At a time when many travellers are sceptical of travel to Muslim countries, I visited Uzbekistan in Central Asia and found not only a safe, beautiful destination but one positioning itself as one of the world’s ‘must see’ places.
Called the pearl of Central Asia, Uzbekistan, home of the Silk Road, has been traversed by traders, invaders, adventurers and explorers for over 2.5 millennia. The names of Marco Polo, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great are associated with the nation, drawn by its access to riches and treasures and the route that joined East to West in civilisations of long ago.
Yet this part of the world is still relatively undiscovered by British travellers. But that looks set to change as Westerners gradually embrace the wonder of cities such as Samarkand; the very name as soft as silk,
and a romance and intoxicating beauty found nowhere else in the world.
I was in Uzbekistan at Easter this year when the 5th International Uzbek Tourism
A piper, swathed in a tartan kilt, is making his way down the path to the sea front playing traditional Scottish bagpipes. He continues to play as a uniformed official ceremoniously lowers the national flag of Sri Lanka.
This ceremony takes place each day at sundown at The Galle Face Hotel, one of the many old colonial practices that have endured to this day. Photo credit: Martin Sasse/lief
The Galle Face Hotel has been called the ‘oldest hotel east of Suez’ and indeed is one of this region’s most impressive and historic properties. Originally a Dutch villa it was acquired by three British businessmen and opened as a hotel in 1864, catering for the elite of the colonial era who were starting to travel to what was then Ceylon. In 1869 the Suez Canal had just opened and journey time from Europe to Asia was reduced from four months to one. Travellers came by rickshaw to experience Ceylonese hospitality, warm weather and a taste of the tropics. Since then monarchs and celebrities from all...
‘At the beginning of time when God was giving out land to the various nations of the world the Georgians were too busy drinking to attend. Arriving late, God was angry and asked why they had dishonoured him so; there was now no land left to give them. But the Georgians replied that far from dishonouring God they were late simply because they were drinking to His health and this took quite some time. God was pleased by their answer and so gave them the tiny bit of land he had been keeping for himself.’
And after enjoying our first Georgian style lunch at Lake Kvareli the fable is almost believable. Jane and I visited Georgia to sample the food, amazing wine and, best of all, the overwhelming hospitality to be found here. The meal or ‘Supra’ as the Georgian banquet is called is preceded by endless toasts. The head of Supra, the Tamada, conducts highly philosophical toasts, making sure that everyone is enjoying themselves. The meal goes on for hours as a seeming...
Thailand has pulled out all the stops to make shopping an adventure, from the glitziest malls to the most rustic of night market.international visitors hungry for the 'next big thing'. Rod Fai, or 'Train' Market, on a disused railway track in Bangkok, is a sprawling, eclectic flea market where shiny classic cars in mint condition stand next to vintage VW camper vans and piles of second-hand clothes and electronics. Cheap cocktails, sizzling barbecues and the ever-present aroma of fried noodles sustain browsers who roam the tangle of stalls for hours. a new style of mall Thailand's latest shopping invention cleverly com
Bolts of silk, paper umbrellas in rainbow hues, gemstones and Buddha heads – anybody who has been to Thailand will have browsed the night markets for bargains. Now, even the most traditional markets are reinventing themselves, turning what used to be a case of simply browsing for knock-off designer wear and a tailor to hand-make a suit in a day into a whole new 'experienc...
‘Where should I go in Goa?’ As a travel writer, it was a question I kept getting asked by people travelling in India. The answer was, I didn’t know. Goa is a state, rather than just one destination, and the character and appeal of its beaches are constantly changing. I had first visited India over 20 years ago as when Arumbol was the place to go. Accessible only after a several hour journey on a rough road inland from the airport, it was then an unspoilt beach with only a few huts, visited mostly by hippies and backpackers in the know. Arumbol is still, incredibly, free from major development, with the only accommodation simple and small scale. It felt edgy to me, though, and its strip of bars and tourist shops were grubby and tired.
I had walked for 30 minutes along the wide sands from Ashvem beach where I was staying at Palm Grove. The beach is probably the most desirable of all those in the north, with a smattering of decent restaurants and quality mid-range accommodation. Although t...
‘Why didn’t someone tell us this before?’ a 40-year-old at the the ashram in India asks me. It is a good question. Much of what we learn on our Yoga Teacher Training we could all do with knowing. I describe the training as teaching us how to be, as much as how to be a yoga teacher.
Do one thing at a time
One day in class, someone was eating an apricot, my teacher for the first and only time I had seen him looking even slightly annoyed, stopped his explanation of a complicated yoga pose. ‘What are you doing?’, he asked the Canadian woman, who was writing in her notebook as she chewed on the dried fruit and clearly looked perturbed at the question. Vishva then turned to the class and told us all: ‘I want to tell you something: do one thing at a time.’ We all laughed, but Vishva, even though he is known as the laughing guru, didn’t. ‘I’m serious. In fact, write this down: Do one thing at a time. If you’re eating, just eat. If you are listening, just listen. Your life will be so much better...
I recently revisited Hong Kong after a gap of nearly 20 years. I found that these days the place thrives on superlatives - the locals never tire of telling you that things here are taller, higher, bigger, longer, better. And certainly with its iconic skyline filling up with increasingly tall buildings, it does appear to be reaching sky-high in record breaking.
Here’s my Hong Kong High Five:
1 Celebrity Big Buddha
The Big Buddha, or as it’s officially known the Tian Tan Buddha, is a 34ft tall (including base) statue of a seated Buddha that’s part of the Po Lin Monastery complex. Weighing over 250 tons, that makes the statue the biggest, bronze, seated Buddha in the world and one of the world’s top ten Buddha statues by scale. It is high on the hills of Lantau Island.
2 Moving stairway to heaven
The Central – Mid-Levels Escalator system is the world's longest outdoor covered escalator system, stretching for over 800 metres and rising 135 metres through the streets...