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Imagine starting your day in the heart of Brussels, Belgium, then head north up to Rotterdam for lunch and city explorations, and come back by evening down south to Paris for the quintessential French coffee and a dinner for the kings. Well, this did fit in perfectly in my dreams earlier, but quite recently I also realised that it's possible in real life too - and that without the rush that you might connect with a trip like this.

Exploring Europe with Thalys!

Comfortable interior spaces

An obvious question is how, and I can answer that in one simple word - Thalys. Some of you might already be familiar about them, but I wasn't. It was only when they invited me to come on-board for a trip across Europe that I learnt about them - and now I can't stop telling anyone traveling to Europe to try them out, especially if speed and service is high on your priority.

So what is Thalys?Thalys is the high-speed red train which travels from Paris to Brussels in 1 hour 22 minutes, to Cologne in 3 hours 14 minutes and Amsterdam in only 3 hours and 16 minutes. Since April 2014, Thalys has also provided a link between Amsterdam and Lille in a time of 2 hours and 40 minutes. In Germany, Thalys takes you as far as Dortmund since 2016. Connecting four countries, Belgium, France, Netherlands and Germany by fast trains, Thalys is the only truly multicultural rail service to have achieved a high-speed international link between these.

Thalys

The motto of the company, Welcome to our World, not only welcomes you to one country, but also connects the cultures of four different countries by making it easier and faster for people to commute. Plus, when you add on the excellent on-board services (including great meals and free wifi), the package is almost irresistible.

One day, three countries - my experiences!Before I tell you more about how you can use Thalys to plan your trip, let me give an overview of how my day exploring three different countries with Thalys went!

1. Brussels, BelgiumI started my day early in the morning and spent chilling out by the window in my room and enjoying what I enjoy the most in my mornings - coffee! The city was overcast with clouds, but that was perfectly alright as I was as moody as the city itself.

Brussels in the evening! 

Sunset in Brussels...

The past few days in Belgium had been hectic - I had spent them exploring Brussels, Ghent and Brugge, and I was now ready to leave the city and explore some more of that famed European summer.

I stayed at the Zoom Hostel in Brussels, and though there was no air conditioning in my room, I was happy to get a feel of the warmth of the city. The hotel is located in a great locality and you can easily walk to the bus stand as well as the metro station. I actually walked to most places in the city whenever I had time - I always saw so much more, like last evening when Shayla and I walked back from city center to the hotel.

Chilling inside my room in Brussels

Soon it was time for the lovely Belgian breakfast - I had waffles (which I made myself) and coffee with fruits and I was ready to head out.

I was fresh as ever as we boarded our first Thalys, but looking at the comfortable seats, I was almost tempted to take a mini nap, but then Rotterdam was just over an hour and I wanted to enjoy the views and some of that famed on-board services! None disappointed - the sky had opened up and we could enjoy both the Belgian and Dutch landscapes, and I also enjoyed my second round of breakfast in the train! Damn...it's so impossible to watch my diet when I am traveling - I simply eat and eat and eat!

Stay tip for Brussels: While you are in Brussels, plan you stay the Zoom hotel. It's located a little away from the city center (but still walk-able if you enjoy walking European cities) and also very competitively priced. The rooms are nice and cozy, and their breakfasts are simply delightful.

2. Rotterdam, NetherlandsThe next on the trip was a completely new city for me - Rotterdam. Rotterdam was one of the most unfortunate cities during the second worlds war. It was bombed and completely flattened out during the seize and later took years to recover from the destruction. However, the city rose as a phoenix and is today one of the most youthful and modern cities of Europe. The contrast with Amsterdam is stark and it takes only a short while before you fall in love with it.

Shayla in Rotterdam

Even I found sometime to chill and look cool :)

But we weren't in Roterdam just to explore the city as a tourist, but on a treasure hunt! My team actually won the hunt (and a Euro 500 pass) but in the process we also got to see the city in a very unique way. What was the most fun part? Well, for me it was talking to the strangers and also taking the cool water taxis! These taxis are just like the yellow and black cabs of Mumbai - just that they ply on the river!

We had a quick lunch at the station, but we were not yet done for the day as our dear old lady, Paris, was waiting for us with open arms.

Stay tip for Rotterdam: We stayed at the award-winning Rotterdam Student Hotel and I simply loved the place. It's a shared space with the university students and that adds a very youthful vibe to the place; additionally there are numerous student parties (even on weekdays) and if you are open to those, you can join them too. It's also walk-able from the river as well as the tram line, so traveling is easy.

3. Paris, FranceWe took an afternoon train to Paris and within just over three hours I was in the city of dreams! I have an old connection with Paris - having visited the city on my first ever Euro trip about a decade back. But this visit was different and was seeped in luxury.

Inside my room in Paris!

We started the evening with one of the most elaborate and delicious French dinner at Restaurant Le Train Bleu, and our stay at Villa Royale certainly made me see a different side of Paris.

Time for dinner!

Stay tip for Paris: Located right by the iconic neighborhood of Montmartre, Villa Royale is a treat for the senses. Located inside an old heritage building, a step inside will take you to 19th Century Paris with rococo style interiors and plush royal decor. The view from the window is to die for as well!

Exploring Europe with Thalys!I am sure you would already be completely impressed with how much can one travel these days across Europe within just a day. Traveling like this could be possible with an airplane as well, but you might end up spending amount of time at the airport, and going through multiple security checks and so on. However, when you travel by train - there is very little stress. You travel between city centers (no long journey from the airport anymore) and you can actually do work while you are traveling (not take-off and landing) with great wi-fi and food during the journey.

The Thalys experience

So how does it actually work?If you are a traveler from India, here's how you can use Thalys for your travels. You can use both Thayls as well as Rail Europe website to make the bookings.

Here's a pro-tip - if you book 90 days (3 months) in advance, you also get the best prices, and these are extremely competitive.

Additionally, if you go and check on their website, there are always some good offers - make sure you check those before you make the booking. For example there is one on right now with which you can travel to Paris for only 19 euros!

So where all can you travel to with Thalys?As I mentioned earlier, Thalys connects four different countries - Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and France. Belgium is the most central city and perhaps the best way would be to start with Brussels (you can fly directly into Brussels with a non-stop flight from Mumbai) and then radiate outwards.

Alternatively, you can start with Amsterdam (again very well connected by flights from India) and then travel downwards. Stay for 2-3 days in each city (or more, if possible) and then move on. Keep a few extra days for Brussels and plan a trip to Ghent and Brugge also - they are both close by and well connected by trains (not Thalys).

Map for all locations covered by Thalys

Finally, end your journey at Paris and spend as many days there as you can. If possible, even plan on traveling outside the city as well.

Tickets for your travelsNow coming to the tickets, there are three categories to pick from:

Standard: These are the cheapest tickets that you can get on Thalys. There is free wifi so you travel connected and stay in contact with your loved ones. At the Thalys Welcome Bar, a large selection of drinks and snacks are available to satisfy every appetite. Plus there are are individual charging points for each passenger.

These are available only 30 days prior to departure date and there are only a limited numbers available. Also, there is no refund or exchange possible for these.

Comfort: If you need flexibility, and expect last minute change of plans, this is the ticket category for you. Apart form everything you get in standard tickets, here the seats are more spacious and comfortable.

These tickets are exchangeable up to the time of departure indicated on the ticket. A fee of 15 euros is applicable, as well as any price difference between the old and new ticket. The cost is 50% refundable if cancelled before the time of departure indicated on the ticket.

Premium: With a premium ticket, you enjoy a flexible fare and the full range of services. You travel in full comfort and benefit from the greatest flexibility to exchange or cancel your ticket up to the last minute. At any time of day, a delicious meal made from regional, seasonal ingredients is served at your seat. Multilingual newspapers and magazines are available for reading. Also, you will have access to the Thalys Lounges for a pleasant experience before or after your journey.

Needless to mention, the Standard is the cheapest and the Premium is the most expensive ticket. Which one should you pick?

Well, I think if you are a traveler visiting Europe on a planned trip, standard is a great choice. You can bring and eat your own food (the longest trip is also only 3.5 hours) and save some money for things to do in the destination city.

However, Premium is best for business travelers. You get good food, newspapers, hi speed internet, and can continue to work while you are on-board.

Still got a question? Write to me in the comment below and I will do my best to answer.

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Disclaimer: I traveled to Europe in collaboration with Thalys to review their services. All the views expressed above are unbiased and based on my own personal experiences. Some of the train pictures above have been provided by Thalys as part of the media kit.
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I celebrated Eid at the twin tombs of Tansen and Mohammad Ghaus in Gwalior, and came back with so much more respect for these spectacular mystics and musicians from the 16th century. Gwalior as a city is full of beautiful heritage monuments, yet these tombs are unique in their own way and are the best examples of the flourishing Indo-Islamic form of architecture during that era. The two tombs have contrasting styles, yet they compliment each other perfectly and co-exist in harmony.

Tomb of Mohammad Ghaua

Much simpler Tansen tomb

A little bit about TansenMost of us know Tansen as a musician in the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar. He wasn't just one of the musicians but the most important one and was also a part of the legendary nav ratans (nine jewels) in Akbar's court. However, often we don't know much about his life before he joined Akbar's court. In fact he was already 60 years old when he moved from Gwalior to Delhi, and was already rather famous in North India.

Tansen was born in a Hindu family and his father was a famous musician and poet in Gwalior and Tansen also was musically inclined from early childhood. Tansen was trained under the legendary guru, Swami Haridas who was the musician in the court of Raja Man Singh Tomar. Maharaja also conferred the title of Tansen on the young man (his birth name was Ramtanu).

Tansen's music was also heavily influenced by his interactions with Mohammad Ghaus, a Sufi saint, poet and traveller. This was the time of Bhakti movement and when music broke through the shackles of Sanskrit and many compositions were made in local Brijbhasha and early Hindi. Tansen led this from the forefront.

Tansen's fame reached zenith at Akbar's court and was much loved by the king himself. Numerous court record from Akbar's era talk about Tansen and his legendary music, often miraculous in nature. He is most well known for two ragas - raag Deepak and raag megh malhar. When he sang raag Deepak, lamps used to light up and when he sand megh malhar, rains would follow.

Tombs of Mohammad Ghaus and TansenConflicting reports exist about Tansen's death and last rites. Some accounts mention his last rites were conducted according to Muslim traditions while others mention that it was done as per Hindu traditions.

Jali work inside the tomb


Large garden area in the complex

I attended the sound and light show at Gwalior fort and that talks about how Akbar invited all musicians of the country to be a part of Tansen's funeral procession. His remains were buried in the mausoleum complex next to Mohammad Ghaus' tomb in Gwalior.

Why does Muhammad Ghaus have a tomb here?
Well, the Muslim saint assisted Babur when he conquered the fort of the city in 1526, and was much beloved by numerous Mughal emperors. Hence the tomb here in Gwalior.

Tomb of Mohammad Ghaus 
The tomb is fairly large in size and has a square plan. The dome is large and a little flattened as compared to the other Islamic tombs that you see in the subcontinent. Back in the days it was completely covered by blue ceramic tiles, though today only a few remain.

Tomb of Ghaus Mohammad

Inside the tomb of Ghaus Mohammad

I loved the walls of the tombs the most - they are all made with exquisite jaalis, different on all the walls. The jaalis allowed light and air to enter and kept the tomb well ventilated. I walked through the tomb late in the afternoon and completely well in love with the patterns that these jaalis made on the floor and inner walls of the tomb - it's a view unlike any other! Simply stunning...

"It has hexagonal domed kiosks at its corners together with sloping eaves that project from exterior, features both taken from the Hindu architectural tradition."Reference.

Tomb of TansenAs compared to the tomb of Ghaus, Tansen's tomb is really small and it's easy to miss unless you actually look for it. I asked a few people in the complex about it and they pointed to a general direction, which didn't help much. The only reason I could identify the tomb was because of a small stone carving just outside.

Old man taking a walk

Perhaps Tansen was a simple man and his tomb is meant to live up to his ways of living. I actually found it more peaceful and welcoming and I could simply sit next to his grave and imagine what life was like back then. Of course, it was simply my own imagination, influenced, of course by the early Bollywood movies on his life. In fact I think it's time to revisit some of those to appreciate Tansen's work even more.

There is a tradition of tying a thread at tombs of Muslim saints when you make a wish. When the wish gets fulfilled you need to come again to offer your gratitude and untie the thread - it need not be the same thread, but can be any thread. Curiously I didn't see fabric threads at Tansen's tomb but plastic ties. Wonder why that was...

Practical details:Entry fee: Free
Timing: Sunrise to sunset
Toilets: Yes, right before the entrance
Address: Tansen Tomb, Tansen Nagar, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh - 474002

To reach the tombs:The best way to reach the tombs would be in an auto-rickshaw. Gwalior also has Ola cab service, so it's pretty easy to take those as well. If you have a full-day cab or driving on your own, parking is much easier at the back gate especially on the busy days.

Here's a map for reference:

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As the winter was slowly setting in Delhi on an October morning in 1325, Khusro breathed his last, sitting by the side of his beloved master, Hazrat Nizamuddin, in Delhi. Later he was buried next to his master, just as he desired.

I wrote a fictional account of the last few months of his life inspired by his famous lines in Farsi.

"Mun tu shudam tu mun shudi,mun tun shudam tu jaan shudi
Taakas na guyad baad azeen, mun deegaram tu deegari"

It roughly translates in English to:

"I have become you, and you me,
I am the body, you soul;
So that no one can say hereafter,
That you are someone, and me someone else.” 

An old man praying at Nizamuddin's dargah

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The last few tormenting days of my lifeWhen the sun was slowing rising on my last day of the trip, I had a vision. It was a blur of images, and most of them had my Master calling out to me, holding my hand and guiding me, His holy voice revealing the eternal truth, His cold kisses telling me how much he loved me, more than anyone else, and how I came just next to the supreme Allah. These visions told me nothing, just pressed me to move faster and not waste even a moment more on the journey. I entertained no guests, including Sultan's messengers who were waiting patiently for me at the gates of Delhi.

As I walked closer to my master's home, I saw faces all around, men and women, old and young, friends and enemies, all covered in tears, some silent in grief, others wailing. They were waiting for me, but didn't know how to approach to me, what to tell me. Leaving my horse on the side, I ran on my bare feet, to the doors of my God. There were flowers everywhere, some on the walls, others crushed on the ground, and the air heavy with the smell of incense. As I got closer, I could hear Alam's distant voice singing praises to the Master, often breaking down and wailing in grief. As the truth dawned upon me, I ran even faster.

Throwing my turban on the side and my coat on the side, I ran barefoot. I was late already, and my grief knew no boundaries. Delirious with emotions I hadn't experienced before, I tore all my clothes and collapsed on the floor, crying my heart out - calling out to him, crying out to him. No one came close to me, no one consoles me, for they knew they were not a part of the moment anymore. Life as I knew it was already over, what remained was just my lifeless body...

For the next six months, I saw nothing but an image of my master, peace be upon him, heard nothing but his sweet voice singing praise to Allah. Everything else was a blur - like a make-believe world, a world which didn't actually exist. Then finally when He couldn't take it anymore, he decided it was time for me to let go, of everything that was holding me back. It was time for me to be reunited and become one with my Master.

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Khusrow's poetry is often full of love and it's hard not to relate to all that he said centuries ago. I admire his work greatly and here's another couplet which I personally love:

"Khusrau darya prem ka, ulti wa ki dhaar, 
Jo utra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar."

English translation:

Oh Khusrau, the river of love,
Runs in strange directions.
One who jumps into it drowns,
And one who drowns, gets across.
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When I was doing my architecture course, I learned about one of the renowned architects of the twentieth century, Kisho Kurokawa - who designed world's first capsule hotel - Nakagin Capsule Tower. At that time, I was deeply fascinated by the idea and had this desire to live in one. This wish never left my mind; I was lucky when in the year 2016 when I visited Tokyo, I booked one for a night and got a chance to experience one.

My Capsule Hotel

In Japanese, these hotels are called "kapuseru " and the most famous one is Nine Hours which is frequently visited at the Tokyo Airport - gives you a glimpse of the housing of tomorrow.
Rekijo koka are the ones solely for women - perfect for female visitors who have a strong interest in history.

A bit of history about Capsule HotelsThe history of a capsule hotel dates back a long time. It seems these hotels were made for the working class Japanese men who would finish their day late or were drinking in izakayas and if they missed the last train to home return home, or were too ashamed to go back home to face their wives, they would slide themselves into these pods. It was hardly glamorous then and just worked for them at super cheap cost. It is now exotic as well as super-good as a budget hotel for young travellers - becoming trendy as an accommodation option for travellers all around Asia and Europe.

The Capsule hotel at Asakusa Riverside is the one I stayed in, and I thought it was a decent one both as per the reviews I read online as well as my personal experience. The price per night wasn't high and cost me around 2500 JPY, which isn’t bad at all considering usual hotel prices in Tokyo.

Outside the hotel

It’s also situated just a 1-minute walk from Asakusa Subway Station which is amidst busy marketplace. I even ate the local ramen soup after consulting at the reception.

Food time!

Ramen!

Checking-in at the Capsule hotelAfter I booked a stay, I arrived late, walking around the neighbourhood, while making sure I knew my pod. At the reception desk, I was given the keys to my lockers. There are lockers to put the luggage/belongings, and another - smaller one to store your clothes, coat, slippers.  It is mandatory to leave your shoes in the locker and put on the slippers from the hotel. Shouldn't get inside the room with your shoes on as disrespecting in Japan to do so.

At the reception

My room, my bed :)

Once you get in the capsules area, you will have a capsule number and a key. The place is super quiet, so making less noise, find yours in the row, open it and draw back the curtain to slip into the bed.

Facilities at the Capsule HotelThere is a wall mounted TV, which will typically only has Japanese channels to watch; there was also a radio, an adjustable alarm clock and a lamp which you can turn on to read at night. It reminded me of AC coaches in our Indian trains.

TV!

Ah! So much space :)

Each sleeping area on the floor has showers and baths just outside for the guests.

Simple and basic bathroom

Space for luggage

You’ll just have to remember to be careful when you wake up, avoid getting bumped on your forehead!

Tips for female travellers1) Read about the hotel you are booking. You should read the experience of other female reviewers
2) Have a decent budget - higher budget can get you better places
3) There are also men-only and female only hotels, and even female-only dorms, to have a peaceful sleep in the night, you can choose to book a female only box

If you have already experienced one such stay, do share your experience or next time you are in Japan, don't miss the authentic Japanese experience of sleeping in these small boxes!

If you are interested to know more, read about the trend of capsule hotels here: How capsule became a global trend and also here to know more about how it's become a trend for women travellers too!

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This is a guest-post on Capsule Hotels by M and based on her personal experiences at the hotel.
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If there is one thing these days that's bringing in the whole of Europe closer to the rest of the world, it certainly has to be the UEFA Champions League currently underway across the continent. The annual championship by the Union of European Football Associations, where the best of the best in Europe’s Club Football compete, is a mecca for football lovers from across the world, and this year has been no different!

In case you are wondering what is a football story doing on a travel blog, think again - how about planning a vacation to Europe which matches the schedule of the matches of your favorite football team! You can not only enjoy the matches and live the moments with your team, but also enjoy the sights and sounds of the cities where the matches are happening - and they are planned at some of the most alluring cities of Europe!

Football and travel in Europe - a perfect match!

So this post is for everyone who loves football and travel as I bring together the best of both worlds. But hey, wait - read through till the end of the post - if watching the finals of the Champion’s League has always been your dream, you can win a fully-paid trip for two to watch the finale at Kyiv, Ukraine, plus also get some money to splurge as well :)

Romancing Europe with football!So coming back to UEFA, we are at the semi-final stage now and the draw is down to the four teams competing to enter the finals. Let's see how we can follow these matches and the cities, and make the most of the schedule as travel experiences.

Liverpool, United KingdomLiverpool is the fifth largest metropolitan area in UK, and was one of the leading centers during the industrial revolution too. The city today is most famous because of The Beatles, and many tourists come there only for them. With a long history of 800 years, the city has many historical monuments too - including numerous cathedrals.

Liverpool

The city hosts the first leg of the semi-finalbetween Liverpool FC and AS Romaon 24th April.

Reach a couple of days in advance (at least) to explore the city and leave the night of the match to reach Munich on time for catch next match in Munich.

Munich, GermanyLocated on the banks of river Isar, Munich is a major center of art, technology, sports, automobiles and more! It's the capital of Bavaria region of Germany and one of the most visited in the country. The city has a great mix of different architectural styles - both historical and modern, and that's a way of life here as well.

Munich

The first leg of the second semi-final between the biggies - Bayern Munich and Real Madrid takes place here on 25th April!

There are more days before the next match, so do stay back and enjoy the sights here before flying off to Madrid before the end of the month!

Madrid, SpainIt's a bit of a shame that even though I've traveled so much in Spain, I've never been to Madrid - the capital of the country (and it's an anomaly I would love correct soon). The city has many old buildings and lovely architecture, but it's also known for its excellent cuisine and great nightlife. And while you are there don't forget to catch some Flamenco too :)

Madrid

Madrid hosts second leg of the second semifinal between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich on 2nd May!

The next pit stop will be Rome.

Rome, ItalyRome is the capital of Italy, but when you think back in the past, it was almost like the capital of the ancient world as we know it! Many many things have changed over the thousand years or so that it has been around, but one thing has stayed - the charm of the city. It's been years since I was last there, but the memories of the place are still around in my heart.

Rome

The second leg of the first semi-final takes place in Rome between Liverpool FC and AS Roma on 3rd May.

Well, the next match – Champion League Final in Kyiv is more than three weeks later - so it's a tough choice to stay on in the continent, or return back home. I would actually suggest either watch the semis in stadiums, or just come to Europe to catch the finals (read on to know how this is very much possible), unless you have means to sustain for a month in Europe :)

Kyiv, UkraineKyiv is the capital of Ukraine and also itslargest city. Though we know so little about the country, Kyiv is actually one of the most important cultural and industrial cities of Eastern Europe. The city is teeming with history, and many visitors come to simply explore and enjoy its numerous cathedrals. It's also a very green city - it is said that one can walk from one end of Kyiv to the other in the summertime without leaving the shade of its many trees.

Kyiv

However, come May-end and life in the city will change as we know it as it will be immersed in football fever as the city hosts the grand finale happening on 27th May!

Win a trip to Kyiv! And now comes the interesting part that I am sure many of you were waiting for - how to actually make a trip to Kyiv happen to catch the finals!  Axis Bank has tied up with Mastercard to launch an exciting offer for its Forex Card users. As per the offer, customers of Axis Bank Forex Card stand a chance to win an all-expense paid trip for two to watch the UEFA Champions League Final 2018 in Kyiv, Ukraine. The winner will also get a pre-loaded Forex Card with $250 worth of forex to splurge.

If you are curious to know more about the offer, you can get the details here: Axis Bank Forex Card

So what are you waiting for? Let's bring together the love for football and travel and plan a trip to one of my favourite parts of the world - Europe! Have more questions about travel there - feel free to ask me for more details in the comments below.

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Disclaimer: This post is written in collaboration with Axis Bank for their Mastercard Forex card for international travellers.
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Built over 50 years ago in 1963, Mandarin Oriental was then the tallest building in Hong Kong and quickly became an iconic landmark of the city, a status it retains even today. The  magnificent views of the famous Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong’s skyline make the stay at this luxurious hotel an experience in itself. Early this month when I was on a trip to Hong Kong, I was invited to stay as a guest of the hotel for a day, and I came back highly impressed with the services as well as experiences at this iconic hotel.

Mandarin Oriental - iconic since 1963 

Mandarin Oreintal in Hong Kong

Here's an amusing story from it's early years - the hotel was the first have direct-dial telephones and was also the first in Asia to have a bathtub in every room – leading the architect of the hotel to ask, “Are the guests amphibious?”

My tryst with fitnessI typically try and reach a new city early in the day so that I can get maximum number of hours to explore it. However, in case of Hong Kong I reached hours before check-in (2pm), but the helpful staff at the hotel were gracious enough to let me use the gymnasium and sauna. So over the next 4 hours, I sweated it out like there was no tomorrow. I am generally a lazy guy, and this was actually the first ever time that I actually worked out in a hotel gym - but guess what, I am hooked to it!

After two hours of intense work-out, I decided to try some sauna and it was quite an experience. Over the next two hours of almost ritualistic sauna, I made friends with an art dealer from France, an Indian economist and a Chinese banker. Our discussions varied from world politics to evolution of art scene in Hong Kong, and made sauna even more fun. I took three rounds in the dray sauna, and a few cold baths and a dip in steaming hot Jacuzzi as well!

Chilling out in my room :)

By the time I got my room keys, I was exhausted (I had a long flight from India to Hong Kong right before hitting the gym), and even skipped my lunch. When I did get up eventually, I simply lay on my bed and enjoyed the view of the harbor from my window, or read books on Hong Kong.

In the evening it was time to go for my pre-booked massage session at The Mandarin Spa, I knew I deserved it more than on any other day! After about 90 minutes of blissful Oriental Essence massage, I was fresh and headed out to explore the sights and sounds of Hong Kong.

The next morning it was time to eat my breakfast and start further explorations in Hong Kong, but I did make sure to visit the gym and work out. New habits die hard :)

Facilities at the hotelis home to 434 oversized guestrooms and 67 suites, each of which has been individually furnished and decorated to embrace the hotel’s Oriental heritage, while being combined with a fresh, contemporary feel to offer harmony and serenity.

Rooms at the hotel

I already talked about The Mandarin Spa and the gymnasium, and both of those are top-notch and I would strongly recommend trying them both out.

The Mandarin Spa

The hotel also has three Michelin star restaurants, but I couldn't try any of those, so won;t be able to recommend any. However, if you've been there, do feel free to let me know more in the comments below.

Food here is special as well

Practical detailsAddress: 5 Connaught Rd Central, Central, Hong Kong

For bookings: Mandarin Oreiental

Rates: They keep changing, and the current rates are starting from about 3400 HKD.

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Disclaimer: I was at Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong on invitation of the hotel. Needless to mention, all views expressed are my own and based on my personal experiences. The hotel pictures have been provided by the hotel.
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Carved out from a monolith (single stone), the Panch Rathas at Mahabalipuram are some of finest examples of stone carved temples. Built in the 7th century AD during the reign of Pallava king Narsimhavarman I, they are today a UNESCO world heritage Site as part of Mahabalipuram collection of temples.

Panch Rathas (Five chariots) at Mahabalipuram

What’s the connection to Mahabharata?Well actually there is no known connection between the two, and these aren’t actually even Rathas. But somehow they are associated, without any historical basis, to the Pandavas. They are called Rathas just because their form resembles chariot shapes.

The five Rathas The first ratha is called Draupadi ratha, the wife of all five Pandavas. It’s one of the most subtle and delicate looking temple with a unique roof. It’s a legacy of the thatched roofs which were common then, taken as an inspiration here.

The next ratha is Arjun ratha, and is an exact replica of the last and the largest temple of the five. It shares the platform with Draupadi ratha. An huge but incomplete Nandi is right behind the temple.

Arjun (front) and Draupadi rathas

The next one is Bhima ratha and is the longest of them all. The roof is similar to Draupadi ratha, though it’s much longer.

Bhim ratha

The final ratha in the line is Dharmaraja ratha. It has some of the most beautiful and intricate carvings. The upper levels are far more complete than the lower portion due to the direction of carving.

Dharmaraj ratha

Details on Dharmaraj ratha

The last ratha is the Nakul-Sahdev ratha, and is not in the same line as others.

Nakul-Sehdev ratha

While I was exploring the site, I bumped into a couple of friends studying art in Bangalore. One of them was a painter and the other one was a sculptor. Imagine meeting a sculptor at one of man's most beautiful creations out of stone! Here's a quick selfie we managed before we parted ways.

Practical details
It’s located about 58 km from Chennai and easily reachable by road. I traveled by bus (ticket coat ₹80), but there are many taxis also. It’s easy to drive down as well.

Timing: 6am to 6pm
Entry fee: ₹30 (Indians) & ₹500 (foreigners), free to all below 15 years of age
Photography: free
Videography: ₹25 (without tripod)

The Panch Raths
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On a good day, it's a delight to walk the streets Pune, especially in the old part of the city. This was one such morning when I headed out to Mandai area (certainly my most favourite part of the city), and took a few shots on the streets of Pune.

Unlike most other days, there was no theme at all when I took these pics, and they represent just what I saw on the streets. Life as it is.

Riot of colors!

Ready to whip the world!

And she was all smiles

Not such a busy time at the Mandai

Don't talk to me, I am busy :P
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After the first shot was fired, Kamala didn't hear anything, it was just a loud continuous ringing sound which seem to be coming from her own head. Within seconds she fell to the ground and her little Gudiya was dragged away from here by the hundreds of running feet all around. She lifted her head and could see people climbing on the edge of the well and then falling like logs of wood, some inside and some outside. But Kamala's eyes were searching only for her little one. Gudiya had been looking forward to this Baisakhi for over a month and today she was wearing the little yellow dress that Kamala had herself stitched just a few days back, embroidered with Gudiya's favourite elephants.

And then she saw her, bloodied, crushed and disfigured beyond recognition, but for the yellow dress and her large eyes, wide open in shock. Kamala wanted to close her gudiya's eyes, but it was already too late for them both.

The bullets stopped raining after about ten minutes, not because someone decided to show mercy to the families gathered to celebrate Baisakhi, but because General Dyer's army ran out of bullets. By then almost 2000 unarmed innocents, mostly women and children, who had gathered to celebrate the Punjabi festival of Baisakhi at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, were dead.

Jallianwala Massacre in Amritsar

Jallianwala Bagh (photo credits: Kunal Jain)

Jallianwala MassacreThe day of the massacre was 13th April, 1919.

Soon after, the event came to be known as Jallianwala Massacre - unparalleled even in the imperialist British army's heavy handed rule over India and many other colonies.

Though initially hailed as a hero for saving the British Empire, Dyer was eventually criticised both in India and Britain. This is how Churchill described the act in his speech in the parliament:

"The crowd was unarmed, except with bludgeons. It was not attacking anybody or anything… When fire had been opened upon it to disperse it, it tried to run away. Pinned up in a narrow place considerably smaller than Trafalgar Square, with hardly any exits, and packed together so that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies, the people ran madly this way and the other. When the fire was directed upon the centre, they ran to the sides. The fire was then directed to the sides. Many threw themselves down on the ground, the fire was then directed down on the ground. This was continued to 8 to 10 minutes, and it stopped only when the ammunition had reached the point of exhaustion."

However, Dyer was allowed to resign without court-marshall or any other further punishment. In fact an exorbitant amount of £26,000 was raised for him back home which allowed him to live a good life till he died years later. Contrast this with the measly sum of £37 which was given to the families of those massacred under his orders. Eventually Dyer became a celebrated hero for many in Britain and died comfortably in 1927.


Jallianwala MemorialA memorial was later built at the site where the massacre took place in Amritsar. It was designed by an American architect, Benjamin Polk, and inaugurated in 1961. The park is now surrounded by houses from most sides, and a road which leads straight to the Golden Temple.

Jallianwala Memorial, Amirsar (photo credits: Shrinath Chavan)

Bullet marks on the walls (photo credits: Kunal Jain)

My first visit to the memorial was a long time back when my mother and I visited Amritsar to visit Golden Temple. It was a hot afternoon and the memorial park was full of people, and I didn't quite connect with the place. However, on my next visit there I sat alone in a corner and cried. And the weird thing about crying is that once you start, you can't really stop so easily.

The only other place where the violence of the past affected me so much was at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda.

Whether it was the British Empire doing everything it could to crush people's rights to self-governance in India, or the genocide in Rwanda, it's eventually humans killing each other, and eventually humanity itself. A place like this needs to be visited and absorbed into the consciousness, as it's not just a memorial but also a reminder of all that we have done wrong to fellow humans.

The narrow passageway (photo credits: Kunal Jain)

Planning a visit to the memorialAddress: near Golden Temple, Amritsar
Entry fee: Free
Timings:
Summers: 6 am – 7 pm, gallery: 9 am – 5 pm.
Winters: 10 am – 4 pm, gallery: 7 am – 6 pm

To reach Jallianwala MemorialReaching Jallianwala bagh is very easy as there are numerous vehicles going towards the Golden Temple and it's just minutes away from it. You cab take an e-auto, rickshaw or auto-rickshaw to reach there. If I understand correctly, right now both Ola and Uber don't provide services in Amritsar.

To reach AmritsarAmritsar is well connected with rails as well as roads, especially with Delhi and all other cities of Punjab. The closest airport is at Chandigarh.
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We all grow up with travel dreams, and no matter how surprising it may sound now, one of my dream destinations was Greenland. It looked like a huge lump of ice somewhere far far away, and maybe that's why I was so fascinated by it. Interestingly this fascination with Greenland didn't GPO even as I grew up, and in fact only grew with time. As I started traveling more and more to add Scandinavia (especially Norway), I got even more exposed to the political history of this huge island, and with that also grew my desire to travel there. I haven't made it there yet, but hopefully someday I will. In the meanwhile me share some more details to get you also excited about traveling there!

East Greenland (Photo credit: Greenland Travel)

What exactly is Greenland?Greenland is often considered to be world's biggest island (Australia and Antarctica are continents, though technically they are bigger) located in the Northern Hemisphere in the arctic circle. Even though geographically Greenland is right next to Canada, it's politically and culturally more affiliated with Europe, especially Scandinavia.

The capital and the largest city is Nuuk and almost a third of it's population lives there. The currency is Danish Krone as it's loosely a part of Denmark.

Northern Lights in Greenland (Photo credit: Mads Pihl)

Despite the extreme climatic conditions, the island has been inhabited by humans for about 4,500 years - so when pyramids were getting built in Egypt, we the humans, were in Greenland as well! That's rather fantastic! However, in recent times, the island has been occupied by Norway and Denmark, and it's currently loosely a part of Denmark but with a lot of autonomy.

Is Greenland really as big as it looks?Interestingly I always thought Greenland was really huge, because of the way it looked in the maps. Have a look at the map below and you will understand what I mean. Just compare the two entities - India and Greenland, and Greenland actually looks at least thrice (or even four times) as large as India, though in reality it's about 2/3rd the size of India. While the size of India is 3.287 million km², the size of Greenland is only about 2.166 million km²!

India vs Greenland (comparison in size) - which one do you think is bigger?

There is due to a projection called Mercator and there is a huge controversy about the maps that we follow and think represent the world correctly, but are in fact an absolutely incorrect representation of the world in reality. You can read more about the project here. Some educational institutions are actually correcting these, like this one in Boston.

Things to do in GreenlandUnlike what you might think, there is actually a lot to do in Greenland. It depends a lot on the season that you pick so make sure you decide that in advance.

East Greenland after sunset (Photo credit: Markus Trienke)

SummersJust like Norway and other Nordic countries, summer days are long in Greenland as well. I remember vividly how odd it was for me to be in Norway during summers - I always got up with full sun and slept with full sun - the nights were so short that I never saw a dark night at all. Though unusual, the experience is quite unique and I would be very excited to experience it in Greenland as well. Anyway, here are the top five recommended activities there in summers.
  1. Midnight sun
  2. Icebergs
  3. Nature and wildlife
  4. Hiking
  5. Fjord tours (read more: Cruising Nuuk fjords)
Winters
Unlike summers, winter days are short and can be very short. So what do you do when it gets dark so quickly? Well, you watch the sky fill with colorful lights - the Northern Lights! 

Here are the five most recommended activities to do in summers.
  1. Northern lights
  2. Snow
  3. Dog sledging
  4. Arctic circle race
  5. Heliskiing
How to reach Greenland?Now this is a rather important question, and not-so-surprisingly, it's actually not that difficult to reach Greenland. The best way to reach Greenland is through commercial airlines served by airports in Denmark and Iceland. Alternatively you can also arrive with a cruise ship. Two of the airlines which fly there are Air Greenland and Air Iceland connect.

The Greenlandic airline Air Greenland flies all year around from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq in West Greenland and to Narsarsuaq in South Greenland in summer time. In the winter period there are four flights a week to Kangerlussuaq and up to ten flights a week in the summer. Narsarsuaq is served up to twice a week during the summer.

Onward transport to the towns on Greenland’s west coast takes place by airplane or helicopter, and there are frequent connections that ensure that it is normally possible to reach your final destination the same day.

Read more: Reaching Greenland

Visa for Greenland?Even though Greenland isn't a part of EU, it is a part of Schengen through it's association with Denmark, so the same visa rules apply as they would for Denmark. If you have a valid Schengen visa, you can absolutely plan a trip there! 
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