10-year anniversary of the Kalka-Shimla Railway

10-year anniversary of the Kalka-Shimla Railway

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of UNESCO adding the Kalka–Shimla railway to the mountain railways of India World Heritage Site. In this anniversary year, the narrow-gauge railway located in North India – which traverses a mostly mountainous route from Kalka to the former British Raj hill station of Shimla (Himachal Pradesh) – is in the spotlight as one of the worlds’ ‘must travel aboard’ heritage lines.

Throughout the 1900’s Shimla, former headquarters for the British Army, established itself as the popular summer capital for English gentry escaping the hot weather of the plains. The journey along the 59-mile railroad, completed in 1903, is as spectacular to travel today as it was in the early years.

With 107 tunnels, 864 bridges and 919 curves the journey begins at 656 metres climbing to peak elevation of 2,076 metres at a gradient of 1:33 (3%). Emerging from the longest tunnel on the line, the Barog Tunnel (no.33) at 1,144m, Shimla-bound adventurers are treated to the magnificent views of the Himalayan mountains. The tunnel is also acclaimed to the be the straightest in the world.

More Information

Great Rail Journeys
Great Rail Journeys Ltd. has an unrivalled knowledge and understanding of holidays by rail, with more than 40 years of experience in organising them. The company uses more than 300 highly experienced Tour Managers to lead 1,100 group departures a year to destinations worldwide.

main image: courtesy of Three Little Birds PR

Want more? Join Zay Harding as he takes on an epic journey across one of the world’s biggest railway networks in our episode ‘Tough Trucks: India’s Independence Railroads’.

Must-do Asia travel in the second half of 2017

Must-do Asia travel in the second half of 2017

Dreaming on an Asian adventure? From flying above ancient ruins in Myanmar to blessings by monks in Cambodia, this travel guide reveals where to be in Asia over the next five months.

AsiaSeptember – Light a Lantern in Hoi An

Much ritual revolves around the full moon in Asia. Each month in Hoi An, when the moon reaches this pivotal phase the Old Town transforms under the glow of thousands of lanterns. The main river that snakes through the UNESCO World Heritage site becomes awash with flickering lights and sampans that ferry tourists and locals alongside the lights. In September the event is set for the 4th and starts at dusk.

AsiaOctober – Honour a Guru in Bhutan

Crisp clear days and the celebration of Thimphu Tshechu, one of Bhutan’s most majestic festivals, make a trip to the country’s capital a must in October. Monks donning elaborate masks and vivid, colourful garb perform traditional dances in honour of Guru Rinpoche, a Buddhist master who brought the religion to Bhutan in the 8th century. From 30th September to 2nd October throngs of locals and travellers descend on the city’s numerous dzong (fortresses) to watch the captivating performances.

November – Bag a Balloon over Bagan

Over 2000 temples, stupas and pagodas stud the ancient plains of Bagan. For the best vantage point take to the sky and gently float above the otherworldly landscape in a hot air balloon.

BhutanThe season runs from October through April, with the busiest time (and priciest) over the Christmas holidays, making November the sweet spot for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

December – Solicit a Monk’s blessing in Cambodia

With the weather cooling and the rains now halted, December is the prime time to visit Cambodia. Angkor Wat tops many bucket lists but there’s more to do in Siem Reap beyond the ancient ruins. decVisit a local pagoda to take part in a Buddhist ceremony where you’ll receive a blessing from a monk for safe travel, luck, and a long and happy life. What better way to get a head start on 2018.

To find out more visit Exotic Voyages.

 

 

 

Move over Burj, the Sky Mile Tower is coming to Tokyo

Move over Burj, the Sky Mile Tower is coming to Tokyo

Renderings have been released showing the 5,577 feet-high Sky Mile Tower which will stand in Tokyo Bay with a cluster of islands at its feet, dwarfing everything on the city’s already soaring skyline.

The Sky Mile Tower will be surrounded by an archipelago of islands, forming part of Next Tokyo, a “high density eco-district” designed to “adapt to climate change”. The hexagonallyshaped islands are designed to protect the city from flooding and other waterborne risks including “rising sea levels, seismic and increased typhoon risk”.

It will offer multi-level open-air sky decks at every 320 metres and shared public facilities including shops, restaurants, hotels, libraries, gyms and health clinics.

If the proposed plans are approved, the Sky Mile Tower is expected to be to completed by 2045 and will surpass not only Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, but also  Saudia Arabia’s 3,280 ft-high Jeddah Tower, which is slated for completion in 2020.

 

 

main image: A rendering of the Sky Mile Tower in Tokyo Bay Photo: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates

His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Visit Glastonbury Festival 2015

His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Visit Glastonbury Festival 2015

This year’s Glastonbury Festival is welcoming His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Sunday 28 June to give a talk to festival goers in the Green Fields area of Glastonbury site on Sunday, before travelling to Aldershot in Hampshire, where he will open a Buddhist community centre.

The Tibetan spiritual leader is a guest of the Festival as part of a four day UK visit. The key themes throughout the visit will be the promotion of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s message of compassion, non-violence and the oneness of humanity.

The visit is not however, without controversy.

China have expressed disapproval and Lu Kang, a foreign ministry spokesman, told a daily news briefing that he was not aware of the details of what the Dalai Lama was doing at the festival. He said, however, that “China resolutely opposes any country, organisation, body or individual giving any kind of platform to the 14th Dalai Lama to engage in anti-China splittist activities.”

Tibetan-exile media reported on Friday that China has arrested a Tibetan man for sharing a picture of the Dalai Lama and the banned Tibetan national flag on the messaging app WeChat.

Since the 1950’s China has been engaged in what they call ‘incorporation of Tibet into the People’s Republic of China, the process by which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) gained control of the area comprising the present-day Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

In 1959, the Dalai Lama and many other Tibetans fled Tibet and both he and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government in Tibet subsequently repudiated the 17 Point Agreement and the PRC government in Tibet dissolved the Tibetan Local Government.

India designated land for the refugees in the mountainous region of Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile are now based.

The visit will also be marked by protests by the International Shugden Community (ISC), which claims the Dalai Lama is involved in the persecution of Shugden Buddhists in Tibetan exile.

Shugden Buddhists say they have been mistreated in Tibetan exile communities because the Dalai Lama has banned them from worshipping the fierce spirit known as Dolgyal or Shugden and claim that he has had escaped media scrutiny because of his “cult celebrity status.”

Dare to bare?

Dare to bare?

When travelling there is always a fine balance to be found between respecting local customs and living out acts of self expression. A perfect instance of this is the act of posing in the nude at famous sites around the world – the latest travel trend to hit the headlines. The hottest spots for the act of exposure are Machu Picchu in Peru and at the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.

But this bare skinned affair has become a controversial one after the stunt caused quite a hoopla in Sabah in the northern half of the island of Borneo, part of Malaysia. Photographs of ten backpackers posing in the buff on Mount Kinabulu, including a 33 year old Canadian known as the ‘notorious nudist’ were posted across social media sites angering and upsetting local authorities who accused the group of indecent exposure and indecency.

The mountain has specific holy significance to the indigenious Kadazan and Dusun tribes of the area and feelings of ill-will towards the group quickly spread around the local community. Subsequently five out of the accused ten have been arrested by Malaysian authorities and if found guilty, could face three months in jail.
The British press have, true to their usual fashion, sensationalized the story further by claiming the authorities are charging the group with angering the mountain and thereby causing an earthquake that took place on the mountain last Friday. However, this claim made by the British press is unsubstantiated. Earthquakes in this part of Borneo are rare and tragically twenty-four people lost their lives when the quake sent massive boulders tumbling down the 13,435 ft high mountain.

Photo taken from mynakedtrip.com

Cherry blossom season in Japan

Cherry blossom season in Japan

Spring is in the air, and while it’s a beautiful season everywhere, mid-March through April marks peak cherry blossom season in Japan.

If you can time your trip during cherry blossom season in Japan, you’re in for a treat courtesy Mother Nature herself. For those interested, there’s more information via See Japan and  Japan National Tourism.

This week, The Wall Street Journal published a charming pictorial of Japan’s cherry blossoms in years go by – click on the image to view.

cherry blosson

Would you love to visit Japan? Take your imagination on a wander through extraordinary Tokyo here by reading our destination guide.

 

Feature image by Yoshikazu TAKADA

The Gardens by the Bay – Singapore

The Gardens by the Bay - Singapore

Singaporeans are an industrious lot.  Just look at what they have achieved in their city over the past 50 years.  Impressive and quite simply spectacular buildings line their cityscape and their architects show no signs of slowing down.   I first visited in the mid 1970s and have been coming here at least twice a year since 2000. On every visit, another dizzying landmark arises, from the remarkable arts complex with its unique porcupine inspired roof or most recently, the Marina Bay shopping and casino complex, constructed on reclaimed land and home to every major design label on the planet, and along with Las Vegas and London’s Westfield projects, claims to be among the world’s most “epic indoor shopping malls!”

The Singaporeans are expert at taming this hot, tropical island that was malaria infested when Sir Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company founded a trading post here some  200 years ago. But with their latest monumental development, The Gardens by the Bay, just a short pedestrian bridge walk across the motorway from the Marina Bay complex, they may have slipped up.

Singapore is fond of borrowing ideas from the West, particularly its former colonial master, Britain. They have erected a giant carousel wheel, a spitting image of the British Airways Millennium Wheel in London, a few years back and now The Gardens by the Bay looks very much like Singapore’s take on Britain’s Eden Project in Cornwall.

On a recent tour, it all looks a little too man made, particularly given its ecological and environmental themes. It reminded me of another British project, the ill-fated Millennium Dome. Like The Dome, The Gardens have a strong educative back story. However honourable the intentions, for The Dome it smacked of ”searching for a purpose”. I hope the same fate doesn’t befall The Gardens.

The Cloud Forest exhibit, constructed inside a gigantic sphere that has won several international architectural awards, seemed pointless – a triumph of man over nature. Give me Singapore’s excellent Botanic Gardens, at a fraction of the price, any time. The Flower Garden was more inspiring, a showcase of plants from around the word inside a giant greenhouse – a 21st Century version of the wonderful 19th century greenhouses doing the same job at Kew Gardens in London.

I couldn’t help thinking on leaving this giant complex with its hideous pink and purple railings and twee bunting, that this was man taming nature, not celebrating it. And Singapore is pretty good at that.

Posted by Ian Cross

More information:

Planet Food:  Singapore & Chennai

Metropolis Singapore

Bazaar: Shopping guide to Singapore

Searching for Monkeys in Singapore

Carnival Season Around the World

Carnival Season Around the World
Carnival season is upon us and whether you are in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, or South America, there is no shortage of celebrations happening all around the world. The most well known festivals are celebrated in New Orleans, Louisiana, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Sydney, Australia, Venice, Italy and Trinidad and Tobago.

Mardi Gras is centered mainly around the French Quarter of New Orleans for approximately two weeks and commences on Fat Tuesday, which falls on February 12th this year. However, the multiple parades take place Uptown and in mid-city, due to the narrow streets in the French Quarter. From the elaborately decorated floats, wild costumes, lively music, famous King Cakes, to the lengths people will go to in order to obtain a plethora of colorful, signatory beads, there is never a dull moment or a shortage of purple, green and gold.

Pilot’s Justine Shapiro took part in the Mardi Gras festivities when she was invited to join one of the 27 floats of the Krewe of Orpheus. In true Mardi Gras fashion, Justine wore a jester costume and adorned herself with multiple beads.

Globe Trekker New Orleans

Rio De Janeiro, fittingly known as the carnival capital of the world, is no stranger to celebrations. Rio’s Carnival dates coincide with Mardi Gras, beginning on Saturday February 9th and ending on February 12th this year. During Carnival, the various samba schools, each representing their specific neighborhood, are the main draw. Samba dancers often rehearse months before Carnival and are decked out in extravagant handmade costumes with lavish headpieces. Host, Ian Wright dives head first into samba, learning from the school, Caprichosos de Pilares and ultimately taking part in the parade.

Rio - 3

Rio - 2

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, takes places from February 8th through March 3rd this year and is Sydney, Australia’s biggest event of the year. Justine Shapiro takes viewers on a firsthand experience of this liberating celebration of expression and equal rights. Anything goes in this parade, from the Scantily clad costumes to dancing in the streets, drawing a crowd of over a million people to be free to be themselves. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Sydney Mardi Gras and is themed quite appropriately as, “The Generations of Love.”

Sydney - 10

Sydney - 12

The two most celebrated days of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago fall on February 11th and 12th this year, right before Ash Wednesday and has been called, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Justine Shapiro lets viewers inside the Caribbean’s biggest carnival as she joins in the celebration.

Music is a highlight for this carnival, with various competitions, including the International Soca Monarch competition and the National Panorama competition that innovatively incorporates the use of steel pans, garbage can lids, pots and pans to create sounds, rhythms and melodies. Bikinis with headpieces adorned in feathers are often seen during Carnival among a multitude of various character costumes, from Minstrels, Jab Jab’s, Midnight Robber’s to Dragons and Bats.

Globe Trekker Eastern Caribbean

Globe Trekker Eastern Caribbean

Justine travels to The Venice Carnival, which takes place in St. Mark’s Square and is centered around various types of eclectic looking masks, allowing people to maintain a bit of anonymity and play a different character. Like the other carnivals, Venice also commences on February 12th this year, marking the start of Lent. The mask contests and the water show on the Venice canals are two highlights of the Carnival and what better excuse to travel to this gorgeous city than to attend one of the biggest celebrations of the year?

Globe Trekker: Great Festivals 3

This is undoubtedly an exhilarating time of year to dress up, celebrate cultural milestones and bask in the traditions that were established decades ago. Carnivals are plentiful around the world and although the five mentioned here are some of the most popular ones, they are definitely not the only ones.