Entered this travel writing contest on chillibreeze more coz I needed one more excuse to re-visit all those amazing travel destinations , I ve been dreaming about lately.

Travel writing is truly the sweetest torture.

Agree /Disagree? Tell me here

The site somehow went down and so did my much loved winning entry..So here it goes

For a travel maniac like me, travel-writing is like the sweetest torture. To dream some more about those places seen, those moments lived, those pictures captured and those stories heard. And then limit the experience to just a few words. But it’s the next best thing to travel and listing down one’s favorite travel destinations is an idea that’s too tempting to resist.

Putting together a must-visit travel list is like setting up the menu for a grand supper. You need something that suits your palette, something that goes well with the mood, something that promises the perfect start and something that leaves a great after-taste too. Be it spicy heady or fizzy – it’s got to be easy on the eyes and yes, memorable.

So here’s my idea of a majestic feast for senses, go ahead indulge.

Paris: so little time so much to see

My advice to anyone who wishes to pay heed- If one has the choice of seeing just one city in the entire world – one shouldn’t spend a minute wondering which one it should be. Paris undoubtedly it is. Every sight is a picture postcard; every moment is like relishing a seasoned wine. Be it art, culture, music, fashion, food or history – this place single handedly takes over all your senses and leaves you breathless wanting for more.

Walk around with a map, take a metro and explore the city on feet if you really want to see it up close and personal. Discover some gifted artists at the Basilique du Sacre Coeur, listen to stories behind the breathtaking monuments like the Opera House and Notre dam , cruise along the Seine river as the magical city unfolds itself by your side , walk down the glittering Champ Elysses that runs right from Arc De Triumph to Napoleon square or drive down to the Château Versailles if you care for a doze of luxury. Gaze in awe at the sprawling city from the Eiffel tower, taste the frivolous at Lidos or spend hours exploring the hallways of Louvre. There’s just so much to do , that a month long holiday might leave you wondering where the time flew off.

Designer labels, beautiful people, fine dining and cultured charm – the list is long of what you would stumble upon every single day at this city. Visit it once and it’ll get you hooked for the lifetime. I still am high on it!

Venice: a dream with in a dream

Much before ‘The Italian Job’ hit the screen, I’ve been consumed with the idea of experiencing Venice. What could possibly be dreamier than a city that rises up from water like fog?

And a dream like fantasy it is, as your gondola maneuvers through watery canals and the cheery gondolier serenades you with stories of the era that was and sings exclusively for you upon the slightest nudge. You soak in the splendor around you with awe- Couples holding hands on the Rialto Bridge, savories beaming at you invitingly from quaint cafes, old churches and museums that take you back in time. There is an inherent tranquility everywhere – be it the unhurried people going about their chores or the leisurely tourists making the best of their time or perhaps the care-free buzzing of the water –cabs.

You could shop for venetian masks, cakes or hand made chocolates or simply loiter around in the old Sunday vegetable market or St Mark’s Square, catch a cup of hot chocolat as your eyes dazzle with the Christmas décor on the streets and incase you are in the mood for some action head to the St Mark’s Basilica or the very many museums and art galleries at the quiet nook and corners of the labyrinth-like lanes.

Life is a never ending moment of pure bliss at Venice.

Nice: Theme for a dream

Rows of palm trees enveloping glittering sandy white beaches with sparkling blue waters , the capital of French Riviera , is the winter home to celebrities and tourists alike owing to its breathtaking natural beauty and amazing mild Mediterranean weather . With a range of options to have a relaxed summer to choose from – Plush sea facing hotels, carnivals at the city square and casinos for a royal night out – no wonder this is the second most visited tourist destination in France, next to Paris of course.

For a city that’s supposed to be one of the oldest settlements in the world, its interesting mix of how the old and rustic meets the new and jazzy is jaw-dropping. While the old nice provides options to the art and culture enthusiasts – with its cobbled streets and vibrantly painted rows of houses with brown windows and old town markets. The newer part of the city has metros running on the roads and buildings flaunting contemporary architecture and rows of designer labels temptingly inviting from the display windows.

Take time out from exploring the cities museums and cathedrals, or gorging on sumptuous food followed by a walk at the scenic Promenade des Anglais (‘the Walkway of the English’) and drive to Monte Carlo and Monaco to discover luxury in true sense. Now, a stay at these locations is too expensive to be recommended to the faint hearted, but missing a dekko when one is next door in Nice, is absolutely a crime!

Stop over en route at the Fragonard (perfume factory) for a personalized tour and demo on how those scintillating perfumes and toiletries are made , while you head to one of the most sought after tourist destinations for the rich and famous – with its spectacular hotels , Monte Carlo Casino , grand prix racing tracks and yatch-dock yards! Since this small little country is home to the royalty, you could take a sneak peak at their cathedral and palace and stop by on your way back at the ancient Eze village that gives all those fairy tale books that you read about a run for their money.

Phew…Where else could you find everything that your dream vacation can be about?

Dharamsala: lose yourself as you find eternal peace

This quaint little town is quite unassuming in its appearance. Considering that it has this huge baggage of living up to its imagery of being one of the most sought after tourist destinations in India , and also single-handedly defining ‘spiritual awakening’ when it comes to ‘places with a story’. Curiosity or following trends , whatever be your reason – a visit to this place just before the monsoons set in , is all that it takes to reinforce your belief in the adage – ‘great things come in small packages’ . Calling Dharamsala a unique entity would be unfair to its neighboring town ‘Mcloedganj’. Together they represent how culture of an old civilization can live on and stay strong, only because people believe in it.

Waterfalls , backpacking trips & nature walks for some adventure , authentic sumptuous Tibetan food for the foodies , Dalai lama’s abode and monasteries for those looking for spiritual solace . Take a walk through the narrow roads with tiny shops displaying Tibetan wares or simply lounge at a European style coffee shop as you see clouds descend mountains. Numerous options to stay in- get your self a cottage and enjoy waking up everyday to a fresh new morning.

You may or may not find what you are looking for – but you are bound to find enormous peace.

Rajasthan: colour me up!

Yes, this one is the tough one. And it gets tougher here on. One can think of one must visit place in the entire world – but how does one put the vibrant Jaipur before the exotic Jaisalmer? Or not feature the grand city of Udaipur that is topping the charts of tourists across the globe or not mention the rustic Jodhpur in the same breath? So this spot is taken by the entire state of Rajasthan!

Why Rajasthan features more of a whole some cultural entity with a dramatic Technicolor appeal? Dance, music, colour, drama, food, heritage, history – could there be any other place on earth as magical and mystical as mharo rangeelo Rajasthan (My Vibrant Rajasthan)? Discover the unique and distinct flavour of each of these cities, and there’s definitely no better way to do that than by travelling on road (unless of course you can afford the luxury of The palace on wheels). Udaipur’s much acclaimed and multiple award winning palaces & lakes mesmerize you with their grandeur, the fortresses of Jodhpur take you back centuries into the pages of history. Just when you find your way out of the sand dunes of Jaisalmer, the charm of Jaipur with its unbeatable trail of things to do leaves you breathless.

Even though I’ve been to these cities many times, each time is a new experience, maybe because every time it welcomes me with its open arms and says padharo mhare des!

Dubai: Living life king-size

From the minute you touch down at the swanky international airport, your journey into discovering life at its opulent best begins. Plush malls with every possible brand name peeping out of the window displays, the most expensive cars zipping past you, desert safaris and belly dancers at the sand dunes that are only a drive away from the heart of a bustling city. Top of the line options for the business and leisure traveler alike – this place is a vacationer’s paradise.

A heady combination surfaces, as various dramatic landscapes merge into each other. The one where world class business centers, co-exist in harmony with a largely culturally rooted environment. And, just about when you soak in the enormity of it all – it strikes you how there’s one reality that binds these numerous conflicting imageries beautifully. If it doesn’t exist, we create it.

Money can buy you happiness and make one small city an iconic travel destination – be it the magnificent Burj Al Arab , or the man made Dubai Marina , the re-creation of ‘The World’ with a cluster of man-made islands or the ski world in the Mall of Emirates. The choicest of cuisine to choose from , the most exotic avenues of entertainment and shopping options ranging from gold souvenirs to large screen plasma TVs .

You perhaps would run out of time, patience and imagination – but Dubai would never ever cease to run out of ways to woo you!

Rome: could certainly have not been built in a day!

I know someone who’s been to this city 13 times, and I am sure she’s not quite done with it as yet. Cobbled streets, road side cafes, animated faces chatting up with out a worry in the world over espresso shots, small sco0terettes trying to maneuver their way through queues of cars stuck in a jam, centuries old stories instated at every turn as you move from a piazza to another through a via to another.

If there is a fairytale city with a million colorful moments unfolding around you then, then Rome it is. No wonder then it’s said that it wasn’t built in a day and let me add to that, can’t be explored to a traveler’s satisfaction through a single visit.

It’s the mystique of the place that gets to you first, and all the other emotions follow later. As you gaze at centuries old monuments still standing tall completely firm with their identity and relevance in the middle of contemporary buildings of modern times – roads and houses and shops – you wonder how a city could achieve such a graceful harmony. And the answer like I’ve always believed lies in its people.

Take a trip to the Vatican City or simply walk around Rome and explore wonders like the Trevi fountain, the forum and the colloseum, the St Peter’s Basilica and the pantheon. Even the Roma Central Terminal is a sight in itself – with rows of shops and promotions lined up in its huge premises. A Euro-rail trip to explore the spectacular views of Europe is most recommended and this is one place from where you can hop on a train to almost any where in Europe – so don’t miss the chance – coz you never know you might run into a stranger ‘before sunrise’ !

Florence: walk your way into a whole new world

 If Rome is a lesson in the ancient mythology, Florence is one in Renaissance Art. You can literally walk your way from anywhere to anywhere through its cobbled streets that look right out of a classic novel. The statues at the Plazas like signora square and the Gothic architecture of the Dumo, museums and galleries like the Florence Academia – this place would keep you busy for hours if you are an art lover. But even if you aren’t the history freak, you could simply walk around over the bridges of the city & enjoy the beautiful pictures nature paints in this fetching city. What more , its only a train-ride away from Pisa , so you could just hop on to get the trademark picture with the leaning tower of Pisa and perhaps head for some wine-tasting vineyard tours around at Cinque Terre or Chianti on a fine morning.

Stunning landscapes, wine and celebrated art, Florence is undoubtedly the place for the true romantic in you.

 Srinagar: of chill in the air and warmth in the hearts

My memories of Srinagar date back to the time when my father served there as an army officer, but there’s nothing like discovering this achingly beautiful city that’s almost a legend in itself with a friend. Two single young (fearless?) women – out and about in a city that has lately featured more in the news headlines rather than Travel and Living shows. Back in 2003, my first reaction upon landing here as we bargained a good deal out of a Shikara-wala at Dal lake, after catching a coffee at an upmarket cafe at Lal Chowk was – everything seems so normal!

From Old Shankracharya temple overlooking the entire city , to traditional wood and clothes markets for the shopaholics , from wild life sanctuaries to skiing lessons at Gulmarg, from picking up apples at Pahalgam orchards to sipping kahwa at Char Chinar – the cool breeze caresses your face and its so easy to forget for that moment , what the city has endured. The best way to discover the true joy of staying in the city is to stay at a native Kashmiri’s place. I did and can vouch for it – the warm hospitality, the home cooked delicious food and the stories of how life has changed for the old and the young – I wouldn’t trade the experience for even a luxury resort stay anywhere in the world.

 The unexplored: Here’s to more adventures!

It’s said sometimes the best things in life not always things. And that’s the fascinating thing about travelling. Be it the crystal clear beaches of Pondicherry, or the astonishing harmony between two eras in the city that couldn’t possibly be built in a day called Rome. I’ve come across by accident or by design, places that I would love to recommend to any one who would wish to hear about them. Each with a story, a texture and an appeal that is truly unique and absolutely unforgettable. Though my travels so far have been limited to India , Europe and Middle east , I am yet to see a lot more – the mystical Athens, the vibrant Barcelona, the restless Mexico and the reassuring Prague, I’ll let this list remain incomplete as an ode to the true blue explorer in me.

 

Wander Lust!!
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