Off­beat des­ti­na­tions for your next vacation

Hindustan Times (Gurgaon) - City - - Lifestyle -

If you’re tired of vis­it­ing those oft-re­peated des­ti­na­tions, then here are a few op­tions you could con­sider that are un­usual and yet bring out all that a true hol­i­day rep­re­sents…

PANORAMIC TRAIN RIDES

Our first so­journ will be to Zer­matt in Switzer­land. Where a classic train jour­ney awaits you…

De­spite its sta­tus as a world-class re­sort Zer­matt still re­mains a quaint Swiss moun­tain vil­lage, with chalets, old half-tim­bered houses, restau­rants and shops all show­cas­ing window boxes spilling over with colour­ful flow­ers. The Mat­ter­horn, a sharp, pyra­mid-like peak that is also one of the most fre­quently climbed moun­tains in the world --- stands guard over the tiny ham­let. But the high­light of your hol­i­day must be the trip from Zer­matt to St. Moritz --- one of the great­est train jour­neys in the world --- aboard the Glacier Ex­press. Called the `slow­est fast train in the world,’ be­cause it av­er­ages around 36 km/h dur­ing the seven-and-ahalf hour jour­ney, the Glacier Ex­press runs along 272 kms of nar­row-gauge track that is punc­tu­ated by 291 bridges and 91 tun­nels!

The land­scape out­side is so rich in na­ture that even a scep­tic would be­lieve in God! Feast your eyes on those peace­ful alpine mead­ows; lush, green moun­tain forests; clear moun­tain streams and valleys. With panoramic win­dows to catch the drama out­side, din­ing cars that come com­plete with wood pan­elling and brass fit­tings and even espe­cially designed wine glasses that pre­vent spilling dur­ing the steeper parts of your jour­ney --- what more could you ask for?

HAUNT­ING HIS­TORY

From the magic of the moun­tains to the mysteries of his­toric cas­tles. Yes, it’s Scot­land that show­cases all this and more.

We be­gin our jour­ney at Aberdeen, Scot­land’s third­largest city. But our trip is dif­fer­ent be­cause we will be on a rather un­usual Cas­tle Trail. So if you like his­tory then this will be your cup of tea!

Let’s start our jour­ney with a visit to Drum Cas­tle – a won­der­ful ex­am­ple of a late 13th cen­tury keep with an ad­join­ing Ja­cobean man­sion house and later ad­di­tions of Vic­to­rian lairds. Drum is home to a beau­ti­ful rose gar­den and some lovely wood­land trails. Wan­der around tak­ing in the beauty of the por­trait gallery and the Ge­or­gian fur­ni­ture be­fore you head off to Crathes Cas­tle with its in­trigu­ing round tow­ers of over­hang­ing tur­rets.

The next stop on the trail is Craigievar Cas­tle --- fairy-like and in­cred­i­ble. The ed­i­fice ex­em­pli­fies the best of Scot­tish Ba­ro­nial ar­chi­tec­ture. Stop at Kil­drummy Cas­tle, which is in ru­ins to­day, be­fore you go to Leith Hall. If you like look­ing at old China, fur­ni­ture, ta­pes­try and the likes, you’ve place. In ad­di­tion, the house has some mar­vel­lous gar­dens, sta­bles, ponds, coun­try­side trails et al. Def­i­nitely worth a visit.

On­ward to Tolquhon Cas­tle, be­fore you come across a home that has a wealth of his­toric fur­nish­ings, paint­ings, em­broi­dery and other such items of interest. This is Cas­tle Fraser, which is one of the `Cas­tles of Mar’ and goes back to 1575. Its Great Hall is used for con­certs and its park­land provides you with the op­por­tu­nity of tak­ing wood­land walks.

Alas, these are just an aper­i­tif of the her­itage trails on offer. Aberdeen is also the start of the Whisky trail -----

SWING­ING SA­FARIS

From Scot­tish cas­tles and beau­ti­ful coun­try­side to na­ture in its most spec­tac­u­lar form: fauna. Our des­ti­na­tion this time is Jo­han­nes­burg and our visit is to a game park. Yes, a pho­to­graphic sa­fari is what we are about to un­der­take.

Make no mis­take, a sa­fari is not just get­ting into some form of trans­port and buzzing along view­ing the an­i­mals. It’s much more and no, it does not have to have just the ba­sic ameni­ties like a tent in the open air where you feel inse­cure with ev­ery breath you take!

Our venue is the MalaMala a lodge in the Sabi Sand Re­serve. This is the old­est and most his­tor­i­cal pri­vate game re­serve in South Africa and the first to make the pho­to­graphic sa­faris. Ev­ery as­pect of the MalaMala Main Camp is designed to ap­pre­ci­ate and en­joy the view of the sur­round­ing wilds. Path­ways wind their way along the perime­ter of the camp to re­veal in­di­vid­ual ochre col­ored units tucked into the green­ery which flanks the Sand River. Mas­sive trees and rolling green lawns are filled with bird­song, with the oc­ca­sional an­te­lope or ele­phant which seeks the suc­cu­lence of green­ery. The camp is un­fenced – an oa­sis in the mid­dle of the bushveld. where a typ­i­cal day will in­clude the morn­ing and late af­ter­noon de­voted to game drives, walks and meals and the night will be­long to more drives to see the wildlife.

End your trip will end with a few days in Cape Town where you can chill out and en­joy the big city lights --could you ask for a more mem­o­rable African ex­pe­ri­ence?

THE MOTHER OF THE WORLD

Once known as the ``Mother of the World,’’ Cairo lives com­fort­ably be­tween its glo­ri­ous past and the mod­ern present. And talk­ing about its past - nothing can ever pre­pare you for your first sight of the pyra­mids. What­ever you’ve read, what­ever pic­tures you’ve seen, pale into ab­so­lute in­signif­i­cance once you see the pyra­mids up close. No trip to Cairo is com­plete with­out seeing the Sphinx. Carved out of liv­ing rock and is 241 feet long and in parts 65 feet high. And this cat-like crea­ture which is carved out of a sin­gle block of stone is so awe­some that it al­most leaves you in open-mouthed won­der­ment.

Cairo is like In­dia – ex­otic, dusty, and as chaotic but also as beau­ti­ful.. The Egyp­tian Mu­seum is a must visit. It show­cases some of the most won­der­ful arte­facts and an­cient relics that in­clude items from Tu­tankhamen’s tomb like his death mask made of solid gold.

The city is awake 24x7 --the streets are crowded, the horns blar­ing, and the mer­chants sell­ing their wares. Visit Cop­tic Cairo (Masr al-Qadima). Here you’ll find most of Egypt’s churches. Sim­i­larly visit the many mosques like the Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hus­sein, one of the most sa­cred Is­lamic sites in Egypt. Other sights in­clude the Citadel, home to Egypt’s rulers for 700 years, the Mosque-Madrassa of Sul­tan Has­san --- the finest piece of Mam­luk ar­chi­tec­ture in Cairo and the Mosque of Qait­bey, whose exquisitely carved dome is a must-see.

And if you come to Egypt how can you not take a trip down the Nile. It will be an ex­pe­ri­ence you will never

PHO­TOS: SHUTTERSOCK

Glacier ex­press on it’s voy­age from Zer­matt to St. Moritz Pho­tog­ra­phers at the Sabi sand re­serve

Night lights of Cape town The Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt

Drum Cas­tle and Craigievar Cas­tle (in­set right),

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