Tag Archives: Tour

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Yala National Park was a pleasant surprise. Located in Southern part of Sri Lanka, the Rain-forest was pristine and beautiful. It is green and untouched. Its beauty lies in amazing scenery and healthy animals who do not seem to bother about the tourists at all. But that is because the Safari jeep drivers are disciplined and cautious – they have not ruffled the farmers. many of the animals seen in these pictures actually came out of the dense forests to have a LOOK AT US !

The leopard sat majestically just near the track, eating its kill, least bothered about the clicking humans nearby – reeking royalty and non nonchalance

The birds were simply amazing. I clicked a few and missed hundreds in my short three hour Safari.   I have been to a number of national parks in India, but the number of animals, the state of the forest and the overall experience was much better here. Maybe, that was because the ‘king’ showed up this time, whereas I have never been able to see the tiger in Indian forests.

The amazing beaches and the lotus ponds, not to mention many scenic waterholes makes me wonder whether the animals here are actually having a whale of a time, while we humans are slogging it out in the cities?????


Safari Trail


Crock comes to greet us near the gate


Water Hole


Jungle Inspector Elephant comes near to peep inside our jeep. All’s well and he moves on to check the next jeep


Inspector Elephant being a little careful about allowing tourists in the jungle today


Jungle fowl, no less proud than the peacocks


Obelix would have loved this forest




Pretty picture


Jackal family


The beach in the middle of the forest


Safari taking a break at the beach


At close quarters


Elephant shaped rock with amazing lotus pond


Wild Buffalo, doing what it does best, enjoying a water hole




Langoor looking pensive


All set?

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Leopard eating its kill

Leopard eating its kill




Monitor Lizard


380sq mile Rain Forest

380sq mile Rain Forest


Whale watching in Sri Lanka

Whale watching is Sri Lanka is picking up as a great tourist activity. This only started only a few years back, when it was realized that the whales come in the Indian Ocean during a particular season. In fact the activity picked up only after 2009 when the civil war ended and the tourists started flocking in.

Sighting whales near the shores of Sri Lanka is pretty easy done, in the months of November to March. Blue Whales and Sperm Whales can be seen easily a few kilometers from the shores. Schools of dolphins that frolic around the tourist boats are a ‘free’ add-on, though they are as good a reason as any to go out in the sea. Dolphins are elegant and happy creatures – the way they show-off, when they see a boat full of people, is amazing.

The boats leave the port of Galle, Mirissa and Trincomalee, just to name a few, early in the morning and rest assured, within an hour you start seeing the majestic sea mammals. The trip is usually over by the afternoon.

Here are a few pics that I took of the whales and dolphins with my small Nikon. (It is indeed a truism that we love our fuzzy-shaky pictures much more than the awesome ones we can easily get on the net- and so I will not resist the temptation to post some of mine.)

Dolphin in crystal clear waters Whale snouting near a tourist boat Whale near the tourist boat Whale, coming out to breathe A Dolphin (probably imitating a shark)



Palms and Beaches of Colombo

A confession….these pics are taken from a mobile 😦

But do not let that deter you from taking a look…it takes away nothing from the sheer beauty of the beaches of Colombo – Negombo and Mt Lavina – captured in these pics. Capturing the natural beauty of a beach and the palms is perhaps the second easiest thing to do…the first being capturing the beauty of the hills and the pines 🙂

Another food for thought…how long will it take for mobile phone to catch up to professional cameras?

Washington DC: Imperial dreams

Washington is a befitting capital of the No.1 superpower, that sometimes believes itself to be the latest successor of the Roman Empire. The association with the Roman Empire was conscious and constant in the steady development of US as a ‘super-power’. This is what Wiki writes right at the start of its brief history on making of Washington- “Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed the capital in 1790s, and Thomas Jefferson insisted that the legislative building be called the “Capitol” rather than “Congress House”. Capitol comes from Latin and is associated with the Roman temple to Jupiter on Capitoline Hill.”

Washington is a beautiful city, in a grand way. Its beauty lies in scale, harmony and dignity. The calm Potomac river, and the marble monuments that overlook it, gives a constancy and stability to the place. The city seems to reassure the visitor that the world order is in secure hands, and that there is no cause for panic. A traveler can be forgiven if he forgets, for a while, the poverty in which much of the rest of the world lives in. The placard holding protestors in front of the White House look so out of place and benign, that you laugh with them, rather than rage at the injustices of the world.

The White House, at the first sight, looks smaller that what one normally imagines – but looks are deceptive. Generally all marble buildings have this feel of lightness – and since the White House is well proportioned, it looks smaller than it really is. That is good in a sense, for again, speaking in terms of imperial and democratic need of the US, a benign and friendly icon is indeed a better idea than an imposing and threatening symbol of power.

Somehow I did not get a ‘democratic’ feel in the city – maybe because the idea of democracy for us Indians is ‘crowds, rallies, striving for rights and street-smart politicians’, and none of that was visible in Washington. Instead, the local papers were full of stories of power broking, party negotiations and lobbying. It would seem that Americans leave the day-to-day business of politics to their politicians and worry about the politics of business only. It is therefore no surprise that New York, in sharp contrast, looks very much a peoples’ city.

It came as a surprise to me that almost half the Americans have not visited Washington. (Surprised because it is an extremely beautiful city.) To an international tourist, however, I would heartily recommend a visit to the ‘Capitol’. It is not only beautiful (though expensive), it also lives up to all the Hollywood hype around it. In fact it does more – it comes close to reinventing Rome, the recurring European dream of a ‘world capital’.


Kremlin: The age of the spies

Kremlin has always been the final destination for the master spy in the novels – if the double agent is worth his salt, he must have a connection in the Kremlin. In many of the novels, though, the denizens of Kremlin turn out to be more benign than the power-mad top bosses of Langley. During my visit to Kremlin this winter, I was not able to resolve the matter of whether the bosses at the CIA or the KGB are crooked-ier, but one thing was clear, the place lives up to the hype. It has the right ‘atmosphere’.

Being in a situation where I was inside the Kremlin Palace for almost a full day, I snooped around, taking in the pictures of the Tsars, who have changed from ferocious to benign over the centuries. The majestic pre-Soviet era churches and the palaces still look forbidding and mysterious, maybe more so in the winters.

The first thing to understand about Kremlin is that the word means ‘a fort’ and hence it is something like our own (Delhi) Red Fort. Only, it remains the centre of power after all these centuries. The red square at the gate and the huge fort walls make sense only when we realize that it was, and is, a fort.

The next thing to notice – not that anyone can miss this one – is the hugely colorful Saint Basil’s Cathedral. It is a curious piece of architecture. It takes one ages to understand that meaning cannot be derived out of the structure – it is a relic of the bygone age, when powerful Tsars, happy at having defeated the invincible Mongols, told their architects to do something sensational – and the architects got down to really hard day-dreaming. In fact it was Ivan the Terrible who got it built in 1560 to celebrate his victory over the Khans of Kazan.

As we move inside the complex, there is the Great Kremlin Palace, the Terem Palace and the Poteshny Palace. The Senate building (which is now the President’s official residence) and the Armory (which houses the collection of Tsarist artifacts including jewels, clothing and weaponry), are in a compound that has numerous majestic Cathedrals and bell towers. Inside these buildings, the carvings and the atmosphere are authentic Soviet era – very forbidding.

For a modern spy novel writer, there is no place better than the Kremlin to go for inspiration. The expressionless guards look menacing – unlike those at the Buckingham Palace, who are cute and cuddly. The visit to the place does restore one’s faith in the mystery/spy novels. It is like one constant in an ever changing world, where we cannot even rely on James Bond to give us the chills any more.


Phuket: A complete holiday

    Phuket has rightfully emerged as one of the hotspots on the world tourist map. Neptune blue seas, lush green hills, hospitable climate and lovely people – it has all you may want, to have time of your life.

I went to the Thai island of Phuket in March, but I am told that except for the few monsoon months, the place is perfect around the year. Numerous and lovely beaches are just one of the highs of a Phuket holiday – day cruises to various Islands and bays, underwater sports, sea caves, night markets, jungle safaris…it has all. But one word of caution before we delve a little deeper in Phuket waters – don’t plan for less than six days, or else you would return a sad man (or woman), having missed a lot of sightseeing, photographing, sunning and island hopping.
In brief, the following would my favorite ‘top ten’ things to do in Phuket:

1.  Day cruise to Phang Nga Bay: Made famous by the James Bond movie – Man with the Golden Gun, the area around this beautiful bay has since been filmed in a number of Hollywood and Bollywood movies (especially the aerial shots of the islands). A photographer, with a digital camera, will want to have additional storage capacity, and one with the old ‘roll’ camera will tear his hair off.

The manner in which the local tourist industry has handled the day cruise business in this area is commendable. It is cheap, efficient and hassle free. Canoeing and snorkeling is part of the trip. Though one does feel that with more moolah, one could have hired a private yacht and lived on it for days. If wishes were horses…

2.  Day cruise to Phi Phi islands: A similar experience awaits one on this cruise too, but with a different location and different set of activities, there is no sense of repetition. One should however keep a gap of one or two days between these two trips.

I remember an incident on the trip that I feel is essential in this narrative (though why, I cannot explain). There was this Iranian gentleman on the trip, who was with his wife and two daughters. For the first few hours, he behaved impeccably – in an unassuming, hen-pecked manner, devotedly caring for his twin daughters, while his wife had a whale of a time with a group of youngish guys. But suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, this gentleman revealed his true, ‘He-man’ side. He dived off the boat and swam to a nearby island, which looked a few kilometers away to my untrained eyes. At the time the boat had stopped for lunch at a scenic location. The gentleman instantly became the toast of the crowd, and his wife claimed the rightful place by his side on his return.

3.  Roaming around the Bangla Road at night: It may sound strange, but is true, that it is a perfect outing for the family. The Roxy clubs and all the activity of the like nature notwithstanding, it is a great place to be in at night. Brightly lit shops, crowds on the roads, pubs and hotels with seating arrangements on the street, hustle-bustle of the hawkers and loud music – the atmosphere of fun just makes one wish to stay awake a little longer.

4.  Biking on the island: This list is random – had it been strictly on the basis on my favourite activity in Phuket, I would have placed it on the number one spot. I just had the best experience of my life, riding along the sea, on the snaky-wavy road that went up and down the hills and passed cute little markets and giant statues of serene Buddhas on the way. Make a mental note of it – this activity requires two days to do justice to the beauty of the island.

  1. Snorkeling: Along with the cruise, or separately (if it has to be done properly, with guide and all), it is an enriching experience, though it does require you to be a competent swimmer. Moreover, you would require time to master the techniques before you can really enjoy the underwater.
  1. Sunning at Karon and Kata beaches (though the others are no less): The first and foremost reason for a beach holiday is, well, the beaches, and here the island scores a perfect ten. We may not waste more time on this topic. There are an number of them to explore, each a little different from the other.
  1. Enjoying the resorts and hospitality: Reasonably priced, elegant and often perfectly located, there are any number of good resorts both at Phuket as also on Phi Phi island. Spas, Thai massage and hospitality in general is of a good standard all over the island.
  1. Shopping and sightseeing at the Old Phuket town: A mix of Portuguese and Thai architecture, with a touch of Chinese and Indian at places, makes this place look very 19th century. Again, shopping and photo shoot are the obvious pass-time in this place. So go prepared.
  1. Sighting the flying fishes on long cruises: Now these two items are for the lucky few. Longer cruises need longer period of stay and sighting of the beautiful silvery flying fishes can not be guaranteed (though it is not too difficult), and
  1. Temples, tropical rainforests, mountain climbing, waterfalls and local bazaars: This point in the list just shows that for tourists with the luxury of longer stays (something that I did not have), there is much more to do and explore. So, best wishes and happy journey….


The photogenic Marseille

The authentic location for a Mafia movie maybe Sicily, but the fact that important parts of Godfather were shot in Marseille, gives a hint on what to expect from the place. Located on the beautiful southeast coast of France, Marseille is France’s second largest city after Paris and the largest city on the Mediterranean coast.

The city basks in sunshine and the glitter of European celebrities throughout the year, I am told. I was there in March, and I experienced the full blast of justifiably renowned Mediterranean summers. The drive along the coast was the highlight for me. It is not a stretch of sandy beaches – it is cliffy and rocky, and that is where the Godfather bit looks most authentic. While driving, lets say, if the sea is on the right, on the left you would see beautiful white villas, where one can assume a lot of Al Capone-type characters would be planning their next blast! At least that’s what I thought, though I may be wrong.

Going back further in history of fiction, there is, in the Bay of Marseille, the Frioul archipelago which comprises four islands, one of which has the Château d’If, made famous by the Alexander Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo. This Chateau is where the hero of the novel, Edmond Dantes is imprisoned, and where he is helped by another prisoner in finding a treasure and in digging his way out. It is one of the most famous 19th century French novels, and the Chateau, imagined as a prison, does not fail to raise goose pimples.

Overlooking the entire area is the beautiful basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde. Though the current basilica was built in 1864, it has a long history. It was built on a foundation of an important 16th century fort. The history of resistance to invaders and of its vault is interesting, but for the tourist, the greatness of the place lies in its photogenic nature. Upon holy oath I can give the assurance that even the weirdest of photographers, with a malfunctioning camera, will take awesome photographs here. You just can’t go wrong.


Marseille has a great nightlife and unadulterated French culture—from outdoor markets to indoor museums. Sailing from the port of Marseille, for those who can do it, and I was not fortunate enough, is heavenly. Yachts can be chartered – an expensive affair – and one can visit a lot of places in the Mediterranean, especially the islands. The line of yachts parked in the ports along the coast, are extremely tempting. They can easily make one want to join the Godfather.


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