Travel Category

EXPLORING HYDERABAD- THE CITY OF PEARLS

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A couple of weekends ago, a family function made me travel to Hyderabad. Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh (and soon to be the joint capital of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana ) is one of the largest, and most populous cities of Southern India, with a population of over 7 million. Hyderabad, is also known as the “City of Pearls”, as also the “City of Nizams”.  

Charminar, Hyderabad

After a couple of days of exploring the sights and sounds of Hyderabad, the first thing that struck me, and actually a question I asked myself was “ Why is Hyderabad not a more prominent city on the world tourism map? “ In my view, less than 1 % of the total international tourists who travel to India travel to Hyderabad --- which is actually appalling, given that the city has a lot to offer tourists. From monuments like the Charminar and the Golconda Fort (which even has a Sound and Light show in the evenings), museums like the Salarjung Museum (which has a great collection of the Nizam’s jewellery, artifacts etc), to excellent shopping opportunities, to great food, good bars, great Hotels, Hyderabad seems to have it all.  Talking of Hotels, I would actually say that the Faluknuma Palace in itself is enough reason to visit Hyderabad. Towering above the city’s skyline, the Faluknuma Palace, the erstwhile home of the Nawab of Hyderabad, is now a luxury hotel managed by the Taj Group.

Golconda Fort, Hyderabad

Of course, in addition to the Faluknuma Palace, Hyderabad does have a good variety of other deluxe hotels too, from the Taj Krishna to the ITC Kakatiya. For the travelling Golfer in me, Hyderabad was good too, and both, the HGA Golf Course as well as the Boulders Hills Golf club offering challenging layouts and excellent facilities.  At the end of actually spending 3 days experiencing Hyderabad, doing a fair bit of sightseeing, playing a bit of Golf, doing a bit of shopping and dining out, I was actually convinced, that we as in the Tourism Industry and as in the Govt of India Tourism authorities, need to do a whole lot more and the city definitely needs to be showcased more prominently of the International tourism stage.  

The author, Kapil Goswamy is the Managing Director of Trans India Holidays, New Delhi.  


GOLF IN SRINAGAR, KASHMIR

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I just wanted to share something interesting that I and my Golfing buddies did last weekend. Well, it wasn't officially a long weekend, but we decided to take Friday off and do a three-day golfing trip to ...Guess where... Srinagar, Kashmir.

Golf in Srinagar, Kashmir

With a lot of apprehensions and skepticism, we froze on Srinigar as our destination .... and believe me, we were glad we did. The valley was just as beautiful as I had expected and remembered it to be (from my last trip 26 years ago), and the Golf far exceeded our expectations. The Royal Springs Golf Course (just off the Boulevard road and just a mile from the Lalit Grand Palace) was a delight, to say the least. Perfectly manicured and lush green fairways, punishing roughs, fast but true Greens ----- the Royal Springs Course is actually one of the best I've played on, and believe me, I've played on quite a few courses around the world. For a course of this standard, Green Fees are pegged at an acceptable level of about Usd 40 for 18 holes. Carts and Caddies are also available.

In addition to falling in love with the Golf Course there, the other important thing was, the feeling of complete safety and security while travelling in Kashmir. Fingers crossed, but the Omar Abdullah Government seems to have got its act together on security issues, and while one did see a significant amount of security forces present, we felt pretty safe and comfortable.

Golf in India

In addition to the roundtrips between the Hotel and the Golf Course, we did travel around a fair bit -- did the usual touristy thing of a Shikara(Kashmiri Gondola) Ride on the Dal Lake, visited the Mughal Gardens , and also did a trip to Gulmarg, including taking the Cable car ride up to about 3800 mtrs above sea level. The Gulmarg Golf Course, at an altitude of about 2600 mtrs, is said to be the highest green Golf course in the world. Currently being upgraded, it is supposed to reopen in the next month or two. There are of course a few telltale signs of the state has gone through hard times, but, other than that --- what the Mughal Emperor Jehangir said about Kashmir "If there is paradise anywhere on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here." seemed so true. It is breathtakingly beautiful!!!

Accommodation wise, Srinagar now as 3 good options, The Lalit Grand Palace , a wonderful 5 star Heritage Palace Hotel overlooking the Dal Lake, then there is the new 5 star Vivanta by Taj Dal View, set on a hilltop overlooking the Lake , and then, there are of course the famous Deluxe Houseboats on the Dal and Nagin Lakes. The Houseboats, while called Deluxe, are about a 3-star standard only, but are very cost-effective accommodation for those wanting to experience Kashmir on a limited budget.

Golf holiday in Srinagar

Flights to and from Srinagar, were surprisingly inexpensive, with roundtrip fares (restricted advance purchase) being available as low as Usd 100 per person. Since it was just a three-day trip, we couldn't visit Pahalgam, the third point in Kashmir's golden triangle of Srinigar, Gulmarg, and Pahalgam, but friends in the local tourism industry told us, that if we liked the Golf in Srinigar, we would love the Pahalgam Golf Course. Pahalgam, about 2 hours away from Srinigar by road, and also, an extremely scenic quaint little resort town, now has an 18 hole Championship course, which I understand is wonderful too !! On the flight back, our four balls took the unanimous decision--- that, our next golf outing would be Kashmir again !! (we all need to work for a few weeks in between though !). The attached images will give you an idea of why !!!!

The author, Kapil Goswamy is the Managing Director/CEO of Trans India Holidays , based in New Delhi,India.


SIGHTSEEING AND EATING OUT IN MUMBAI

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Last weekend I did something I hadn’t done for years - which was a weekend trip with the family to Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, the city of Bollywood, and perhaps India’s most cosmopolitan city. Not too much seemed to have changed in Mumbai, except that the roads seem to be getting even more crowded than before if that was possible!! One thing that has changed though is the drive from the Airport to South Mumbai (The area with all of Mumbai’s tourist attractions) via the Bandra Worli Sea Link, an architectural marvel that not only looks great but also cuts the travel time to south Mumbai by almost 30 minutes. After spending just a few hours in Mumbai, I was convinced that south Mumbai, and the areas close to Nariman Point and the Gateway of India, were the only places where a tourist would want to be in while visiting Mumbai.

Worli Sea Link

The must-see and do’s of Mumbai, would be the the Gateway of India, Mumbai’s iconic monument facing the Arabian sea, built to honor the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary during the British Raj, a drive past Marine Drive, Mumbai’s popular promenade facing the sea, a visit to Mani Bhavan ,a house where the father of our nation Mahatma Gandhi spent a lot of time, that has been converted into a small museum … one of the must do’s in Mumbai would be having a cup of tea, or rather a High Tea, with pastries, scones, and kebabs and at the Sea Lounge of the Taj Mahal Hotel. Next, to the Gateway of India, the Taj Mahal Hotel is possibly the most photographed building in Mumbai.

The Taj Mahal Hotel with Gateway of India

The two other activities that I would highly recommend in Mumbai would be, first the Heritage Walking Tour, and then the Elephanta Island trip. The Walking tour that we did start at the Gateway of India, lasted about 2½ hrs and we walked past many of Mumbai’s colonial heritage buildings and landmarks including the Regal Cinema, Elphinston College, the David Sasoon Library, the Victoria Train station, the Prince of Wales Museum, etc. We loved the walk, wasn’t too tiring in spite of the weather, and the architecture of this area, coupled with the energy that surrounds you while you are on the streets of Mumbai, made it well worth the effort and I would certainly say it’s a must-do. The Elephanta Caves, a few miles into the sea, accessible by boat (a very basic public boat service is the only way to go) were next on our agenda. A World Heritage Site, the rock-cut Elephanta Caves, built between the 5th and the 8th centuries, house temples mainly dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva – another must-do for visitors o Mumbai. Just one suggestion—if you can, avoid doing the Elephanta trip on Sundays and weekends - the boats can get extremely crowded.

Enough about sightseeing... the foodies that we are, we also decided to sample some of Mumbai’s restaurants, Trishna and Mahesh’s (both located in South Mumbai close to the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Marine Drive) was tops as far as Indian food went, and among the others we tried, Mumbai’s famous Olive Bar and Kitchen (in the western suburb of Bandra) and Le Pain Quotidian (a European style eatery located a stones throw from the Gateway of India) were great places to eat at.

The author, Kapil Goswamy is the Managing Director/CEO of Trans India Holidays, based in New Delhi, India.


A CYCLING TOUR OF OLD DELHI

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Last Sunday, instead of lazing at home and catching up on my sleep, I decided to do something a bit more adventurous—a Bicycle tour of Old Delhi. I had read about "Delhi by Cycle" on the internet, and their concept of exploring the narrow lanes of Old Delhi and its sights on bicycle got me interested. Booking the tour was really easy and I choose their trip called the "Shahjahan Tour".

Cycle tour in Delhi

Reached the tour starting point (Opposite Delite Cinema in Old Delhi) at 6.30am and found these bright orange bicycles and our tour guides in orange tee-shirts waiting. There were 4 other people on my tour and two guides. After a small briefing, we started the cycle tour. It took me a while to get used to riding the bicycle (I hadn’t ridden one in years), but got in the rhythm soon—fortunately, cycling is one of the skills, which if you have learned once, you never forget. We cycled in single file, with one of our guides in the front, leading us through the narrow lanes and another one, in the end, to make sure no one was left behind. It wasn’t really my first time in Old Delhi, but Old Delhi at this time of the day felt like a new experience with its sights, smells, and sounds. It was a very different perspective to the city where I have actually lived for almost 15 years. Though it being Sunday morning, most shops, etc. were closed, but the lanes were still full of a lot of activity. We stopped briefly at Fatehpuri Mosque, a storehouse in the Spice market, a South Indian Temple in the old city area, before heading onto the Civil lines. Had quick stops at the famous Maiden’s hotel and Lt Governors House, before breaking for a cup of piping hot tea and biscuits at a roadside tea stall.

Cycle tour in Old Delhi

Post the tea break we headed back towards the Old Delhi area. Once again cycling through the narrow lanes, but now it was getting busier and we were getting tired. Passed through the Chandini Chowk market, stopped at the Red Fort and Jama Masjid. By this time we had spent about 2½ hours riding and covered about 12 kms. Feeling exhausted and hungry, our small group headed towards the last highlight of the tour, which was the breakfast stop at a restaurant behind Jama Masjid (it was meant to be the famous Karim’s, but it being the month of Ramadan, Karim’s was closed). Had a hearty breakfast of fresh bread and daal (others had Nahari meat curry instead). Post breakfast a short ride back to our starting point, for goodbyes to our guides, who were really nice guys, and other group members.

I’m really glad I took the tour, it rekindled my love for cycling and I promised myself to buy a cycle and start cycling at least on the weekends and very importantly, allowed me to look at Delhi differently too. I would recommend the tour to anyone who is reasonably fit, who enjoys cycling and wants to discover the sights, sounds and smells of Old Delhi.

The writer, Rajesh Kaushik is the General Manager of Trans India Holidays in New Delhi, India.


INDIA TOURISM — A CASE OF MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

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It is certainly true that India as a tourist destination offers a whole lot more to tourists than most other destinations can, from the peaks of the Himalayas to the Tea Gardens of Assam to the backwaters of Kerala, to the white sandy beaches of Goa, and above all, monuments like the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world--- India has all of this and much more , but sadly, India gets fewer tourists than most of its competing nations.

There are quite a few reasons as to why India only gets a minuscule percentage of the world’s tourists. Prominent amongst these are our lack of infrastructure, visa’s being difficult and expensive, the perception regarding lack of safety and security, etc.

When it comes to infrastructure, sadly, we are way behind our neighboring countries or other Asian destinations – the drive from Delhi to Agra has improved and is now world-class, but, when you look at other highways, it’s a sad situation. The drive from Jaipur to Delhi, a distance of about 250 kms, could take up to 7 hours! Likewise, the drive from Bangalore to Mysore, a distance of only about 150 kms, could take up to 5 hours! It is just not the roads or the lack of them, it is basic facilities like clean toilets that are lacking in most of our highways.

Then there is air connectivity – while things have improved quite a bit in the last few years, our national carries Air India, unfortunately, hasn’t done much to improve connectivity to India from major tourism producing countries. Compare ourselves to Dubai or Singapore, where the national carriers because of their strength, network, and connections, bring in thousands of tourists.

A lot of tourists intending to travel to India are deterred by the high cost and the time taken to obtain a Visa for India. With short lead times and last minute vacation planning becoming more and more common, travelers obviously choose destinations that are easy to get to in terms of the visa. Competing destinations like Thailand, Singapore, Hongkong, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc, either require no visas at all or have visas that are available on arrival. Even countries like Turkey, that are serious about their tourism, have introduced e-visa that can be obtained on the internet.

As a country, we have so much to show, in terms of history and culture, but, unfortunately, greed and dishonesty seems to have crept in, and crept in so deep, that it mars the tourist’s good experiences too! Tourists visiting the Jama Masjid (the largest Mosque in India ) are forced to pay a camera fee when there is actually nothing to be paid. Tourists traveling in auto rickshaws often end up paying 3 or 4 times the usual fare!

We really need to get our act together , and the Government needs to understand the importance of tourism, both in terms of its cultural exchange value , and in terms of its economic value, and do things that will attract visitors to our shores--- getting our act together on the infrastructure front , lowering of taxes on tourism product ( taxes in Delhi for example constitute almost 40% of the Hotel costs) , ensuring the safety and security of tourists travelling (particularly female travellers), would be the first steps towards this .

We also need to have more leisure activities for tourists, travellers are very happy to see monuments, forts, and palaces, but a lot of them even want nightlife and evening entertainment, good golfing facilities, etc, facilities which sadly, most of our tourist destinations lack. For example, Goa, India’s most sought after beach holiday destination, does not till date, have a world-class Championship Golf course something that every other beach holiday destination offers.

Having said all of this, India certainly does have lots to attract tourists, monuments like the Taj Mahal, Tiger Reserves like Kanha and Bandhavgarh, the frozen deserts of Ladakh, the pristine backwaters of Kerala, the 400-year-old temples of Southern India, the list is actually endless !!!