You might not be a patch on George Clooney in Up in the Air but you’ve collected enough air miles to fly free for a decade. When was the last time you took a train; when travelling meant more than getting from home to hotel; when the journey was part of the holiday itself?
Cross an ocean
Let 2012 be the year you go on a voyage. We mean the real crossing-the-bar deal to test your sea legs, not schmaltzy cruises. That’s not to say you become a galley slave, but do enjoy some old-world genteel-ness.
Snaking through: The Pride of Africa cuts a picturesque swathe through the Transvaal region in South Africa. Photo: Rovos.com•The Shipping Corp. of India runs passenger services to Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ships leave from Kochi, Chennai, Visakhapatnam and Kolkata; prices start at Rs 1,960 for a bunk, and go up to Rs 7,640 for deluxe cabins. For details, visit www.shipindia.com
•For a more deluxe experience, budget for a few extra days the next time you need to cross the Atlantic, and make it a historic crossing. Cunard Line, the company that operated the historic passenger liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, still operates on the trans-Atlantic route.
Queen Mary II, the successor to Queen Mary, which crosses from Southampton in England to New York in the US in seven days, is currently the only passenger ship between Europe and North America and passage on the luxury ship costs $895-3,795 (around 46,540-1.97 lakh) per head for twin-sharing. For details, visit www.cunard.com
If the prospect of seasickness daunts you, there are other ways to time-travel.
Last month, the Indian Railways launched the longest train route in the country, mapping a varied 4,285km course. The weekly Vivek Express leaves Dibrugarh in Assam every Saturday just before midnight and arrives at Kanyakumari 82- and-a-half hours later.
If travelling three-and-a-half days (likely more) on an Indian train doesn’t sound like much of a vacation, there are the half-dozen palaces on wheels. And there are other railways in the world. Here’s our wish list:
• Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express: Do the world’s longest train route in comfort. Inaugurated in 2007, this entirely en suite train operated by the Russian Railways and a British travel company runs from Moscow to Vladivostok on two different routes. Depending on the route, the journey could take up to 15 days and set you back by £8,595-16,795 (around Rs 6.96-13.6 lakh). For details, visit www.gwtravel.co.uk
Eastern and Oriental Express: How many times have you been to Singapore? Next time, go in style. Though this isn’t the train Agatha Christie made famous, this luxury service between Singapore and Bangkok certainly does take you back to an era of regal pampering. The stunning views of River Kwai from the train’s observation car will be worth every cent of the £1,440-3,010 that you fork out for this four-day journey. For details, visit www.orient-express.com
• Pride of Africa: This is an epic journey, as envisioned by Cecil John Rhodes. Cutting through the length of Africa, the train leaves Cape Town in South Africa and reaches Cairo in Egypt 28 or 34 days later, depending on an aircraft option. The train passes through some of the most stunning landscape on earth. The tickets are priced at Rand (ZAR) 12,950-25,900 (around Rs 81,836-163,681). For details, visit www.rovos.com
28. Follow your wings
To follow that shy, winged friend of yours into deep, dense forests, waiting for a glimpse in silence and identifying its call in the early hours—birders will tell you what sort of meditation that is. You might have attempted some weekend birding in your city. In the coming year, get your binoculars, trekking shoes and privilege leaves in order and follow a bird—a rare, endangered, exotic, or simply beautiful, bird—across the subcontinent.
A migratory bird, the Osprey, flies all the way from Europe in winter (November-February). It’s a magnificent raptor and feeds on fish. So lakes, rivers and other water bodies are where you should be headed. The Kaziranga National Park in Assam or the Sultanpur National Park in Haryana, the backwaters of Kaveri and the Kutch region of Gujarat are your best bets.
Shy guy: The Malabar Trogon is known to be shy but gets spotted for its spotted belly. Photo: Shiva Shankar
The more discerning birders could go after the rare Malabar Trogon. This beautiful, red-bellied bird is endemic to the Western Ghats and lives in dense, evergreen forests. You’re most likely to spot it in the Konkan belt, south of Goa. Anshi National Park in Karnataka, the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary and Eravikulam National Park in Kerala, Silent Valley National Park in the Nilgiri hills and Nagorhole National Park near Bangalore should be on your map.
Apart from a love for birds, and an observant pair of eyes and ears, you may need to do some studying so you know who that beauty perched on that droopy branch is. Beginners could get a copy of Salim Ali’s quintessential The Book of Indian Birds (Oxford University Press, around Rs 495), which packs in comprehensive information on habitats, nesting, migration and other trivia. A more recent book to pick up is Birds of the Indian Subcontinent: A Field Guide by Ranjit Manakadan, J.C. Daniel and Nikhil Bhopale, published by the Bombay Natural History Society and Oxford University Press (around Rs 550).
29. Pick up the pen
In 2007, poet Robert Frost’s private notebooks were published. Analysts were amazed: He seemed dyslexic, deranged, and nothing he wrote seemed to make sense. In losing handwriting to the keyboard, we have lost the core of the creative process. It has become easier to delete, so we think less about what we “commit to paper” (a term in itself suggestive of a long-term promise), spellings are auto- corrected, so we care less about mastering our language. We invest less in our personal creative processes when we do not allow ourselves the beauty of a poem rewritten, scratched and overwritten. Moods, captured in the tilt and pressure of a pen, or the slant of a letter, are replaced by the monotone of a universal font that gives away nothing that words don’t.
The written word, as a creative art, was once about individuality of expression. A writer was defined by the kind of pen he used, how blue or black the “writer’s depression” on his thumb was, and what paper he picked to tell his tale. Stories are incomplete without these. Every artist who still uses his brush and paint knows his mistakes on canvas, and working around them are what distinguish his art.
Rugged Moleskins, your first Waterman, your father’s gold Sheaffer, India Ink and Chinese handmade paper, watermarks and wooden desk to hold them all in—whatever you are writing, book or letter—handwriting is a lost world that must be reclaimed.
30. Go back to your mother tongue
Wondered how your parents read, wrote and spoke more than two languages with ease while you just about manage to juggle English with metropolitan slang?
Full-scale immersion may be impossible, especially in an Indian city. But take a subscription to your regional newspaper, put your native language music on your iPod, and don’t be afraid if relatives back home make fun of your accent. You’ll have bridged the greatest generation gap of them all.