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All about the Toy Train in Ooty (Ootacamund) or Nilgiris

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Riding in the Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a bandwagon activity for those visiting Ooty (Ootacamund) in the Nilgiris hills. The reason for Nilgiri Mountain Railway to draw attention amongst other activities is that it gives the riders the pleasure to sight steep mountains, in-depth valleys, rocky terrains, dense forests, darken tunnels and tea plantations along the rail track.

Though the construction began in the late 18th century, the railway was open to the public in the early 19th century. There are several toy trains that run between Mettupalayam and Ooty (Udagamandalam) via Coonoor. The trains are referred to as Toy trains because it works on a narrow gauge system to commute past the steep Nilgiris hills. In addition, the small tracks make the carriages smaller and resemble a toy. The track is 46 kms long and it takes approx. 250 minutes for the uphill and 210 minutes for the downhill journey. Hence, the time and money are worth spending the journey making the trip etched in memory.
In those days, these vintage trains worked on coal. Owing to recurring technical issues, sourcing quality coal, and forest fires, these engines have been replaced by oil-fueled steam engines. However, the retired engines are exhibited at the Nilgiri Mountain Railway museum in Mettupalayam for observation.
The highlights of this spectacular stretch and toy train include:
1. Recognized as Asia’s steepest track going from 1069 to 7228 feet
2. The only meter gauge and rack railway in India that uses pinion system to climb the clinches
3. The carriages have remained in same Blue and cream colour since its making
4. In 2005, this was awarded the UNESCO’s world heritage site
5. Featured in many documentary and other movies to highlight the strengths of Indian Railways
This cog train accommodates first class, middle class, and unreserved class. It costs Rs.205 per person in First Class, Rs.30 per person in Second (middle) Class and Rs.15 for Unreserved. For the ones, who wish to avoid the crowd and wanted the luxury of a cushioned seat, it is recommended to take first class. The schedule of each toy train is available online to look into and make reservations.
You can reach Mettupalayam railway station via Coimbatore, the nearest city that has a well inter-connected means of transportation.

All you must know about the Malapascua Island, Cebu in the Philippines

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If you want to visit an undisturbed and unspoiled island for your vacation, your best option would be the Malapascua Island in the Philippines, the land of beach bum’s delight. The Malapascua is a tiny island located a few kilometres away from Cebu in the Philippines. You can reach the island by a ferry from Maya port.

History says first the Spanish landed here on a stormy Christmas day and hence the island received its name as Malapascua (Mal=Bad, Pasco=Christmas). However, Malapascua was first discovered 30 years ago when a Swiss national named Freddy bought land on this island. Years later, it turned out to be one of the perfect beach destinations in the Philippines.
The island has the most beautiful, sleepy and sandy beaches surrounded by clear blue waters. The greenish palm trees make you feel relaxed and never let you go out of the island even if you wanted to. The people here eke out a living doing fishing, boat making, and coconut farming. They are the friendliest souls with whom you can dine with daily (they never treat you as visitors!).
Peculiar highlights:
– There exist many secluded beaches for you to go for diving, snorkelling, and swimming. Bounty beach is the most favourite one among the other beaches (Lighthouse, Langob, Lapus, etc.)
– When you go for diving, if you’re lucky, you may spot Thresher Sharks. However, normally you can get to see a few Seahorses, Shrimps, Crabs, Coral fishes, and Sea Slugs.
– Basketball and Cockfighting is a regular here (mostly on Sundays) conducted all over the island, is a favourite pastime with the locals.
– Lose yourself for a little while. Be a part of different fiestas that happen throughout the year (Food/drink, Disco, pageant, and lots more.)

Please note: There are no ATM’s, pharmacies and paid laundry facilities on the island. So prepare yourself accordingly with enough cash in hand, clothes and medical kits. Also, there are no cars for you to take a pool drive or hire. It is better to walk along the beach and enjoy the paradise.
Both the warm (March- November) and the wet (December-April) seasons are recommended for visiting the island as there are no extreme weather conditions here.

All you must know about the Hippodrome of Constantinople in Istanbul

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The word “hippodrome” comes from the Greek word meaning hippos (horse) and dromos (way). It was built for conducting chariot races, the most admired sports of the Byzantine region (ancient Constantinople). Beyond races, this social centre served as an arena for social events including official ceremonies, celebrations, protests, executions, parades, and coronations.

Located in the historic region of Sultanahmet (also known as Istanbul), the Hippodrome was the seat of power in three consecutive empires. Between 203-330 CE (Roman), the emperor Septimius Severus got the first Hippodrome built which was small and unfinished. Between 330-1453 CE (Byzantine), the emperor Constantine I rebuilt the unfinished Hippodrome and extended it connecting it with the great palace of Constantinople. Between 1453-1922 (Ottoman), the Hippodrome was renamed as ‘Horse Square’, then mainly used for Chariot racing.
A few historic events:
1. From Egypt, the Obelisk of Thutmosis III was brought to Constantinople by the emperor Theodosius I. This was erected inside the Hippodrome and got named as “Obelisk of Theodosius”. This obelisk aged 3500 years still remains good even today;
2. During the Nika Riots in 532 CE, Byzantine emperor Justinian I ordered the execution of 30,000 people locked in the Hippodrome;
3. Throughout the Byzantine empire, this arena held the lives of about 40,000 people;
4. A-15 day long circumcision ceremony of the sons of Ahmet III took place in the Hippodrome during the Ottoman period in 1720;
5. Good performing charioteers were celebrated as heroes in days of yore. A lot of statues of several Charioteer were erected throughout the walls of the Hippodrome
Fall of the Hippodrome:
During the fourth crusade attack in the city, all the monumental structures in the Hippodrome were stolen by the invaders. Later, when the Blue Mosque and Ibrahim Pasa palace was built in the 16th and 17th centuries respectively, the arena was pulled down and forgotten long since ravaged by invaders.
Today, the large arena has turned into a public park with a road running around marking the racing track. Only the two Obelisks: the base of the Charioteer Porphyrios statue and the serpentine column will live forever for the rest of us.

All about the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe in Switzerland!

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Whenever it comes to a holiday trip, the most striking continent that comes to our mind in Europe. Among the innumerable places in Europe Athens, Berlin, Paris, London, Zurich, etc the pick of the lot in Switzerland, also the land of skiing and trailing. Though it is known for its incredible watch manufacturing capabilities, its ice-capped landscape makes us dive deep into it and experience real bliss.

While touring Switzerland, you cannot afford to miss Jungfraujoch, one of the top touring destinations of Switzerland, if not Europe, also a popular UNESCO World Heritage Site. Factual data indicates that two million people a year make a lifetime trip to Jungfraujoch. The Jungfraujoch offers tourists an excellent panoramic view of the country.
The Jungfraujoch is a 3454m high alpine located between the popular mountains -Jungfrau and Monch. Cogwheel train from Interlaken is the only mode of transportation, and it is the highest train station in Europe. Once you reach Jungfraujoch, you can find a plethora of activities to explore and experience.
Hiking and snowboarding across the glacier Mönchsjoch hut and adjacent mountains (suitable during summer) account for an unforgettable experience. The Sphinx Observatory is a viewpoint that gives a 360-degree view of the Aletsch glacier and snow-capped mountains. Ice Palace takes one to the enchanting world of ice with ice sculptures. The Snow Fun Park is recommended for those wanting to try out skiing, whether at the beginner or an advanced level. In addition, there are several immersive multimedia shows and glittering exhibitions.
For kids visiting Jungfraujoch, there lies the exciting Chocolate heaven called Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven where they can easily learn the process of chocolate-making (buying of chocolates is permitted too).
Essential preparations:
1. To match the frequent changes in the temperature, wear dresses in multiple layers that might help you to remove or add layers as and when needed.
2. Precaution and medical advisory are needed for children less than 2 years, pregnant women and the aged, as it is situated on the highest attitude.
3. If you are suffering from Altitude sickness, please think twice before making the trip, and do carry or exercise necessary safeguard measures.
4. Do carry warm clothing, solid shoes, sunglasses, hand gloves, sports hat, wool socks and the required winter wearable.

Interesting facts about the Kek Lok Si Temple in Malaysia

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Buddhism is the second largest religion in Malaysia, Kek Lok Si temple stands as the symbol of Chinese Buddhism situated on top of the hill at Air Itam near Penang Island in Malaysia. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia and celebrated as the temple of supreme bliss for several reasons.

The temple was built in 1890 under the leadership of Below Lean, an immigrant Chinese Buddhist. Since its opening in 1905, the architecture is known for its magnificent monasteries, serene prayer halls, landscaped garden, beautiful carvings, and sculptures. Being the symbol of Chinese Buddhism, this temple harmonizes the Chinese culture and Buddhist teachings in every mural of the temple.
Various parts of the temple:
– The ground area comprises the hill entrance, food/drink offerings and a holy turtle pond. According to Chinese traditions, the turtle stands for strength, longevity and endurance. It is believed that freeing a turtle signifies the act of spiritual liberation, and hence the name “Liberation pond”.
– The mid area, the most important attraction of this temple, houses the pagoda and the pavilion. The 7-storey Pogada of Rama VI features 10,000 statues of Buddha that blend in its design the essence Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism with the Chinese octagonal base topped by a Burmese crown. The pavilion sites the statues of four kings: Kwang Mu, Tou Wen, Ch’i Kuo and Tseg Chang (Guardians from four directions).
– The apex area hosts the purpose of construction of this temple, the statue of Goddess of Mercy inspired from the temple at Pitt Street, Penang.
During the Chinese New year, the temple is decorated with numerous lantern hangings that offer a dazzling golden glow to the temple. These lights undoubtedly attract visitors to step into the temple and begin their celebrations.
Entry to the temple is free, except for a small fee collected for entering into the pagoda and the Sky Lift. The temple is open to the public between 7 am and 5:30 pm every day.

All about the famous Kodaikanal Lake

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People who have travelled to Kodaikanal, one of the most popular hill stations of South India, next only to Ooty (Nilgiris) in terms of natural charm and beauty, would have probably visited the famous Kodaikanal Lake, located in the heart of the Kodaikanal city. The lake is spread over a total area of 60 acres; Kodaikanal comes from two Tamil words ‘Kodai’ meaning forest and ‘Kanal’ meaning gift. Kodaikanal, as its name tells us, is a gift of the forest.

Enveloped by the north-western Palani Hills, the Kodaikanal Lake plays host to a number of adventure sports like cycling, horse riding and boating. In case you plan to hit this place, there are quite a number of resorts around the lake for you to stay if you stop by. Here are some of the must-know facts about Kodaikanal Lake if you think it’s the best hill station for your next holiday:

The Kodaikanal is a not a natural lake, it is a manmade water body first excavated by Sir Vere Henry Levinge, the collector of Madurai, in 1863, and this means the lake is a century and a half old! He translated his vision of turning this place into a popular tourist spot at his own expense!

The lake, originally, was three streams of water, and it was Sir Vere Henry Levinge again who transformed the marshy land by building bunds across the three water streams. A reservoir, shaped in the form of a four-point star, was constructed adding to the beauty of the lake. The lake was filled with aquatic life.

The first boat that floated on the lake was bought by Sir Vere Henry Levinge from Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), a port city in the state of TamilNadu, which was famous for boat building including mechanised fishing boats.

The lake, today, is a point of recreational use. However, there was a time when people used to swim for pleasure in the see-through waters of the lake. Later, punts, or flat-bottom boats, were used for recreational boating. Later, a boathouse and boat club was set up near the lake to give a fillip to tourism. Several hill station resorts mushroomed as tourism started to boom.

The recommended time to visit the hill station is between October and December, as the hills receive monsoon during the end of the year. Lose yourself at the sight of the lush green slopes, gushing waterfalls, picturesque estates, murmuring streams and exotic flora with the calm Kodaikanal Lake shining as a backdrop.

All About the Masjid Kristal or Crystal Mosque at Terengganu in Malaysia

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From the absorbing and aweinspiring magnificence of the San Agustin Church at Intramuros in Manila, let us take a peek into the Islamic cultural heritage of Malaysia with the Crystal Mosque at Terengganu in Malaysia, which is no short of architectural beauty and grandeur.

The ‘Masjid Kristal’ or Crystal Mosque in Bahasa Malaysia was open to performing prayers in 2008. Its construction began in 2006 and was officially inaugurated in 2008. Kuala Terengganu is no less than an intriguing place to be with several attractions including the popular Islamic Heritage Park that was opened around the same time. Located near the Islamic Heritage Park is the Crystal Mosque that follows a distinct flavour of Muslim art and architecture. The importance of the mosque, which has four traditionallydesigned minarets, to the city is placed higher than to the religion of Islam itself.

Kuala Terengganu, like many towns and cities in Malaysia, was a charming and quaint fishing village. But the ‘eureka’ moment is when oil was discovered nearby, and a model town was built around it. The Crystal Mosque, glittery, splashy and modern with a dash of tradition, now, embodies the spiritual and traditional values of the region.

Architectural Specifications
Though you can find some actual crystal embedded within the structure of the mosque, the clear material that sticks out is glass. If you want to experience the full effect of its crystalline exteriors, it is recommended to visit the magical place in the moonlight, when it’s illuminated and almost seems surreal as a dream!

In addition, the Masjid Kristal, which can put up nearly 1500 people at one time, though more can be accommodated outside it during Ramdhan and Bakrid, is designed using steel structure in combination with the crystal and glass works.

How to get there?
You can reach Kuala Terengganu either by car or bus, but the easiest and fastest way out there is to take a flight through Kuala Lumpur, either on Malaysia Airlines or AirAsia. The Crystal Mosque, as you can view from anywhere even from a long distance, is easily reached by taxi, depending upon where you’re put up with, how inclement the weather is and how much time is left to travel.

The recommended time to visit the mosque and, in fact, the best time to tour around Malaysia or any Islamic country, you can think of, is during the blessed month of  Ramadhan, the perfect time to turbocharge yourself spiritually or treat yourself to the exotic local foods and drinks after breaking the fast. Do refer to an Islamic calendar to find out when Ramadhan falls and do your planning accordingly.

Why is Konya One Of the Most Culturally Rich Centres of Turkey? – Part 2

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The city of Konya boasts of mesmerising architectural beauty and cultural sophistication. Let’s now travel towards Sille, which is located 8km north of the city of Konya.  It houses the famous Byzantine Aya Eleni church and many rock chapels with breathtaking frescoes. We all grew up reading the witty tales of the legendary oriental ironist Nasreddin Hodja; but how of many of us know that he hails from Akşehir, located to the northwest of Konya? And interestingly, there is a mausoleum of the 13th-century humorist here. Other monuments that demand attention include the Altınkale Mescidi and the Ulu Mosque of the 13th century. Another mausoleum, the Sahip Ata Mausoleum has been transformed into a museum.

Enroute to Beyşehir, give yourself a break at Eflatun Pınar at the side of the lake to witness the outoftheordinary Hittite monumental fountain. There are many Seljuk buildings dotted around the gorgeous Beysehir located on the shores of Lake Beysehir, the third largest lake in Turkey. The lake’s south-western region is a national park, and one of the main wetlands of the country. You can see several prominent monuments across Lake Beysehir: the Kubad-Abad Summer Palace and the Eşrefoğlu Mosque. There is another palace belonging to the medieval era on Kızkalesi Island just on the opposite side of the Kubad-Abad Palace. Visitors get to relax and have some fun on the Hacı Akif Island. Çatalhöyük, some 45km south of the city, drew the earliest settlers to it from the Neolithic era, revealing details of the dawn of the early settlement of humans with fine and distinct examples of the oldest landscape paintings and domestic architecture forms, besides sacred artefacts of the cult of mothergoddess.

Next, let us take a trip to Karapınar, which is separated by 94 km southeast of Konya, having a number of crater lakes. The popular Mike Crater Lake, or simply “Make” near Karapınar, is a lake inside a volcano’s crater. There is another lake, Aci crater lake (Acigölü), about 3kms northwest side of Mike, which has a few exotic birds. Ereğl, one of Konya’s biggest counties, is flanked by yellow cherry trees.

If you have some time still left, visit the Ereğli Archaeological Museum displaying several Byzantine, Seljuk and Hittite monarch artefacts. The Ivriz Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre at İvriz, features a small altar and two huge rock reliefs depicting a king and plentiful crops, all dating to the NeoHittite era. There is also a monastery that dates back to the Middle Byzantine Period, natural springs and two caves.

Why is Konya One Of The Culturally Rich Centres of Turkey? – Part 1

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This week we will see Turkey’s oldest and culturally rich cities Konya, known in the Roman times as Iconium. The city of Konya served as the capital city of the Seljuk Turks between the 12th and 13th centuries and emerged as the cultural destination of the country.

The period between the 12th and 13th centuries saw tremendous political, religious and political growth thanks to the Islamic mystic Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, the founder of a Sufi order known popularly as the ‘Whirling Dervishes’ in the West or ‘Mevlevi’ Order in the East. One of the most outstanding architectural buildings is the remarkably greenmausoleum that of Rumi. Also part of the mausoleum is an area that was once the dervish seminary which now is a museum containing manuscripts of Mawlana’s work and several artefacts of the teachings of the Mevlevi order.

There is an annual ceremony or ‘Urs’ held here, during the month of December, to commemorate Maulana Rumi and the Mevlevi order where mystics of the order, clad in a white robe, whirl around the hall in a trancelike state or ‘Sema’ to the traditional tune of the Sufi musicians, symbolizing their infinite love for the creator. The Sema is now a huge spectacle in Konya, attracting thousands of tourists every year.

The Alaeddin Mosque (also spelt as ‘Alaettin’) is the biggest and oldest mosque in Konya, built by the great Seljuk ruler Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat in 1221, atop the Alaettin hills. You will find the remnants of the Seljuk Imperial Palace on one side of the Alaeddin Mosque. There is also a museum, the Karatay Madrasah, which exhibits the strikingly bold Seljuk ceramics. The İnce Minareli Madrasah, constructed in 1264, found on the other end of the mosque, is visited for its eyedazzling ornate Seljuk portal. Take a few steps on around the mosque to find the Sahip Ata Complex and the Sırçalı Madrasah. If archaeology fascinates you, then Konya’s Archaeological Museum is a must see. At the Koyunoğlu Museum, you can find an assortment of collection from old kilim rugs to natural history. Inside the museum complex, the İzzettin Koyunoğlu house that has been restored represents the stylish and opulent way of life of the Konya family of the bygone era.

There is more to come on the medieval city of Konya in the concluding part of the blog.

30 Best Travel Podcasts every time you travel – Part 2

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Did you find the first series of the blog on Best Travel Podcasts exciting? We hope you would have tried at least one of the 10 Podcasts listed on the blog.  Let’s explore another 10 podcasts in this blog that would titillate your senses and make you crave for more.

20. Tips For Travellers

This popular audio travel podcast started by Gary Bembridge, a seasoned traveller for 25 years, in 2005 and throws light on travel destinations around the globe, sprinkled with tips and advice based on his visits.



19.The Travellers

Whether you’re heading out to explore new frontiers or struggling to find your place in the world, this podcast, started by Nathaniel Boyle, is a weekly show on the ins and outs of travel.



18.Amateur Traveller

Looking to decide where to travel next? The podcast lists interview with a traveller who has travelled to the place recently or destination expert.





17. Travel with Rick Steves

If you are an American looking to experience affordable, fun and culturally broadening trips anywhere in Europe, then this podcast for you.




16. Travel Tales


Started by Comedian and TV host Mike Siegel, the podcast brings you some of the best and worst travel experiences in the form of a different guest sharing travel tales from lands far away.





15.Indie Travel Podcast

A fortnightly audio show that offers travel tips for independent travellers plus a global community of indie travellers all contributing amazing stories to the podcast.





14.Travels in Music

Travels in Music that dabbles with travel musicians telling stories on music from around the world; the podcast does its bit to turn the planet into a beautifully musical one.





13.This Week In Travel Podcast

A Semi-Weekly Podcast joined by traveloggers Gary Arndt, Jen Leo and Chris Christensen




12. Budget-Minded Traveller

Started in 2014, this podcast was the finalist for “Best Travel Podcast” in 2015 and “People’s Choice Podcast Awards 2016”. The podcast provides practical tips and hacks that make international travel accessible to every traveller.




11. Travel Writers Radio

An up and coming media outlet with global reach, imparting a unique local flavour. You need to become a member of the website to contribute reviews, news, culinary interview, travel experiences and tips for travellers.




The above podcasts are unique in one way or the other. They are almost guaranteed to make one an agile and intelligent traveller. We will follow the list up with the concluding post of the blog series.