Friday, March 19, 2010

Swisszerland Photos

The  streamlined Cisalpino train hurtles through the countryside

Cisalpino in Valais

The international Cisalpino trains run from Switzerland to northern Italy and to southern Germany. Since they tilt, they are able to take bends faster than normal trains.

Churfirsten, Canton St Gallen

The  peaks of the Churfirsten chain above lake Walen

Churfirsten, Canton St Gallen

The peaks of the Churfirsten chain rise to heights of between 2200 and 2300 meters above sea level. Their southern face, shown here, drops almost perpendicularly down to the Walensee, whereas to the north they slope down towards the Toggenburg area.

Courtyard, Town Hall, Bellinzona, Ticino

The  arcaded courtyard of the town hall in Bellinzona,

Courtyard, Town Hall, Bellinzona, Ticino

The arcaded courtyard of the town hall in the centre of Bellinzona, the capital of Canton Ticino, was built on the site of a 15th century predecessor.

Switzerland: Photo Gallery

Women  dressed in traditional feast day costume on the Corpus Christi  procession in Appenzell

Corpus Christi, Appenzell, Canton Appenzell Inner-Rhodes

Corpus Christi is celebrated in Roman Catholic areas on the second Thursday after Whitsunday. It consists of a procession in honour of the holy sacrament. In Appenzell the end of the official procession is taken up by women dressed in traditional feast day costume. This costume is worn only on a few specified religious occasions.

Travel Zurich


Lucerne Lake, Switzerland Lucerne is easily accessible due to its central location. The town is a car free zone and small enough to be explored by foot. Have a walk around Lucerne and explore the picture perfect town.

One certainly feels at ease in Lucerne. Enjoy the town with a cup of coffee, visit Swiss Transport Museum, marvel at the "Kapellbrücke," the famous covered bridge across the river Reuss, board a steamboat and explore Lake Lucerne or one of the mountain railways that takes you high up to one of the surrounding pre-alpine summits. But there is lot more than just sightseeing that is there to be done at Lucerne. A welcome addition to this abundant variety has been the new Culture and Congress Center. Lucerne is a place which offers something for everyone...a place which offers the highest quality of life in Switzerland.

Why Visit Lucerne?

  • Picturesque lake surrounded by mountains
  • The medieval old town with its picturesque squares and towers, the Kapell bridge and the lion monument
  • Internationally known festivals and museums (Swiss Transport Museum with IMAX screen), to lively plays and high quality concerts
  • The jewels of modern architecture such as the Culture and Congress Center and the Hotel designed by star architect Jean Nouvel
  • The many excursions to nearby sites such as the Pilatus, the Rigi and the Stanserhorn mountains


    Zurich is truely a wonderful place set among some of the most beautiful scenic vistas on the shores of Lake Zurich. Zurich is just a stone's throw from the Alps. Gentle hills, peaceful woods, the unpolluted lakes and rivers, picturesque villages, all provides an ideal starting point for all kinds of excursions from Zurich.

    Take a walk through the old town, the glorious lake and enjoy the trendy new Zurich West district. There is so much to be enjoyed at Zurich that you may run short of time in Zurich. With over 50 museums and 100 galleries and operas in Zurich, ballet, theater premieres, shows, musicals and art exhibitions are a regular feature in the city. Zurich is a shoppers paradise. Enjoy an incredible shopping experience at the famous Bahnhofstrasse and the Limmatquai in Zurich. Above all, enjoy world class cuisines from all over the world. With over 1,700 restaurants and bars in Zurich serving both traditional Zurich and Swiss dishes as well as exotic specialities, its an experience in itself.

    Winterthur is an important museum town - with 16 in all - and also offers a wide range of culture, sports and entertainment. The Rhine Falls, the biggest waterfall in Europe, is just a 20 minutes drive from Winterthur. Amongst the numerous night clubs and bars you will also find the only bar in Switzerland that opens 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

    Sports facilities in the Lake Zurich region offers many opportunities for sport around the year. Lake Zurich, with its many attractions such as the castle, the medieval old town, the historical wooden bridge and Knies Children's Zoo are very impressive. Equally impressive are other such family-friendly destinations such as the Alpamare water park and Atzmannig slide & trampoline paradise, the are just as much part of this .

    Swiss Alps

    Switzerland is located in Central Europe. Bordered by Germany to the north, Austria to the east, Italy to the south and France to the west, Switzerland covers a very small area. Switzerland has a temperate climate but with changes in altitude, the climate can be cold, rainy/snowy, cool and humid.

    Covering an area of almost 60% of Switzerland, the Alps Mountain Range covers most of Switzerland extending from France and leveling out further into Austria. With the Alps mountain system in the south and the Jura in the northwest, mountains form the majority of the Swiss terrain causing The Alps Mountain to be known as Swiss Alps.

    Dufourspise (15,203 feet), Dom (14,913 feet) and Matterhorn (14,691 feet) are the highest peaks in the Swiss Alps. Switzerland is home to thousands of glaciers covering over one thousand square miles. Some of the longest rivers in Europe such as the Rhine and the Rhone originate in the Swiss Alps. The other mountain range of Switzerland is the Jura, situated along the French border, north of the Alps. "Jura" in Celtic means "forest" and the mountain system is considerably smaller than the Swiss Alps. The area between the Jura and Alps is known as the Bernese Mittelland or "Middle Land". Covering an area of 23% of Switzerland, It is a central plateau consisting of rolling hills. The area is tempered with cold winds called "Bise" from the northwest and pronounced warm gusts from the south called "Föhn".

    This is what makes Swiss Alps ideal for ice skiing, skating, water surfing and other adventure sports and the favourite of nature and adventure buffs.
  • Travel Geneva

    Geneva is a world city, a city characterised by its cosmopolitan population. People come here for many reasons, from humanitarian commitments, attending trade fairs and festivals to diplomatic and cultural activities. Geneva can be considered as the world's smallest metropolis and the headquarters of some of the most prestigious organizations in the world such as The Red Cross and European HQ of the United Nations.

    The town is situated in the laps of nature. A stroll within the city limits, along the shores of the lake with its famous water jet or up into the Old Town are sure to stay in your memories for a long time. Geneva has a very vibrant and multi-cultural night life. As and when the enjoyment reaches its peak, you are sure to feel that you are in France.

    Why Visit Geneva?

  • European United Nations and Red Cross HQ
  • Famous water jet in the lake
  • 2000 years old Cultural and historical centre
  • Trade Fairs and Festivals.
  • Renowned for Cuisine and Wine.

    Lugano Tourism

    Lake  Lugano, Geneva Lugano is one of the largest financial centres in Switzerland. Business and banking is very much a part of life in Lugano. But beauty and nature, architecture and heritage are also very much part of the city. Lugano a perfect blend of a world city and a small town, a place where business and pleasure, efficiency and work go hand in hand.

    The city is considered as a cultural centre on account of the exhibitions organised here in the museums and the surrounding suburbs. The city presents a perfect blend of the Italian ambience and Swiss efficiency. The captivating features of the city include the sunny climate, towering mountains, shimmering lakes, tall buildings in the Lombardic style and the historic city centre.

    Why Visit Lugano?

  • Mediterranean climate
  • Landscape encompassing lush vegetation
  • Numerous excursion and sports
  • A wide range of cuisine
  • Unique Exhibitions
  • The modern and cosmopolitan capital of Luxemburg

    The modern and cosmopolitan capital of Luxemburg is a definitely human-sized city. The traces left by history fuse with the effervescence of current life. This valuable mix is one of the pillars of the city's identity, a melting pot of cultures with a rich history.

    According to the description of a French author in the early years of the 19th Century, Luxemburg was an impressive fortress comparable to the site of "Gibraltar", which had the reputation to be unseizable. Its strategic position between the French Kingdom and the German Empire explains why the citadel of Luxembourg was one of the major strongholds in Europe, from the 16th Century all through its dismantlement in 1867. The citadel grew stronger and greater with the comings and goings of the European powers (the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, the House of Burgundy, the Habsburgers, the Kings of France and of Spain, and finally the Prussians). The greatest fortress engineers from all over Europe, including Vauban, left their marks. Today, the stronghold of Luxemburg embodies this common European history.
    Both the military and civil buildings, bathing in surprisingly natural surroundings, determine the architectural outlook of the old city. The admiration it compels resulted in 1994 in the classification as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Since 1992 the association « Frënn vun der Festungsgeschicht Lëtzebuerg a.s.b.l. » (Friends of the History of the Luxemburg Stronghold) devotes itself to the promotion of the major national historical monument of the country, the stronghold of Luxemburg city, through the organisation of guided visits.

    European capital Luxembourg

    European capital
    Luxembourg has always held a privileged position in the process of European integration. Since the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1952, several European institutions have set up in the capital. The birthplace of one of the fathers of Europe, Robert Schuman, Luxembourg has the vocation of playing the role of one of the European capitals not only due to its geographical situation right in the heart of Europe, but also due to its multilingualism. Cosmopolitan and welcoming, with a population made up of almost 150 different nationalities, the city is a real economic, social and cultural melting-pot.

    Flourishing setting for culture
    In Luxembourg, the museums appear in ceremonial garb. The Luxembourg City History Museum retraces the high points of the over one thousand years of history of a European city with human dimensions whilst the National Museum of History and Art hosts one of the most beautiful Roman mosaics north of the Alps. The permanent and temporary exhibitions of the National Museum of Natural History “natur musée” fascinate adults anc children whilst modern art-lovers should head to the Casino Luxembourg – Forum of Contemporary Art.
    Vue panoramique de la  ville au soir
    The Museum of Modern Art Grand-Duc Jean MUDAM is one of the most ambitious architectural and cultural projects ever undertaken in the Grand Duchy. The Chinese American architect Ieoh Ming Pei came up with, designed then transformed the Thüngen fort, a highly strategic military location at the time in a strategic location for artistic creation. Close to the MUDAM is the Philharmonie, another architectural gem on the Kirchberg plateau which hosts some of the most prestigious musical groups.
    The city’s “Grand Théâtre” hosts and coproduces operas, musical, dance shows and plays in French, German and English. Throughout the seasons, the city of Luxembourg offers a range of colourful concerts and festicals, from ”Printemps musical” (music in the springtime), via the festival for unity “Summer in the City“ and the Indian summer “Live at Vauban” to “Winterlights”, whilst ”Schueberfouer”, one of the biggest funfairs in Europe attracts over 2 million visitors every year.
    The art of living
    There are plenty of opportunities to celebrate in Luxembourg, which are always enhanced by culinary art. The many restaurants offer refined cuisine and excellent service. The vast green spaces in the Pétrusse Valley, the public parks and thepicturesque banks of the Alzette are the ideal setting for relaxation whilst the pedestrian area is a true shopping thoroughfare which includes a wide choice of boutiques and high street shops.

    Vue sur  la Vallée de la Pétrusse
    Enjoy the unexpected active and lively cosmopolitan city which has nevertheless retained a personal charm!
    Exhibition and Congress Centre LUXEXPO
    An area of 33.000 m2 and an extremely varied international program turn Luxexpo into the better exhibition solution of the Greater Region. The flexibility and far reaching functionality enables to organize a complete range of events like the ”Foires Internationales” (consumption goods in spring and investment goods at fall), ”Vakanz” for holidays and tourists, ”Antiquaires fair” for collectors, ... Luxexpo has 4.000 m2 of modular spaces for conference and seminar purposes which can be made to measure or individually designed. They also feature pre-installed areas with simultaneous translation facilities, a restaurant-brasserie, a modular banquet room, a business lounge and a wide range of professional performances and matching services.

    Weinviertel DAC

    Weinviertel DAC

    The most peppery white wine in Austria is grown in the Weinviertel region and, typically for the land north east of Vienna, is made from Grüner Veltliner grapes. It makes both wine professionals and connoisseurs eager to spice up their lives.
    Easily recognised by its light green gold colour and spicy but fruity flavour: Weinviertel DAC is a white wine which tastes of the endless rolling hills of the Weinviertel region, of sunshine and the flinty earth on which the vines flourish. DAC stands for controlled designation of origin and is a guarantee that Weinviertel DAC wine has passed several tests to maintain its high level of quality. Grüner Veltliner with its Pfefferl, or peppery kick can be bought in wine shops, but also directly from around six hundred vineyards along the 400 km long Wine Road and of course in the many “villages without chimneys” as the rows of wine taverns and cellars are known.

    Austria's Wine Regions

    Austria’s vibrant wine scene has earned a worldwide reputation for quality and innovation and is the destination for those seeking energy, culture, and charm. The miracle of Austria is that all of its wine regions are incredibly easy to visit. In fact, once you step off the plane in Vienna, you have already arrived in one of the world’s most unique wine regions.

    All articles related to Sights & Attractions


    A culinary voyage around the world takes not 80 days but minutes in Vienna’s Naschmarkt.
    Locals call it the “city’s stomach”, it has existed since the 18th century and is Vienna’s largest inner city market. The Naschmarkt is open from Monday to Saturday for strolling, admiring, discovering and sampling. You can buy everything to do with food: fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, bread and cheese. There are also delicatessen favourites such as Persian caviar, sushi and oysters and a colourful display of international produce, especially from the countries of former Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Japan and China. If the sight of all this bounty makes you hungry, you can eat right in the Naschmarkt at a choice of restaurants. And on Saturday don’t miss a visit to the most famous flea market in Vienna, which is held right next door.

    Activities in Austria

    Who needs a beach?

    In the very heart of Europe, Austria is a country which could have been created with activity holidays in mind. It is a land of majestic mountains, tranquil lakes, fast flowing rivers and streams, deep forests, undulating meadows, charming village which cling fiercely to their architectural traditions and cultural heritage and cities which still reflect the artistic grandeur of the old Austro Hungarian empire.
    There is not one single province which does not offer a wealth of activities to the holidaymaker, whether they be young or old, highly active or more sedentary. The Austrians have long played the host to an influx of foreign visitors and approach the business of making their guests feel at home and lay on a diversity of entertainment in a most professional manner .Whatever activity you may decide to try, whether you be expert or novice you can be confident that the organisation, the equipment , the tuition and the whole infrastructure will be first class . Language is rarely a problem, except perhaps in the most remote village and even here there will always be someone with sufficient English to answer questions or help soothe out any problems . The Austrians are amongst the most friendly and warmhearted people you are likely to meet with a great sense of humour and an almost obsessional desire to see their guests enjoying themselves. There is always a fine sense of camaraderie between visitors and locals and at the end of the day, no matter what activity you have been indulging in, relaxation in pleasant surroundings with amiable company is the name of the game. Austria is a country that appeals to all members of the family. There are dozens of places where you can spend a week or fortnight engaging in one particular specialist sport whether it be mountaineering, river rafting, sailing or whatever but most resorts have a whole wealth of other activities which are available, Members of the family or of a group can try different sports either separately or together perhaps combining several different activities during the course of the stay. Glacier skiing in the morning and water skiing in the afternoon, mountain biking on Monday followed by a leisurely round of golf on Tuesday. All kinds of combinations are available. To the Austrians the children are the VIPs and the family unit is well catered for. Indeed there is a group, the Kinder Hotels – Children Hotels, which are designed around the theme that children are the most important guests and there are many villages and hotels that have organised children’s clubs with a programme of activities to keep them entertained for the day whilst mum and dad have a well deserved rest or do an activity that does not involve the children. Golf has become more popular in Austria and there has been an explosion of golf courses springing up in many of the regions. The Alpine Golf Card covers a total of 28 golf courses in the Tyrol and Salzburg regions many of which are located in some of the most magnificent landscapes of the Alps. There is also a group of hotels which offer special services and individual programs for golfers. They guarantee quality food and accommodation. The Alpine Golf Card which includes five green fees, saving up to 30%, and may be used throughout the summer season including weekends, holidays and on tournament days, and golfers are given priority regarding reservation of a starting time or registration for a tournament. The tee-off reservation can be booked by phone up to one day before play. The card can be purchased at all 28 golf clubs and in many golf hotels. River rafting has always been popular on the rivers lnn and Saalzach. There is a good selection of rafting schools and beginners as well as experts will enjoy the excitement of this sport. Canoes are an alternative and groups are arranged either for lessons or for a paddle along some of the scenic rivers. When conditions are right the mountain tops become the starting point for the Paraglider or Dragonfly. The gondolas transport fliers to the peaks and there are a great number of schools who will take the raw recruit on a tandem flight to give you a taste of what flying like a bird is really like. Lessons are essential but just to watch the experts soaring on the thermals is enough to make anyone want to have a go at this sport .Windsurfers and dingy sailors will find the beauty of the lakes great places to enjoy these sports. Again there are plenty of places to obtain instruction or for the more experienced hire a board or dinghy and have a go.Austrian countryside is ideal for horse or pony riding a sport for all the family. The very young can sit in the saddle for the first time with expert tuition which is to be found in the many riding schools throughout the provinces. It will not be long before they are wanting to exploring the local countryside. Good fishing can be found in the lakes, rivers and streams. There is underwater diving in the lakes some of which are deep and there are schools and clubs where equipment and advice can obtained. Summer skiing can be found on the several glaciers throughout Austria, The Kitzsteinhorn above Kaprun in the province of Salzburg, the Hintertux glacier in the Ziller valley and the Stubai glacier at the far end of the Stubai valley in Tirol. Ballooning and gliding clubs can be found for those interested in either a trial flight or gaining further experience.Canyoning is a sport which can be practiced at several places where the waterfalls and gorges are ideal. The right equipment and an expert are essential for the inexperienced. Water has a special attraction for children and pools and beaches abound throughout Austria with the facilities second to none. Many villages and have invested in large sports complexes which apart from the many indoor activities such as squash, tennis etc have large bathing pools with slides and play areas that will keep the most energetic child happy all day.

    Vienna for everybody

    When it comes to high culture, Vienna pretty much has it sewn up. It’s the city Klimt, Schiele, Strauss and Mozart among others called home. As far as hip destinations go however , Vienna has had a harder time cutting it: this is, after all, the city immortalised by Midge Ure, and whose biggest pop export is Falco .This is clearly something the Viennese have taken on board. For while no visit is complete without a trip to a classical concert, or to the Belvedere to see the Klimt collection or to one of the celebrated coffee houses, there is now a bar and restaurant scene to rival any within Europe. Not bad for a city of just 1.6 million. While the traditional wine taverns dotted around the city are worth a quick visit –Vienna is the only metropolis with its own wine-growing industry anyone wishing to see where it’s at should head to the new Museums Quarter. Here’s where you get your culture fix - the Leopold Museum, housing the world’s largest collection of Schiele, is a must–see–yet, it’s also where you’ll find some of Vienna’s most fashionable bars and restaurants.Motto is the restaurant of the moment ,Stylish it may be – the 70s inspired décor is pure Wallpaper magazine, the waiters sport Travis Bickle haircuts – but the prices are reassuringly un-chic. You can eat what you like without undue fear of the bill, although. Unless your language skills are up to speed, ordering includes a certain element of surprise. After your meal, head to nearby Bar Italia, a trendy popular hangout – although that said there’s nothing visibly Italian about it, if you can’t find a seat at the upstairs bar, head down to the basement, where friendly staff will mix you a tasty but lethal cocktail form their extensive list. Alternatively try Café Mobel, a unique bar cum furniture shop where you can order a designer sofa alongside your latte.Vienna isn’t a shopping city in the same way as ,say, London or Paris, but should you find yourself in the central shopping district, Sky Bar is the place to stop and rest your feet. It’s a swanky café-bar, where tuxedoed waiters bring you pastries and coffee, or something stronger, situated at the top of Steffl department store. Getting there means taking a lift up form the street, which gives you a great view of St. Stephan’s Cathedral. Another swish place to drink and indeed stay is the “Das Triest” a designer hotel in the centre of town. Grab a banquette in the art deco bar and check out your fellow clientele – this is where celebrities such as David Bowie stay when they’re in town. A slightly lower-key, although no less fabulous for it, place to stay is the Altstadt. It’s a small, boutique hotel, dripping with style and character, with huge comfortable suites making it the ideal base from which to explore Vienna. You can’t go to Vienna without eating a strudel in a coffeehouse. Yes, it’s cliché, yes it’s touristy, but yes it’s worth it. There are far too many to list here, and they range from the grand and imposing to the scruffy and bohemian, but they all have real charm. These are where everyone form students to politicians to artists to bankers meet and socialise or simply relax with a newspaper. For a visitor they’re the perfect place to people watch and plan your exciting day ahead. The Town Hall Galleries - International flair in the city centre of Innsbruck With the motto "365 days of strolling" and sheltered from all weathers underneath an artistically created glass roof, Innsbruck invites its visitors to take a leisurely "window-shopping" stroll through the Town Hall Galleries. Covering an area of approximately 9,000 square metres, the new shopping arcade in the heart of the Olympic town boasts elegant stores of international name and attractive bars and restaurants, including modern gourmet cuisine as well as cosy wine bars. But the so-called "RathausGallerien" offer much more than a simple shopping experience. Another "highlight" that has been integrated into the gallery complex is the 4-star congress hotel, "The Penz", with a capacity for 200 people and a roof terrace offering splendid views. However, all those aiming high should not only pay a visit to the shops. The "Campanile", a 37 m high glass tower that seems to reign over the entire Town Hall structure and is even higher than the city tower, provides breathtaking views to let your eyes roam over the city below. And should you wish to get married and are not afraid of heights, the new wedding room high above Innsbruck provides just the right location. Following the ceremony, the honeymooners can enjoy their glass of champagne at the café "Lichtblick" (bright view) on the roof terrace of the 7th floor, which really does do credit to its name. From the lookout platform "Belvedere" on the 9th floor, visitors can take in the endless panorama onto the roofs of Innsbruck.

    Innsbruck, city of sports, boasts new symbol

    The new ski-jump at the historic Bergisel mountain rises majestically into the air towering over the Olympic city of Innsbruck. The oustanding location has always been of great importance to the Tyrol and especially to Innsbruck: Around 200 years ago, brave Tyroleans with their leader Andreas Hofer fought a battle on the Bergisel for the liberty of their homeland. And in 1925 the first ski-jump was erected on this famous historic site. The outstanding sports stadium twice hosted the most important competition on international scale: On the occasion of the Olympic Games 1964 and 1976, the Olympic flame was lit at the Bergisel. Even though the most modern ski-jumping facility all across the globe with more than 28,000 seats for the public is mainly reserved for breathtaking ski-jumping experiences, Innsbruck's new symbol also offers a lot of opportunities from a tourism point of view. In fact, the new stadium will meet the expectations of all its visitors, whether they come to see marvellous panoramic views, want to have a cup of coffee, admire the technical structure or just love looking at innovative architectural design. The entire facility, including cable-car, tower lift, panorama café and lookout terrace onto the ski-jump has been open to the public every day since 20 September 2002 from 9.00 am until 5.00 pm. From May 2003, visits to this unique tourist attraction are included in the "All Inn-clusive Innsbruck Card". From the entrance of the spectacular construction into the tower you just have to take 255 steps or spend a few minutes in the modern inclined elevator to go up 47 m higher before you can enjoy a 360 degree panoramic view of the mountain scenery. The restaurant with its 120 seats may also be hired out between 7.00 pm and 1.00 am for private functions such as "work incentive programmes" with transport by cable-car and elevator. Thanks to its own car parking facilities and busses, the stadium is perfectly prepared to receive a huge number of visitors. Austria – Where Alpine Skiing is a way of Life If a ski area expert could do a free-flow design of his terrain, he would come up with the Austrian Alps. The relatively low elevation of the villages, 750 to 1,500 meters (2,500 to 5,000 feet) above sea level, treats vacationers form low-lying metropolitan areas gently, eliminating altitude discomfort and making adjustment easy.Austria, small as it is (83,858 square km/32,368 square miles) is a world power in uphill transportation: more than 4,000 lifts of all types make short work of getting skiers up to the starting points of ski runs. One ski complex often incorporates 50,60,70 lifts, all available on one lift pass; “ski seesaws” open up two opposite faces of the same mountain, tying villages in different valleys together into one practical, shuttle buses, generally free for holders of valid lift tickets, provide the links in far-flung winter sport districts . “Gemütlichkeit” - The Magic of the Mountains Few people can pronounce it, nobody can define it precisely, everybody can feel it, the uniquely Austrian mood that pervades the old inns, flavors meals, flows form all the traditions, sparkles in the folklore. Gemütlichkeit is an appreciation of time and leisure, a celebration of friendship old and new, the savvy of finding and enjoying the good things in life, a warm casualness, the instinct to find the right allies in the pursuit of a good time, the essence of convivial gatherings. It welcomes you when you linger in a hut or in a rustic little bar with fellow skiers as you come off the slopes. It makes the zither tunes at the wine tavern vibrate. It enhances the flirtation at the nightclub as you dance, sip and converse. It embraces and warms you as you take a sleigh ride to an inn outside the village for dinner. It turns back time as you stroll through the streets of the town, taking a breath of fresh air. With its roots deep in the traditions of the mountains, it gives your stay in Austria the fantastic touch no other destination can duplicate. Come and let it happen to you!

    The real Athens

    IT is probably impossible to love Athens at first sight. It is not a city that deliberately puts its best foot forward to greet visitors. Its unruly aggressiveness, noticeable at once, almost feels like a slap. It takes a little time and patience to feel its first caress.

    That initial slap, however, is well intentioned, the kind that tries to bring the befuddled to his senses. Almost rudely, Athens brushes aside preconceptions people have of it and roughly proclaims its very own reality.

    They call it the cradle of civilisation. Seeing the Greek capital from the top of the Acropolis on a clear, late afternoon, you may find little reason to argue. White rooftops cluster quaintly against the lower slopes. A carpet of inhabitation spills towards the glistening Saronic Gulf in the south and the mountains in the east and north, exuding, from this deceptive distance, a kind of order.

    The motor car, the threat

    The problem with this idyllic scenario, of course, is finding Athens on a clear day, since the air is often smothered by the infamous nefos, a cocktail of traffic fumes caught within the natural basins of the city. After centuries of onslaught from war, vandalism and natural disasters, some of the most important ancient relics of western civilisation are now threatened by it foremost symbol, the motor car.

    So, while waiting for the air to clear, it is worthwhile to concentrate on the Acropolis, which for more than 2,000 years dominated the city — first as a spiritual centre and fortress, later as the site of Parthenon, a temple honouring Athena, the patron Goddess of Athens, still later as churches, mosques and even harems as it was transformed by different conquerors. Today stripped of the many of the statues that once lined the way, with drums and columns strewn about, the Acropolis with Parthenon as its centrepiece remains even in ruins majestic and monumental.

    When a brisk wind scoops away the nefos, the fantastic panorama becomes clearly visible. From the top of the hill the view goes on forever. The landmarks from Herodes Atticas across the Agora, which formed the centre of the city life in the Classical age, past the Temple of Olympian Zeus to the reconstructed Roman Stadium, site of the first modern Olympics in 1896, are scattered as if some remnant of the fabulous ancient theme park.

    Athenians are so careless of the past in their manic absorption of the present, one might conclude that history did not leave a deep imprint here. This is far from the case, but in one respect it is a good thing. Past gives the impression of lying lightly on the present. There is little feeling of the weight of time. The great monuments are either set apart, floating like the Acropolis serene over today's hubbub, or engulfed like the little Byzantine churches which lie scattered around, half submerged on an earlier foundation of civilisation, overwhelmed by traffic and fumes but, being always in use, themselves exhaling puffs of incense.

    Most of the interesting sights of Athens are within walking distance of one another. But you have to find them amid the cacophony of modern day structures like shops, apartments, and traffic. For example, one has to cross a busy and dangerous thoroughfare to reach the Arch of Hadrian. Roman emperor Hadrian had this arch constructed in A.D. 132 to demarcate the city he built from the earlier one.

    Of others eras in Athens' long history, little remains. A few churches are the meagre remnants of 1,000 years of Byzantine rule, and the tortuous lanes of the Plaka are all that is left of the 19th Century Athens except a few remaining old houses, mostly occupied by tavernas, in this pedestrian zone on the northern slope of the Acropolis. Just around is Monasteraki — the flea market and metal smithing area of the city. But they still retain a kind of charm, which attracts camera-toting tourists round the clock.

    Interestingly in those remaining Byzantine churches, age-old Pagan customs can still be observed like the tradition of offering bridal wreaths to Athena, only now transferred to offerings to the Virgin Mary.

    To the east of Acropolis lies the modern city, spread out almost like an afterthought. Planned to accommodate only two lakh people, today some 40 lakh inhabit this city that spills almost randomly over the hills of the Attic plain. Roads are narrow and inadequate for the ever-increasing number of automobiles. Traffic is horrendous, with streets congested during seemingly interminable rush hours. The air is kept fresh only by the indefatigable breeze blowing in from the sea.

    Between the Syntagma Square and Omonia Square is European Athens, in contrast to the quintessentially Greek Plaka, and Oriental Monastiraki.

    The hub

    The hub of Athens is the open area called Syntagma, or Constitution Square. Here is the centre of all activity, from the functioning of government to the ogling of ladies' legs. Syntagma Square is where the entire world must pass in order to cross the city. Around this green oasis roars traffic, angry traffic. In Athens, apparently everyone ultimately converges again and again at Syntagma Square, which acts as a modern counterpoint to the historic pull of the city. This is the prime territory for watching the world go by. Sitting in one of the cafes, you can watch foreign business people rushing in and out of luxurious hotels, office workers heading home for lunch break, and Greek men trying to pick up female tourists in front of American Express. The square is often a gathering point for demonstration, as it is very close to the House of Parliament, a large lemon coloured structure, which occupies the high ground.

    Around Omonia are many government buildings. There are chaps discussing politics, inevitably. This is evident from the intensity of the debate, the waving newspapers and gathering crowds. Circling the square — a geometric possibility in modern Greece — one reaches the National Theatre in one of the radial roads. In an adjacent café itinerant gypsy musicians congregate in a sort of musical labour exchange. The place is identified by the sounds of clarionets, violins, and small drums or tabmourlakia, and by the singers in the floor-length gold lame who stop in after work in the early hours of the morning.

    So, in Omonia Square, the city's hyperactive middle class plaza, while the parade of Greek food items reaches your table one by one, you can take time in eating them or if you like, allow yourself to enjoy the show put up by a variety of pavement artists and acrobats just outside.

    The kiosks of Omonia sell foreign newspapers and magazines, books as well as the usual tobacco and sweets.

    If Athens' rather makeshift, sloppy, unfinished look seems disconcertingly haphazard at first, it is necessary to see this scattered metropolis as a whole to understand that it could not be other than it is. In the first place, more than most capitals, Athens is the embodiment of its country in a highly concentrated form. It exemplifies a way of life, which Athenians themselves, rarely at a loss for words, can only call "Greek Reality". It is a complex, but definable combination of attitudes that makes the country tick.

    And meanwhile, Athenians are on record for being the most optimistic city dwellers in Europe. This must be due to their looking at life in a fluid, take-it-as-it comes sort of way. Four thousand years of continuous civilisation may be difficult to find in Athens, but the street wisdom it has produced is visible everywhere.

    A perfect Mediterranean climate and outlook permeate the city, creating an appropriately relaxed atmosphere. Residents spend hours over cups of coffee — the thick, muddy Greek variety — discussing life and politics. Athenian workers break in the afternoon for a few hours, return to work, and go out to dinner quite late, about 10 p.m. Even on weeknights, tavernas are full past midnight. In many bouzoukia — nightclubs where traditional bouzouki music is played — the entertainment does not really start until midnight. Despite the big city veneer, people take their time.

    I find this both engaging and perplexing. The lifestyle is quite pleasant, but it takes its toll on the economy. Greece has fared well in a few industries — its shipyards are the sixth largest in the world; tourism is an excellent and well organised business; petrochemicals have made quite a few Athenians wealthy in the past 30 years — but still Greece is one of the least productive of the major countries of Europe.

    My hotel receptionist confirmed another side of Greece's problem — the loss of its young talent. All her four brothers have left for the United States and are unlikely to return. In fact, one-third of the Greeks in the world live outside their native country.

    The Greek restaurateur

    But Greece's loss is other country's gain. Visitors from more developed Western countries do not need much time to understand why transplanted Greeks take to restauranteuring. In Greece, eating is a way of life. Restaurants are more than places to have a bit before the evening's entertainment. Very often they are the entertainment themselves. And, the pleasure is not directly proportional to the price of the place.

    Athens is not actually a city preserved in amber for the fastidious connoisseur. No Disneyland anywhere in the world would want to have anything to do with it. With its incomparable past body-locked into an unquaint but vital present, Athens is the real thing — a great human hodgepodge dedicated, as it has been continually for the past 4,000 years, to the business of living as fully as possible.

    Athens has in a sense, come full circle. Though its ancient history is very ancient indeed, as a capital of a modern democratic state it is entirely new, with a burdensome history and a future still unmade. Perhaps the split in its history has created an ambivalent nature of modern Athens — a city somewhat overshadowed by the glories of the past.

    High altitude grandeur

    AS I stepped out of Denver airport, on a sunny morning in July, a surge of excitement stirred unbidden within me at the picturesque sight of the glacial topped Rocky mountain ranges. Even at a distance of 50 to 70 miles, the endless rows of the sprawling mountains sparkled in resplendent brightness, wearing a look of warmth and stately grandeur to beckon visitors. It would be an understatement to say that I found it difficult to ignore the thrill that raced within me at the thought that I would be right in the heart of the grand Rocky Mountains, that I had only seen in atlases and read about in geography and history books.

    Spectacular beauty

    The drive to the Rocky Mountain National Park is through an area of scenic beauty, silhouetted with mountain ranges that border large stretches of land, and with the Big Thompson river rising and falling along the drive. It is said that the best time to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park is between the warmer months from May to October. Located in the north and central part of Colorado State in the United States, this Rocky Mountain National Park is a spacious natural reserve sprawling across 2,65,769 acres. It subsumes mountain ranges, valleys and flatlands at an elevation range of more than 6,000 feet.

    The skyline is dotted with mountain ranges on whose slopes are dense forests of aspen, fir, spruce and ponderosas. The drops of 2,000 and 3,000 feet into rock bound gorges are nothing short of spectacular.

    The terrain is distinctive in its vegetation that ranges from lush areas along streams, rivers, lakes and ponds, at both higher and lower elevations, to forest stretches on mountain slopes. At the highest elevations are tundra regions of glacial peaks and slopes.

    The forests are interspersed with bare rocky edges of the mountains, sometimes plain, sometimes ribbed and wrinkled, and boulders of all sizes and shapes. The varied species of trees form the natural habitat for animals like the elk, the mule deer, the coyote, the skunk, the moose, the porcupine, different species of squirrels and birds of all kinds. The many lakes and rivers that are scattered in the park are home to ducks and river otters.

    The millions of tons of rocks in the park perhaps justify the name Rocky Mountains for this area. The sizes and shapes of rocks are innumerable and unique. The mountain ranges run from north to south, with the slopes sharper on the east and gentler on the west. The valleys in the park are themselves about 8,000 feet above sea level and the peaks rise thousands of feet higher at an average elevation of 12,000 feet. There is a huge `U' shaped valley between two glacial topped mountain peaks — Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain. This can be viewed from a vantage point on the shores of Bear Lake, a beautiful lake trail, that is easy and wheel-chair accessible. Heavy glaciers that have moved or flowed from the mountains through the passage of time must have formed this valley. Since the glaciers have been subject to successive freezing and thawing, when they move, they tear up the ground and carry the land under them or on their sides that are called moraines. The valley in the Moraine Park area was formed in this manner.

    The Trail Ridge Road

    The Trail Ridge Road, U.S. Route 34, is the highest contiguous road in the world and helps visitors to motor through the park. As one drives on the Trail Ridge Road, there is the treat of the endless stretches of Nature's pristine beauty. There are spots on the drive where one gets to view both sides of the ranges from overlooks located at vantage points. While driving in the eastern valleys, the ranges rise in bold relief, rugged in outline and crowned with snow. Some of them seem to confront each other in a perennial dialogue.

    While driving on the northern side of the trail, one gets to see the tundra regions that are primarily seen in Alaska, Canada, and Russia. In her book Land Above the Trees, Ann Zwinger says, "The Alpine tundra is a land of contrast and incredible intensity, where the sky is the size of forever and the flowers the size of a millisecond." Situated at an altitude of 13,500 feet and above, in an Arctic-like environment, with 10 months of winter, hurricane and winds, the tundra has glacial mountains and bare rocks, with low growing plants, tufts of marigold and tiny wild flowers, and marshes at lower levels.

    The drive along Trail Ridge Road through the park may take four hours or more, depending on the halts visitors make to view the many grand vistas all through. The drive on the western side of the road leads through the Kawuneeche Valley in which lie lush meadows, many streams, natural lakes and even a part of the Colorado River.

    While the bighorn sheep, the black bear, the mountain lion and the bobcat inhabit higher elevations and are elusive to visitors, one is more likely to sight the elk and the moose in the valley. The road is well paved and safe, but drivers are cautioned to maintain a speed limit and observe safety measures.

    Along the Trail Ridge Road there are many points that lead to walks or easy hikes that are about a mile long and require a mere stroll on plain land or on rugged rocks. In addition there are hundreds of small and long hikes possible in other parts of the park. In his book Walks and Hikes, Patrick Soran has listed 60 trails that are less than seven miles long and need climbs of less than 1,000 feet. He also includes information and a detailed description about what each one of them can offer along with some beautiful photographs. Soran says that each of these trails is "rewarding" when it offers a "classic moment" and defines a "classic moment", as either an experiential reaction to the scenes of grand vistas, a quiet realisation, or a spontaneous response to the serenity of the spot.

    I walked the Copeland Falls trail that leads to a view of a grand waterfall where the water gushes over boulders and rocks. To stand in the midst of forests and mountains and hear the sound of the falling water and feel the cool air is an aesthetic experience to be treasured.

    Trails to lakes such as Bear Lake, Nymph Lake or Lily Lake evoke yet another different experience. As one walks along the shores of these lakes, the abundant scenic beauty and range of vistas vie with their reflections in the still waters of the lake. Hikers have always to be on guard against frequent thundershowers, especially in the afternoons.

    There are four entrance points to this park. Three of them are on the eastern side, namely, the Wild Basin Entrance, the Fall River Entrance, and the Beaver Meadows Entrance. The Grand Lake Entrance station is on the south west side of the park. The National Park Service (NPS) of the U.S. has to be commended for its excellent efforts to preserve the natural park, while allowing visitors ample room to enjoy Nature's resources. The NPS runs shuttle buses to the most congested parts of this park (like Bear Lake and Moraine Park) and also operates informational visitor centres in all national parks, recreation areas and monuments. Four visitor centres, located close to the entrance stations provide information on trails, walks and ranger programmes in the Rocky Mountains National Park. A fifth, called the Alpine Visitor Centre is situated on Trail Ridge Road in the middle of the park a few hundred meters from the highest point on the road.

    To explore and savour some of the richness and beauties in this place one needs a relaxed space of at least a week. This article barely touches the tip of the iceberg.

    A one-day trip at best can provide an abridged version of the experience, a taste of the manifold joys that abound in this area.

    A visit to the Rocky Mountains is certainly a lifetime's worth. While Colorado's mountainous terrain offers innumerable beautiful sights that leave one longing for more and never satiated, its magnitude of awe and grandeur also invoke a humbling effect on mankind.

    Documentation of life

    OBLIQUELY, the image relates to the three graces, the inspirational grouping of three fabled figures, an image that enjoyed great popularity in European art through the 18th Century. Transposed in an upper class Indian home however, a completely different construct comes alive. There is a measure of relaxation in the groupings of women in threes. But there is also a degree of tension, in the taut bodily lines, the apparent "dressing up" for the photograph, the implicit familial and social narratives that can be "read" into the photograph.

    Dayanita Singh's photography is the art of visual seduction. Britta Schmitz, curator at the Hamburger Bahnhoff, leading contemporary art museum in Berlin, sifts through her oeuvre to create a visually stunning exhibition, "Privacy".

    Through references like the three graces, or the visual sumptuousness of the wealthy Indian home, she creates an image montage completely unfamiliar to European viewers. Consequently, Singh is the first Indian photographer to enter the European museum circuit with such self assurance.

    Dayanita Singh, at 42, has chartered a career that defies predictablility. She has dislodged the glass ceiling that has kept most Indian, and particularly women, photographers tied to the hegemony of news She usually works serially, engaging with a single subject intensely, until it is dislodged — apparently seamlessly — by another. Schmitz's selection rests on Family Portraits and what Dayanita describes as Empty Spaces, or interiors that speak of human absence. On a shooting stint in Goa, as Dayanita writes: "I realised that I could make a portrait without a person in it. I started to make photographs of spaces without human beings, yet peopled by the unseen generations who had lived there before. Very soon I was consumed by this seeming emptiness; beds of those who had passed away, but that were still made everyday, beds turned into shrines, with photos and sandals on them and of course beds of the living, but without their physical presence."

    From one vantage point in the Hamburger Banhoff gallery, one could count 11 such beds. Testimonies to India's gift for object veneration, they document the movement of life from grihastya to sanyaas. As empty spaces, they carry an impress of the pure sterility imparted by death — the sense of the ascetic and the pure that comes with too many washings of the same white sheet. The bed as empty, but silent, witness to moments of unspoken privacy and eros also appears. The empty spaces, essentially interiors, as photographed by Dayanita, trace silent histories. Chairs that remain rooted to the same spot, surviving generations of occupants, quaint memorabilia associated with Bapu in the Gandhi Smriti, paintings by Norblin (that look like a bad marriage between Art Nouveau and the Bengal school) in the Morvi palace bedrooms. Dayanita treats empty spaces like a visual index of Indian taste — the lace covers, rosaries and bleeding hearts of Christian images in a Goan household, the touristic gew gaws of a family that looks as if they have been on an African safari are all photographed with a degree of earnest engagement. Almost artlessly, through family portraits, we are treated to an index of Indian upper class visuality and art. In the background to her subjects appear paintings of Hemen Mazumdar, gods and gurus, portraits of royals, national leaders and the family departed. They enter the frame, thus creating an essay of the image within the image. .

    When Dayanita does people her pictures, it is with a distinct class of PLUs — that her curator Schmitz describes as "people who have time, money, servants, palatial homes and well bred dogs". Dayanita had already trod the well intentioned path of Indian photography (prostitutes, AIDS, musicians, Bollywood) when with the encouragement of Colin Jacobson, picture editor of The Independent, she decided to represent her own world. In her own words, "there are many versions of India and this is mine".

    The Family Portraits are in a curious mix of suggestively close readings and formal portraiture. Singh's upper class subjects dress up and pose, but relax sufficiently before her lens to afford slivers of psychological insight.

    Dayanita is quick to foreground innuendo, sexual or otherwise, nuances of social hierarchy, ironies implicit in the making of "good" taste. The formally composed family tableaux in square format scrambles categories: thus the portrait may be in the intimate suggestive space of a bed room. It may formally represent a family but the little girl in the frame appears like a Nabokov creation, impelled by a mind far beyond her years. Obviously these pictures take a position that in a western gallery mediates for the other India, one that is insulated from disasters, disease, subcontinental chaos.

    Inevitably Dayanita, placed within a museum context will invite comparison.

    Britta Schmitz for instance compares her documentation of Indian life with August Sander who documented life in pre- and post-war Germany in 600 genre portraits, taking in everyone from the village idiot to the soldier.

    Dayanita's work is far from straight forward documentary, neither is it a pictorial catalogue of India's rich and famous. More specifically her family portraits would locate her in the line of Diane Arbus or even Nan Goldin. I would argue that such comparisons are simplistic and Dayanita's own development will render them redundant. Dayanita's particular quality is the enigmatic mix of ease and tension that she seems to draw out of her subject, even as she fixes them with a degree of informed objectivity that approximates the documentary style. Yet it is in the absent self that suggests that she is somehow herself within each frame ... .

    * * *

    THE other more heterogeneous, complex view of Indian art is currently on view at the House of World Cultures, in the exhibition "sub Terrain" curated by Geeta Kapur. Such representations that are based on a nation's art production are inevitably challenging. Kapur's curatorial choices rest on the transgressive rather than the normative.

    Both the essential components of "body" and "city" are open to lateral interpretations — of body-self, body politic, city-street, both individual and social mappings.

    The entry into the subject can be through the person or the body per se.

    Kapur filters the subject through the artist as subject/interpreter, thus pitting the heroic self against the city as amorphous construct. Atul Dodiya mediates this through Gandhi and his father as symbolic of aspiration, disease and dismemberment; in Vivan Sundaram's "Room with a Bed" four known figures, as sites, in Indian media and art practice become the absent presences, here evoked through an imaginary bedroom. For instance, the photographer/activist Ram Rahman's bedroom contains a bronze cast of his underwear, and clusters of photographs pinned up on the wall. Here there is both document and voyeurism, private fantasy and objective record on view. The movement in the show is from the evacuated body, to its insistent presence. The most poignant mark of this evacuation of course is sudden and violent eruption.

    Navjot's piece "Lacuna in Testimony" conflates such moments of social crises — Auschwitz with Gujarat's great ethnic purge. Repeatedly, in rhythm to the waves of the Arabian Sea, a child's plaintive cry plays. It is an incomprehensible sound, the missing testimony of the one cannot or will not testify. Navjot's work compliments Nalini Malani's Hamlet-machine, one of the most uncompromising and vocal statements on the rise of fascism, in the parallels it draws between Nazi Germany, imperialist Japan and fundamentalism in India.

    Kapur in her essay "sub Terrain": artists digs the contemporary locates the Indian artist "in an uneasy `subterrain', in the `dug-outs' of the contemporary where s/he reclaims memory and history; where the levelling effect of the no-history, no-nation, no-place phenomenon promoted by globalised exhibition and market circuits is upturned to rework a passage into the politics of place". Not all the works in the exhibition satisfy such a well conceptualised criterion. And the question that whether Indian art has risen in new media in particular has risen to its full potential, whether the artist has what David Sylvester describes as "fearlessness; a profound originality, a total absorption in what obsesses him, and above all, a certain authority and gravity" are critical. Even if post modernism readily swaps wit and subversion for gravitas and rubbishes the idea of the "original" in art, the question is not invalid.

    In the context of "sub Terrain", the body as metaphor is a dominant leit motif. The persistence of desire and the transformation desire affects on the depersonalised space (Bhupen Khakhar, Sonia Khurana, Ranbir Kaleka), issues of identity (Vasudha Thozur, Subodh Gupta) the devastated body (Raghu Rai, Atul Dodiya) are dominant themes. The affective content of the works, the emotional charge that they convey varies. Perhaps the fact that such representation is afforded at all provides occasion for celebration and some introspection.

    Things to do in Sri Lanka

    SRI Lanka has all the ingredients of a modern-day paradise. Sun, sea and sand, exciting water sports, huge shopping malls and stirring casinos.
    So, for the leisure seeker there is "work" with so much to choose from. Here's the list. Explore the ruins around the country with a complex history dating back to 543 B.C. Laze on the beach and dive in coral reefs. Observe wildlife. Hike through tea estates or wander through the ruins of ancient temples and palaces ... it can go on and on. And all this and more at a bargain for the cost-conscious Indian traveller. Most South Indians can pass off as locals, so there are no nagging guides or curious eyes following you.
    A triangle of culture
    Sri Lanka's cultural triangle lies roughly in its central region. Anuradhapura, Kandy and Polonnaruwa — all ancient capitals of Sri Lanka — form its three corners with Sigiriya at the centre. Inside this region lies one of Asia's richest archaeological heritage sites. In fact the cultural triangle includes five of Sri Lanka's well-preserved seven "World Heritage Sites".
    The special sites here include the Jetavana and Abhayagiri monastery complexes at Anuradhapura, the Alahana Parivena monastic university and the royal city and palaces at Polonnaruva, the Sigiriya rock and the painted cave temples at Dambulla.
    Sri Lanka is a country that boasts of 23 centuries of well-recorded and documented history, where Sinhala kings reigned for nearly 2,300 years. King Pandukabhaya founded Anuradhapura, which later became the political capital of the country for nearly 1,000 years. This city was also the spiritual home of Buddhism for nearly 2,300 years. Invasions from South India were a constant threat. Because of the constant intrusions, in 1070, King Vijayabahu, who drove the Cholas out, established a new capital at Polonnaruwa. The capital prospered for over two centuries, especially under King Parakramabahu, who turned it into one of Asia's most splendid cities. However, Indian incursions resumed and Polonnaruwa fell in 1215.
    With internal strife and economic troubles from time to time, the capital was moved to Ruhuna, Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola, Dedigama, Kotte, Seethawaka and Kandy. Each place has well-preserved historical remnants from the period.
    Even recent history hasn't escaped attention. For instance, the museum attached to the Temple of the Holy Tooth Relic in Kandy has captured in pictures the gory details of an aborted Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attack on the most guarded and revered Buddhist place of worship. While the temple suffered extensive damage, the relic was not damaged. It still attracts the largest number of visitors, both pilgrims and tourists.
    Another wonder is the ruins on top of Mount Mu at Sigiriya, easily among the best-preserved city centres in Asia from the Fifth Century A.D. On the ground below the Mount, lie the buildings and gardens at varying levels.

    The complex consists of the central rock, rising 200 metres above the surrounding plain, and two rectangular precincts on the east (90 hectares) and the west (40 hectares), surrounded by two moats and three ramparts. "It's the eighth wonder of world," says my driver Leslie. In fact most Sri Lankans are offended that this complex does not find mention among the seven listed wonders.
    The plan of the city is based on a precise square module and displays the grandeur and complexity of urban-planning. The layout extends outwards from co-ordinates at the centre of the palace complex at the summit, with the eastern and western axis directly aligned to it. The water garden, moats and ramparts are based on an "echo plan" duplicating the layout and design on either side.
    And leisure
    And now for the leisure part. Hotels in Sri Lanka cater to almost every need. Choose from the hotel where cricketers Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman stayed (the Hunas Falls Hotel, Kandy) or the most expensive designer hotel, which will pamper you (The Elephant Corridor, Sigiriya). Or try out India's own Taj Group — the Taj Samudra, Colombo, and the Taj Exotica Hotel, Bentota. "One more is coming up," says the Taj's Mohan Kumar. And if you want to do something different, learn to make tea at a well-preserved ex-tea factory (The Tea Factory Hotel, Nuwara Eliya).
    * * *
    Flights: Sri Lankan Airlines flies to Colombo from New Delhi, Bodh Gaya (seasonal), Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kozhikode, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Tiruchirapalli and Chennai. The airline has added 11 more flights from India from October 31, taking the total number of flights to 77 a week.
    Indian Airlines flies from Tiruchirapalli, Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi to Colombo.
    Jet Airways flies daily from Chennai to Colombo.
    Air Sahara has permission to operate 21 flights/week. It now operates flights from Chennai and Bangalore to Colombo.
    Getting around: Colombo, the suburbs and major towns are connected by road and rail. The railway network comprises nine lines radiating from Colombo, which connect most major population and industrial centres.
    Buses (this includes air-conditioned vehicles) ply to and from all major cities and towns to Colombo. These are cheap and dependable.
    For short city hops, tuk-tuks (autorickshaws) are available all over the country. Since these are private vehicles (and hence no installed fare meters), one has to negotiate the rate before travel. There are many reliable and accredited cab operators.

  • If you are in transit or have come on a short visit, a one or two-day trip to Kandy, Sigiriya, Polonnaruva or Anuradhapura is worth undertaking. From Colombo, you could reach Kandy and Dambulla in just over three hours; while Sigiriya, Polonnaruva and Anuradhapura could take upto five hours. Sri Lanka has decent roads, but there are too many vehicles.
  • Tourist tirade

    IN the "old" days, your first worry when you checked into a hotel or guesthouse at a resort or hill-station was whether the bathrooms were clean, the beds free of bugs and the food palatable. Nowadays your main concern is what kind of people are staying in the rooms next to yours?

    We seem to like holidaying in herds, either huge joint families or groups of colleagues and friends, which may be good for familial and social bonding, but not for the people in the rooms next door. The Indian joint family on holiday or a bunch of colleagues on holiday together, can (and often do) wreck the very raison d' etat of your holiday.

    Family holiday

    For a start, the Family firmly believes that it is (the first and) only family in the whole country that has decided to take a holiday. Because they have (or at any rate will be) paid for their board and lodging — so have you but who the hell are you anyway — they have complete and exclusive rights to the entire hotel, resort, hill-station, district.

    Thus, they will swagger into the hotel or resort, as if they are Americans taking over another country that cannot properly defend itself. For the period of their stay the hotel, hill-station and district are theirs exclusively. And so they may do as they please, monopolise all the facilities of the place, and indulge in their God given right to litter freely and with complete abandon.

    The hotel staff is of course no better than bonded labour, to come when whistled at, serve and clean up the mess — and politely so.

    Their beloved children of course, can do no wrong. So, naturally they may play football or volleyball outside your room at all hours of the day and night. Dare you protest or complain!

    Their doting parents will look hurt and explain, "bachche hai" (they're children), even if the children concerned look more like 20-year-olds. And even worse than the screeching, screaming children are their parents, when they've consumed more alcohol they can handle, and much too quickly.

    Morning blues

    It is at four a.m. the following morning that you get your most diabolical ideas for dealing with them. Like tiptoeing outside their doors, a huge steel dekchi and steel spoon in your hand... need one go on?

    But alas, you know this is a hill-station and starting a steel percussion band at this hour is the equivalent of committing a capital offence, no matter what the provocation.

    Besides, where the hell can you get a steel dekchi and spoon at this hour? Ah, but you could throw the empty booze bottles (littering the verandah) against their doors and politely explain that they "forgot to take them inshide".

    When the Family enters the dining room, service to all other diners must of course cease forthwith and every waiter in the area must scurry to their table. And try and make sense of the vociferous and completely higgledy-piggledy ordering that takes place — of items not anywhere on the menu, but cooked so well in their own homes by famous grandmothers.

    Once this is over, the entire dining room must listen avidly as they discuss family politics, marriages, how Lovely is being given a hard time by her mother-in law, who made her drop out even though she got 50 per cent after "study-study-study", and gut-busting, multi-crore business deals, all at 95 decibels. In between bellowing into their mobiles (each member of the Family has one and must receive/make at least five calls per serving).

    Value for money

    And what is it they want in these cool and pristine surroundings? They may have the Himalayas in all their splendour laid out before them, walks in pine-scented forests, lakes of a blue you can die for, wild flowers that would make mafia dons go gaga, and what is it that they demand? Forty-five channels of cable television, discos and DJs, video game parlours, speed-boats — anything that makes as raucous a noise as possible and preferably has them at the centre of attention. Any resort or hotel that has a view of the mountains or is tucked deep in some forest should be banned from having these facilities!

    Sometimes, of course, tour operators aid and abet this process further. In a tiger reserve for instance, the clients must see a tiger or naak kat jayegi. Then they can go home with that smug glow on their faces and claim, "I saw a tiger". Not so much because it was such a magnificent sight, but because paisa vasool ho gaya (they got their money's worth). By simply goggling the tiger in its home, they somehow scored macho brownie points over it. Never mind that (thanks to the tour operators' machinations) 16 jeeps and 12 elephants surrounded the hapless animal, pinning it down. They may as well have gone to the zoo — it would have been much cheaper and they wouldn't have had to rise at some unearthly hour. You're probably thinking that I've been exaggerating to the ends of the earth in this litany of complaints. But here's a bit of reality that I've been saving for the end.

    So be the judge: Some years ago, at a resort in Naukuchiyatal, we were giving thanks to the Almighty as one great Indian joint family took their leave of the place (after annihilating the word "tranquillity" from all of Kumaon).

    They were finally getting into their cars, when one of the women looked up and shrilled in a voice that would have shamed the great barbet and must have carried all across Kumaon. "Sweety, susu kar lo!" (Sweety, have a pee!).

    And loud and clear from one of the rooms, Sweety, a hefty 14 year old, bellows back. "Nahin aa raha hain! Kyaa karoo?" (It's not coming! What to do?)