16 in ’16

2016 was a blockbuster travel year for me, where I got to visit eight countries – of them six new ones, and most excitingly for me, both North and South America for the first time!

I also got to tick a couple of adventure activities from my list, including paragliding in Uttarkhand and underwater walking in Dubai, stayed at a few gorgeous boutique hotels / homestays across India on work and leisure.

So, a quick look at the year that was, in images…

Began the year with a ten day trip to beautiful Myanmar with the husband

Seychelles in April for the Victoria Carnaval

The stunning isolation and magnificence of the Rockies, walking on Athabasca Glacier and being moved to tears at Niagara Falls – Canada in May

Many usual and some unusual suspects ticked off during a visit to Dubai for a stay at the new Taj, with a spectacular view of Burj Khalifa

My first trip to the USA (yeah really, can you believe it?) – two weeks on work in Louisiana and Nevada and then two weeks on holiday in California, Boston and NYC. What an incredibly spectacular country!

A dream trip for any travel enthusiast – and the delight of discovering there is so much more to Peru than Machu Picchu

Another unexpectedly delightful and beautiful country – who thought Oman would be so blue?!

Ended my international travels for the year with a wildlife trip to Victoria state in Australia – think kangaroos, koalas, penguins and platypus…

Then, there was the usual travel within India – went to the North East for a relaxed holiday (the last time I went was when I was 11!), a few hotel reviews and more chilled out weekends at luxury resorts too.

The second big trip of the year with the husband, after Myanmar in January – Meghalaya and Assam in November

A post-graduate class reunion in Ahmedabad and then a couple of day trips to Patan for the gorgeous Rani ki Vav stepwell and Nalsarovar for the flamingos

The Grand Dragon Hotel in Ladakh – in the middle of a frigid winter in January, the Gustor festival at Spituk monastery and a trip to Lamayuru along frozen roads…

The new and opulent Orange County at Hampi – for a review for Outlook Traveller

A visit to Freddy’s Bungalow in Bhimtal and Mary Budden Estate in Binsar, in February

The long weekend in mid August – a semi forest homestay in Masinagudi, lots of elephant sightings from closeby and this walk in the clouds near Ooty

Indulging at Ibnii, the beautiful new ecoresort at Coorg

Bumper sightings of Maya with her three cubs at Tadoba, once again staying at the lovely Svasara

I also managed a lot of wildlife related activities during my travels (even when they were not specifically wildlife focused) – look out for the next post coming up on this topic.

My world from up above

2016 has been a spectacular year for me as a traveller (a detailed round-up post coming up next) – but one of the highlights was the bird’s eye view I got of some stunning natural and man-made wonders on chopper rides.

From the Grand Canyon in the USA to twice in Canada, over the Niagara Falls and over the Rockies, recently the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road in Australia from the vantage point of a helicopter.

Then the familiar landmarks of Dubai from a seaplane, and the very intriguing Nazca Lines in Peru from a light aircraft, it has been an amazing ride.

Here, a few of my favourite memories of the world I saw from above:

The dozen brown hues of the Grand Canyon

The magnificence of Niagara from the Canadian side

Up above the snowy Rockies

The mystery of the outstretched hands over Nazca

Fringes of the Palm and soaring tower of Burj

The 12 Apostles, shipwreck magnets from the past

Christchurch: back on its feet and dancing

It’s a balmy evening in Christchurch and I am dancing on the street to a Spice Girls song.

On a free walking tour of Christchurch, our guide Michael Borren has led us to an open square with what looks like a painted washing machine in the middle. He plugs his phone in to it, inserts $2 into a slot and voila! The washing machine is now a mean jukebox. That is how I end up channeling my inner Mithun Chakraborty and boogying under the disco lights strung up overhead. And it’s not only us who have danced to its tunes; in 2012, when on the Royal Jubilee tour of the Commonwealth, Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla boogeyed to it too.

Meet the Dance-o-mat, one of Christchurch’s unique delights. Designed by an urban regeneration group called The Gap Filler, it is meant to be response to the lack of lively public spaces post the earthquake in 2011 that left Christchurch devastated. Quirky, sure, but the city seems to understand that when you gotta dance, you gotta dance.

Dance

The earthquake– measuring 6.3 on the scale – struck the South Island’s largest city in February 2011. Four years later, remains of the destruction are visible everywhere. Our taxi driver takes over an hour to cover a distance of five kilometres, stumped by construction materials and bulldozers on every road. Almost all my interactions with locals are punctuated with references to those terrible days when hundreds lost their lives, homes and possessions.

Yet, as I wander around the city, I also find distinct signs of revival and even optimism. I am delighted to discover cheerful wall art everywhere, even dilapidated buildings sporting abstract images amidst the dust and debris. According to Michael, this is a recent phenomenon, another endeavour to boost public morale.

Art1

Art2

Art3

When my husband and I set out from our hotel in the morning, we stop for a coffee at Coffee Traders. Housed in a handful of shipping containers, Coffee Traders is just one of the city’s many eating and shopping establishments that has found a home – perhaps permanently – among bright shipping containers.

Coffee

At lunch, we head to one of the most innovative projects to use such containers, the Re:Start mall, a cluster of boutiques, gift shops and eateries selling kiwi and international stuff. The mall is packed with locals and tourists basking under the warm autumn sun at the alfresco cafés and food stalls. Re:Start is a place we keep going back to, not to shop or eat, but to just enjoy the vibe.

Restart1

Restart2

My favourite initiative though, is the cardboard cathedral, known locally as the transitional cathedral. This marvellous structure sprung up in place of the damaged 19th century Christchurch cathedral. The architect Shigeru Ban came with considerable experience in reviving broken structures and constructing new ones in disaster zones. He used his preferred material, strong cardboard tubes, tried and tested earlier in Japan and Haiti, in this building.

Cathedral
(Source: wikimedia commons)

The people have embraced this church – also using it as a space for community events – and see it as a symbol of moving on.

That afternoon, we take a lazy stroll in Hagley Park, where the trees are a blaze of yellow and orange. This verdant urban space, spread over 400 acres, seems untouched by the chaos on the streets. The only noises are the occasional birdsong and muted whispers of walkers.

Hagley

And later in the evening, we make our way to the Isaac Theatre Royal to catch a local Kiwi production of The Phantom of the Opera (excellent, by the way). Waiting in the foyer before the show, I eavesdrop on several conversations that centre on the recent restoration and reopening of this iconic theatre. By then, I know that this is common discourse among Christchurchers: what is the latest to come (back) to life?

The fact that Christchurch was listed by Lonely Planet among the top ten cities to visit in 2013 – just two years after the earthquake – is a testament to the way the city has risen from the rubble and carried on.

Amidst all this, Christchurch has not forgotten its dead. A street installation of 185 white chairs, empty and evocative, stands in memory of the lives lost. As we stand at the site – which includes wheelchairs and baby chairs – it is impossible not to be moved.

Chairs
(Source: wikimedia commons)

And it is impossible not to love a city so rooted to its past, while marching ahead resolutely.

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A slightly different version of this was published in Mint Lounge on July 25, 2015

Autumn in New Zealand

It was early autumn in New Zealand when we went there – the first week of this April and we were excited about seeing the foliage colours. Since we landed in Auckland and spent the first few days in the north island, we didn’t get much of a chance to spot autumn colours but once we flew to Queenstown, we were in for a treat.

On our first afternoon in Queenstown, we drove to neighbouring Arrowtown, where the Autumn Festival was on. Arrowtown is a postcard pretty, small town, fully decked up that day for the festival, with kids and their parents out, enjoying the mellow sunshine.

Arrowtown has one main street, with buildings that look straight out of the 1800s (probably are), with little lanes branching off from it, a few shops and cafes thrown about here and there, the green hills in the distance. All, oh, so charming.

Arrowtown

And the trees were ablaze in yellows and oranges and reds – my first time ever seeing such colours. And my husband and I were thrilled to bits.

Arrowtown2

Arrowtown1

orange

yellow

Later on, driving elsewhere from Lake Wanaka, we found these trees on the sides of the road – more signs of autumn. Overall, we experienced autumn bounty in New Zealand. And now I am all set for fall colours in New England in the set coast on the USA, the only thing is, I don’t know when that will happen…

drive

Friday photo: Reflections

It is almost impossible to choose one favourite among the dozens of stunning landscape images I have from New Zealand. But for now, a pic of an unexpectedly beautiful spot we came across near the Franz Josef glacier. There were several hikes near the glacier, of varying lengths and difficulty levels – and of course, we chose one of the easiest initially. This route led us to Peter’s Pool…

Peters Pool

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Also see: Friday photo series

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