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Mats of dense aquatic grass in Loktak Lake create the appearance of a floating park in India’s Keibul Lamjao National Park. The 25 square-mile park, located about six miles from the Moriang Bazar in the Bishnupur district of Manipur, has a variety of different ecosystems. Sangai, a species of brown-antler deer, live among the almost five-foot-thick phumdis, or floating vegetation islands, and green forest. They use the Pabot, Toya and Chingiao hills within the park as shelter from dangerous monsoons during the summer months. In 1951, the Sangai were labelled as extinct; in 1975, though, 14 deer were found within the national park. Two years later, in 1977, the area was declared a sanctuary for the deer. Read more
So you’ve seen the world’s largest salt flats, but the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, India, is the world’s largest salt marsh and desert! What’s a salt desert? During the monsoon season, the Rann plains are flooded with water from multiple rivers and sea water that’s blown in. But, come winter and dryer seasons, the water evaporates creating the salty desert that almost seems otherworldly. Read more
Nature lovers and avid gardeners will definitely delight in this amazing natural sight: The Valley of Flowers National Park high in West Himalaya, India. The park, nestled between snow-capped peaks, is blanketed in beautiful alpine flowers. The central valley of the park occupies around three square miles, and the lowest part sits at around 11,000 feet above sea level. It is inhabited by countless threatened species (like the snow leopard) and unique plant life. Read more
The Taj Mahal may get all of the glory, but it’s India’s ancient Ellora and Ajanta caves – designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, dating back some two millennia – that are the country’s true star attractions. These underrated archaeological wonders are brilliant examples of cave temple architecture, showcasing an artistic and architectural legacy brimming with exquisitely carved sculptures, magnificently detailed wall paintings, and ornately fashioned chambers, pillars, and facades, all painstakingly carved into cliff faces by devout ancient Indian craftsmen.
The caves have remained relatively undiscovered and under-promoted to foreign travelers (though the word is widely out to local Indian tourists, who swarm the place on weekends and holidays), but those willing to make the effort to access the far-flung site, set outside of the city of Aurangabad (a one-hour flight from Mumbai), can tap into their inner Indiana Jones at India’s best-kept secret.
India is a veritable street circus of swerving cars and rickshaws; roaming monkeys, elephants, cattle, and more; belligerent beggars and touts hawking fare – a “ballet of chaos” as my beau took to describing it during our recent one-month stint there. For wide-eyed Westerners like us looking for a haven amidst the chaos, India delivers some wonderfully affordable homestay options that allow travelers to dip out of the mayhem, curtail the sterile hotel stay, and bunk down in area homes helmed by hospitable locals instead.
Reasonable rates get you more than just a bed, but a culturally immersive experience littered with local flavor, from personal anecdotes illustrating the lives of locals to savory home-cooked meals. These three family-owned and -operated Indian homestays come thoroughly vetted and highly recommended, with families who opened up not just their homes, but their hearts; we came as guests and left as friends. Read more
The colorful and chaotic frenzy that is India can quickly frazzle even the most seasoned travel vet. Happily, remedies to recover from India’s assault on the senses are well within reach in a nation that’s served as a fountainhead for such ancient wellness traditions for as yoga, Ayurveda, and meditation. I survived my recent month on the road there by setting aside some much-needed downtime at a handful of the country’s superlative spa hotels. Put R&R on your radar at two splurge-worthy mountain spa oases, where the resorts are worthy destinations in and of themselves, or try two great-value hub-city hotels touting top-notch spas aimed at helping you reboot while you’re en route.
In my humble opinion, the Dalai Lama is just about the best darned human being roaming planet Earth today – if there’s such a thing as a holy man, he’s truly it (little wonder, considering he’s venerated by the Tibetan people as the 14th incarnation of the bodhisattva – or enlightened being – of compassion). I’ve long admired the affable Nobel Peace Prize winner’s steadfast support of nonviolence and basic human values (compassion, forgiveness, etc.), spiritual and political leadership of the Tibetan people, and promotion of inter-religious harmony while spreading the virtues of Tibetan Buddhism worldwide – all of which, despite a lifetime spent in the face of incredible adversity, comes delivered with an infectious laughter that can drive a chuckle out of even the most stoic of persona. Read more
When you think of “Gay Travel” certainly gay cruises, circuit parties, or clothing-optional guesthouses come to mind. But what about the ancient city of Varanasi? The Zambezi or Victoria Falls in the heart of Africa? Or a spiritual retreat high in the mountains of Tibet? Newly launched Wilde Travels is set out to change that – and offer a 10 percent savings to first-time customers through August 31, 2012.
Following the Miami-based company’s soft-launch in April, owner Jacob Marek – a former marketing manager for the Kenya Tourist board and a Patagonian tour company – officially pressed the “Go” button on the luxury tour operations with an emphasis on gay and gay-friendly guides, boutique accommodations, and above all customization. No gay group tours here (for now).
Travel to the Garden City of India and stay at a trendy, 4-star hotel located in the shopping and business district of Bangalore. Take in the panoramic views of the Indian metropolis, including the spectacular Ulsoor Lake, when you stay at the Ista Bangalore for just $100 a night – a savings of 25 percent on competitor sites.
With Ista Bangalore’s Business Saver promotion, you’ll also receive complimentary breakfast for two every morning, free Wi-Fi, and half off drinks from 7-9pm each night. The hotel’s contemporary rooms feature king beds, luxurious bathrooms, large bay windows, and LCD TVs. The property includes two restaurants and one bar, each with its own distinct character.
Outside the hotel, experience the culture and modernity of Bangalore, visit local markets and upscale boutiques, or relax in one of the city’s many parks (hence its “Garden City” nickname) to see how cosmopolitan this city has become.
This deal is available for any four-night stay in a Superior King Room or Premium King Room. These low rates with the Business Saver promotion are available for bookings made by September 30. To book, visit Ista Bangalore and enter the promotion code PKGBUS.
And the winners of Lonely Planet’s The World’s Best Street Food guide are…Sebastiano from Naples, Italy and Preeti from Amsterdam. It was a pleasure to give them the news yesterday and have them confirm that they love winning free books almost as much as discovering and eating the perfect street food. My congratulations to them as well as my thanks again to Lonely Planet for donating the guides. And, of course, thanks to those of you who were willing to share your favorite street food picks as a condition for entering the giveaway.
The biggest winner, however, is me, as you all did my work for me this week by reporting on the best street food you ever ate. Here now, some highlights. Read more
How’s this for some V-Day love: Gay tour operator Out Adventures is releasing spots on five of its top exotic group trips for a ridiculous discount. If you’re a couple traveling together, it’s BOGO, baby (Buy One, Get One Free), and if you’re a single, it’s 40% off — all told about $1700 in savings! That’s a lot of extra spending money once you get to India, Morocco, Peru, and Turkey. And all you have to do to qualify to buy is show a little social media amour in return. Read more
Marriott International announced today that it will open five new hotels for Edition – the company’s boutique, luxury lifestyle brand – on three continents. Plans are underway for Editions in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Bangkok, while contracts have been signed for additional hotels in Los Angeles and Gurgaon, India. Marriott Edition enlisted the help of Ian Schrager, hotelier and real estate developer, to pioneer the creative design and positioning of the hotels. Schrager is well known for Studio 54 and the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, among others.
Manhattan’s Clock Tower building, on Madison Avenue, will be home to the New York Edition; the renovation and transformation of the historic building are set to begin in late 2012. The Bangkok Edition, opening in 2015, will be in one of the tallest buildings in the city, and will be part of a mixed-use development. Read more
Enjoy introductory rates at lebua Hotels & Resorts newest property, located in Delhi, India and opening in early spring 2012, of just $109 per night! Guests who book by December 31, 2011 will receive this rate, a savings of 35%, and be treated to free daily breakfast and an array of luxury in the heart of this booming metropolis. Enjoy spacious rooms that offer a sleek, modern décor including LCD televisions and complimentary wi-fi, as well as access to a fitness center, outdoor pool, lobby bar, and nightclub. The location allows for easy access to the airport as well as the cities many historical attractions, including the Red Fort palace, the bustling Chandi Chowk bazaar, and the well manicured sprawling lawns of Lodi Gardens.
THE VALUE: This introductory rates saves guests over $70 per night at similar resorts and guests receive free daily breakfast.
THE CATCH: The exact opening date is still being finalized.
THE DETAILS: For more information on booking this rate and the opening date of the hotel, visit www.lebua.com or call 91 11 4222 9223.
Forget ashram-style deprivation: Nirvana and high thread counts go hand in hand at these well-appointed retreats that welcome the bendy yogi and the curious novice alike. Flowing classes, indulgent spa therapies, and dazzling surroundings? Just say om.
LESS THAN $1,500
A mountainside hideaway enables guests to explore Costa Rica as well as the inner self.
RETREAT In airy pavilions at Pura Vida Retreat and Spa overlooking the capital San José, instructors teach a variety of yoga styles, from slower, less flowing Iyengar to the more dynamic vinyasa and power flow varieties.
RELAX Guests with sore muscles can find relief at the spa, where therapists offer treatments such as Cloud Forest Magic, a holistic, deep-tissue massage that incorporates aromatherapy and a detoxifying steam for the body.
Travel as a vehicle for spiritual transformation is hardly a new notion – seekers have practiced the act of pilgrimage for as long as they’ve looked up to the skies and attempted communion with a higher power. Even in today’s short-attention-span society, setting out to honor the divine or ponder the mysterious is a time-honored tradition that refuses to wane with the changing tides of our technologically driven lives. This list of 10 sacred places (and the accompanying slideshow) showcases points of perceived power and peace around the globe, where the physical appears to meld seamlessly with the metaphysical whether due to awe-inspiring natural settings, reported ties to great gods or holy humans, or long-standing consecration as sites of worship and ritual.
Our list isn’t meant to be comprehensive. Sacred places mean many things to different people – zipping along an open highway, sailing a calm sea, or even hibernating inside on a cold winter’s morning can all bring about their own sort of peace. Where do you go to retreat from the world?
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