Celebrating Shiv Ratri in the oldest city of the world.

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Varanasi also known as Benaras or Kashi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and is regarded as the holiest place in the world in Hinduism.

According to legend, the city was founded by the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva, around 5,000 years ago, thus making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country.  In Hindu cosmology, the city is considered the, “center of Earth”, and most religious activity here occurs around stair structures called ‘Ghats’.

Mark Twain described Varanasi as “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”.

Varanasi is a bridge or ‘tirtha’ between heaven and earth, a crossing point where Gods visit this world and mortals travel to the next. The city is known for its belief that any one leaving his / her mortal body here, goes to heaven in their afterlife. Its location on the banks of the sacred Ganges River also contributes to its prestige as an important site of pilgrimage.

There is possibly not a single month, when Varanasi is not preparing or in the midst of a festival. The city celebrates its festivals with such zealous fervour, that it is difficult not to get drawn into the carnivalesque atmosphere. Pick any month and you will find some festival to plan your trip around. There is never a dull moment in the city.

The city known as the spiritual capital of India, has one of the most important Shiva temples in the country and hence it’s quite natural that Maha Shivaratri (the wedding of Shiva & Parvati) is celebrated here in a grand manner. Mahashivratri, “The Great Night of Shiva” is considered the most significant event in India’s spiritual calendar.

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The festival sees more than a million Hindus from all over India, converge at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, one of the most famous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva.

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The city is thrown into frenzy as hundreds of small troupes carry bedecked Shiva idols in processions to the Shiva temples. The preparation starts early in the morning with a parade that starts from and ends at the Tilbhandeshwar temple. The procession lasts roughly about 5 hours and it is celebrated with loud music in the background and people consuming Bhaang (a form of marijuana legal and common in Varanasi) and dancing in the procession. As marijuana is considered as the blessing of Lord Shiva, a lot of people do it here for religious reasons. After the procession, everyone returns back to the temple, offers their prayers and perform rituals.

Out of the 88 Ghats in Varanasi the most popular one is the Dashashwamedh Ghat. It attracts a large gathering every evening, when a group of priests performs a synced ritual known as Ganga aarti -to praise and pray to Goddess Ganges with lights, Conch sounds and bell ringing along with Vedic chants.

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The aarti is always carried out facing the river Ganga. It starts by lightning up the multi-tiered brass lamps, along with a well synchronised chanting of mantras and blowing the conch shells. The shells are known to sanctify the atmosphere. The other remaining priests light the incense sticks and offer it to the goddess in a clockwise circle.

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Witnessing the Ganga aarti is no less than a spectacle. The energy around this daily ritual fills your core with peace and tranquillity.

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Maha Shivratri falls on 21st February this year.

 

-M

 

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Family friendly holidays

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Summer is just a few months away. It’s about time to plan that vacay with the family. Travelling with your wee ones need not just be mainly resorted to theme parks. Some ccities make great getaways—short or long—for families. They are hubs for direct flights, ample accommodations, top-notch restaurants and iconic, innovative attractions as well as some of them provide a touch of history, making them both educational and fun and appealing to all ages.

So let’s dust off your passport and pack up your kids for adventures in these family-friendly world cities.

Orlando

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Why it’s great for kids: Orlando’s an absolute paradise for kids of all ages, with home to not one but four action-packed Disney theme parks.

Put it on your itinerary: The fun doesn’t stop once you’ve explored Disney World, as the Kennedy Space Center is just a short drive from Orlando. The kid-friendly museum displays America’s space rockets and even lets you touch a piece of moon rock! The museum’s located on Florida’s Space Coast, which boasts tons of gorgeous beaches. However, when it comes to nature, it’s not just sandy shores that impress children and parents alike. Florida’s famous for its marshlands, and the whole family can glide through the swamps on an air boat. Be sure to keep an eye out for gators!

London

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Why it’s great for kids: With a host of historical attractions and many contemporary exhibits, the British capital city just screams ‘kid-friendly’.  There’s no language barrier, the food is kid-friendly (those chips!), and there’s lots to do around one of the major characters of modern childhood—Harry Potter.

Put it on your itinerary: Many of London’s main attractions, like the Tower of London and the British Museum, are geared to be family-friendly, so they’re incredibly interesting for both you and your little ones. Your kids will love spotting red telephone boxes, exploring Tower Bridge and following the River Thames as it meanders across the capital. If any of you are Harry Potter fans, you’ll all be in your element at the Warner Bros Studio Tour; and just outside of the city are theme parks like Lego land and Chessington World of Adventures which are easily accessible by public transport. There are also plenty of whimsically themed high tea experiences (try the Mad Hatters Tea Party at the Sanderson) and endless free museums, including the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.

Cancun

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Why it’s great for kids: You’ll get the best of both worlds — a bustling city culture and a beach vacation.

Put it on your itinerary: Parque de Palapas, the city’s central park, offers food carts, performances, and the kiddo essential, playgrounds. Mercado 28 is a bustling marketplace where you and the kids can bargain for local treasures to bring home. Isla de Mujeres lets you get away from the city’s hustle and bustle with a trip out to this laid-back island just off the coast — the Garrafon Reef Park there lets you swim with dolphins or stingrays or take a ride on a zip line. When you’re not busy lazing on the beach, make sure you head out to tour Chichén Itzá, the Mayan Ruins nearby.

Copenhagen

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Why it’s great for kids: Denmark’s capital is literally a fairy-tale city — it’s where Hans Christian Andersen wove his classics, like The Little Mermaid. And if your kids are even mildly Lego-obsessed, they’ll probably be thrilled at a chance to visit the country where the blocks were first created.

Put it on your itinerary: Copenhagen is home to the Tivoli Gardens, the amusement park that is said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s amusement parks. With gorgeous gardens and architecture and one of the world’s oldest still-in-use wooden roller coasters the Tivoli gardens, with rides and games, is an awesome place to take kids of all ages, and adults that want to indulge the kid in them! There are roller coasters for older children and kiddie rides for wee ones. And if your children don’t like rides, there are musical performances and pantomimes to enjoy. When it’s lit up at night, the park is a joy to stroll through.

Other than Tivoli Gardens, children will enjoy viewing the statue of the Little Mermaid from the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and posing for a photo with her. Watching the changing of the guard at Amalienborg Palace is wonderful. And if you and your family are looking for a green space to enjoy, the King’s Garden is the ideal place to go. You can picnic on the grounds and enjoy some chill time here. Copenhagen is a fun destination and very family-friendly.

Dubai

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Why it’s great for kids: Full of architectural superlatives, the Emirate with the tallest building (Burj Khalifa), vastest sand desert, and largest mall, is great for adventure, relaxation, and even good old-fashion theme park fun.

Put it on your itinerary: The city isn’t all fancy cars and glittering skyscrapers (although there are plenty of both). It’s also home to adventures your kids (and you!) will love, from feeding a three-foot-wide turtle at the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project to catching a free show at Dubai’s massive musical fountains. Once you venture outside the city limits, there are camel rides, sand skiing (think of it as hot-weather sledding!), and dune-bashing (where your Jeep guns it over sand hills, so you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster) through the Arabian Desert. Check in at Atlantis The Palm for loads more family-friendly activities: There’s the Middle East’s largest water park, an aquarium holding more than 65,000 creatures, and evening programming for kids age 3-12  You can also explore the souks of Old Dubai where you can shop for textiles, spices, and even gold on the streets alongside the Dubai Creek.

Sydney

Sydney

Why it’s great for kids: Sydney is one of the most family friendly cities in Australia. The city has plenty of things to do for all the ages. For the smaller kids, there are extraordinary zoos, great aquariums, wildlife parks, plenty of playgrounds and there is even a Luna Park as well.

Put it on your itinerary: Admit it: You’ve always wanted to visit Australia. If your kids are old enough to make it through the long plane ride out there, now’s the time: There’s plenty to make you feel like a giddy little kid, from being blown away by the Scienceworks Museum to checking out the march of the penguins at Phillip Island to seeing the forest and fern gullies from the century-old Puffing Billy Steam Railway. There is a ferry trip on the Sydney Harbour, iconic Sydney Opera House to explore, Darling Harbour, tonnes of museums, Blue Mountains, beautiful beaches and even a Haunted Sydney walking tour to check out. Sydney Aquarium is home to more than 12,000 marine animals, including dugongs (sea cows). And there are a ton of ways to see Sydney’s sights, whether you and your family venture up to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or Skywalk on a glass-floored platform above the city.

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The fact is that kids — even young ones — love traveling for the same reasons we do: They get to have a new routine, spend time with the people they love, and eat fun snacks. Plus the parents get to experience places that can make them feel like a child again, which is gratifying.

 

-M

 

 

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The planet is dying. Are you going to save her ?

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The numbers are grim. Humans have significantly altered three-quarters of the earth’s land area, and leaving more than half a million species without enough habitats to survive.

Our forests are flattened. We’ve destroyed a third of the planet’s forest cover.

Our oceans are running dry. Our development of coastlines, drilling of sea beds, and plastic pollution make the seas inhospitable to healthy marine life populations.

Climate change, Industrial pollution, Epidemics, the list is endless.

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And most of this is caused due to human interference with nature. Oceans have more plastic than fish; hills have more rubbish strewn by us than what it can sustain.

We need to understand the role nature plays in our life. We do not exist independently of nature. We need pollinators to grow fruits and vegetables, freshwater streams and wetlands to supply and filter drinking water, fertile soils to meet our agricultural demands, forests to provide medicines, and oceans to provide food.

So what is the tipping point before the earth around us totally collapses?

How more of the blame game are we going to be playing, before the planet totally caves in and disintegrates?

How much more collateral damage are we going to allow in the name of progress?

What are we leaving behind for the future generations to come?

Is rapid technological progress and human activity that continue to add heat trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, driving the Earth to the edge?

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Every day, new evidence of our unsustainable impact on the environment is emerging. We are seeing the effects of climate change from the North Pole to the South Pole and everywhere in between.

The UN estimates that, in the last 10 years, climate-related disasters have caused $1.4 trillion of damage worldwide. The unprecedented loss of biodiversity we are seeing today is an existential threat to human life and economic development. If the biodiversity index were considered akin to the stock market, our planet would be heading for a spectacular crash.

No human technology can fully replace “nature’s technology”, which is perfected over hundreds of millions of years in sustaining life on Earth.

We can’t have a prosperous future on a depleted planet. If we continue to produce, consume and power our lives the way we do right now, forests, oceans and weather systems will be overwhelmed and collapse.

Bottom line: We can fix this.

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We have the power to stop the projected ecological catastrophe, but it will require a paradigm shift—a radical reorganizing of our technological, economic, social, and economic systems.  We will have to say a Good-bye to extractive industries, like mining, biomass, and fossil fuels, and say hello to recycling, renewables, and reusables.

We must curb our consumption rates across the board, (ditching our plastic habits is just the beginning). And trade-offs—less meat for more vegetables, more public transit for less pollution.

And we must, above all, make the planet’s natural systems a leading priority in our collective fights for a better world. Anything less won’t cut it.

The moot question however is- are we willing?

 -M

 

 

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“Adults Only” – Grown up Getaways

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Komandoo Maldives Island Resort

At first it seems like the sort of thing you would associate with the category of a movie rating, and not the hospitality industry.

Adult only holidays is definitely a thing. Popular worldwide, the concept, though a novelty in India, is becoming quite the rage.

The segment is not associated with licensed yet racy ‘good times’ for grown-ups unhampered by children in the background. Usually “Adults only” resorts and hotels might have different characteristics, but they all agree on one thing and that is kids below the age of 18 are not allowed.

Canny industry operators have showcased its appeal to the wealthier traveller on the lookout for some quality downtime, and to sub-sets of aspiring tourists, like women’s-only groups, sports fans or alternative therapy seekers.

The facilities, as well as all the small details and comforts, are designed considering the needs of this audience in depth. Some adults only hotels are livelier while others are more tranquil, relaxing and romantic. They offer an upscale and sophisticated vacation experience and take care of every last detail, guaranteeing that guests enjoy a blissfully relaxing holiday.

If you are looking for the answer to your quest of finding a child free environment some of these hotels/resorts may appeal to you

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Komandoo Maldives
  • Komandoo Maldives Island Resort, Maldives.
  • Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay, Jamaica.
  • Sandals LaSource Grenada Resort & Spa, Grenada.
  • Excellence Playa Mujeres, Cancun.
  • Royal Davui Island Resort, Fiji.
  • Excellence Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
  • Galley Bay Resort & Spa, Antigua.
  • Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso, Playa Del Carmen.
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Hotel Senses Quinta Avenida, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Closer home The Park Hotel Goa Baga River which caters exclusively to couples and the honeymooners is a boutique hotel, with its ‘adults only’ tag.

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Although hoteliers are of the opinion that considering the fact that Indian families hardly travel without kids and such restrictions are generally looked down upon, The Park has taken a ‘bold move’. But nonetheless with having almost 60% occupancy, the hotel has been a trendsetter of sorts.

According to TripAdvisor, there is only one other hotel in the country with entry restrictions Ananda – In the Himalayas, in Rishikesh. But Ananda is not an ‘adults-only’ place, it simply doesn’t allow children below 14 in order to maintain its tranquility.

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Ananda in the Himalayas

Globally, however, the line between family and adults-only hotels is getting sharper. While package tours catering to family groups with a long checklist of things to do and see on vacations continue to be popular, the hospitality industry is discovering the benefits of nurturing a child-free, or more accurately, ‘adult-only’ clientele.

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Secret Wild Orchid Montego Bay 

But having said all of this do you think the “adult-only” tag will be considered discriminatory? I would like to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below.

-M

 

 

 

 

PC:Hotels own website

Passenger Experience Initiatives

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Operating in a volatile environment, airlines today are influenced by a variety of external factors that impact their business – either on the ground or in the air.

Extreme weather conditions, natural disasters, mechanical problems, labour issues, air traffic congestion, security alerts and other disruptions can not only damage an airline’s brand value but also generate unexpected costs, not to mention the fact that it puts tremendous pressure on the airports and the ground staff to accommodate passengers on next flights.

To deal with such delays, airlines as well as to an extent airports need the agility to restore normal services swiftly and cost-efficiently.

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Airports, both large and small, are noisy, crowded and stressful. As global air traffic continues to grow—the International Air Traffic Association estimates the current volume will double by 2035—and airports everywhere will be feeling the impact.

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Crowded terminals and runways, longer queues and wait times and increased number of frustrated passengers seems like an impending doom for the travel business.

Airport operators who cannot expand their infrastructures due to environmental issues, space restrictions or a lack of capital must find new approaches to be more efficient and responsive to passenger needs.

Technology and access to accurate data can greatly improve an airport’s operational efficiency to improve passenger experience, which is the need of the hour with millions of travellers taking to air.

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International hubs such as Dubai, Changi and Helsinki are concentrating on how to deliver high quality experience to travellers using their services.

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Massive airport expansions and an emphasis on creating Zen-like atmospheres, or designing more open spaces and adding  facilities is fine but to deliver the best possible passenger experience involves synchronizing with multiple operators by getting ahead of issues, before they become disruptions.

A Total Airport Management approach is needed by using real-time data to detect, and even predict, passenger needs hours in advance, and deal with emerging situations before they become problems.

A holistic view of the passenger, that begins even before they leave their homes. Weather, road and rail conditions can impact their arrival times at the airport, while flight delays can change the departure times and could impact their onward journey. Knowing these factors beforehand and understanding passenger volume and activity helps airports optimize wait times and better coordinate the passenger experience.

Retail partners better anticipate foot traffic and revenues.

Using data on meteorological conditions, flight prioritization, runway traffic loads, aircraft turn-around times, and baggage and passenger operations mean reduced delays, unnecessary fuel burn, and cost savings for airlines.

Outside data sources, such as weather and traffic information, can be pulled in to support decision making (e.g. by anticipating flight delays due to rain, fog or likely storms airports can call in more staff to handle the unforeseen delays).

What passengers want from air travel is to get to their destinations on time with minimal inconvenience and stress.

To provide this experience for growing volumes of passengers, airports must forecast capacity demand years, seasons, months, weeks, days in advance, to be as prepared as possible.

Information regarding estimated wait times for security screenings, customs processing and baggage arrival should be used on airport displays to provide airport maps and show passengers how to get to where they need to go without unnecessary delay.

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As air travel increases, airports that lack the funding and/or space to expand their facilities must find ways to minimize disruptions and deliver exceptional service to passengers and airlines alike by adopting technology-driven capabilities that provide greater end-to-end visibility and planning across landside and airside operations.

When your customers only travel every now and then, their airport experience is a big deal. Your infrequent air travellers are often vacationers, and their experience forms an integral part of their overall vacation experience, setting the mood for the entire trip.

-M

 

 

 

 

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