Sometimes it’s not the places we visit that make a trip memorable; rather it’s the people we meet. Don’t get me wrong. Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk Kul, or ‘Hot Lake’ in the local tongue, is a very beautiful place. It is by volume one of the top ten biggest lakes in the world and its location within the Tian Shan mountain range makes the landscape breathtaking to say the least. The region also has a lot of history, the southern stretch being a stopover in the ancient heyday of the famous Silk Road, and the northern shoreline begin popular with holidaymakers during the Soviet era. During my three-day journey around the lake, I wasn’t expecting much in terms of sightseeing but was pleasantly surprised by the interesting people I met along the way.
Falling in love with India is a gradual affair. First the country flirts with you to get your attention, and before you even know what is happening, it entices you with its endless charms. You may be looking for a quick thing to tide you over until your next trip, but India wants more from you than just a superficial relationship; it’s looking for a deeper commitment, one that seeks to bind itself to your heart and soul. Slowly and steadily you fall under its enigmatic spell, and before you know it, there’s a new though sometimes complicated love in your life.
Any reason is a good reason to visit Cuba. Perhaps the legendary music is the island’s greatest draw or maybe it’s the colonial architecture and wonderfully preserved history that offers the appeal. There is plenty of rum and loads of cigars to keep visitors happy, not to mention endless stretches of soft white sandy beaches. For many, the country’s post as one of the last standing ‘real’ communist bastions – despite decades of pressure from the west – is of great interest. And of course, there are the people. A colorful melting pot of cultures from Spain, Africa and Asia, among other locales, this tiny Caribbean island of eleven million represents diversity at its finest.
Slovakia today is a very modern country, which, as a member of the European Union, has open borders with most of its neighbors. The capital city of Bratislava is within an hour’s drive from three of them, namely the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary, and is an incredibly easy commute from the Austrian capital of Vienna. Slovakia has seen many changes in the last few decades that have made it completely different from what it was a mere quarter century ago when it was part of the Soviet satellite state of Czechoslovakia, and while evidence of that change exists everywhere, the best place to get a sense of the country’s dramatic transformation is right on the border with Austria, in a sleepy little town called Devin.
Planning a trip through Central Asia is never easy, especially if there is a border crossing involved. The Soviet plan to integrate the many different nationalities and create harmony by displacing people and moving them around did not work. All five of the independent, post-Soviet, Central Asian countries are so different from each other that there is an abrupt change that can definitely be felt when crossing each border. Located in the southeastern part of this region, Tajikistan shares its borders with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China and Afghanistan, and is culturally and linguistically more similar to Afghanistan than any of the others.
I didn’t think the day could get any better as we witnessed a pod of magnificent orcas gliding by our ship, riding the waves around ice sculptures that could have been made by Michelangelo himself, but it did. As soon as we stepped foot on frozen land, we were greeted by a welcome committee of thousands of Adelie penguins dressed in their finest tuxes. They paraded all around us as they headed to and from their nests on the rocks to the sea on a well-trafficked path, or the ‘penguin highway’, as it’s often called. Most waddled in a perfect line, though occasionally a few would opt to slide down the hills to cut the trek short.
At the mere mention of Italy, travellers’ heads are filled with images of famed masterpieces, majestic churches and revered historical sights, not to mention food and wine – the glorious food and wine! – of this fabled destination. Most people pinpoint the well-known triad of Rome, Florence and Venice, and feel they’ve seen the country once these must-sees are crossed off their bucket lists. The truth, however, is that one can’t truly appreciate Italy as viewed solely via some frenetic whirlwind tour. Italy demands the time it takes to slow down, engage your senses and fully indulge in la dolce vita.
Three years ago I journeyed across the Sahara to Senegal. For many, Africa is the vast open plains and wildlife of its east and southern parts, but while West Africa may not have safaris it does have beautiful landscapes, an excellent cuisine and a very colourful culture. I now live in Abene, a small village near the beach that is home to many artists and musicians. In fact, every day I hear the pounding rhythms of drums; local people walk to its beat, which is as much of the backdrop to Abene as the chirrup of insects in the dark night. Tourists visit Abene to learn African dance and drumming, to relax on the stunning beaches or at New Year to visit the festival that attracts African artists from across the region.
Svelte and graceful, the lithe tigress made her way through the tall grass, her movements barely making a whisper. She had come to check on her three cubs, who were playfully engaged but who stopped dutifully to follow her. We watched in awe as this elegant creature in her glorious stripes crossed the road in front of our safari jeep. Though we knew the tigress was fully aware of us, she never glanced our away, preferring to remain aloof and distant. The cubs trailed after their mother, one at a time, closely adhering to her path. Two of the trio made it to the other side; the third balked and retreated back into the grass. The tigress quickly headed back to retrieve her baby. It was a privileged moment for our group and we reveled in the good fortune and timing that had allowed us to witness this amazing scene at Ranthambore National Park in northern India.