THE PRICE IS RIGHT
Remember those international holiday plans put into the deep freeze in the face of the economic slowdown?
Now may be the time to thaw some of them as international airfares have dropped significantly, following a sharp fall in air fuel prices. International flight prices are seeing notable cuts of around 15-20%, though not the precipitous 65% fare drops that some domestic airlines are offering.
Cheap treats: Plan a vacation to Istanbul now while airfares are low.
Most online booking sites, including MakeMyTrip.com, Yatra.com and Cleartrip.com, are offering special deals on international flights. Trips to South-East Asia are looking especially attractive, with Chennai to Singapore on Jet Airways or Air India now costing Rs16,628, while Delhi-Bangkok is Rs18,463 on Jet Airways. Bangalore to Kuala Lumpur will set you back a (relatively) light Rs18,611 on Thai Airways.
Carriers are also capitalizing on the Dubai Shopping Festival (on till 15 February), offering special fares to the UAE. Mumbai to Dubai is Rs12,155 on Air India.
European destinations also look within reach: Tickets from Mumbai to London on Air India are up for grabs at Rs24,505, while Delhi to London is similarly priced at Rs25,084. Mumbai to Paris is Rs29,383 on Turkish Airlines.
Other potential holiday destinations include Istanbul at Rs28,402, Cairo at Rs24,525—both on Egyptair, and Johannesburg at Rs30,862 on Ethiopian—all ex-Mumbai.
For the more adventurous, the far ends of the earth are also accessible: Mumbai to New York on Etihad via Dubai is Rs42,357 and Kolkata to Tokyo is Rs41,136, while a trip from Chennai to Sydney is Rs49,739 on Thai Airways.
All fares are per-person return trips inclusive of taxes, checked at the time of writing, for flights on 12 February.
THE SONG OF THE ROAD
When she’s not acting in summer sleepers such as Manorama Six Feet Under and Dor (we’ll forgive her Hello), Gul Panag likes burning up the rubber across the country’s highways. “Travel is very high on my list of priorities,” says the 30-something Panag, who credits her nomadic army upbringing for instilling in her a love for the outdoors. “And how long am I going to be physically able to travel anyway?”
Scouting ahead: Panag braves the wilds and hits the road with friends in her trusty 4x4.
So, while she can, Panag hits the road regularly in her customized 4x4 Mahindra Scorpio. “Though I have no issues repairing punctures or changing tyres, I make sure the vehicle is fully serviced before I leave. Also, I make it a point to have company always—solitary road trips in India can be highly unsafe—and ensure I’m travelling with at least one more car. With four-five people, we can explore off-roading options and can camp where we want to,” she says.
Panag lists her favourite drives:
I drive from Mumbai to Leh once every year, but the Delhi-Leh stretch is particularly dear to me. I love the dramatic changes in scenery, from the urban sprawl of the plains to the greenery of the Himalayan foothills right into Himachal Pradesh, and then the absolute barrenness post-Rohtang Pass. The desolate Keylong-Upshi valley stretch, right till you enter Nubra valley is, to me, the most beautiful drive in the world.
This is a 300km drive that most people don’t do now for pleasure, but as an army kid I remember being blown away by the untouched beauty of the road and its surroundings. Once you leave Udhampur, the countryside becomes much more rugged. And you emerge from the 3km-long Jawahar tunnel into the completely “English” kind of landscape of the Kashmir Valley—it takes my breath away even to think about it.
Jodhpur-Jaisalmer via Barmer
The history and architecture of this very atmospheric part of the world never fail to stir me. I did this route around the Dussehra-Diwali time three-four years ago and I remember it for the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen. Going via Barmer basically makes a triangle of the trip; otherwise, Jodhpur is directly connected to Jaisalmer via the NH-14 and NH-15. I have good memories, too, of off-roading in the sand dunes beyond Sam, also in Rajasthan.
SHOOT AT SIGHT
National Geographic’s Adventure Ratings 2009 are out and four Indian entities find themselves listed in “the world’s first authoritative rating of adventure tour operators”. With a rating of 94.2 out of 100 (scores apportioned to quality of service, sustainability, education, client satisfaction, and “spirit of adventure”, which tests newly developed itineraries and tours), Holiday Moods www.holidaymoods.net) tops the list, followed by Ibex Expeditions www.ibexexpeditions.com), Wild World India (www.wildworldindia.com) and Aquaterra Adventures (www.treknraft.com). Ibex is also listed as the One-Country Wonder for India, implying they are the best people to sign up with for a wide array of activities in the country, but each of the four is considered top of the game in their respective arenas. For the full list of 177 outfitters (and ideas for your next adventure holiday abroad), visit www.adventure. nationalgeographic.com
Adventure ahoy! The spirit of adventure tourism is alive and kicking. Ibex Expeditions
With about 20% of incoming tourists signing up for adventure activities and a growing section of domestic tourists experimenting with white-water rafting and eco-holidays, the recognition can only translate into positive mojo for the industry. Way to go!
Singapore. Yes, yes, we know, been there, done that and will never go back to Sentosa again. But the suits who run the city-state are nothing if not innovative, so they are repackaging the family holiday favourite as a honeymoon destination for the adventure-minded. No matter if your wild side extends only to tasting unfamiliar meats: Gastronomic thrills are the order of the day in the city’s street markets, from Chinatown to Glutton’s Bay. The food is prepared under strict hygiene guidelines (and you know what happens to those who break rules in Singapore) and, best of all, it’s piping hot and fresh. Or, go sky-dining, an experience that involves eating a continental meal while your cable car zips its way from the Jewel Box station to Sentosa (www.fabertours.com.sg, for $39). To take back more than memories, enrol in Shermay’s Cooking School (www.shermay.com, for S$59), where the chef-owner escorts you through the intricacies of Nonya cuisine. Or simply go for a food tour: The Makansutra Food Safari is a 4-hour whirl around Singapore that stretches from hawkers to hotels (www.makansutra.com, for $160).
Gourmets galore: Singapore offers eating delights aplenty. Megha Agrawal
If the stomach isn’t really where you’d rather test your fortitude, the TreeTop Walk may be your thing: It calls for at least 3 hours of walking. A 250m-long, 25m-high (at the highest point), free-standing suspension walkway connects the two highest points in MacRitchie and offers a bird’s-eye view, literally, of treetops and animal life (www.nparks.gov.sg). Alternatively, cut out the rest of the world in a canoeing trip in the ocean or in a reservoir: Rent your two-seater kayak from a sports operator at Changi Point, East Coast Park, MacRitchie Reservoir or Kallang Sea Sports Club. Or learn wakeboarding, which involves riding a wakeboard over water, towed by an overhead cable.
And if you need to scream your lungs out, go for the G-MAX Reverse Bungee (www.gmax.co.nz, from S$45), which sends you down a short freefall, flies you out over the Singapore river and swings you back and forth over the Clarke Quay before yanking you back into starting position. No, you can’t do it together, but imagine the post-jump hug.