Do you have a travel bucket list? A compilation of places you want to visit? I never had one but then five years ago I decided that I was travelling too widely without any focus. So, I sat down and made a list of the places I had to go to. I’ve now done some of them. Many remain to be explored.
Australia: Till a few years ago, I had never been to Australia. Strangely enough, I had been to New Zealand, which is even further away and had loved it. (It is the world’s most beautiful country.)
There are many reasons to visit Australia but my primary motivation was professional. There was just so much happening with food and wine in Australia that it seemed crazy to have no experience of it.
Fortunately I have now gone some way towards setting the balance right. And a couple of years ago Tourism Australia helped my food and wine adventures along by inviting me along with a handful of chefs and writers (Ranvir Brar, Sanjeev Kapoor, Maryyam Reshi, etc.) to Sydney to eat at the Noma pop-up which it had sponsored.
I’ve now been to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and a few other towns; taken in the Great Barrier Reef, visited the wine country and eaten at the country’s great restaurants.
If you haven’t been, you should go. It’s less expensive than Europe and can be more fun.
Angkor Wat: I had been dying to see the temples for as long as I can remember. And frankly, it was just laziness that kept me from going. I go to Bangkok all the time and Siem Reap, the nearest town to the Angkor Wat temples, is less than an hour away from Bangkok by plane and tickets are cheap.
Two years ago, I finally got my act together and went. I loved it for two reasons. First of all, it is truly spectacular. And secondly, as an Indian I felt extraordinarily proud of our culture and history and how we took it to the rest of Asia: the temples are Hindu or Buddhist and have clear Indian influences.
Shravanabelagola: Three years ago, I decided I had to go to the town of Shravanabelagola, around 140 km from Bangalore.
It is tempting to conclude that I felt the urge to go because I am a Jain but I am not usually a temple-visiting Jain and the spot is associated with Digambar Jains while I was born into a Shwetambar family. So it is a little more complicated than that.
But yes, there is a strong Jain connection. There is the 58-feet-tall statue of Gommateshwara (Bahubali) which is the largest monolithic statue in the world and dates back to the 10th century. There is also a legend that Chandragupta Maurya, gave up his throne, became a Jain monk and settled here.
Portugal: I’ll be honest. Portugal was on my bucket list but it was not in the top ten. Then I went there and fell in love with the country, the people and the food. I’ve only done Lisbon and the coast so far (Cascais, Sintra etc.) but I intend to go back again and again. As a port wine lover, I have to discover Porto. There is the Algarve. And so much more.
Spain: I’ve written so much about Spain in the last two years that I won’t bore you with too much detail this time. It started with a desire to go to Barcelona. The city was nice but its main purpose was to make me want to discover more of Spain. I went three times last year; have been back once this year and I will go back again soon. And I have finally done the Alhambra, which should be at the top of any bucket list.
Spain is not as cheap as Portugal but it is still cheaper than much of Western Europe and I usually take the convenient and reasonably priced direct Air-India flight from Delhi to Madrid.
Vienna: Somehow I never got to Austria in my youth though everyone kept telling me how beautiful Vienna was. Then, a decade ago I went there for a conference and longed to go back again.
Finally, two years ago, Air India started a direct flight and Hyatt opened a much praised new Park Hyatt there. So I decided, on impulse, that I would go. By the time the flights and the hotel were booked, I had developed sciatica pains in my leg and had to walk with a stick and could only negotiate airports in a wheelchair.
But nothing could stop me from going. And I am glad I went: it is the most grandly majestic city in all of Europe.
The Golden Temple: I have always wanted to go to the Golden Temple. Partly, it is because I admire the Sikhs. Not only are they a proud people (how often, if ever, have you seen a Sikh begging?) but they are, I reckon, the most genuinely good-hearted and charitable people in India, ready to help anybody, from any religion or community, in times of need.
The Golden Temple with its welcoming air and its open langars, has always seemed to me to sum up all that is good about Sikhism. And when I finally went I was struck, not just by its beauty, but by the air of serenity and peace that suffused the complex despite the presence of hundreds of pilgrims.
What’s Left: There are so many places I still want to go to. Here are some;.
Japan: I have been to Japan three times. Each trip lasted longer than a week and each time I felt I had only scratched the surface.
I would love to go back again and again and explore this most fascinating of cultures.
America: I have done the usual places but there are two cities missing from my list. It seems silly to have gone to the US so often and never been to Las Vegas. And I am fascinated by New Orleans which I must go to one day.
The Northern Lights: I don’t really care where I see them: Iceland, Finland, Norway or wherever. But I do want the experience at least once.
Sicily: I’ve done most of Italy, even places like Sardinia which are not necessarily on the Indian tourist trail. I have liked it all. Rome is one of my favourite cities. Florence is beautiful if over-priced. Venice is the most special town in the world. I once took a cruise along the Amalfi coast and it is stunning. I have been truffle hunting in Alba. And so on.
But I have never got to see the beauty of Sicily first-hand. So this year or the next one, I think Sicily is on the itinerary.
Marrakesh: I have been to Morocco: to Rabat (boring) and to Casablanca (disappointing) but since I was a child I have been fascinated by Marrakesh. It may have been the Graham Nash song, Marrakesh Express, that did it. But one day I will finally get to Marrakesh.
Cheng Du: I don’t know China well except for Hong Kong which I love, despite its best efforts to discourage Indian tourists from visiting.
But I would like to go to Cheng Du to see the pandas and to wander the streets eating Sichuan food.
Jaisalmer: I went to school in Rajasthan. I go back there several times a year. So why, in God’s name, have I not been to Jaisalmer? Many people have been kind enough to offer to set it up but I think I am just not organised enough to take up their offers of help.
Perhaps this autumn/winter.
The Indus Valley sites: Ok this is a misnomer because we know now that the ancient civilisation stretched far beyond the Indus Valley. The great sites are in Gujarat and even further south.
But I remain fascinated by the mysteries of the so-called Harappan people: Who were they? What language did they speak? Who did they worship? Why did their civilisation wither away and die?
I have no great interest in the original sites (which are in Pakistan anyway) but I would love to see the more recent excavations.
Bhutan: Still can’t make up my mind. A decade or more ago, I was keen to go and then a trip fell through at the last moment. Since then I have been ambivalent. I am curious but it only just scrapes into the bottom of the bucket list.
Bordeaux: I really should go; if only for professional reasons. But though I have been to all the great wine regions of France, somehow Bordeaux has been missed out.
The Andaman Islands: They are now beginning to take tourism seriously in the islands: a new Taj hotel has finally opened. I would like to go before the islands are over-run by tourists.
The North East: I have been to parts of the North East but it was many years ago and I always feel I should do another trip covering as many of the seven (or six depending on how you view Sikkim) states once more to see how much things have changed.
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