Azerbaijan-Is it on your bucket list?

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“Where?” Azerbai… “What?”

If you plan to visit Azerbaijan, prepare to answer that question.  A lot. No one seems to know where Azerbaijan is.

Well to brush up on your geography, Azerbaijan is in Central Asia. With Russia to the north, Iran to the south, The Caspian Sea to the east, Armenia and Georgia to the west.

Having said that comes the inevitable follow-up question “Why?”

Now this is the interesting one.

Why would you want to go to Azerbaijan, a place with the conviction of a bright future, a place of development, a place of natural beauty, a place no one really knows anything about?

So here’s the thing. On the cusp of a tourism boom, Azerbaijan is one of the fastest-growing destinations in the world.

Azerbaijan is a little bit weird. It’s like Rome, it’s like Paris, and it’s like London- a charming mix of architectural styles, genuinely beautiful buildings that line the city’s traffic-choked streets.

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Stroll into the centre of Baku, and its appeal reveals itself, in its most impressive sight, the Flame Towers.

Inspired by Azerbaijan’s nickname, the “Land of Fires”, these three flame-shaped towers dominate the skyline, and have become something of a national symbol since they appeared in 2012. By night, huge LED displays give the appearance of flames licking the sides of the buildings.

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The Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre fills you with an absolute “WOW” when you see it. Being one of the most recognized architectural landmarks worldwide, the Centre is one of the signature architectural landmarks of modern Baku. It is perfection. This building is one of the pinnacles of modernity. It flows in all directions in line with how a natural landscape should be. And no matter where you stand as you walk around it, it looks completely different in shape.

Azerbaijan also has money. At the bottom of one of the Flame Towers there’s a Lamborghini shop. Wander around near the lake and you’ll find names like Gucci, Tom Ford, Bulgaria and Tiffany slapped across the storefronts.

All set to bill itself as the “new Dubai” Azerbaijan has relaxed its tight entry requirements, allowing tourists to apply online for an e-visa rather than post passports to an embassy. More than two million people are now venturing to the country each year.

Some will come to experience a rich culture that finds its expressions in food, and in the intricately woven carpets. More still will come to wander through Baku’s charming Old Town, with its 1000-year-old Maiden Tower and its ancient history. There are some who will come here for the natural beauty alone.

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Also the Azeris boast that their country is home to nine of the world’s 11 climate zones, from semi-desert in the central lowlands to rainforests in the northern hills and Alpine tundra in the Greater Caucasus.

You can scuba dive in the Caspian Sea, sun yourself on a beach, or ski in resorts in the nation’s north.

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Azerbaijani food, with its mix of influences from Iran, Turkey and Georgia, may be still unfairly anonymous on the world scene, but it’s definitely tantalizing the taste buds with its rich and traditional cuisine. And how can you forget about the caviar. Famed beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea is treasured here and regulated even more zealously than oil – however, walk into any market and you’ll hear soft calls of “caviar, caviar” from black market sellers seeking to offload their goods.

An Eastern country with a Western outlook, it’s capital city ,Baku is known as the Pearl of the Caucasus. Combining history, culture and modernity, the vibrant city offers a safe and attractive setting along the Caspian Sea. From outdoor activities, phenomenal shopping experiences, luxury hotels, and beautiful venues and locations for weddings and honeymoons, Azerbaijan is a perfect destination for couples, families, and friends.

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You would definitely want to ‘Take another look’ and say ‘salaam’ to Azerbaijan, as the country rolls out the hospitality red carpet to unveil its incredible revelations and attractions. I know I want to.

M

 

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Incredible India

incredible india

The sun filtered in through the windows. Far in the distance, the temple bells mingled with the call for Namaaz at the mosques. A new dawn in the cramped streets and lanes of India is coming alive.

India,  the oldest civilization in the world, including 4 major religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism.

India, a unique destination, which offers a mystic experience of combining business with leisure and networking with tourism.

India, a kaleidoscope of spirituality, philosophy, culture, heritage, architecture, science, and technology.

India, a country which does not believe in the term “personal space.”

India, where you’ll find traffic jams, cows walking the busy street, wedding party’s dancing in the midst of the traffic, and a political parade all happening on the same narrow street .

India, overwhelmingly diverse. It’s people multi lingual. It’s food assorted, lip smacking and extremely tasty.

India, a melting pot of tradition with modernism, offering a unique blend of the old with the new. Welcoming each tourist with warm hospitality into its rich tapestry of culture without any discrimination of race, religion, caste or colour. ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ ( the guest is God) a slogan that we follow with our hearts and minds

From the mountains to the beaches, from the forts to the palaces and everything in between, there is so much to explore, discover, and see here.

India: Incredible. Intriguing. Historic. Beautiful. Mesmerizing. Mystifying.

 

 

 

Micro Travel-When less is more.

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With time travel trends keep changing almost every year or so. The ever evolving travel market is always on the lookout for extraordinary experiences which can satiate the ever demanding need of the current generation.

Increasingly, most millennials are foregoing see-everything, do-everything vacation junkets for Micro Travel.

Micro travel is focused, have less-frantic itineraries that concentrate on limited locales and activities and offer a deeper, more rewarding appreciation of each destination. You see less but you see more. Seemingly contradictory but true.

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A trend to be noted is that travellers who are short on time for ex. the “bleisure” trip, where business travellers tack on an extra night or two to have a fun, leisure trip.

For some travellers, that kind of schedule checks all the boxes and allows them to say, “Yep, I’ve seen Croatia” or wherever they find themselves in.

I’m not judging, but just thinking about an itinerary like that makes me stressed. In the end, for me, it would all be a blur.

I’m a devotee of small, personal and concentrated travel. For me – and I am sure increasingly for more and more people – travel shouldn’t be a chore.

Too often, with the fast pace and ever-present “chatter” of modern life, it isn’t surprising that we want our leisure time to be calmer, more meaningful and more digestible.

But if you are enthusiastic and are loaded with short bursts of energy, micro trips are definitely for you. Micro trips have to be well planned, which means you can maximize destination time, minimize wasted time and cut down on expenses with clever flight times and usage of optimal time zones.

Most micro trips generally center on great flight options which allow you to leave after work or land near the same time you take off. Yes, it may sound slightly crazy, but you need to be looking for destinations which involve overnight flights where you Leave after work and land in your destination in the morning.  Or taking flights going west or short destinations you can fly to in the morning and return in the evening.

By taking advantage of any of these options you’re able to maximize time and spend the hours you’d be sleeping let’s say in the air instead of hotel rooms. This way you can also save huge money. By flying overnight you easily avoid one night of hotel and if you can find an evening flight back, you get two full days while booking just one night.

For Example USA to Europe, Or Vice Versa- Thanks to overnight flights from the USA and late departing flights from Europe back to the USA, you can put in a full day’s work whichever direction you go. You could take a 10PM flight from New York to London on a Friday evening, land Saturday morning, buy one night of hotel for Saturday night and spend all day in London Sunday, before heading back to New York on the 8PM flight, which gets into New York around 11PM.  No days of work missed, and you have two full days of exploration ticked off the bucket list. If you’re starting in Europe, you could take an 8PM back from the USA and land in Europe in time to make it to the office on time.

Shot Code C

Depending where you are from your micro travel could be anything such as some indigenous culinary experiences with locals in France teaching you the secrets of baking the perfect baguettes, or learning the art of making the famous blue pottery in Jaipur.

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Maybe it’s a journey to visit the dozen most historic pubs in London. Or even a small-group kayak trip on the Dordogne instead of the usual wine tour of Bordeaux.

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Or experiencing the wonder of living in a real palace turned hotel in Udaipur.

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Micro trips are for the people who are ready to throw themselves into a destination, make the most of every hour and turn up to work on Monday with a better “how was your weekend?” story than the rest of the office combined.

 

Madhavi

 

 

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A New York state of mind !

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This isn’t my first time in New York but still whenever someone asks me what they should see and do in New York, I’m almost always stumped for an answer.

I mean besides the obvious touristy places /things, how can I sum up my answer? New York isn’t just any other big city. It’s an experience.

New York emits a mixed response from people. The crowds that throng this city is unbelievable. Some just love the crazy vibe the city has, and others hate it.

There are a million things that you can do in New York City that if I start talking, I wouldn’t know when to stop. After all, it is known as the city that never sleeps.

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But let me begin by saying that you better be prepared for walking a lot! A lot, a lot, a lot!! I mean you definitely can hail a yellow cab, just like in the movies and all, but who wants to see NY from a cab window, come on !

New York traffic can really leave you exhausted; not to mention the cab fare which can add up and get expensive in the long run.

Subway is your best bet and the 7 Day Metro Pass card will give you the best bang for your buck. And sometimes, Uber and Lyft are better options since most of the time, they are cheaper than regular cabs.

Speaking of traveling by Subway, be prepared to spend a little time figuring out which train goes where. Although I have traveled by Subway several times, it does get a little confusing for me. Figuring out the direction I need to take rattles me but then I figured out that doing a recee first on the google maps helps in taking the best possible route. Also downloading the NY Subway app on your phone can be really helpful.

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While there are the definite,’Things to do in NY’ such as the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building , Rockefeller center- the Top of the Rocks a 3-tiered observation deck at Rockefeller Plaza, that offers a great view of Manhattan, Chinatown, SOHO, the numerous Museums , the list is endless, but most of these attractions are chargeable . But surprisingly there are also so many things that you can do for free.

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Some Museums have free entry on certain days/ times. Or you can catch The Staten Island Ferry which is a Free commuter ferry that travels back and forth from the Whitehall Terminal at the tip of Manhattan to the St. George Terminal on Staten Island. You can catch a stunning view of the city as well as the Statue of Liberty while on the Ferry. This is such a great alternative especially if you do not wish to buy tickets and go to Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty or have already done that in your previous trips.

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Apart from this, popular places like Central Park, Bryant Park, Battery Park, Grand Terminal station ( an Icon) the 9/11 Memorial and Museum , Wall Street and its cobbled streets,  taking a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge , or DUMBO (The neighborhood of Dumbo is a beautiful place to visit. It has cobbled streets, vintage brick buildings, sits under the Brooklyn bridge and sports some sweet street art. Just walking around this area is a real treat). The HighLine which passes through Chelsea market and the nearby honeycomb structure  ‘The Vessel’ are all free activities.

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Stretching out underneath the Highline you’ll find a plethora of art galleries. These galleries are funky and weird as hell. They’re free to enter and some are big. This may be one of the most underrated things to do in New York City.

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Other than the tourist spots there are numerous other places of interest such as the ‘house from FRIENDS‘ in West village, or the the fact that Macy’s the trendsetter store covers an entire block with 11 levels of fashion for you and your home.

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NY has some of the hippest restaurants and rooftop bars that exude the vibe of this vibrant city.

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Of course there are many more sights that I haven’t included in this post, as I feel there will always be something I may leave behind.

You can somewhat relate to the quote from the movie Forrest Gump – “Life is a box full of chocolates, you never know which one you get”

Such is New York- Always a little mysterious, a little sweet and a whole lot saucy!!

 

Madhavi

 

 

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Celebrating Life’s Milestones.

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Celebrating life’s momentous occasion is turning into a niche travel market. More and more people are planning vacations around ‘milestone’ events and tour operators and suppliers are working to make the most of this niche.

Life is full of events that mark milestones. And travelling is considered therapeutic. From a birthday, anniversary, graduation or retirement to a new job, impending marriage or even divorce — each is considered a rite of passage to be acknowledged and celebrated. Friends and families want to travel together to create memories that will last a lifetime.

Travel-Cards

Think about it.

Maybe someone just finished a successful chemotherapy session. Or someone just retired after living a exceptionally rough life, or maybe the only child has gone off to college, or maybe just got out of a extremely tough marriage.

How we choose to mark these life-changing events is shifting.

People are looking at more exciting options to make it memorable. An African safari, mountain climbing -because mountain climbing is often used as a metaphor for life, trekking, skydiving , are becoming a popular choices for celebrating milestone events.

Skydiving

A growing number of people are choosing to honor a milestone event not only with a meaningful travel experience but also with one that includes a sense of accomplishment.

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Italy, London, Paris, Egypt New Zealand, Iceland and Ireland are some of the prime options for milestone travel. The more exotic the destination, the more exciting and lucrative the holiday becomes. It’s not just about going to a destination, wining and dining anymore. More and more people want something new and different like villa vacations, or a private sailboat cruise. Randomness and quirkiness are what people look for.

The trend has also extended to babymoons.

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Usually a 50th birthday or anniversary is a big one and a lot of people celebrate more advanced birthdays such as  grandma turning 80 and the whole family wants to be part of the celebration.

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When people get together and travel they want to be transported, leaving behind their daily worries and responsibilities but taking with them their cherished friends and supporters.

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Cooking classes, wine tastings, Art exploration, Music appreciation, Wildlife Safari or cultural exchange, the options are unlimited. ‘Let’s do it different’ is the buzzword here. The more diverse the experience, the more people desire it.

The world is your oyster . The destination you choose will be the one your heart chooses for you. Epic journeys and travelling on iconic trains across entire continents such as Europe, Asia and Americas is just so fascinating . Just go with the flow and have an awesome time, unwinding and celebrating with the people who matter.

Caviar in the Surf
Cruise liners –like seabourn offer One favorite perk, “Caviar in the Surf,” features waiters wading into the water with glasses of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne and Black Russian Caviar for guests.

Special life milestones represent continuity and growth, the unbroken threads that shape a person’s life.  They are a sign of triumph over adversity, of strength, and of hope, particularly in the later years when they represent decades of experience.

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The importance of celebrating life is reflected in physical and mental health, community and family relationships and a healthy self-concept. Each of which is essential to an optimal quality of life.

 

 

Madhavi 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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Unheard travel tales of India to fuel your wanderlust.

Bustling cities, dusty remote villages, exquisite temples, lush tea plantations and fragrant markets , rich culture, traditions, religions and ethnicities, India is a unique mixture of eastern values and western freedom.

You might have travelled a lot of India, but do you know that there are some intriguing facts that make travelling in this country even more interesting.

 

  1. Varanasi – One of the Oldest Inhabited Places of the World.

varanasi

Situated on the banks of river Ganges, the holy city of Benares (aka Varanasi) is at least 3000 years old. According to Hindu Mythology, Lord Shiva founded Benaras or Kashi 5000 years ago and is a major religious hub of India and one of its holiest cities.

Did you know : Varanasi has a hostel where people come to die- Terminally ill people check-in  themselves in to ‘Mukti Bhavan‘ , to breath their last, which they believe frees them from the cycle of life and death (“Moksha“). All they have is two weeks to die or they’re asked to move on to make way for others.

 

  1. Shani Shingnapur – A Village without Doors.

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Attracting over 40,000 devotees each day due to a 300-yr old legend, Shani Shingnapur is a village in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The village is known for its popular temple of Lord Shani (Planet Saturn).

Did you Know: Its residents sleep soundly as they believe Lord Shani to be the guardian of the village and none of the structures, be it dwelling houses, huts, shops, etc. situated within one kilometre radius of this Lord Shani temple have neither doors nor locks. The villagers believe that thieves will immediately be punished with blindness, and anyone dishonest will face seven-and-a-half years of bad luck.

 

  1. Kumbh Mela Gathering.

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Crazy and chaotic are the words that best define the Kumbh Mela (or Grand Pitcher  Festival) .It is a spiritual event held once in 12 years in India Amidst the intermittent chanting of mantras, the heart rendering dance of the Aghoris and the holy ghats lit up with fiery diyas, the Kumbh Mela, will not just lend you with a day’s feeling but a mind boggling experience of a lifetime.

As per the Hindu mythology Kumbh derived from the Sanskrit word ‘pitcher’ had the ‘Amrita’ or the immortal nectar that had appeared during the churning of the seas (Samudramanthan). It is believed that the Gods and the demons had churned the milky ocean to obtain the nectar.

This year it attracted approximately 150 million people, breaking the record for the world’s biggest gathering. It has been inscribed on the UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Did you know: The festival is over 2000 years old! The first written evidence of the Kumbh mela can be found in the accounts of the Chinese traveller Xuanzang, who visited India during the reign of King Harshavardhana.

 

  1. The most visited place in the World.

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Awarded by the World Book of Records, the Golden Temple in Amritsar is the most visited place in the world with more than a hundred thousand devotees flocking at the shrine every single day. The largest langar (community meal) typically feeds roughly 40,000 people a day for free. On religious holidays and weekends, the langar can feed upwards of 100,000 people a day. All the diners have to sit on the floor, irrespective of caste, status, wealth or creed, symbolizing the central Sikh doctrine of the equality of all people.

Did you know: The dome of the temple is gilded with 750 kilograms (1653 pounds) of gold. The ceiling inside the main sanctum is made with gold and precious stones. The main hall of the Golden Temple houses the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikh religion. It is placed on a raised platform under a canopy studded with precious jewels.

 

  1. The Highest Motorable Road in the World.

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The world’s highest motorable road Umling La or Umling La Pass greets you at Ladakh. The road passes through Umling La Top at an elevation of 19,300 ft. Bike enthusiasts, take note because little fact about India could bring about a new adrenaline filled adventure for you.

Did you know: 235 Kms from Leh, all civilians will need a permit from the Army and administration to travel through the pass.

 

  1. Lonar Lake in Maharashtra – Formed by a Meteor.

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A 4-hour drive from Aurangabad and doubling as Maharashtra’s best-kept secret, this lake was formed by a plummeting meteor about 50,000 years ago. Travel enthusiasts must not miss this astronomical marvel and the temples around it.

Did you know: Also known as Lonar crater ,the lake is notified as the National Geo Heritage Monument and is home to thousands of  migratory birds.

 

  1. Mysterious Anti-Gravity Hills In Ladakh, Magnetic Hill.

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Located on the Leh Kargil Highway a small stretch of road defies gravity.Landmarked by a yellow notice board that spells out instructions and asks you place your car on neutral gear right on the spot marked by white paint, this one will leave you in awe as your car will begin to move uphill on its own.

Did you know: The magnetic force is so strong here that airplanes increase their altitude while flying over this region.

 

  1. Auroville an experimental township belongs to nobody, but everybody.

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Auroville, an international township in Tamil Nadu and in some parts of Pondicherry, contributes in the progress of humanity irrespective of caste, creed, color and religion. Everyone is equal here and people live united. Once you visit this place, you will never wish to come back.

Did you know: The township runs on a concept of sharing, giving and exchanging , a cashless economy, much like the barter system.

 

  1. Ancient Hindu temple that was carved from a single rock.

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The  Kailasa temple in Aurangabad is over 1200 years old and was carved from a single rock in Ellora. An estimated 400,000 tons of rocks were used to construct this monolithic structure. With bare hands and few hand tools, it is hard to imagine someone carving such an astonishing sculpture.

Did you know: The temple is double the size of Parthenon in Athens.

 

  1. A floating post office in Dal Lake, Srinagar.

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With the world’s largest postal system, India has post offices in some pretty unusual places. Inaugurated in 2011, in the Dal Lake, Srinagar, set in a huge houseboat is India’s first and only floating post office, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world!

Did you know: This heritage post office is a tribute to the already beautiful Dal Lake and houses the philately museum showcasing the fascinating history and stamp collection  and a souvenir shop that sells stamps, postcards, greeting cards and books on Kashmir.

 

  1. Step wells that take you to another world.

Chand-Baori-India

Baori or ‘Step wells’ are the wonder of ancient architecture which can be found all around India. There were around 3000 step wells built in North India, many of them in the arid states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. These baoris’ narrate the beauty of their era with their marvellous sculptors and artwork. These elaborately carved step wells all over the desert were used to store water. Rani Ka Vav, Gujarat is enlisted in the UNESCO world’s heritage sites. Chand Baori, Jaipur is one of the oldest ,largest and the most astonishing Baoris of India in terms of its architecture While most are now abandoned and some have fallen into disrepair, many are well-kept and incredible to look at.

Did you know: Many of these step wells were meeting places, especially for women, for many centuries, and the oldest date back to around 500 CE.

 

  1. The Living Bridges.

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The ‘War-Khasis’ a tribe in Meghalaya, make the bridges entirely out of living trees, by training roots and vines of rubber trees, to grow across canyons and streams. Some of them estimated to be 500 years old. The beautiful thing about these bridges is, unlike the traditional bridges, these get stronger, as they get older. Although they take several years to create, but when finished they’re much more durable than wooden bridges, which would quickly rot in Meghalaya’s incredibly wet climate.

Did you know: It takes about 15 years for a new bridge to become strong enough to bear the weight of people.

 

  1. Delhi’s Khari Baoli is Asia’s biggest spice market.

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Asia’s biggest century old spice-den is located in Delhi, very close to the Red Fort. This market has local, as well as exotic spices. It’s a unique experience for anyone to see large quantities of spices and traders accumulate in a bazaar and through shops which are located in small alleys and bylanes hardly a meter wide. Trade worth millions are carried out in a highly organized and strict orderly system.With the spice filled aroma in the air, you can practically taste it once you enter the market.

Did you know: This spice market was started in the 17th century and today is run by the 8th or 9th generation of traders since their first set up.

 

  1. Spa for elephants.

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Every year a group of pampered elephants at the Punnathoor Cotta Elephant Yard Rejuvenation Centre receive elaborate spa treatments. The elephant yard is attached to the Guruvayurappan Hindu temple in Kerala, India. The elephants play a key role in Kerala’s legendary temple processions and with July considered a month of rejuvenation for humans and animals alike these ellies are certainly not complaining.

Did you know: The Punnathoor Cotta Elephant Yard was a former palace, which was converted into a sanctuary and renamed to Anakottaor Elephant fort.

 

  1. The Ghosts of Bhangarh Fort

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Located at the borders of the Sariska Tiger Reserve in the Alwar district of Rajasthan, the Bhangarh Fort is not for the faint-hearted. Widely known as one of the spookiest places, this fort resides in a deserted area and has many legends behind the paranormal activities experienced here. Although it is open to the public for visit, however, many tourists have admitted that a creepy heavy feeling prevails in its atmosphere. According to local tales the fort is cursed into desolation by a tantric priest who wanted to marry the princess and couldn’t. Apparently if any villager tries to build a roof it mysteriously collapses.

Did you know: the Archaeological Survey of India has installed a board which mentions that it is prohibited to roam around the Bhangarh Fort between 6 pm- 6 am.

Love it or hate it! But when you explore this beautiful and exotic country India, she will change the way you see things.

 

Safe travels

Madhavi

 

 

 

 

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