This October, the Giant Vacuum Cleaner had to take his 10th grade board exams. The Spouse felt it would be a great idea to whisk me away as far as possible in order to prevent mother-son meltdown. We ended up spending a couple of days in my favorite American city – Washington, DC. Despite having lived in the area for several years, we had never ventured into the District’s Chinatown neighborhood, other than to drive through it on our way to someplace else. Despite knowing that DC’s Chinatown is kitschy and about as authentic as an Elvis impersonator, I thought it would be fun to make like a tourist and eat Chinese food in a Chinatown restaurant. … Keep reading
Bhutan, the last true Himalayan Kingdom, has worked hard to retain every aspect of its cultural identity. Every home that is built must conform to guidelines that mandate traditional woodwork and craftsmanship on the facade. Whenever a Bhutanese citizen sets foot on the premises of a government office, a school, or a college, they are required by law to don traditional attire – the gho (for men) and the kira (for women). The Kingdom of Bhutan not only keeps its traditions alive from within – it also takes active steps to limit outside influence while reaping the economic benefits of tourism. Only 21,000 foreign tourists are allowed to visit each year, and each of these tourists is required by law to a) book all travel through a licensed Bhutanese or international travel agency; b) spend a minimum of US$ 200 per day, paid in advance, for food, transport, sightseeing and accommodation; and c) enter the country via air, thereby filling the coffers of DrukAir, Bhutan’s state-owned monopoly airline (as of August, Buddha Air, a Nepalese airline, is also being allowed to operate flights into Bhutan).
Happily, thanks to the bonhomie between our two countries, none of these strictures apply to Indian citizens. Indians are allowed to enter Bhutan by road, without a visa (you need a permit-on-arrival, though); make their own travel arrangements; and spend however much (or however little 🙂 ) moolah they choose. … Keep reading
Most people are drawn to Sikkim for its cloud-shrouded hilltops, snow-clad peaks, and punishing yet fulfilling trekking opportunities. Me? All I could think of was the fact that I would be able to embark on yet another exciting food adventure.
Sikkim is India’s second-smallest (Goa is the smallest) and least populated state. That said, it also represents a confluence of diverse peoples and cultures. It is home to the indigenous Lepcha tribe, thought to be Sikkim’s original inhabitants; the Bhutias who migrated from Tibet in the 14th century; and the more recent migrant Nepalese (now almost 80% of the populace). Sikkimese cuisine is a reflection of this diversity. …Keep reading
Walking through Angkor is surreal. You feel like you’ve somehow stepped into the brittle-with-age pages of an ink-illustrated, hardbound Rudyard Kipling novel. Except they’ve suddenly been painted to life with vivid color – oh, and there are tourists, cars, and touts. In abundance.
Despite that somewhat jarring fact, Angkor is jaw-dropping, no matter how many pictures you’ve seen, how many books or guidebooks you’ve read, or how often you’ve dreamed of visiting. The sheer scale of it will have you gasping – a sound you’ll hear escaping involuntarily from your mouth with increasing frequency once you start trudging over every inch of it in the blazing 32°C heat. At 11am. In the “cool” season. Keep reading…
I’ve always resisted the idea of visiting Bangkok. I’d envisioned it as yet another big, crowded city filled with skyscrapers, malls, traffic jams, and hustlers. Guess what? I was right. And yet… I would go back in a flash. Bangkok suffers from multiple personality disorder, and I got to meet several personae.
First off – and my personal favorite – was Old Bangkok. Think Mysore on a small dose of acid. You can tell when you’re nearing Old Bangkok, better known as Ko Rattanakosin, by the steadily dwindling height of the buildings. There are more tuktuks (autorikshaws, dahling!) than cars, more trees than buildings, and more canals than roads.
A birding trip is certainly no picnic. You haul yourself out of bed at an unearthly hour, make sure you have all your optics and accessories on your person, and head out to your chosen destination. If, like us, your destination is a popular “picnic spot”, and if (again, like us) you’ve chosen to visit on a weekend, you drive like your ass is on fire – you want to get there a few minutes before the gates open. You spend all your time looking for birds that don’t want to be seen, trying to identify and perhaps photograph them from an impossible distance, and then – well, then you just drive back home. If that isn’t your idea of a great time, you aren’t a birder. Keep reading…
Anthony Bourdain will do anything in his quest for the perfect meal, even it means traveling with gun-toting maniacs in Khmer Rouge territory in Cambodia, slaughtering a pig in Portugal, eating a beating cobra’s heart – even selling his soul to TV (in his own, albeit borrowed, words: “We’ve already established you’re a whore. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”) Keep reading…