Kerala; a land that has gained fame as ‘God’s Own Country’ is a chili shaped strip of land that is sandwiched between the lofty mountain chain of the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea in India. Tucked away at an altitude of 700-2100 meters above sea level in a particularly beautiful corner of Kerala is Wayanad. The latter which happens to be one of the better kept secrets of Kerala is about 150 miles from Cochin.
Vythiri Resort is a romantic hideaway cocooned in the lap of the rainforests of Wayanad. The Vythiri Resort which sprawls over a whopping 150 acres boasts of 18 thoughtfully designed cottages, a multi-cuisine restaurant and a spa. Since the time it opened its doors to the discerning traveler it has been winning the hearts of people from across the globe. Not surprising then that it was conferred the prestigious International Quality Crown Award by the Madrid based Business Initiative Directions (BID), a few years back. For a truly out-of-this-world experience you should stay in one of the dizzy tree houses that are perched some 100 feet above ground level at the Vythiri Resort. These luxurious tree houses come with a bath attached bedroom.
They call it, “Ladakhi Love,” because this high-altitude desert is a breathtaking escape where remote wilderness overlooks the Himalayas. Here, one is brought closer to the love in their heart and the SO in their soul.
Ladakh, better known as little Tibet, is in India’s northernmost region. Only comfortably accessible to travelers during the summer and fall months, this time of year, the weather is gorgeous and humidity-free, making it the perfect alternative to the sticky heat that envelopes the rest of India. We’re highlighting Shakti, operator of bespoke walking tours and homestays, because they’re a small sweet little outfit offering customized, private itineraries for guests to experience the breathtaking beauty of this remote wilderness with a full range of activities including village-to-village walks, treks, visits to monasteries, camping, and rafting along the Shayok and Indus Rivers.
For the 2011 Shakti Ladakh season (May 1 – October 31) therearethree new village houses as well as new treks and camping options in and around the Indus Valley. The village houses have been gently spruced up to meet Western standards and yet maintain their authenticity as British interior designer Ellie Stanton has created a stylish and comfortable décor for each, including all new fittings in the bathrooms that give them a stylish functionality. All houses feature solar power and grey water recycling facilities; locally-source wood and mud bricks were used in the construction along with sustainably-harvested willow for the interior roofing in the traditional Ladakhi style.
About the new village houses and treks:
Shey: This century-old home offers views from its roof terrace of the nearby Shey Palace and the Tibetan-Buddhist Thiksey monastery. It has three bedrooms, an en suite bath, large sitting room, and traditional kitchen. Many of the rooms are painted in a traditional style with decades-old motifs. The village house at Shey provides a great location for walking, trekking, and biking.
Eego: The village of Eego is one of the few locations where guests can enter and exit the valley on foot. This 150-year-old stone baronial mansion, three stories high, is situated above the village near a glacier and some of the oldest Ladakhi dwellings. It boasts three bedrooms, a sitting room, a dining room, and an open terrace with stunning views of snowcapped peaks. Eego provides a superb setting for walks and treks.
Likhir: Sitting above the renowned Likhir monastery and just below the glacier that bears its name, the village house at Likhir provides jaw-dropping, alpine-like sights of the valley and snowcapped peaks. It has two bedrooms, en suite bath, and is within easy reach of Alchi village and the famous Alchi monastery, one of the oldest in Ladakh, with its beautifully preserved 11th century wall paintings.
Stakmo to Eego Four-Day Trek: This three-night/four-day trek through the unexplored valleys and villages on the north side of the Indus Valley can be added on to any Shakti Ladakh itinerary. On daily treks 5-6 hours in length, guests will experience trekking along some of the highest ridgelines as they traverse from west to east across the northern side of the Indus Valley, passing by villages, forgotten valleys, and high-altitude flora and fauna such as the ibex, yaks, and marmots. Enjoy daily picnics in some of the most stunning valleys and picturesque river settings the Ladakh region has to offer, while evenings are left to explore villages and camp out under the stars in comfortable, domed canvas tents.
For Shakti Ladakh’s seven-night itinerary, rates start at $890 per night for one person traveling, $530 per night per person for two to three persons, and $461 per night per person for parties of four to six. Included in the rate: private accommodations for group, all meals, drinks, activities, two rafting trips (weather dependent), English-speaking guide, cook, porters, car at disposal, all taxes, 5% service charge, and round-trip transfers between Leh Airport and Shakti Ladakh. Minimum stay of five nights required; children ages three and older allowed.
For Stakmo and Eego three-night, four-day trek, rates begin at $1,499 per person on a twin/double share basis. Included in this rate: accommodation in dome tent, all meals and drinks, English-speaking guide, porters, transfers between Stakmo and Eego at the beginning and end of trek. Children 16 and older are allowed.
Lin Urman, our resident Food and Lifestyle writer based in Tel Aviv, takes us to Goa where hippies frolic with fire and the only thing burning is that curry your waiter said wasn’t spicy. So, without further ado, without masks and secret wants, this is her trip diary from India’s famous beach bum hangout.
The food is for the body and the beach is for the soul.
Getting rid of old boyfriend and starting a new chapter.
So, I packed up the tasty comfortable life of Tel Aviv (or any city and it’s restaurants and the predictable men on the menu), the hectic work and constant running around, and went to India.
I am now in Goa on a beach called Arambol. There are plenty of beaches to choose from and if you don’t like one, well, the next is a walk away. Goa, the land of fashionable hippies, come every year to spend cold winter days on a friendly and sunny part of India. For me, those seasonable friends look, from first sight, like a tribe which embraces you all over again every time you come.
I chose to stay in Arambol – the finest hippie resort – because they have one of the best shows in India… a drumming circle where you can see unbelievably unrealistic physical movement and dancing with a backdrop of amazing sunsets. From the beginning it may seem like a close family meeting, but you soon will find out that it’s enough to know only one of them and you are on the highway to meeting all of them.
Arambol is a northeast beach of Goa and it’s very easy to find. Here, there is also everything your body and soul will need. To make your landing easier you can take a private taxi right from the entrance of Goa international airport. It should cost 1170 rupee ($26) and you’ll be on your first ride with Indian smells and sounds surrounding you. For the next hour and a half drive you will not see any traffic lights but you will pass a few unbelievably huge and impossibly complicated traffic roundabouts that you have never seen in your whole life.
The main road of Arambol beach, which sometimes is called “a market,” will take you directly to the beach, where the only choice you will have is to decide either to go left or right. All the possibilities of accommodation will be laid out in front of you.
I found a nice hut in a place called “Residencia” (perhaps left over from the Portuguese). It’s a nice basic bamboo house with no toilet or a shower, but with all day long WI FI on the porch, a taxi driver, laundry service, safe box, food and drinks nearby. There’s even a printing service and money exchange and they’ll do anything for you and your “dolachis”.
The sea view is more than compensation for not having your own toilet, and believe me, its better not to have one because very soon it becomes more a problem than a solution when it gets stuck and starts to stink in front of your pleasant bed. “Residencia” is well known as a place of return clients and seasoned travellers and is very easy to find, just take a right when you reach the beach and after 50 meters you will see a huge nice well kept garden and a clean sand trail.
A little trick: before checking in, take a quick look at the shoes in front of the doors so you can easily predict who your potential neighbors are: rich, slobs, techies or seasoned Indian shoe wearers.
The restaurants of Arambol have everything you could want: Russian, Israeli, Continental, Chinese, Japanese and even Tibetian cuisine, but I prefer a spicy vegetarian Indian food because the spiciness kills all the microbes before they start killing me.
The Italian restaurant “Fellini” (on the main road next to the beach) has the best pizza in Arambol and high quality live music almost every evening. At “Relax in” (right on the beach, but you won’t see anything like a restaurant, only chairs and tables), you will never be able to fined a free chair to seat after 7 pm, but if you do, you can enjoy real Italian food and very cheap fish dishes.
“Olive Garden” which is also located on the beach (on the left side), you can find very cheap, tasty Indian “paneer” dishes (cottage cheese in different sauces),but you’ll need interesting book or a very good company because the wait for food is excruciating – even by Indian standards.
“Laughing Buddha” has a nice Anglo Saxon atmosphere with music and buttoned up waiters (the owner is British). Although it was a little too English for me, the food was nice and pleasant, especially the “malai cofta” dumplings made from potato puree filled with vegetables and raisins in a thick nut sauce.
The main pick up/party/dance bar in Arambol is “Coco Loco” located on the beach and, from 22:00, it becomes very easy to find its location. You just need to hear the booms in the air. Gypsy party, R&B styled- Bob Marley tribal rave, house and even trance, every night new adventure.
The best place for the after party is a place called “Woodstock“. Hungry for music, musicians and their audience will go there after Coco Loco closes around 1:00 am. Woodstock is a guesthouse-open air sit-on-the-ground restaurant which is incredibly comfortable for spontaneous jam sessions because it’s located far from the beach with no neighbors around. An Israeli guy owns this place and will do everything is needed to keep policemen out of his place so you will have one more hour in the great company of musically developed people.
Enjoy the beautiful sunsets, go for a walk to the next beach with a lake on it, and a find a secret road to the jungle where you can meet a real Baba smoking on a magic tree. Dance, smile, eat well and swim every day in warm and nice water, but never ever try to figure out with an Indian waiter if the food that you ordered is a spicy, because there is not any chance he will tell you the truth.
If you’re smart, you’ll eat Indian. It takes awhile to adjust , but it’s tastier and reminds you less of home. The other people try to recreate home, but unfortunately that usually means that their food is not well made and causes what is well known as ‘the runs’…
So now is it clear why does everyone from around the world wants to come here to heal, experience, and feel a change?
Drummers, hippies, guitar players, music, people clapping, and dancing. As it gets darker, fire displays around people, trinkets spin, spheres, and little ribbons fall and flicker at the end of a chain.
By 20:30, I stop by the Tibetan stand and get a chocolate ball for 20 cents. Best dessert on this side of Asia. I head to my place, put some music on my laptop, light a candle so I won’t be cold, pop a beer, and very quickly make an acquaintance. My parting words: If you like the sound of the music from far away, walk towards it. It is probably some beach party, a circle of drummers or some house music. Up to you, you can always feed your brain and read your book.
But with Goa, there’s a lot more variety on the menu.
Jai Ho! We’ve been dreaming of a day soon where we can slurp up some curry in India. In the meantime, we’ll plan on arranging our trip on… The Maharajas’ Express, India’s first cross-country luxury train! Making its inaugural journey from Mumbai to Delhi this March 2010, it’ll mark a major departure in luxury train travel and a landmark event in Indian tourism, offering guests never before traveled routes and unforgettable off-train excursions and experiences.
In the grand tradition of the Maharajas of India – who preferred steam engines and railway trains to the motor car, and even installed their own royal thrones in opulent coaches embellished with ivory and gold – the Maharajas’ Express is India’s only train offering a Presidential Suite spread over an entire carriage thatcaters to the well-heeled traveler, offering a royal experience as they traverse the dynamic Indian landscape. As the first Pan-India luxury train, the purpose-built Maharajas’ Express will cut across state borders to offer distinct, exciting itineraries that provide travelers with unique experiences. Check these babies out!
Princely India (Mumbai to Delhi)
This 8-day, 7-night journey travels through the heart of “royal India,” from Mumbai through to Vadodara, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park, the Taj Mahal in Agra and on to Delhi.
Classical India (Delhi to Kolkata)
This 7-day, 6-night groundbreaking journey traverses inaccessible destinations that typically require flying to and from Delhi to visit each place. The journey starts in Delhi, and travels through Agra, Gwalior, Khajuraho, Bandhavgarh, Varanasi, Gaya and Kolkata, uncovering India’s spiritual centers and temples throughout.
Both itineraries can be taken in reverse via the “Royal India” (Delhi to Mumbai) and “Celestial India” (Kolkata to Delhi) routes.
Maharajas’ Express’ off-train excursions – including lunch at a magnificent private palace in Jambughoda, a champagne brunch overlooking the Taj Mahal and an elephant polo match in Dera Amer – will expose spectacular parts of Indian geography and culture that are difficult for a luxury traveler to experience by plane, car or current train services.
Rates begin at $800 per person, per day based on two sharing a Deluxe Cabin. A Junior Suite is $900, a Suite is $1,400 and the Presidential Suite is $2,500. I know, I know… it’s not cheap, but it will be a trip of a lifetime! And… these rates also include accommodation, all meals and soft drinks, house brands of wine, beer and spirits, all sightseeing and entrance fees, guides and entertainment. Also included are a wide range of fantastic excursions and events including elephant polo, temple tours and Champagne breakfast.
The train has a total passenger capacity of 84 and features 20 Deluxe Cabins, 18 Junior Suites, 4 Suites and a Presidential Suite, located exclusively in one carriage. Each cabin features state-of-the-art panoramic windows from which to enjoy India’s magnificent sights, as well as individual temperature controls, air-cushioned suspension, large LCD TVs, DVD players, in-house movies, and environmentally-friendly washrooms.
The Deluxe Cabin is the world’s most spacious rail cabin of its kind – 9’5” by 7’9” with a bathroom measuring 7’9” by 4’9”. There is a choice of twin or double beds. Junior Suites are 13’6” by 7’9”, while the Suites are 21’8” x 7’9”.
Travelers may also convene in the lavishly-appointed Observation Lounge, with its own bar, game table and club armchairs, or the Bar Carriage, offering an extensive collection of finest of wines and spirits. Dining options onboard the Maharajas’ Express include two fine-dining restaurants, each seating 42 people. House brand wines and beer are served complimentary.
Let me guess… now you’re craving curry and a game of elephant polo too?