Liechtenstein: a photoessay from one of the world’s tiniest and prettiest capital cities

Lonely Planet calls it a pipsqueak of a country. I don’t think Liechtenstein is the sort of country that would take offence. It it super tiny, it is super rich, and it is picturesque beyond belief, nestled (some would say hidden) right in the middle of Switzerland and Austria.

In fact, this country is so small that is it is easy to miss it on a map or even on a road trip through that part of Europe – you can drive from one end to the other in an hour and so, and not realise that you have drive through another country. The scenery still remains utterly Swiss – clean, green and alpine – with a few medieval castles perched whimsically on top of mountains and edge of cliffs.

Liechtenstein was – and has never been – on my radar, even when I was right next to it, in Switzerland. It just happened that I had a free evening in the old town of Chur and Vaduz came up as a place to visit. And why not? Not just a new city – but a whole new country in a single evening! So, after a couple of bus changes and a journey through postcard pretty landscape, we were in Vaduz, the landlocked capital of Liechtenstein.

True to its reputation for tininess, there is one main road – we walked up and down that high street lined with cute boutiques, kitschy souvenir shops and al fresco cafes several times and finally fetched up in front of the tourism office.

There is one thing – no, two things really – to be said for this city: the utter cheekiness and quirkiness on display all around (see the pictures below), and the fact for such an itty-bitty town, there were half a dozen museums catering to all kinds of interests.

Unfortunately, the museums were shut as was the main castle (or on the verge of closing) by the time we reached. And anyway, I was not in the mood for culture – more like gelato on that hot summer afternoon, and so after some creamy stracciatella ice cream and a fridge magnet for a souvenir, we made our way back to Chur.

A note about the magnet: I fell in love with this country a bit more after seeing the self-effacing humour on the magnet – who wouldn’t? I have to admit that I didn’t know how to spell or pronounce the country’s name till I actually visited it (and I am still not sure I can do it without sneakily checking it online).

And locals are probably aware that this is true for almost every single visitor, and have decided to take it in their stride, and even make a tourist souvenir out of it, tongue firmly in cheek.

A new and thoroughly delightful country discovered. What can be a better way to spend a spare evening in Europe?

Read more about Liechtenstein on their official tourism site

My fascination with Indian stepwells

My fascination with stepwells started when I first heard about Agrasen ki baoli a few years ago – an ancient stepwell hiding in plain sight in the heart of modern New Delhi. I finally got a chance to see it two years ago; we were living in Gurgaon then.

It was an unusually balmy winter Sunday morning, and my husband and I decided to make the best use of it by heading to Connaught Place for a south Indian breakfast at Saravana Bhavan, followed by a leisurely stroll around the neighbourhood.

I suddenly remembered that the baoli was supposed to somewhere in the area, so why not make a visit? It was tucked away in a small lane, with the wall in front of it decorated with an exquisite Ganesha mural.

Unfortunately, the site was undergoing restoration work when we visited, so thanks to the scaffoldings everywhere, I could not take any photos. But during a recent trip to my alma mater in Ahmedabad last winter, I squeezed in a quick trip to Patan – rightly considered the queen of stepwells in India, fittingly built by a queen – stopping at Adalaj and Modhera on the way.

Here is a photoessay on a few of these stepwells – but before that, do read my story in BBC Travel on these ancient engineering marvels.

The kalyani at Hampi

A classic temple tank at Modhera

The steps of the tank at Modhera

The dramatic vav at Adalaj

Multiple levels of the Patan stepwell

Peering down into the well

The exquisite carvings at Patan’s Rani ki Vav

My top 10 wildlife experiences in 2016

Continuing from my nostalgia trip about travels in 2016, here is a photo summary of my close encounters with wildlife across the world. The husband and I are both wildlife enthusiasts (with a recently discovered interest in birding), and try to head to the forest whenever we get a chance. But as it happened, I got many unexpected chances to see animals and birds, all the way from Canada to Australia, of course, via the Indian jungles…

One of the wildlife highlights of the year – a long and leisurely sighting of Maya and her three cubs at Tadoba

Competing closely for first spot, the Penguin Parade at Phillip Island in Australia – the sight of hundreds of Little Penguins waddling on to the beach from the sea.

And as a bonus, fabulous sightings of koalas, this one giving us an audience during those precious moments between naps…

This shark safari at The Atlantis in Dubai was particularly special, not just because I got so close to the fish, but because it was a major step in overcoming ignoring my fear of water to do this

On a recent trip to Ahmedabad, I went on a freezing December morning to Nalsarovar Lake to see the flamingos

After planning for several years, we finally managed to head to Kaziranga to see the one-horned rhino in November

While Bandipur gave absolutely no joy, Kabini, also in the beginning of the year gave us excellent birding opportunities

Apart from these planned trips, the most delightful experiences were in placed where I had no expectations of any wildlife sightings…

The Ballestas Islands in Peru, where thousands of pelicans, cormorants, seals (and luckily for me, a dozen HUmboldt penguins) stay – who knew anything beyond Machu Picchu?

Coming face to face with the ancient Aldabra turtle in Seychelles, where I had gone for the Victoria Carnaval

Bison sighting at the Elk Island National Park in Edmonton, Canada

And finally, going in search of the endangered Green Turtle at the Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve in Oman – and seeing this newborn turtle stumbling towards the sea

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

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