, water-skiing and sailing. The coral reef on Esmeralda beach invites visitors to discover the sub-aquatic world, be it more serious scuba-diving or simple snorkelling. There is a wide array of day trips that can be easily arranged. We opted for swimming with dolphins. Not without hesitation – considering these beautiful animals are kept in captivity- our temptation to be close to them was too strong and we decided to enjoy that incredible experience. We swam with them, caressed them and even managed simple tricks such as being pushed at full speed by these intelligent mammals, absolutely unforgettable.

Our hotel was comfortable, and the staff were very helpful. But as they found out we were from Argentina, they constantly followed us trying to sell coins, notes, books and other memorabilia of the iconic Che Guevara. The world famous revolutionary (impossible to miss his famous portrait printed on posters, t-shirts, bags, etc, in any market) was an Argentine youngster who took part with Fidel Castro in the Cuban Revolution which toppled pro-US dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Holguín

The visit to Holguín is highly recommended. Not from the typical touristy point of view, but we wanted to talk to people, find out how they live, how they see their country. We rented motorbikes and rode for 50km to the town. As soon as we reached our destination, we were surrounded by locals who wanted to become our guides or to sell us different products, from rhum to Cuban cigars to more photos of Che. A guy called Pedro convinced us to choose him as guide and we marched together on foot towards the town centre. He took us to the Plaza de la Revolución (all towns and villages have a square with that name), the church and the music school. We were amazed by the enthusiasm and skills of the children, despite the limited conditions offered by the school. It is possible to see that, as everyone knows, in Cuba music and rhythm are carried in the blood. Education –together with a public health system- has always been one of the objectives of the Cuban revolution; this poor country has, indeed, one of the highest literacy rates in the world, including developed nations. We had lunch at a local eatery where foreigners can only enter if accompanied by a local. We enjoyed a proper Cuban meal, including thinly sliced fried banana and what they call ‘moors and christians’ a tasty plate of boiled white rice with dark beans. During lunch, Pedro explained to us that the police usually try to avoid any contact between locals and foreigners to avoid any trouble that might jeopardize the booming tourist industry in the island. Although there are other important industries such as sugar production, tourism still provides the highest income in Cuba and creates an enormous amount of jobs. When the time came to say goodbye to our guide, he gave us some salted peanuts and a flower as farewell gifts and we gave him a tip which seemed to content him. The following day we headed towards Santiago de Cuba. It was in this city where Castro made his first failed attempt to initiate the revolution in 1953. On the way there we drove across a completely green landscape where we could observe the huge sugar cane plantations. The taxi was a state owned one, the driver had a salary and the petrol and maintenance of the car are paid for by the state. We chatted along while we enjoyed the striking fields while we realised that there are no publicity boards at all, the only ones you can see are huge ones dedicated to the revolution, Che and some other leaders –but never Castro , or against the US. In places like that one becomes aware of the continuous brainwash we suffer in our own countries with adverts and publicity popping out around every corner.


CUBA National Theatre, Havana

Santiago de Cuba
This currently quiet city has witnessed many battles in the past, particularly in the early 50’s. The Moncada military headquarters saw the first attempt to revolutionise Cuba. Nowadays, the building is a museum about the events of that historical day. We were surprised by the fact that the version of the story differed from other ones we had heard, but then we realised that happens continuously in History, the events are lived by its protagonists and written by historians. As most Cuban towns, this city has its main square and the Revolution Square. In the main plaza we started talking to an elderly gentleman and we could not help to be absolutely seduced by him. He was sitting down, impeccably dressed in a white shirt and taking notes about the people he talked to. The sun was shinning, we were not in a hurry and he obviously enjoyed telling us about Cuban history. After almost one hour he went to get five books from the time of the revolution and offered them to us, we got them for five US$ and he said that that money was worth his pension for three months. True or not that gave us a rough idea of the income people have there. That afternoon we wandered around the town, we walked along different neighbourhoods, schools and we ended up in the baseball stadium of the local team, one of the best in the island.

The north
After a few days in the south we were ready to visit the north coast, we were looking forward to visiting Havana, but first we spent a couple of days relaxing in Varadero. Varadero is a small town crowded with international luxury hotels, apart from that and a few scatered shops there is not much to see there, but it’s perfect to relax. It is a good location from where to explore the many cayos (the keys) if you are keen on sailing and underwater exploration , as these small atolls are surrounded by shallow waters with an amazingly rich and colourful marine flora and fauna. With the friendly character of the locals it is really easy to start a conversation. A young student told us her opinion about Castro’s regime. She explained to us that the only means to leave the island –the dream of many youngsters- was to become friends with a foreigner or to marry one. Our conclusion after listening to many Cubans was that, generally speaking, those who had lived either under the Batista dictatorship or the revolution were thankful to Fidel Castro, whereas younger generations, aware of lifestyles in overseas countries (thanks to their contact with tourists and visitors) were, at least partially, opposed to the socialist regime.


Moncada

Museo de La Revolución La Habana

La Habana
The capital was our next stop. A very special city with plenty of history, hidden architectural gems, beautiful songs, people and legends awaiting us. We stayed at the Hotel Sevilla an old hotel opened in 1908 located in a privileged area of the old town, Habana Vieja,. Its Spanish colonial style, with patios and bars tempted us to take a break, and its restaurant on the top floor reminded us of the dining room in the film Titanic. There is no doubt that, despite its decay, the most beautiful area of the capital is the old quarter. People playing music in the streets, men wearing Panama hats and smoking cigars, a pharmacy selling medicinal plants or a traditional bar, invite visitors to enjoy every moment. Having selected a few places to visit, we put on comfortable shoes and headed towards the castle of San Salvador de la Punta. From there it is possible to see the bay bordering the city, the Fuerte de San Carlos and the Castillo del Morro, forts on the coast built by the Spaniards in the 18th and 19th centuries respectively. A lengthy stroll along the Paseo de Martí -also known as the Paseo del Prado- gave us an idea about the old charm of the colonial period: beautiful run down buildings, trees, old street lights and statues decorate this pleasant promenade. At the end of the boulevard is the old Centro Gallego, nowadays National Theatre, the Capitolio (the parliament until 1959) and other interesting buildings such as the neoclassic Hotel de Inglaterra and the old Partagás cigar factory. Our next stop was the Museum of the Revolution (the former residence of the presidents built in 1909) were we learnt about the guerrilleros who fought against Batista in the late 50’s through photos, films, weapons and other memorabilia (including the box where the remains of Che Guevara were brought to Cuba for Bolivia, where he had been killed together with other revolutionaries). We decided to take a break and we went to the legendary Bodeguita del Medio, the most famous bar in Havana (together with Floridita) as it is home to the best mojito in the world according to Ernest Hemingway… and we agreed.

The Cuba-loving writer used to say “My daiquiri in Floridita and my mojito in La Bodeguita”. Right next to the temple of the mojito is the cathedral, one of the finest-looking ones in Latin America. The big plaza in front of it is surrounded by aristocratic 18th century mansions such as the Casa de Lombillo, the Palace of the Marques de Arcos, the Casa del Conde de Bayona and the old house of the Marques de Aguas Claras. Other interesting places to visit are the Plaza de la Revolución, where Fidel Castro gives his lengthy speeches (he probably holds the world record among leaders, as sometimes he talked for over five hours), the Ministries, the National Library or the monument to José Martí. As days went by our affection for Havana and its inhabitants grew stronger. Full of memories, mental images and photos we went back home to Argentina. There was still plenty to see and discover but time was over and we thought of a famous song ‘Cuando salí de Cuba/ dejé mi vida/ dejé mi amor/ Cuando salí de Cuba/ dejé enterrado mi corazón’ (When I left Cuba/I left my life/ I left my love/ When I left Cuba/ I left buried my heart there).

Written by Aldana Chiodi
Photography Aldana Chiodi and Dino Feldman

Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan

Ranthambhore National Park, Rrajasthan

Captivated by the world of lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), away in style despatched travel writer Gunjan Prasad, resplendent in her oh-so-chic safari suit, to report back from India’s Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan. 
 

Chasing the wild – Having been in the business of travel writing for some time now, I understand that the best way to enjoy a trip is to set yourself free of any expectations you may have and simply cherish and relish whichever blessings the journey bestows upon you. It particularly helps to keep this dictate in mind when planning a holiday to a national park, with an agenda to see a tiger! All trips have a mind of their own and those involving “wild cats” are no exception; something my family and I figured out on our recent trip to Rajasthan’s Ranthambhore National Park. Bookings were made at Aman-i-Khás; an exclusive wilderness camp set in the rugged hills of Rajasthan on the outskirts of Ranthambhore National Park. The luxury tents are set in a quiet rural area that borders one of the finest tiger reserves in the world. It is set up for only seven months of the year and is packed away in the hot summer as well as the rainy season when the National Park also closes for the tourists. 
Gathering around a fire at dusk was a joy.
Gathering around a fire at dusk was a joy
 

Though driving is an option, it is not usually recommended so we took the concierge’s advice and opted for a four hour train journey to Sawai Madhopur, the township closest to the park. Journey by train in India is an event in itself. Every station comes with a local sight and smell, delicacy and dialect that it’s best to savour from the relaxed environs of a train compartment – it becomes even better when travelling first-class with an entire compartment to oneself. The holiday began for my kids as soon as we boarded August Kranti Express train; they made a fantasy world for themselves with hidden nooks that revealed reading lights, tucked away foot-rests and crisp white linen.

“Ranthambhore forest was for centuries controlled by its own chiefs. Until the British arrived, the people lived freely in the forests; revering the sun, the moon and the tiger.”

Travel time to Sawai Madhopur is three and a half hours and between nibbling on refreshments provided in the train and admiring the passing countryside, time simply flew. We were whisked away in the waiting Qualis (local SUVs) within minutes of arrival. As it was so very dark we couldn’t make out much of the town around us but our initiation into the world of tigers had certainly begun! Informed as well as any guide, our driver took us through a brief history of the town and the local sight-seeing options, besides giving us a complete run through of the flora and fauna of the forest, the count of the tigers, the last sighting and other dos and don’ts of the National Park. Ranthambhore forest was for centuries controlled by its own chiefs. Until the British arrived, the people lived freely in the forests; revering the sun, the moon and the tiger. They believed in a world of ghosts and spirits and wore a variety of charms and amulets to ward off an evil eye. Even today some vestiges of the past culture can be seen in villages around Ranthambhore: farmers can be seen offering prayers to the tiger before taking the cattle to graze and of course there’s the odd medicine man, working his magic to keep evil away. 

Ranthambhore National Park, also once the hunting ground of the King of Jaipur and his guests, was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1955. Following the launch of Project Tiger and concerted conservation efforts to save the big cats, the tiger population is thankfully now more visible and stable.  In an admirable bid to deflect attention away from themselves and give due respect to the National Park, most hotels, and there are plenty to suit all pockets, have refrained from unnecessary ostentation; there are no grand entrances or pavilions or gardens in this region, unlike the flashier accommodations to be found in other touristy parts of Rajasthan. Aman-i-Khás, the property at which we were to lay our heads, is designed to blend unobtrusively with the native vegetation of tall grasses, scrubs and trees. The entrance is nondescript via a pathway that leads through high walls, opening onto the views of the rocky Aravali hills that undulate through Ranthambore National Park.

The tents at Aman-i-Khás were nothing like the ones we were used to huddling in! Built on a concrete plinth over 108 sq m of space, the tents come with a sleeping room, bathing tub and a dressing room separated by cotton screens. Furniture is minimal and unobtrusive, mimicking the travelling camps of an earlier time. Each tent is airconditioned and there is also a ceiling fan and a cooler chest for drinks.

Private dining in the tent felt very indulgent

The experience at Aman-i-Khás is focused on viewing wildlife, in particular, the tiger. Jonathan Blitz, the general manager of Amani-Khás is a South African and thus, a born-into-the-wild, self-styled naturalist. On his advice, we decided to hit the forest in the evening and kept the morning free to sleep in late and visit the Ranthambhore Fort. Nearly one thousand years old and several kilometres in circumference, the Ranthambhore Fort offers sweeping views of the National Park,which provide one with a feel for its vast scale. It is a 20-minute walk up to it and the area around the Ganesha temple situated on top of the Fort is dotted with old water tanks, chattris (covered pavillions), palaces and mosques. The views were astounding and the breakfast spread organized by Aman difficult to resist. It was between mouthfuls of hot steaming khichdi (a local ice and lentils preparation), that we heard the first thunder. Passing it off as a seasonal anomaly, we continued looking out for leopards and tigers from the old walls of the fort, by now contentedly sipping on our second cup of masala tea. An anomaly it was not and within minutes it started to drizzle. By the time we scrambled back in to our vehicle we were soaking wet. At the back of everyone’s mind was also a nagging worry about the safari planned for the evening. We stopped at Dastkar, a non-profit co-operative centre with an array of products for sale, made out of block printed cotton: saris, fabric, tea-cosies, shoe covers et al. The rain didn’t stop…it just kept coming as if the skies had burst. There was no question of going into the park that afternoon in an open-topped four wheel drive. Though a fabulous foot treatment at Aman’s Spa did much for the feet, it could not stop the mind from thinking about the next morning; the only other time we could go for the safari.

Journey by train
in India is an event
in itself. Every
station comes with

a local sight and
smell, delicacy and
dialect.”

From the way the downpour pounded on our tent through the night, a 6.30 a.m start for the park seemed impossible. But we were not going away without at least once getting a peek inside this world-renowned reserve. Armed with hot-water bottles, blankets, umbrellas and flasks of hot tea and egged on by Aman-i-Khás staff members, we drove into the park along with a guide and a naturalist. Gleaming from the incessant rain, the usually dry and dusty deciduo

us forest looked fresh and lush. The fauna was already mid-way into its morning routine and we spotted many animals; caracal, hyenas and sloth bears. Chital and sambar deer, antelopes and gazelles could be seen in hordes roaming the savannah whilst the marsh around the lakes and waterholes held the Indian marsh crocodile. Bird life, both resident and migratory, is prolific and over 350 species have been sighted within the park. We saw tree pies, bayblers and kingfishers. No, we didn’t see any tigers – not this time. It was ‘impossible’ in such weather conditions, they said. It would have been fulfilling to lay eyes on one; but for us it was not the last of the wonders to see in this remarkable territory – there was after all the train ride home!

 

Written by Gunjan Prasad


Delectable Delhi

Delectable Delhi

One of the joys of visiting a new country is sampling its cuisine, whether haute or undeniably low brow. Gunjan Prasad explores the streets of one of her favourite cities, Delhi.

There is a story about the Emperor of Delhi’s elephant that says he would stop in the middle of a procession and refuse to budge until he was fed sweetmeats made out of real, clarified butter from a special shop called Ghantewala in Old Delhi. There is a story about the Emperor of Delhi’s elephant that says he would stop in the middle of a procession and refuse to budge until he was fed sweetmeats made out of real, clarified butter from a special shop called Ghantewala in Old Delhi.

The story may be an apocryphal folklore, but the delicious diversity of Delhi’s food is not. Maybe it has something to do with its immigrant population that has trudged hundreds of kilometers from the rural countryside to make this big city their home; and brought with them tastes and flavors that are now a part of what one can call dilli ka khana (food of Delhi). Being the place where I was born and lived for the first quarter of my life, Delhi to me means my mother’s delicious food, devoured either sitting outside in the verandah enjoying a few hours of sunshine in the North Indian winters or in front of the khus-padded water coolers when the mercury shot up to 40-degrees. With four distinct seasons came different vegetables every couple of months; greens, carrots and cauliflowers in winters and gourds, okra and nothing much else in summers. While growing up, eating out was limited to an orange lolly at India Gate, chaat (savory crisps served with sweet, tangy and spicy sauces; usually served cold) at Bengali market or an occasional sweet corn soup at the local mobile van from Chinese-looking cooks. Parties, birthdays, anniversaries were all celebrated at home with relatives, with food being cooked by mums and aunts or else ordered in.



It remained this way even when I moved out, as the only thing I wanted to do on my annual trips back home was to tuck into as much homecooked food as I could! Thus, recently when I was asked to write a long-ish article about “Top 5 Places to Eat” in Delhi after a trip to India, it was quite a task. That I am not a part of the “bling” crowd that visits the newly opened lounge bars and super expensive Thai restaurants does not help either. Thus, I decided to ask some dyed-in-the-wool Delhites (with at least three generations of history in the capital) about places they will recommend to people seeking dilli ka khana.
 
Karim’s in Old Delhi featured top on most of the non-vegetarians’ lists (including mine). Though I don’t expect that many people, even in India, regularly dine on goat’s trotters, I am reasonably sure anyone who takes this recommendation will develop a taste for them, just as they will for the unique ambience of the Walled City; the sights, sounds and smells that take you right back to the days of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan. Butter chicken is to Delhi what pizza is to Rome. Every gourmand in the capital has a favorite hole in the wall that serves this dish of succulent roasted chicken pieces in thick and creamy buttery sauce. Though  Pindi near India Gate is where most tourists go, my voters’ pick was “Chick Fish” at the Malaviya Nagar market. Situated in a predominantlymiddle class colony, said to have been originally developed for Indian refugees arriving from Pakistan after the division, Chick Fish’s butter chicken is to die for. Match it with naans right out of the clay tandoor and some raw onions; you’ll be hooked for life.


A visit to Delhi without having chaat is simply unpardonable. Every neighborhood street has more than one chaat corner dishing out aloo tikki, pani puri, or papri chaat served with curd and piquant sauce. Though the upcoming Indian fast food chain Haldiram has made chaat-eating more hygienic, what with its plastic-wrapped potatoes and mineral water, to me the romance lies in queuing up with five others to wait for a turn at getting a spicy sour sauce filled crispy chaat and munching until my eyes water, due to the spices and chilies; the best place for such an experience is behind UPSC building at Shahjahan Road.  There is not much to write about Karol Bagh in the west side of the capital if you take it purely from a tourist’s point of view. The roads are narrow, winding and dusty and adding to the chaos are thousands of people, either hawking their various wares, passing through or simply just there for the food. Though primarily populated by people from Punjab, Karol Bagh’s claim to fame is kulfi (an Indian ice-cream), served at a restaurant called Roshan-di-Kulfi. A rock solid block of milky icecream hidden beneath a delicious mix of falooda (a milk-based drink flavoured with rose syrup and named after the strands of cornflour vermicelli that float in it) is a treat to die for in summertime.

If you turn left on Lodhi Road from the Nizamuddin flyover, you will find a medical looking structure that locals call the Purana Gumbad, and right next to this there are some plastic chairs and a table and a small cigarette stall – this is Patrick’s Tea Stall. The menu comprises masala chai (tea), bread omelettes, bread pakora (fritters), biscuits and bottled water. Next to the Centenary Methodist Church, it is just the place to get some spiritual guidance from hordes of Christian students who come for the Sunday service. While roadside eateries churn out the most authentic cuisine in Delhi; it also houses a plethora of up-market eateries. As the Delhi-ites are gradually building an appetite for unique-to-them cuisines such as Mexican and Thai, one country that dominates the culinary scene in Delhi is China. However, don’t go in expecting such authentic fare as Peking Duck and Pork Dumplings; Indians eat what is called “masala Chinese” – an ‘Indianised’ version of the original! However, for the discerning gourmand, one eatery that is a must-do is Side Wok, in the hip and chic neighborhood of Delhi-Khan Market. On the menu you will find dishes from Burma, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Laos but with the emphasis on Chinese cuisine.

The wait staff are attractively dressed in a palette of beiges and browns; this is a place to go for Tom Yum Goong, Gado Gado and, of course, Chicken Schezwan. There is much more to India than the Taj Mahal and Jaipur. Delhi, in itself, has enough history and culture to match that of many countries around the world. What is required, however, is to see it, feel it, smell it and taste it from the perspective of the people who know – its residents, the dilli-wallas.  

Madness in the Midwests

Chicago is a city that offers sights and treats galore to appease even the most disgruntled traveller. With wads of American’s notorious green paper money and blocks and blocks to conquer in only a few days, AWAY IN STYLE takes theWindy City on by storm.

Madness in the Midwest

Old Sun Times Building

Sitting in cattle class economy, staring in a zomboid trance at my swollen feet I keep on asking myself if this 24 hour flight is worth it all – through the turbulence and my sweating palms I shift around in my seat banging the intrusive arms of my economy class seat, hating my neighbour whose elbows protrude limpid
and relaxed into my personal space –damn those sleepers. Eventually, after the grizzly descent into American territory, Chicago appears as a gem of a city, with an incredible skyline and perfectly temperate summer weather. The breadth of Chicago’s skyline seems at once infinite and inviting, with the haze from the summer heat hanging through the relentless wind, there is an air of some sort of impending action – what I didn’t know, was that this could be whatever I wanted it to be. After dropping off all the luggage in the hotel room, and getting a disdainful look of condescending disgust from the un-tipped porter (must remember to tip and carry wads of $1 in my pocket – folded into origami packets so that the tipping can be executed in suave celebrity style), I wander out of my 5-star hotel onto Michigan Avenue. What strikes me first is the boundless width of the streets – things in the Midwest are generally bigger, wider and taller – this, and the fact that I have never seen such an abundance of blonde hair and denim moving so fast. Traipsing down Chicago’s main shopping district, I am overwhelmed by the blocks and blocks of malls and department stores.

Marshall Fields, a Chicago department store, has an inventive window display that brings hordes of tourists and locals alike in through its swinging doors each day. I walk in and the smell of perfume invades my nostrils. Cosmetics are the same everywhere, so I amble past the over eager shop assistants who epitomize the white-toothed Midwestern hospitality stereotype (although one was very smiley and good – and almost managed to coerce me into buying some more junk to clutter my vanity table with) and into the back gourmet foods section of the store. What I smell and see is better than any other delectable treat that some luxury skincare can come up with. It is a sleek green box with elegant typeface – but inside is a wonderful grid of small glistening chocolate nuggets nestled in uniform rows. These chocolates are quite literally, melt-in-your-mouth amazing, and in a few seconds quite a number are gobbled up off the sample tray – the shop assistant glares at me, I smile with chocolate smeared all over my mouth and fingers and snatch boxes in various sizes and varieties of these delicious minty chocolates and a few of the Frango biscuits too. As legend has it, these famous Chicago chocolates are made to a secret recipe that was created almost a century ago in 1918. Over the years, this special mint-chocolate confection has garnered a devout fan base that have transformed this flat green box into an ambassador for Chicago’s good taste. Coming out of this huge shopping mall, I turn a corner and something glitzy catches my eye. American Girl – is this some sort of strip club? – My curiosity gets the better of me, and I stand there to observe what kind of perverse establishment this could be – but there are no scantily clad girls traipsing by in their imitation leather platform shoes. No, what I see is a wonderment of accessory and a higher religiosity of young girls worshiping in fervour the idol of the Consumer demigod. There are little girls wearing the same outfits as a small doll cradled under their arms. This store, is a haven for young girls and their dolls. A place where they can get their hair done together, eat together, and emerge victorious and looking like each other.

Lawn seating at the pavilion with concerts during the summer

All the wandering around Michigan Avenue, balking at the high street prices (damn the exchange rate), has tired me out and has worked up a ravenous appetite. I decided that the only place that could satiate this desire for consumption was the infamous Hooters, which advertises itself as “Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined”. Any place that has the gall to cash in on unrefined tackiness is a place that I want to see – I love sardonic humour. As the doors swing open into this dining hall, I am confronted with a completely different type of American Girl – one that is attired in a tight white singlet with Hooters strategically emblazoned across many a well endowed bosom. Prancing around with white pop socks and orange hot-pants, my eyes busy themselves with the hefty menu of chicken wings galore and other assorted fried foods; beer and wine is served but hard liquor is not, by policy. I wonder to myself, is this place really for eating? I order the chicken wings and am pleasantly surprised by their quality whilst I admire the eye-candy, the walls and walls of sports memorabilia and franchise flair of course. My companion, on the other hand, was ogling at the living scenery. I didn’t go to Chicago to just eat and lounge about, although that seems to be the typical lifestyle of choice of the US citizen, judging by the larger size of their population. So I decided to leave my friend to his stunned staring and go sightseeing on my lonesome. Chicago is a very friendly city, much more open and affable than its East and West coast counterparts. Here, people stop to offer directions, and almost always suggested an alternative sight to see along the way. Chicago is home to the world’s first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building, which was sadly demolished in 1931, and has a long history of beautiful soaring obelisks that are built with a sturdy architectural philosophy “form follows function”, and have surpassed physical limitations of having to withstand Chicago’s relentless high velocity wind. The Chicago Water Tower is one of two buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. What I found fascinating was how everything surrounding this water tower is land reclaimed by the burnt carcasses of every other fire-ravaged building that was pushed into the lake to extinguish the flames.


From left: Plaza with bar and food during the summer and ice rink during the winter. Looking up from under the Bean

Another sight to see is the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, Sue, which is exhibited at The Field Museum Chicago. Amongst other things, it is both gratifying and educational to see their dinosaur exhibition space. Sue, as she is known, is a complex bag of bones, and not just an old fossil. Sue stands 13 feet high at the hips and 42 feet long from head to tail. It was quite an intimidating experience and also a reminder of how small our modern perspective is. From one giant, I wander over to another gargantuan relic: the Sears Tower, constructed in 1973, is the tallest building in North America standing proudly at 1,725
feet with 110-storeys and 4.56 million gross square feet. Beyond these grandiose proportions however, is the spectacular view that you get from the viewing platform – this, is immeasurable – and on a clear summer Chicago day, I left feeling satisfied beyond my massive American Size lunch of Chicken wings and beer.

Written by Alexandra Hamlyn

Plenty of beaches on Mykonos

Smoke circulates my lungs as clouds swirl around the room; I start to choke if I inhale to deeply. The small smoking area I have allocated myself to is starting to feel like a bad decision to initiate my 6-hour journey. As the television blurts out Hellenic commentary, walking space is near to non-existent in this supposed business class area. I do make it sound worse than the reality of it all, I must give credit to the DVD club and the wide range of coffee delights the onboard bar offers. To my surprise there is also a goodies fast food outlet. There may have even been a cinema, but I didn’t really venture far from my smoky surroundings, unless it was to take a breath of fresh air on the outer deck.

Little Venice

It is a long weekend in Greece and Athenians are flocking to the sea to find haven on the island waters. Agiou Pnevmatos, otherwise known as Spirito Santos or the Holy Spirit holiday is celebrated 50 days after Kalo Pasha (Greek Easter). The holiday celebrates something, but typically no Greek could really tell me what we were celebrating. Anyway we’re always happy with a holiday, reason or no reason.

Life in Mykonos starts late. Come 2am the city comes to life. It is for this reason I found myself crawling into bed at 4 o’clock in the morning, rather than the normal bedtime curfew of midnight. Unfortunately this caused me to miss the breakfast buffet on the first morning. I did however make sure I made it in the following morning to see the array of miniature bircher muesli’s served up in martini classes, along with miniature versions of what is known at the Belvedere hotel as ‘Breakfast in Santorini’. These light lemon curd yoghurts drizzled with honey and nuts in espresso cups are a taste sensation. The belvedere hotel is one of the more exclusive hotels on the island and the most internationally recognised due to the entrepreneurial skills of Tassos and Nikolas Ioannidis. The brother team have worked toward creating a unique experience that is both traditionally Greek and international.

As a fabulously indulgent induction I found it very necessary to start the island holiday with a manicure and pedicure. To really feel pampered, take a trip down to Psarou Beach and spoil yourself at Luisa, a high-end retail boutique that offers the best of the best that the world has to offer in fashion, accessories, beauty and a number of little things you never knew you needed until you found them. Stretch out on the silk leopard print Cavalli cushions. Laze under the canopy and take some sushi while admiring the beautiful people, Louboutin shoes, Matthew Williamson dresses, Marc Jacobs handbags, Pucci towels, Chloe sunglasses, Gavello jewellery, and, while your there, I suggest picking up one of the divine Missoni bikinis, I did, and I still do every time. Take a manicure and pedicure at Luisa Spa and paint your nails ‘long stem roses’ red to really feel like you’re on vacation. Perfectly bright nails will jazz up any outfit, even if you don the flip-flops. While down at Psarou beach you can’t miss dining at Nammos. This fabulous fish restaurant serves succulent crab claws bigger than your own arm. There are arrays of seafood delights devour, but the smells that waft from the kitchen alone are enough to set your tummy grumbling. Food is fresh and tasty and well worth the stop.

There are a plenty of beaches on Mykonos to be discovered; from family orientated Kalo Livadi, where restaurant Soli Mare serves up the most delectable lobster pasta you are to ever try in your life, to Kalafatis, whose wide stretches of small white pebbles, expanses of crystal clear water and sporadic trees completely carry you away to another world. Kalafatis beach is also home to a surf club where jet skis can be rented for fifteen minutes at a cost of 30 Euro. There are some secrets best kept to yourself, such as the more secluded Lia beach and the freedom that comes with a visit to Agia Sostis. Sostis is one of Mykonos’ most beautiful and coveted beaches, but the steep rocky access and a lack of bathing chairs and sun umbrellas means the beach stays relatively private and tourist free. Above the rocky inclination sits a small white church. This is where Sostis takes its name from as the Greek word Agia translates into English as Holy. While Holy Sostis might be protected when the wind is high Sostis becomes a sand storm. In such times I suggest you head for the more sheltered Ornos or Psarou Bays. If Sostis is good then you can also count on neighbouring Panormos Beach to offer good bathing opportunities. Once a beach that was home to only an outdoor, canopy covered, sand floor restaurant, Panormos has become slightly more developed in recent years. Still in touch with its bohemian roots, the ambience is great and the development remains fun and simple. Panormos beach is scattered sporadically with umbrellas. There is a swing, a sarong shop, and beach volleyball.

Bandana on Agia Anna however is a secret to be discovered and shared. Serving up traditional Italian fare and one specialty dessert that continue to draw the crowds back again and again and again. Don’t miss Bandana’s unforgettable chocolate and mascapone cheese calzone that just oozes with goodness!!

While on the topic of food, I suggest taking a peak at Interni, an ultra trendy open-air bar/restaurant. Ex Nobu chef from London, Irini Psoma has relocated to the Interni kitchen and is cooking up a storm. I highly suggest the salmon, which melts in the mouth with a similar sensation to Nobu’s ‘black cod’, laid out perfectly on creamy coconut risotto.

There are many angles to how Mykonos can be taken in. What I have touched on here is only the beginning. From a disco point of view we have a whole new story…these joys come later, now it is time to relax, soak up the sun and enjoy.

Written by Ivana Martyn

Laos Plenty of Water in the Dry Season

 Plenty of Water in the Dry Season

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage listed site, but that does not mean just seriously cultured travellers should go there


Laos is one of those countries not many people can locate mentally on a map. Can you? The inland country is squeezed between Vietnam to the North and along the East, Cambodia – shares a small border to the South –, Thailand along the West as well as Myammar and China along the North West. Name of the capital anyone? Vientiane. You knew it? Fine, this one is harder, name of the old royal capital? Luang Prabang. That was our destination for 6 days last Easter.

The small town nestled between the Mekong and Nan Khan rivers celebrated Songkram – new year – on the 14th–16th April. The festival has a deep religious meaning for Buddhists; so many religious offerings, processions and other ceremonies take place here.

We arrived there from Hong Kong via Bangkok as there are no direct flights from Chek Lap Kok airport to Luang Prabang. We were picked up and taken to Mouang Luang Hotel. The building looks magnificent from the outside; inspired by traditional Laos architecture the structure really impressed us upon arrival.
But this was really an unpretentious hotel: the interior, the rooms and the facilities were clean, spacious and had good air-con – an essential to survive when one is not used to that kind of dry and hot weather. The hotel wasn’t hyper luxurious or ultrachic; the garden has a swimming pool and there were lots of trees to provide perfect shade to laze around. The charming and extremely helpful manageress gave us some basic information about the town and we left.

It was almost midday and off we went merrily walking under the sun equipped with long sleeve linen shirts, sunblock, sunglasses and hats. Well, we should have carried an iceberg with us to try to remain cool. We almost melted. After wandering along the main street for one hour we returned to our refuge and decided to splurge in the pool and lounge under the trees until the sun went down a bit.

Our second attempt to explore the town was more successful. Still, we felt lucky we had six days there, so we could take it easy and avoid the sun at its worst. Luang Prabang has over thirty Buddhist temples but we did not intend to see every single one of them. We selected the most important and interesting ones and decided to take the time to enjoy visiting those select few. I am one of those people who prefers to be left hungry for more than have an overdose of hurried visits to the hundreds of places recommended by travel guides. Having travelled around Asia quite a bit in the last year and a half we really preferred to cut down the amount of sites we visit and carefully select the images we want to keep in our memory.

The town was apparently full of visitors, but it did not feel overcrowded. The limited accommodation of hotels and guesthouses allowed us to stroll among the locals. We could visit the lively night market on the main street without being pushed around, and enjoy the curious looks and smiles children – and adults alike- gave us when we saluted “sabbai dee.”

Once the festival started on the 14th of April, people from the surrounding villages came to town and things got more fun. On the first day, I got up at 5:45 to be able to see the Alms Giving Ceremony. People were sitting on the ground along the main streets with bowls of rice. Handfuls of rice were offered to the monks who approached them in lines carrying shiny metal bowls. Unfortunately, the holiday season brings along flocks of vendors who want to put up their little stalls and profit from the relative avalanche of potential customers who visit the location during those days. As a result, many motorcycles come and go among the monks, pilgrims who visit the temples and the rest of the people around. Pedestrians find themselves in a difficult situation trying to stay alert and survive while enjoying the interesting street ceremony.

After the formal religious parade the water battle started. People were equipped with buckets, hosepipes, cups, water guns and they would target absolutely everyone; from old grannies to young children –usually the most enthusiastic fighters. The origin of this battle has religious roots. Water is for Buddhists, a symbol of purity and to this day is still perfumed with flowers and sprinkled over the monks and other people to wish them good luck during the processions. But the street combat is less delicate and much livelier. During the three days of the festivities I had to be careful with the cameras. I saw more than one foreigner getting angry at children because they had dampened they expensive cameras and I didn’t want to spoil the fun of the community nor get upset because of an accident.
In the afternoon the fiesta was relocated on the sandy riverbank across the Mekong. We took a long narrow boat to cross over there and started walking among the crowd. For a few moments we were spotlessly clean and surrounded by people drenched in water and with flour and paint all over their faces and bodies. Only three minutes later we looked just like them and taking revenge with our water guns and some flour a young girl gave me. Later on that evening we walked into the lobby of our hotel and despite our messy aspect were greeted by the staff, “You are very lucky, you are very wet!”

In the evening the main street becomes an animated market where women sell lots of handmade textiles, some old, some new, all colourful. The small restaurants offer a variety of food you could find Lao cuisine –with tasty Mekong fish and also a kind of acidic noodles that I did not like- but there were also many French delicacies. The heritage of the old colonial power could be seen in the presence of baguettes and in many other recipes like crepes. The food was good but the natural fruit juices and milkshakes were superb, I could have lived on them for the week.

The following day we went to see the Royal Chapel, one of the most magnificent temples in the town. The rich and profuse decorations were coloured in gold, black and red. The colourful mirror mosaics were astonishing. People were going in and out of the temples with offerings and they were also getting ready for the procession in the early afternoon. We strolled around the well-kept colonial part of town and decided to have lunch on the veranda at the elegant Villa Santi hotel. We couldn’t have founda better place if we tried. We were about to start our meal when the procession began just below our balcony. It was the perfect place to see it and take photos -it was safe and dry. The colourful parade started with the formal monks, some authorities, the ‘queens and kings’, the ‘devils’, and then the informal groups of teenagers, followed by what looked like a bunch of drag queens and clusters of visitors who joined in and followed the carnival.

After three days of ceremonies, street parades, and water battles, the town was quiet once again and all the visitors disappeared. We finally saw Luang Prabang as it is for 362 days per year: a calm and beautiful Lao town where life goes at a tranquil pace. Not an impressive monumental city, but rather a cosy town where it’s a pleasure to get lost for a few days and slowly discover its charm.

Written by Rita Slva