Several years ago, when water sports was unheard of in India, travellers heading to the far-east (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand) would look forward to indulging in some water-related activity (water scooters, para-sailing, para-gliding, etc). Water sports was unique, different and adventurous. But not anymore. Nowadays water-sports of the kind I have mentioned here are passe’. Water sports in one form or the other is now available in most of India’s popular beaches.
Any place or country that you visit will have something specific and characteristic of that place. Something that will not come up on that first research that you carry out when planning a trip. You have to scratch beneath the surface a wee bit to find that little gem. Sometimes it will be so local, that only a local can help you find it.
1) I know, there is nothing off-beat or new about dune-bashing in the deserts of Dubai. Everyone knows it exists. So why is it on the list? That’s because I believe that a trip to the UAE cannot be complete if you do not undergo the experience of driving on the sand dunes in a 4X4.
Do consider off-track driving in Hatta (not all car rentals allow you to drive off into the tracks. There are companies that offer trips) and a day at the hot water spring in Ras Al Khaimah. The hot water springs were at their rustic best 20-odd years ago. It has lost its charm now, looking more like a Kerala Ayurveda Spa Resort in the middle of the Arabian Desert. But I have to let you know it exists. Give it a dekko if you can.
2) It is one thing to admire the pyramids in Cairo, Egypt from the outside and a totally different experience to enter one. The path is not an easy walk and definitely not for the faint-hearted because it can get claustrophobic in there. The ceiling along the path can be so low that you are forced to bend and walk. Nevertheless, it is amazing experience.
3) Mainland Singapore and Sentosa have enough things to see and do especially for a first time traveller. But if you want to do something different, go on a day trip to Pulau Ubin, one of the last standing Kampung (village) where there are people still leading a rustic life in sharp contrast to the urban city-scape that is Singapore. Rent a cycle and ride around. If you are lucky you may spot birds and little animals that the ecosystem supports.
Kusu means tortoise in Chinese and thats what Kusu Island is, an island of tortoise! There are a few Chinese temples on this island.
Remember to carry water and food on your trip to both the islands.
4) Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka is home to close to 100 elephants, male, female and babies. You can do the typical touristy thing of feeding and posing with the eles which is a controversial subject and I do not want to delve into it.
The highlight for me was the procession of the elephants to the river across the road for their bathing ritual. I don’t think one gets to see so many elephants walk peacefully for their bath. They seem to truly enjoy their time in the water! Mahouts (elephant keepers and caretakers) invite audience to lend a hand to bathe the gentle giants 🙂
5) Did you know there is a Blue Mansion in George Town, Penang, Malaysia? It was the home and office of Cheong Fatt Tze, a prominent business man and politician who belonged to the time between mid-1800s to early 1900s. The house was built keeping in mind the principles of Feng Shui. The place fell to ruins but has now been carefully restored and is run as a boutique hotel. You do not necessarily have to stay there to admire the place. Sign up for a guided tour and allow yourself to be charmed by the magnificent mansion!
6) Walk the ramparts of the Kumbalgarh fort, Rajasthan, India. A relatively youngish fort, still intact and very pretty (in my opinion, one of the prettiest forts i have seen thus far) has a fairly long rampart (At 38km, it is the second longest after the Great Wall of China) that you can walk on! Would take the good part of a day, nevertheless a great thing to do! I tried to walk along the ramparts of the fort in Jaisalmer. That too, in my opinion should be possible, but the ever-present poop every few steps of the way forced me to abandon the walk.
7) A flamenco dance recital by Sara Baras in Spain. Several eateries and tablaos have flamenco shows and if you find yourself in Southern Spain, you will be spoilt for choice. Ok, this recommendation comes at a much higher price and does not include dinner and drinks 🙂 But go watch the lady, Sara Baras in motion. You will be mesmerised! She is the queen of flamenco and one of the best in the world! Even my kids (aged 7y & 9y at the time) sat through the entire presentation and even applauded loudly at the end of the show. She travels quite a bit and who knows, if you are lucky, you may be able to catch her in your own city!
8) A day trip from Krakow, a 30-40 minute train ride, takes you to Europe’s largest brick castle in Malbork, Poland. Allow the sheer grandiose nature of the carefully and painstakingly restored brick castle to hit you with its complete force 🙂 You will not regret making that trip!
9) Olympia in Greece is the home of the Ancient Olympics. A very touristy place actually. This is where the Olympic flame is lit even today before it travels around the world and makes its way to the venue of the modern day Olympics. So what do i want you to do there you wonder? Just go run a 100m dash in the Stadium which at one time hosted many events. The arched entry-way, the platform where the judges used to sit, the spectator stands around the rectangular field. You have it all, so get set and go!
10) Drink a glass of Sturm or two while in Austria. Sturm is semi-fermented grape juice, a young wine, or rather, grape juice on its way to become wine. It is available for a very short period between August and September. The taste varies from place to place. A heuriger (a rustic Austrian tavern) is the best place to go to for sturm, traditional food, music and lots of loud talking and merry making! The alcohol content is low, but it has a reputation of causing a storm in the tummy. So makes sure you do not guzzle down too much that you will end up seeing more of Austrian loos than places of interest 🙂
11) If you find yourself in Germany’s prettiest part, Garmisch Partenkirchen, I’d advise a trip to Zugspitze, the tallest peak in the German Alps. Just make sure you look at the weather report before you head out. A clear day is a good day for this trip.
Visit a bunker in Berlin, Germany, get down into a Salt Mine in Austria or Poland. There’s more! But these are a few things that I have done. Might not be an adventurous list, but trust me, you will find what you need if you look 🙂
All cities have walking tours. I am a sucker for walking tours. Its a fun way to get to know a place. The guides can be very animated and full of little stories that, in my opinion help build a complete picture of a place. They narrate stories that one might not find in a typical guide book/website.
So find some unique place/adventure/food that appeals to you. It will stay with you forever.
Happy travelling and here’s to discovering new places and activities! Cheers! Salud! Prost!