Across Jordan – The Dead Sea (Days 3-5)

 

A 90 minute drive to the south of Amman, past the revered baptismal site of Christ “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” gets you to a land-locked lake called the dead sea. At 417m below the sea level, it is the lowest point on earth. Albeit the lowest point elevation wise; of tremendous magnitude, is the conspiracy of nature and history presented here.

Aside from the Dead Sea’s dramatic and gorgeous setting; its waters have been known throughout history for their therapeutic properties. Legend has it that Queen of Sheba was the first to believe in their healing powers. This was followed by Cleopatra who travelled from Egypt to built world’s first spa here. From Aristotle to the Roman emperor Marcus Antonious, there have been many that were enthralled by the mystery of the dead sea.

Owing to its low elevation, the water gets trapped and evaporates at a very high rate ergo the most mineral rich water in the world is left behind. The salinity of the water is about 33% compared to 3% in seawater; high salinity coupled with a high mineral balance of the water give you the most therapeutic water in the world with tremendous healing capabilities.

As you approach the site, the ocean side of the road is laced with luxury hotels. Here, in a serene corner, is the grand hotel of Kempinski Ishtar Dead Sea. Inspired by Babylonian architecture, the hotel is an immaculate ode to luxury and serenity that is brilliantly complemented with an exceptional service standard.  Designed as a tribute to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the hotel is essentially a conglomeration of grand Arabesque monumental buildings made from local stones. As you get to the entrance, you can really appreciate that it has grandeur and flair ingrained into its very core

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The majestic entrance

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The oldest resident here – a 700 year old olive tree

The Lobby

Laced with fresh flowers, the refreshing grand lobby opens up to a terrace with a spectacular view

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The Rooms 

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A beautiful waterfall right outside out room

 The rooms had an an Arabian theme which, seamlessly blended with modern décor. Very tastefully done up indeed. Right outside our room was a temperature controlled  moon shaped celestial pool. It was gorgeous and had a beautiful backdrop of the dead sea. During the evenings the sunsets were magnificent and with the night time illumination it was absolutely stunning.

The dead sea

We walked through this fantastic hotel to the beach. Truly amazed as how humongous the property was and every corner was so immaculately designed.

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On our way to the beach

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The beautiful sun kissed mountains

As the beach got closer, the higher was the temptation was to run in. The guards sensed that and advised us to walk in, it is really different than running into the sea. Two things happen simultaneously when you enter the water; it stings (especially on the first dip but it dies out soon) and you realise that you are floating. You feel discombobulated and amazed at the same time; just be sure not to drift away.

The staff is always there to assist you and they are ready with soft salts and mud collected of the shores which you can apply on yourself after the dip.

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Famished after our first dip we went to nearby restaurant – an exquisite Italian grill called the Akkad Bar. There are a couple of pools and a heli pad there. The kids loved the helicopters coming in.

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The Spa

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The Spa, the biggest in Arabia, is brilliant, an epitome luxury. Housed in its own building, it has a massive indoor pool, jacuzzis, steam baths, salt water and hydro therapy pools and a plethora of therapies. It is state of the art

We had completely lost the sense of time; enchanted, I guess. The riveting dead sea was perfectly complemented by the serenity, flair and magnanimity our hotel here. Two days here had just zipped by, but it was one our most invigorating and enchanting experiences. Wonderful memories; a von of the fantastic!

    Next Stop – Wadi Rum, stay with us

 

Across Jordan – Amman (Days 1-3)

I was standing outside of Jabal Al-Qalaa – the highest vantage point to the rolling hilled city of Amman. Open your eyes here and in the heart of the city below, you’d see the large buff-colored stones of the roman theatre, look to your right and standing tall are the formidable pillars of the temple of Hercules, close your eyes and you’d hear the muezzin’s calls to prayer reverberating through the countless minarets of the city.

Inhabited by humans since the Paleolethic period, the country of Jordan was occupied by the Babylonian and Mesopotamian empires, the Nabateans, the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, the Ottoman; at various points in its history. All that have ruled here have left their distinctive mark on the country’s culture, design and architecture and this has culminated in one the most harmonious juxtapositions of the modern era.

Out trip to Jordan commenced with Amman as our port of entry. While being the capital of Jordan, it is the political, cultural and commercial centre and of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

Prior to our trip, we had purchased a Jordan pass which is essentially a super pass for your stay in Jordan – it not only provides entry to many tourist sites but also includes a visitor visa for the adults. As for the children’s visas, it was a visa on arrival, the fees can be paid through a credit card at the airport immigration counter; rented a car at the airport and drove to our hotel.

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A view from the window of our room

Day 1 – After breakfast we visited the old town. The narrow streets of the old town were clogged with selfie-snapping tourists and there was not a corner spared. We made our way through the most populous city in Jordan and reached King Faisal street in the heart of the downtown; here tucked away in a very unassuming by lane is perhaps the most famous name in Amman – the Hashem Restaurant. One of the oldest restaurants and an indisputable icon of Amman; it is a very humble street side joint but the best meal of Falafel, Hummus and Mint tea you’d ever treat yourself to.

After the meal we started walking towards the Roman Theatre. On the way we stopped at an Arabic sweet shop called the Habbineh – the kunafa and the baklava here are a must.

The Roman Theatre

Built into a hillside, the 6000 seat theatre was constructed during the time of the Roman emperor Antonius Pius (138-161 CE) and was oriented north to keep sun off the spectators.

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The columns outside the Roman Theatre

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Center stage

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It is steep

The roman theatre with its steep seating has an excellent acoustics design (You can stand at the center of the stage and your voice will echo. The person sitting on top of the last row would be able to hear you clearly). It has an unbeatable vantage from the higher seats (the steps leading to the top are steep and the climb is tiresome but worth the effort). It is not happenstance that the theatre is hugely popular for hosting host various events even today.

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A view from the top

The top seats of the amphitheatre were the revered ones. As against being closest to the performances, the royalty and other important dignitaries would sit in the top rows to get an unobstructed view of the performances, not to mention the incredible acoustics.

After visiting the roman theatre, we visited one of the popular malls in the city – the Abdali Mall. We then returned to our hotel and called it a day – a special mention for our hotel, the Amman Marriott, an exceptional property with superlative dining options.

Day 2:

Following breakfast we strolled through the old town again. Over the years, it has managed to retain its character reminiscent of an old Arabic Bazaar; many shops, however, have now been replaced by currency exchanges. The city also has its fair share of museums and art galleries. Another exquisite offering are the cafes here; the city is adorned with exquisite cafes. After a quick coffee at the Jafra Cafe we made a mandatory pit stop at the ice cream place outside the cafe and were on our way to the Amman Citadel.

The Amman Citadel

Atop the highest of the seven hills of the city is the Amman Citadel. It houses the ruins of the Temple of Hercules – the formidable towers of which are visible from almost any corner of Amman. Here, at the Citadel, you can get a bird’s eye view of the dramatic contrast in the architecture of the city below. It is absolutely mesmerising.

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The Temple of Hercules

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The Roman Theatre

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Serious talk! with a view

The entire area is surrounded by a 1,700 feet long wall which has been here since the bronze and iron ages. There’s plenty to see here, but the most striking are the temple of Hercules and the Ummayad palace.

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A view of the stone towers at sunset

After out visit to the Citadel , we went to one of the roof top restaurants. Amman has its surplus of quality roof top restaurants with breathtaking views of the the city that looks insistently graceful during the day time and surreal when illuminated under the night skies.

After dinner, we returned to our hotel and called it a day.

 

Stay with us to the dead sea

The Petra Marriott

Travel is in the dreaming, anticipating and in the manifesting of a journey. It is in the allure, the premonition and the mysticism that defines the experience much before it actually takes shape.

If you are are a fan of the mystique then its greatest incarnation is the city of Petra. The crown jewel of Jordan is maddeningly dramatic, to say the least.

The city has always enjoyed a heightened popularity and it is no happenstance that it has been conferred as a wonder of the world. Innumerable tourists visit everyday and share their experiences. A little research and you would know exactly what to do here. When visiting a place as popular, there is very slim chance that something unexpected would come your way. In a city that has an unparalleled offering that overshadows almost everything by far, we managed to find something that stood tall, a true gem, it was our hotel here, a really pleasant surprise.

A ten-minute drive through a winding uphill road from the city centre gets you to the Petra Marriott. Perched atop a mountain, the hotel overlooks the Petra valley and offers a stunning view of the mountains.

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The facade

As you approach the hotel, the middle-eastern architecture is reminiscent of a fort from the bygone era. The interiors, while chic, modern and grand do not fail to aver its middle-eastern roots.

The lobby lead to a lounge and this was the first time we got a glimpse of the jaw dropping view of the valley. With our eyes firmly glued to the view, we entered the elevator to our rooms with our backs towards it.

The room was all you would expect from a Marriott. The view, however, was beyond words, all we did when we entered the room was run straight to the windows.

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The view from our room

In the evening we went to the terrace to view the sunset. Adjacent to the pool, there is a beautiful mini garden that opens up to the valley. The gentle breeze brushing your face, the valley turning orange with the sun descending and the golden lights from the town below turning bright; the transition all so perfectly synchronised. The calm here was dichotomous to the bustle of the city below.

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The sunset

As the night set in, it got brisk and we went to the lounge and grabbed us a pot of bedouin tea. The lounge connects the lobby to the terrace and restaurants. The hotel houses a contemporary bar and two restaurants and an out door barbecue.

We dined at the middle-eastern restaurant called Dushara. The food was exquisite – we were served supremely crafted delicacies from the regions around. Cooked to perfection and expertly presented, we could not have asked for more; when it comes to fine middle-eastern cuisine, this restaurant certainly tops our list. It was simply outstanding.

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Dushara

The next morning, when we opened the curtains and looked out of the window, it took us a while to grasp onto what was happening outside. The valley had patches of white. It was snowing! It had snowed the entire night.

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Snowing

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The view after the snowfall

Snow in Petra! you could read the thesaurus twice over and still would fail to find a word to describe the heightened joy and thrill on the kids’ faces. We geared up and stormed to the deck.

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While our younger one was still baffled and acclimatising to the cold, our older one couldn’t stop smiling.

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After an intense hour of finding innovative ways of hitting each other with the fresh snow around, we went to the restaurant adjacent to the pool for our breakfast. “Breakfast with a view” in the flesh; an incredible early morning view of the valley is complemented with an elaborated breakfast spread.

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Breakfast with a view

Given the weather, we had to stall our plans of visiting the city today and decided to stay indoors. The hotel also houses an incredible Hamam, Godsent on a cold day. We were so glad that we chose this hotel.

The next morning was considerably bright. At sunrise, as first light hit the valley, it magnificently illuminated the peak of the tallest mountain there. The mountain is called Jabal Harun and at its summit stands a white domed mosque that was built in the 14th century to commemorate Prophet Aaron (Prophet Moses’ younger brother). Every morning at sunrise, as the light hits the peak, it looks absolutely surreal.

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Break of dawn

We visited the city today and came back totally mesmerised.

The following morning after breakfast, we went to deck one last time to bid adieu.

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Sure, the charisma of the old city of Petra is unmistakable and visiting it was an unforgettable experience, but I will also, with the same conviction and without an iota of a doubt say that whenever there is mention of Petra, the first memory that would come to us would be the look on the children’s faces when they discovered that it was snowing in valley.

 

Thank you for the memories

 

The Taj Lands End, Mumbai

Analogous to its name, the Taj Lands end sits at the edge of one of the most pulsating suburbs of Mumbai. Almost at a vertex to the island of Bandra, it enjoys uninterrupted views of the Indian ocean on one hand and an incredible view of the skyline of a hyper metropolis on the other.

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The lobby

An elaborate use of flowers and vibrant colors in the decor amplifies the fresh vibe of the hotel. In fact it is a distinct feature of the hotel that you’d notice as soon as you enter; Welcomed with the flowers! and they are with you everywhere, till you get to your room.

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If you are looking through the lens of a camera from a window of the room here, the difference between calm to insane is just a few degrees. The dichotomy presented, albeit appalling, is insanely beautiful.

It is impossible to fathom that you’d be so close to one of the most pulsating cities of the world. As you cozy up with a drink by the pool, it almost instantly you are taken to a sea-side resort. You’d feel like you are so far from it all when at the back of your mind you’d realise that a 20 minute drive and you are in the bull pit!

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The warm and contemporary interiors of the hotel are plush to their very core and the rooms, pool, spa, et cetera are all you’d expect from a luxury hotel. As for the grub, on offer are incredible dining experiences curated by the best chefs of the city coupled with an uncompromising and impeccable service standard. If you are a fan of retro cocktails and live music, nothing beats the Sloan at the Atrium Bar & Lounge.

At dusk, the colorful the skies over the ocean are beautiful and as the night draws in, the the skyline of the city look magnificent as cars, like fire flies stream off the sea link.

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With the night time illumination which includes a lot of flickering candles and oil lamps; the hotel looks gorgeous.

All in all, for travellers to the city, it is an excellent hotel in the heart of Mumbai and for fellow city dwellers, it is a perfect spot to get away from it all and unwind over a weekend. With an uncompromising attention to service, this place raises the bar high.

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Cheers!

Maldives III – The Ocean’s Call

South Ari Atoll is located at the core of Maldives’ largest marine protected areas and is a residential ground for the gentle and graceful Whale Shark. The Whale Shark is the largest fish on the planet and can weigh up to 60 tons. While they can grow upto the size of a school bus, unlike sharks, these gentle giants are not predatory. A juvenile male population of whale sharks proved to reside in the warm waters surrounding the resort and can be spotted year-round; humans, it seems, are not the only ones that come to Maldives to get some sun.

The resort’s marine biology center conducts daily guided boat trips along the southern reef of the atoll to search and swim with the whale sharks, manta rays, sea turtles and we had booked one of tours today tour today. It was a perfectly sunny day with shimmering silver seas. Eager and anxious we hopped on to a dhoni and began our quest to see the whale shark. Ten minutes into our trip and we could spot sea turtles and dolphins. It was magical to watch pods of dolphins jump, flip and play in their natural habitat. Pure happiness!

Dolphins playing in the sea

We made our way top deck where the marine biologist gave us a very informative briefing on the whale shark. He patiently answered to the brigade of questions that followed form the curious kids.

After the presentation, we sat by the side of the upper deck, with our eager eyes hunting for a glimpse of the whale shark across the seas. It was beautifully calm when suddenly something broke off the surface of the water. A Flying Fish! shrieked the child, muddled in amusement. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a school of flying fish sailed past us. We were awe struck. It was amazing to see the fishes with highly specialised wings in action. Unbelievable!

As our boat sailed deeper in the ocean, the calls for spotting the whale shark started and we were told to get ready with the snorkelling gear. By the time, we got to the area where the giant fish was last spotted; it had already dived. These creatures are very shy and unlike whales they do not need to get to the surface for air, making them extremely elusive. We circled the water around the spot for a while but couldn’t get a glimpse of it; the biologist conceded that it was unlikely that the whale shark would resurface and led us to a snorkelling site with plenty colorful fishes and sea turtles. We spent sometime snorkelling and marvelled at extraordinary life under the water.

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The Whale Shark as document by the Marine Biologists at South Ari Atoll, Maldives

Although we could find what we were looking for but the snorkelling in the ocean at the end of our expedition was really special. Triumphantly, we made our way back to the resort.

More often, while at the sea, we get so focused at the horizon that we forget about the world that lay beneath the waters. We got to see it today and it was one of the best things that we did in Maldives. The vivid colors, the synchronised movement of the  fish, the swaying of the seaweed, the corals, the energy; it is incredible

When we got to the hotel lobby, they invited to a Disney themed Christmas party that was scheduled at the western end of the island in the evening. We were greeted by Mickey and Minnie when we reached the party.

When Mickey and Minnie greet you to a party

There were carol singers, music, drinks, cotton candy, pop corn. Basically everything a kid could ask for. This was followed by a spectacular show performed by fire jugglers . Set against a backdrop of pristine seas with of hues of orange, purple and pink lingering in the evening sky, it was stunning to its core.

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The fire jugglers

After the evening celebrations, we went to the jetty point to get a view of the skies. With close to no light pollution and its equatorial location, Maldives offers some of the most spectacular skyscapes visible from Earth. The had set up a telescope for the star gazing. It was also a full moon and the entire area glow in soft silver light.

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We, now made our way went to Allegria. Allegria, in our opinion is the gem of the restaurants here. It is set in an incredible spot on the island. There is a huge tree that sits in the middle of the restaurant and outdoor seating is laid all around it. They serve an authentic Italian fare and have an impressive wine list. The lights, the live music and the sound of the sea elevated the magnificent ambience.

From Allegria, there is a corridor that leads to a chocolate room. As the name suggests, it is exactly that – a room made of chocolate and candy with a toy train that passes through chocolate structures. It is extremely tempting and the kids, well, try keeping them from tearing the walls down of this one!

The next day we were up bright and early and out on our cycles to get some early morning pictures.

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The Library

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The Board Walk

The rest of the day was by the sea. Chest bumps and cheers, jet skiing, parasailing and paddle boating – it was funday in the sun.

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After a quick lunch we went to our room, en route, we stopped at the wishing tree to put in our wishes and then grabbed an ice pop from the ici shop candyman. We grabbed our bags from the room and waited at the lobby for our departure as the time to bid adieu had arrived.

Maldives is definitely one of prettiest places that we have visited and South Ari Atoll was absolutely gorgeous; as most would agree Maldives is definitely a bucket list destination and a once in a lifetime experience; but I reckon it was so much more, TRAVEL is so much more. It’s not only about visiting a destination or ticking it off a list; it is in emotions and enlightenment that the smallest of the shared moments reward us with. It is in the chance to feel your best and to celebrate life.

“TRAVEL CHANGES YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL, NOT NECESSARILY BECAUSE OF THE EXPERIENCE, BUT BECAUSE EACH NEW PLACE YOU VISIT BECOMES A PART OF YOU” as said by Gareth Pon.

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Thank you Maldives for the memories

Maldives II – At the Beach

So, off we were on our bikes. As soon as we got off the stilted on-water wooden platform on to the island, amidst the trees, stood a red phone booth. It looked like it had stepped of Dicken’s London and was now by a beach. The phone home as they call it, looked stunning by the beach and it lets you make free calls to anyone across the globe. Next to it stood a huge display of #SMILE ALL THE STAY. These little touches were just brilliant.

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At the Westernmost tip of the island

On with our bikes through the narrow sandy lanes of the island. It took us a long time to bike as at every corner we would stop and marvel at the view. We had now passed the lobby and here, surrounded by silver sands and gorgeous sandbanks was a glittering lagoon. Adjacent to the lagoon was the Veli Bar – a colorful, fun and lively all day casual eatery, a perfect spot to spend an afternoon. They serve more of an American fare with burgers and hotdogs.

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The colorful Veli Bar

We grabbed ourselves something off the menu and sat at the beanbags here. The kids went paddle boating in the lagoon. The ripples of the rudder of the paddle boat disoriented the little fishes that were swimming around and they scattered like a splash of color dissipating in the water.

The kids were now famished. They came to us, quickly ordered for some food. After, hard paddling for almost an hour where they had virtually paddled across the entire lagoon area, we were pretty sure there were going to be quieter times but surprise surprise. They had regained all their expended energy and wanted to go to PLAY – the resort’s indoor kids play area. With a humongous pirate ship, a mini pool and an extensive list of offerings including many supervised outdoor activities; PLAY is a dedicated corner for the kids on the island. It is huge and there are loads of things to do for the kids.

With the kids busy, we biked across the island. It’s very slow and pretty difficult to ride a bike here as at every 50 meters you end up stopping to look at the stunning view and are left mesmerised. While you are on the bike, you are looking at whats around you more than looking ahead. Be it spotting a lone stork by waters on the east-side, the sunset at the westernmost corner or the white beach stretch in the middle of the island; extraordinary, to say the least.

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Our dinner was at Senses. Set by the beach, under open skies, the restaurant serves authentic Indian, Maldivian, Sri Lankan and Middle Eastern cuisine. If you are a fan of  seafood, the Maldivian cuisine here is most recommended

The following morning we went to Mixe – a thatched roof buffet restaurant for breakfast. As the festival season was around the corner, the restaurant was beautifully draped in Christmas colors. With jingles playing, there was a festive feeling in the air. It was magical. The breakfast spread was elaborate. Loved the  fruit corner where they would customise and serve the freshest fruit bowls, juices, smoothies as per your preference.

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Photo by Rayan K

Off to the pool…The resort offers two exceptional infinity pools that overlook the Indian Ocean. Great fun

After a swim,  we went to the kid’s favourite spot on the island – the ICI shop. It is the resorts very own ice cream shop. Need not say more. Spent some time at the beach with the ice-lollies in our hand.

Nest to the ICI Shop and by the beach is Beach Rouge. With a bright, lively decor and mesmerising views, Beach Rouge is Lux’s Maldivian incarnation of a beach club. It offers jaw-dropping sunset views. The restaurant boasts of exquisite grills and delectable ceviche, they also have the best pizza on the island.

After an eventful day, a relaxing sunset cruise was in order. We went on a Dhoni – a traditional Maldivian wooden boat for a slow paced boat ride across the reef. The boat has a top deck where you can stretch and enjoy the astounding view.

Upon returning, we went to the East Market for some Asian cuisine and then to the East Bar, an over water hangout. Soon, we called it a day and started walking to our room. As we approached the stilted platform, we spotted an eagle ray in the water.

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The Eagle  ray

This really got us excited. We grabbed on to a search light and waited at the overwater hammock in our room, anticipating that something would pass by. We couldn’t spot the eagle ray again but just as we were about to stop our quest, a huge STINGRAY passed by and till we we could pull out our cameras, it had eluded us.

We weren’t able to get a picture but seeing a sting ray was amazing. This was a perfect end to our day as we geared up for a Whale Shark expedition the following morning.

 

Our trip continues…stay with us

Maldives I – To the Beach

When a landing strip mysteriously appears form a turquoise blue coloured abyss, when you land at an international airport with beach sand all around, when you step out in the sun and hear a call from the beach even though you don’t see it; you would know that you have landed at a serious island destination.

The moment we touched down and stepped in the Maldivian Sun, everything around seemed to shout out “TO THE BEACH“. Even the folk at the immigration counter wanted the paperwork to be dealt with as soon as possible and set us on our way. Almost in an instant, we were able to march out of the tiny airport. We hopped onto our transfer and scooted towards our hotel in Male.

Next morning, bright and early, we got transferred to the Lux South Ari Atoll kiosk at the airport for our seaplane transfer checkin and then to the adjoining seaplane terminal.

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It was incredibly captivating to see the seaplanes land, dock and take off, while we sipped on the most delectable coffee of Café Lux at the plush Lux lounge. Restlessly, we waited for our call to board.

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When the epiphanic moment arrived, the kids charged and almost tackled the guy giving the call. We were led to a seaplane and as we entered the tiny cabin, the first thing that grabbed my attention was the lead pilot’s footgear –  Havaianas!

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The kids jumped onto window seats. Once everybody was settled in, the pilot throttled up, the churn of propeller blades intensified and in an almost frictionless lift, we were airborne.

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The view from the window was beyond incredible, as we glided over islands, canyons, sandbanks and resorts.

After a twenty minute journey, the pilot commenced the descent. A long island emerged from the silver sea below and upon touchdown, as the water sprayed by the pontoons dissipated, we could spot a string of over water cottages and people waving at us from an on water platform. We had arrived at Lux South Ari Atoll, Maldives.

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The welcome party greeted us and led us to the lobby. The fresh spirited vibe at the bright and airy lobby was unmistakable . We sipped on our welcome drink while the kids nibbled on their ice-lollies.

Soon, we boarded a buggy and headed west of the two kilometer island. As we made our way through lush gardens laced with snowy white beaches, we got glimpses of the stunning ocean peeking from the spaces between the trees.

At the westernmost point of the island, on stilts over a glittering lagoon, are the over water villas. Away from the land, the overwater villas command a breathtaking view of the cerulean sea.

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The boys spotted a black tip baby shark in the lagoon and went ballistic.

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As we opened the door to our room, the glorious view left us stunned.

The bright interiors of the magnificent room blended in perfectly with the glorious view. While we were busy checking out our room, the the lack of any noise got us a little curious; the excited duo had sneaked out of the room on to deck, slung off their t-shirts and were quietly walking down the stairs of the villa that led to the lagoon. They were about to plunge in when they were interrupted; imagine the angst. Getting them in their swimming gear was perhaps the most challenging task of our trip.

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A little dip, a little chill, on to our bikes and off we were…

Our stay continues…

Please visit our next blog on Lux South Ari Atoll

 

Taj Bentota Resort and Spa – Surfed!

A scenic 90 km drive from Colombo to the south west of Sri Lanka will get you to the seaside resort town of Bentota. In addition to the golden sand beaches and best dive sites the island nation has to offer, Bentota is also the home to some of the most heroic beach resorts in Sri Lanka.

Located on the golden mile of the Bentota beach and sitting on a headland overlooking the Indian Ocean was our hotel – the Taj Bentota Resort and Spa. On reaching the hotel, we were warmly greeted “Ayubowan” by everyone that was around and welcomed in the resort.

The European themed interiors of the lobby with the wooden ceilings seemed to make a seamless connect with an imposing vantage of the Indian Ocean. We sipped on Ceylon ice tea and admired a picture perfect postcard view.

On the way to our room, we passed by a beautiful open to air atrium laced with a lush green garden and cascading Koi ponds. Absolutely unique and magnificent; we stopped to marvel while the kids were trying to find a way to feed the fishes.

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The Atrium

Checked in in to our room. In addition to chic interiors and  an impressive layout, our room had an exquisite sit out area opening to the sea and overlooking the tropical gardens of the hotel. Talk about a backdrop for an afternoon tea!

Soon we were at the resort pool. The pool area is just spectacular. While the the hotel itself is set on a large headland, the pool area is at a further elevation; at-least two floors higher than the beach and this makes for extraordinary vantage views of the lush tropical hotel gardens and the beautiful sea, from every corner. A drink by the pool chairs while you gaze at the Indian ocean and you would understand the sheer lack of pace here. It is hauntingly relaxing.

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The Pool

One corner of the pool is laced with mini stone elephants that sprinkle water from their trunks; adding a dash of playfulness to the relaxing ambience

Lunched at the PALMS; a multi cuisine restaurant adjacent to the pool.

Our next stop was the beach. The resort has direct access to a golden sandy beach. With perfect waves it is ideal for surfing and safe for sea swimming, especially for the kids. Surf lessons were underway and we could see the children looking at the surfers and processing some permutations like tiny bots. After a couple of minutes of silence, we were provided with an elaborate schedule for the next two days. Talk about role reversals!

Sipped on some fresh coconut water and watched the children play at the beach for rest of the evening.

We had reserved a spot at the in-resort seafood restaurant called the SHACK. Rated as one of the top seafood restaurants, the Shack is simply brilliant. The chef curates gastronomic masterpieces from the freshest ingredients that are chosen by you from the display counter. The finale, a crème brulee, was exceptional.

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The Shack

Live music coupled with a soft spray of the sea brought in by a gentle breeze, the ambience of the restaurant is exceptional. At the beginning of dusk, as the sun dips and the nighttime illumination comes into play is perhaps the best time to get here.

The following morning things got pretty intense; the children had spotted a monitor lizard in the lawns and the wife was freaking out. They quickly ran with their camera to get a picture of the little guy.

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Photo by Rayan K

We hit the beach early and after spending some time creating sand castles, we commenced with the surf lessons. The instructors were pretty good. In the next ten minutes the kids were leaping and balancing the board perfectly.

This day, I could relate to the phrase “Life is a lot like surfing”, the entire was day was dedicated to it.

In the evening we visited the Induruwa Sea Turtle Conservation Centre. We saw different turtle species viz. Olive Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Green and the Albino sea turtle. We were explained the life cycle of the turtles, the current challenges facing their existence and the rescue and rehabilitation operations of the conservation centre; it was very informative, especially for the children. We saw turtle eggs, a video of their hatching and newborn baby turtles in a massive water tank. We concluded the tour with the kids releasing baby turtles in the ocean. It was fantastic.

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Releasing baby turtles in the sea

After dining at a popular local joint, we got back to our hotel. As per our guide at the conservation centre, at night-time many turtles would swim ashore at our hotel beach. So we grabbed on to a searchlight and hit the beach. We could not find any turtles but saw tons of crabs that ran into the sea as we turned our searchlight towards them. With absolutely clear starlit skies coupled with the rhythmic sound of the waves hitting the rocks, the beach at night was spectacular. There was a private dining tent set up on the beach by a hotel, it looked like a must do here. For us, it was a long shot on this trip, given the schedule charted by our children.

With kids bust playing pingpong at the table next to the swimming pool, we went to TEASE – a lively bar with tropical décor. They have both inside and outside seating overlooking the SHACK and the beach. At the bar, they serve exquisite cocktails, authentic shisha, an elaborate collection of fine wines and an impressive food menu.

 

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Tease

The hotel also houses an incredible Asian restaurant called the Oriental Pavilion. It is rated as one o the best Chinese restaurants in Sri Lanka.

The following day our surf lessons continued and I had mastered the art of falling off the board. The children, after their runs, used to look back in anticipation and at the epiphany moment burst into a hysterical laughter. The wife had joined in the fun as well. My instructor very subtly conveyed to me that it was much easier for the children and looks like your wife has surfed before. Ah, fun fun, well in my defence, it’s the things that you do to make your children laugh.

With a unique setting on a large headland along the Golden Mile of the Bentota beach, exquisite dining options, modern rooms, a state of art spa and most importantly the legendary Taj hospitality, a stay at the Taj Bentota is a wholesome family experience and most naturally, it becomes one of favourites in Sri Lanka.

Thank you for the memories Taj Bentota

 

Heritance Tea Factory – Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

With breathtaking views, aesthetically inclined interiors, superbly preserved factory machinery and high standards of hospitality, the Heritance Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya is an upscale luxury hotel that has been converted from the erstwhile Hethersett tea factory.

The access to the hotel is through a narrow uphill road that leads up to the beautiful estate gardens. The facade with the chimney of the hotel is a very basic structure and it looks more like an industrial shed than a hotel; albeit a very pretty shed surrounded by the prettiest Flaura, manicured lawns and stagnant tea plantations. The building along with the surroundings is reminiscent of the bygone Colonial era.

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The interiors of the hotel are really unique; some machinery from the establishment’s earlier days like the original generator has been preserved. There are huge fans towards the ceiling of main hall that are attached to the generator through rubber bets and they rotate in tandem with the generator every evening, when the generator has its scheduled run; it is really fascinating. There has been no tinkering with interior layout of the original tea factory. At the time of conversion to a hotel, the management ensured that apart from mandatory reinforcements, the original layout was retained and they strongly dissuaded any attempt by the authorities to the contrary. The woodwork, the iron pillars, the brass, machinery have all been salvaged from the erstwhile establishment and expertly preserved. A tasteful use of colours reinforces the colonial character.

A magnificent copper elevator with manual doors took us up to our rooms. As we entered our room, we felt like we opened a door into the clouds; three walls of the room were essentially ceiling to floor French windows.  The view was beyond words, the folks at the hotel called it paradise view; couldn’t agree more.

The following morning we were up at the first light. The clouds magically dissipated at the break of dawn and allowed us a stunning view of the entire valley.

The kids went to the play area and we got ourselves a cup of delicious home grown F.B.O.P. There is a train carriage parked adjacent to the play area, it amuses the children by the day and converts into a fine dining restaurant in the evening.

There are various excursions on offer. These include bird watching tours, hikes to nearby hills, tea plantation tours and other land tours. We opted for the plantation tour.

The tea planation tour makes you experience tea plucking first hand. To begin with you are draped in a tea pluckers’ attire, provided with a basket and taken to a nearby plantation. The guided tour concluded with some history of the tea factory being jogged about, a tea tasting session and a visit to the in-house mini tea museum where they explained the tea making process and way in which it had evolved over time with the advent of machines. The Hethersett plantation and factory was one of the most important contributors to the popularity of Ceylon tea and once sold the most expensive tea in the world. The kids intently listened to the guide while the tea segregator graded FBOP and PEKOE variety of teas. The tea produced is the same tea found in the room and all the restaurants of the hotel.

It was bright and sunny out – a perfect day for a hike. Ten minutes in to our hike and it was brisk and damp, no wonder this place was called Little England.

Got back to the hotel, sat by the fire and had hot chocolate, marshmallows and tea.

The following day was sunny and luckily it stayed that way. We went to the  garden maze and then went on a little birdwatching trek and walked down to the rabbits at the Flower Dew cottage. Mr.Flowerdew was the first resident planter and manager of the Herthersett Estate; his cottage has been preserved.

The kids were having a fabulous time here at the factory; not only were they completely off  the gadgets and screens, but without prompting, they were preferring the outdoors.

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Surrounded by acres of lush green tea estates and perched on a hill, the gorgeous Heritance Tea Factory offers a most astounding rendition of the colonial era. It leave no stone unturned to provide you with a unique and an unforgettable experience. The sweeping vistas will leave you spellbound.

Emeraldised – a family holiday in Sri Lanka (Nuwara Eliya)

We were on our way to the city of lights Nuwara Eliya; Sri Lanka’s quintessential hill station and tea country. On our way, we stopped at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, a sanctuary to three generations of orphaned and abandoned Asian elephants that were rescued from the wild. Pinnawala is located in a beautiful valley surrounded with beautiful rolling green hills. The sight of the elephants playing in the valley coupled with children standing on galleries and feeding other elephants there, was really adorable. The massive campus is totally dedicated to elephant welfare and they house a small museum amongst other things. One of the major highlights of Pinnawala, is that at a designated time of the day, the entire parade walks down to the nearby river Maha Oya to bathe and play. Prior to a visit to the orphanage, do check the timings of feeding and bathing.

After a quick elephant ride at Pinnawala, we made our way through winding roads by tea estates, silver waterfalls, mesmerizing scenery and after encountering thick fog at the final leg of our ascent, we arrived at the very British and Colonial Town of Nuwara Eliya.

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Perched at an elevation of 1,868 m above the sea level, Nuwara Eliya or the city of lights or little England is reminiscent of a quaint British village. The Gregory Lake sits at the centre of the town and is surrounded by majestic tea hills, sprawling golf courses, beautiful botanical gardens, old colonial houses and Tudor styled bungalows with Gabled roofs. The town has a marina, an old brick post office and a racecourse with its horses sits at the edge of the lake. It is really refreshing to see free horses roaming across the town.

We went to our hotel – the Heritance Tea Factory, an erstwhile tea factory now converted into a beautiful hotel, surrounded by tea plantations.

The following day we went for a tea plantation tour. To begin with, we were draped in traditional tea pluckers’ clothing and provided with tea plucking baskets. We were then led to a nearby plantation for the plucking; surrounded by lush green plantation hills; descending  clouds descending, a cool breeze in your face, bird songs; it was surreal.

Following our tour, we went to the tea factory at the hotel. The tea making process was explained to us; we watched the kids as they listened intently.

In the evening, we went for a hike. Nuwara Eliya is a bird watchers paradise with over 80 bird species including migratory birds. There are many bird watching opportunities on offer.

The following day we had a flight back from the Colombo airport. After checking out from our hotel we visited the Gregory Lake, jet skied and speed boated. 

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En route to Colombo, we visited the picturesque Ramboda falls. The access route tis from a hotel and it is really amusing to get an elevator to get to the falls.

We were now on our way to the airport. As we approached Colombo, we decided to take a small detour to the ministry of crab, one final time. We called them and thankfully we got a place. Left Colombo on an extreme high!

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From Pristine beaches of Bentota in the south, to the central tea hills of Nuwara Eliya, to an enthralling mix of history and culture in Colombo, the verdant land of Sri Lanka has a lot to offer to its visitors. It is no surprise that Sri Lanka has emerged as one of the most loved family holiday destinations in southeast Asia. All the accolades this beautiful nation has earned over the years are well deserved.

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Thank you Sri Lanka, for the memories

Emeraldised – a family holiday in Sri Lanka (Bentota and Colombo)

Since the day Lonely Planet ranked Sri Lanka as the top travel destination for the year 2019, we had been waiting for an opportunity to visit the Emerald Island.

As soon as the holidays arrived, we catapulted on to a red eye flight to Colombo. When we landed, despite the late hour, everybody from the immigration officers to our chauffeur welcomed us with smiles and were extremely warm and hospitable. No wonder this island nation is becoming an ever-popular travel destination by the day. We had booked a hotel close to the airport to crash for the night and the next day, bright and early, we hit the road. After driving for a couple of hours on the southern expressway, we were at the pristine beaches of Bentota – a fishing village on the Colombo-Galle coast on Sri Lanka, famed for its gorgeous beaches and umpteen watersport offerings.


The beach at Bentota

Taj Bentota Resort & Spa

There are tons of exotic hotels in Bentota and it is really difficult to pick one. Our hotel of choice was the stunning Taj Bentota. Soon, we were at resort pool and then to the beach for surfing lessons, keen as mustard.

Never have I seen our kids so attentive about lessons. Way sooner than we expected the kids were jumping on their boards perfectly and gliding. The wife was good at it as well; from her days surfing at the Californian coasts I guess; as for me, my instructor had given up, he tried to pacify by telling me that it was much easier for the kids and your wife seems to have some experience. Our younger son very subtly described my efforts as TOTALFAILURE!!! Ah, fun fun.

We were at the beach through the evening. For dinner, we we went to an in house restaurant called “The Shack”. It is arguably the best restaurants around and has won many accolades for one of the best seafood restaurants in Sri Lanka. A visit to the Shack is an absolute must when visiting this part of the world.

The next day was at the beach again as the surfing lessons continued. In the evening we visited the Induruwa Sea Turtle Conservation Centre. We saw different turtle species viz. Olive Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Green and the Albino sea turtle. We were explained the life cycle of the turtles, the current challenges facing their existence and  rescue and rehabilitation operations of the conservation centre; it was very informative, especially for the children. We saw turtle eggs, a video of their hatching and new born baby turtles in a massive water tank. We concluded the tour with the kids releasing baby turtles in the ocean.

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Releasing baby turtles in the ocean

We then visited the Bentota town and dined at a local restaurant. Tuk Tuk’s are very easily available and extremely convenient for short distances. As per our guide at the conservation centre, many turtles would come ashore at night close to our hotel beach. So we grabbed on to searchlights and hit the beach. No turtles but tons of crabs. With absolutely clear starlit skies coupled with the rhythmic sound of the waves hitting the rocks; the beach at night was fantastic.

The next day we bid goodbye to Bentota and drove north to Colombo. Encountered a lot of traffic on the way as we had hit the peak hour. After the laid back life of Bentota, it was extremely difficult to fathom such traffic. We dumped our luggage at the hotel, ubered a tuk tuk (most convenient way to travel in Colombo) and went to the Galle Face Drive. Dined at the Golden Dragon across the street.

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The Golden Dragon at Taj Samudra Colombo

A short drive through the city of Colombo and one can witness a captivating juxtaposition of city’s colonial roots and modern architecture. Colombo is also famed for a very thriving nightlife scene.

The following day we ubered a tuk tuk to Colombo-Galle road. The are tons of coffee shops, restaurants, shopping, pubs in this part of the city. We went to the barefoot cafe and spend some time exploring the neighbourhood. We visited the Gangaramaya Budhhist Temple Complex in the evening – an eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Indian, Thai and Chinese architecture. It has a massive collection of Buddha Statues in jade, ruby, crystal and other precious stones. There is an impressive collection of vintage cars there as well. Across the main temple complex, there are steps that lead to a huge Bodhi tree; seems the sapling of the tree is from the time of Buddha.

At a short walk from the Gangaramaya temple is the Seema Malaka. It sits in the middle of a lake and with the night time illumination, the temple looks magnificent.

Following our spiritual escapade, we made our way to the oldest building in the Fort area – the Old Dutch Hospital. Known as the Old Dutch shopping precinct now, it is essentially a gourmet ghetto with upscale restaurants, shops, pubs and the famed Ministry of Crab. We dined at the ministry. If you are visiting this eatery, ensure that you make a reservation a couple of days in advance; the eatery is insanely popular and for good reason-it is simply the best. A must while in Colombo.

After dinner we walked down to the Dilmah Tea Lounge at the precinct. They house an  impressive collection of Ceylon tea. The children went gaga over bubble tea there. 

A blog on our trip to Nuwara Eliya follows…Coming soon!