Madagascar, an island lying to the south-east of Africa, is off the circuit for all but the most intrepid travellers. Taking the destination—home to 5% of the world’s plant and animal species—a bit closer to Indian itineraries is Mandip Singh Soin’s Ibex Expeditions, which hopes to launch fixed departures to Madagascar next year. Lounge caught up with Soin after his recce tour. Edited excerpts:
The idea is to go to remote areas that are also of cultural interest. I joke with my friends that if people don’t know a country’s capital and its currency, then we are interested. Eighty per cent of the flora and fauna found here is endemic to Madagascar.
What were the highlights of the trip?
We had a diverse set of experiences, including seeing the bat caves at the Ankarna National Park and visiting Diego Suarez, a small township on the coast, which used to be home to pirates. The Tsingy National Park has many spiky rock towers; one can crawl and climb through them to the peak. It is only 100m high but offers views of miles of spiky rocky limestone formations. At Morondava, there are limestone caves where the locals store the bones and skulls of their ancestors. At Kirindy, the highlight was a night walk in the forest where we saw lots of lemurs. They were not shy at all since they have no natural predators except for crocodiles.
You also undertook a three-day canoe trip during which you spent time in Sakalava villages.
The Sakalavas are one of the main tribes of Madagascar. We ended up in a Sakalava village where we got a chance to interact with the local people. On the second day, four-five villagers brought a caboose—an instrument similar to a guitar—and we played together while the children played soccer. We were the first Indians to have ever been there. At the end of the three days, instead of taking SUVs we opted to go on a cart drawn by zebus, a cow-like animal.
Baobab trees near Kirindy National Park. Ibex Expeditions
You also sailed along the coast in a dhow.
We undertook a three-day journey along the Madagascar coast. The dhows had motors, but also sails, which we used when out in the sea. We snorkelled and saw hundreds of fish species and corals.
How much of this experience is available to the tourist?
As much as they’d want. We specialize in customizing our tours around a basic template to include as much off-the-road experience as the traveller can take on.
Ibex Expeditions’ Madagascar tours are scheduled between April and October 2011. A fixed trip begins on 4 June. Costs are $2,900-3,200 (Rs1.3-1.5 lakh) per person. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 011-26460244/46 for details.
— Himanshu Bhagat
Backpacking through Bavaria
Bavarian beer everywhere, and 16 days of non-stop fun. Munich’s Oktoberfest is among the biggest (and most famous) public festivals in the world, and tour company The Backpacker Co is offering a 15-day whirlwind tour of Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium around this festive season. There’s artwork to be gawped at (Paris’ art galleries appear on the schedule), beautiful castles to be explored, and lots of beer to be sampled. The itinerary is fairly lenient, with many days of “free exploring”, and the tour encourages wandering off the beaten path.
The trip is from 18 September-2 October, and a single pass (which includes access to Oktoberfest tents) is priced at Rs1.25 lakh, inclusive of airfare, visas and insurance. It’s all on a first-come, first-served basis till a group of 10 is found, so early bookings are advised.
Click here for more details
— Krish Raghav
Here’s a recipe for a unique autumn holiday—go on a truffle hunt, tour vineyards (and savour bottles of exclusive vintage), explore palazzos full of rare Rennaisance-era artefacts and top it off with a drive in a Ferrari through the Italian countryside.
That’s just part of what luxury company The Leading Hotels of the World Ltd is offering with a week-long “Autumn of Wine & Truffles” tour of Tuscany from 17-23 October. The seven-day event will be hosted at the Villa La Massa in Florence, and is open to 12 Leaders Club members.
For more information, log on to Tuscany journey and www.lhw.com, or call 000800-6501240 from IDD phones.
— Krish Raghav