Egypt, The Great Sand Sea

EGYPT
The Great Sand Sea and Northern Lakes

A Unique Adventure

In my ongoing quest to find exciting travel experiences, I am joining with Mercury Himalayan Explorations to creat a Unique Explorations division for them.

This is the first of our many offerings which I hope you will feel compelled to sample.

After careful research, ensuring the experts are in place and much happy planning, we are pleased to share our first international off-road adventure into the romance of the Egyptian Sahara. We have decided that the perfect way to bring in this new venture would be over the New Year, so join us to discover the panoramas and mysteries of this ancient land on a self drive expedition through it’s heartland.

The best off road team in Egypt will guide us through the desolation of the Great Sand Sea. Our trip will start with a brief tour of Cairo and the Pyramids, maybe the Museum or a cruise on the Nile if time allows. We visit the ancient library at Alexandria, the most significant library of the ancient world, it was destroyed by Ceasar in 48 BC and has been restored to great magnificence in 2002. Carry on to visit the World War II Memorial at El Alamein; the Oasis of Siwa, one of Egypt’s most isolated settlements, home to a tribe of Berbers, and the ancient oracle of Amon that led Alexander to Greatness.

We will have specially modified 4×4 vehicles, which we will drive under the guidance of experts.

The outdoor cooks will stir up lavish Mediterranean cuisines. This trip will run as an explotatory one and there may be some changes to add variety or excitement along the way.

ROUTE: Cairo – Alexandria – El Alamein – Marsa Matrouh – Siwa – Shiata Lake – Sitra – Nawamesa – Oasis of Baharia – Valley of Whales – Wadi al Rayan – Lake Qaroun – Cairo

Sketch Itinerary

Day 1: 26th Dec: Arrive at Cairo – Pyramid visit – Egyptian Museum We will be met at the Cairo airport and escorted to the hotel. Wash and head into town for a lovely local lunch in a traditional garden restaurant. We will have time to visit the Pyramids of Giza and gaze at the enigmatic Sphinx. Before returning for dinner and a good nights sleep at the hotel.

Day 2: 27th Dec: Cairo to Marsa Matrouh via Alexandria and Al Alamein, (525 Kms) After an early breakfast we will board our coach and drive North 220 Kms to Alexandria. Founded in 331 BC, Alexandria is today the second largest city of Egypt. In Alexandria we will take a brief walk along the sea front, visit the library which houses the largest collection of books in the world and have a great Mediterranean sea-food lunch in a local restaurant. From Alexandria drive another 100 Kms to the World War II battle ground of El Alamein. It was here that the Allies scored two crucial victories over the Axis forces. The cemeteries here are have thousands of graves of soldiers from both forces that died defending their lines. It is said that the outcome of World War II was decided in El Alamein. The museum brings alive every Commando comic you ever read. Drive on to the coastal town of Marsa Matrouh. The desert meets the deep blue Mediterranean and makes an amazing sight. Marsa Matrouh provides an ideal break from the long journey West. Hopefully we will have some time to enjoy the beach either in the evening or early morning before we continue our journey. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day 3: 28th Dec: Marsa Matrouh to Siwa Oasis (300 Kms) We now head south to the remote settlement of Siwa. Located between the Qattara Depression and the Egyptian Sand Sea, Siwa is one of the western most settlements in Egypt. It is the home of the Oracle of Amon that Alexander came a great distance to consult. There are also cenotaphs of ancient pharaohs and an oasis that time has bypassed. We visit Cleopatra’s bath, maybe do some cycling and definitely take a donkey cab. Dinner and overnight at hotel.

Day 4: 29th Dec: The Shiata lake drive Now we start driving!! We get our specially modified 4×4 SUVs. After a short briefing and do’s and don’t’s, we will take a 120 Kms round trip through the Siwa dunes to the Shiata salt lake. An outdoor lunch by the lake and a chance to sit floating in the dense waters of the oasis. We can Return to Siwa followed by dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Days 5 & 6: 30th & 31st Dec: Drive to the Great Sand Sea and camp overnight in the dessert. After an early breakfast we will load up our cars and leave on our self contained drive South East into the northern part of the Great Sand Sea, an unbroken mass of dunes that roll over the barren frontiers of Libya and Egypt. Parallel dune ridges run north-south for hundreds of miles! Until the 1930s, this hyper-arid region had barely been explored, but during WWII, clandestine German and British desert patrols, including Count Almasy, aka The English Patient, probed this remote area, spying on each other’s movements. Today, the area remains largely unvisited and remote. During these 2 days in the Great Sand Sea we will visit the lakes and settlements of Sitra, Nawamesa and Bahrian till we arrive to the Baharia Oasis. The Baharia Oasis provides an ideal backdrop to bring in the New Year. All meals are prepared by our outdoor caterers and we camp overnight for these mid desert days and nights.

Day 7: 1st Jan: Drive to Wadi Al Hitan (Valley of Whales) Breakfast at camp, drive from El Bahria Oasis east, on asphalt for about 250km and then go off-road heading south into a completely different type of landscape. We will head to Wadi Al Hitan, the Valley of the Whales. The site reveals evidence for the explanation of one of the greatest mysteries of the evolution of whales: the emergence of the whale as an ocean-going mammal from a previous life as a land-based animal. No other place in the world yields the number, concentration and quality of such fossils, nor their accessibility and setting in an attractive and protected landscape. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We will set up camp for the night in the valley.

Day 8: 2nd Jan: Drive to Wadi El-Rayan Our last day of desert driving takes us to Wadi El Rayan – stretching about 65 km southwest of Fayoum city and 80 km west of the Nile River. The Wadi offers great sand dunes, sulphur springs and some of the largest waterfalls in Egypt. After visiting Wadi El-Rayan we drive up north from a point at the western tip of Lake Qaroun to meet with the asphalt road back to Cairo. Check into your hotel. We will meet for a farewell dinner.

Day 9: 3rd Jan: Pick up from hotel to airport for departure. The morning is free to go around the city. Lunch is on your own. Great options are a visit to the Cairo museum that houses more than 120,000 antiquities including the famous burial treasures recovered from King Tutankhamun’s tomb and or a cruise on the Nile. In the evening we will all transfer to the airport to board our flights back home.

 

SUGGESTED FLIGHT:

Emirates

DATES DELHI DUBAI CAIRO  
    Arr Dep Arr  
26 Dec 2012 0415 hrs 0630 hrs 0840 hrs 1055 hrs EK 513/ 927
           
  CAIRO DUBAI   DELHI  
    Arr Dep    
03 Jan 2013 1900 hrs 0030 hrs 0440 hrs 0915 hrs EK 924/ 510

COSTS:

Rs.1,66,000.00 per person
Two to a car supplement cost: Rs. 15,000 per person (extra)
Single room supplement: Rs. 10,500 per person (extra)

Final payments may vary marginally because they will depend on the rate of exchange when we make the final transfers.

Package cost Includes: • 4 in Car Self-Drive cars. Option for 2 in a car also available. • Transfer from airport to hotel and back by air-conditioned buses. • Sightseeing Giza Pyramids & Sphinx, Cairo Museum, Old Cairo with Guides and in Air-Conditioned Busses. • 2 Nights in a 3-stars Hotels in Cairo, 01 nights in 3 star hotel in Marsa Matrouh, 02 Nights in Siwa Hotel. (all occupancy on twin sharing basis) • All desert safari permits. • Three supporting cars, one pilot car, and 2 cars with technicians, cook, Medic First Aid specialist and supplies of Diesel Fuel, Water, Food and drinks. • Full Board package and beverages for 4 days in the desert. • Guiding and guiding Equipment “GPS, UHF radios and Satellite Phones”• Single Tent and one mattress per person. • Currently applicable Govt Service tax

Package cost Excludes: • All tickets for the tourist areas and museums. • Tickets for entry of king Cheops pyramids and the Sun Boat and for Cameras inside museums. • Sleeping Bags. • Any Damage to the cars due to misuse will be covered by the guest. • Visa issuance fees. • Flights Tickets

Payment Terms:

To book an immediate payment of:Rs.41,500 per person

By 10th November: Rs. 83,000 per person

By 30th November: Rs. 41,500 per person

By 10th December: Balance payment for all extra service costs.

Cancellation Policy:

If cancelled till 15th November: 20% cancellation fee on total cost

If cancelled between 16th November- 05th December: 60% cancellation fee on total cost

If cancelled between 06th December – 15th December: 75% cancellation fee on total cost

If cancelled after 15th December: 100% cancelation fee on total cost

Comprehensive Damage Waiver: As a driver you are liable to pay any damages to the vehicle up to a maximum of Rs. 55,000. This amount is per car and can be shared with all 4 or 2 people in the car. This damage will include any body damage, under body damage, and damage to suspensions and axles caused by negligent driving. Guests will be required to settle this on the spot before departure from Egypt.

Gear list: • Light cotton clothes • One warm jacket for the mornings and nights. • One warm woollen cap. • Sleeping bag. • Sun block lotion • Sun Hat • Sport shoes for walking and river sandals • Dark glasses • Camera • Personal toiletries, soap, towel and medication

CONTACT: pavane@mhe.co.in /akash@mhe.co.in

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Costa Rica Itinerary

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED
International or Domestic Flights
Meals and drinks other than those mentioned
Tips or personal expenses
Travel insurance
Any items not mentioned

Day One
Arrive San José. You will be picked up the airport and taken to your hotel in the nation’s capital. Tonight the group meets up for a welcome toast by your trip leader and then you have the option to go out on the town for dinner. We’ll stay overnight at the four-star Hotel Indigo(cost of dinner, not included).

Day Two
After an early morning departure from San José, we will travel east, driving through Braulio Carrillo National Park and enjoy breakfast at the Río Danta. We travel through banana plantations towards the Atlantic lowlands until we reach our starting point in the Tortuguero National Park Station on the Tortuguero River. Tortuguero is a lush tropical paradise with a series of navigable waterways for exploration. There are no roads in the park making it a true wilderness experience. This tropical sanctuary is home to over 300 species of birds and many animals. While most visitors to the park travel by motorized launch, we will explore the waterways by sea kayak – a much more active and fun way to quietly experience the flora and fauna. We will pull over for a delicious lunch and then continue meandering through the lush forest till late afternoon.

Upon our arrival at Mawamba Lodge, we will be welcomed with a cocktail and dinner soon thereafter. We stay overnight at Mawamba Lodge for two nights, enjoying its pristine location on a Caribbean beach. It also is complete with swimming pool, restaurant and bar, hammocks, Jacuzzi and breath taking views! (B + L + D)

Day Three
We’ll paddle through the Tortuguero sanctuary area by sea kayak. After a great breakfast we will be shuttled by boat about 25 miles towards the Colorado River, passing through the Penitencia Canal until we arrive at Samay Laguna. Here we will board our kayaks for a three to four hour exploration of this area. The “magical” entrance to Laguna Nueve and a visit to the pristine beach will be one of today’s highlights. Wonderful clean water and total solitude will be part of the experience. Return for Lunch to the lodge. Option of a walk into Tortuguera town. Then a late afternoon return back to Mawamba Lodge. (B + L + D)

Day Four
We transfer out from Mawamba and get ready for an action packed day! We start with a morning paddle or boat ride. We say goodbye to this beautiful part of Costa Rica and drive to the Rio Pacuare stopping for lunch along the way. We arrive in the early afternoon to the put in for the Rio Pacuare. The Pacuare is one of Costa Rica’s more famous and glorious rivers. It is known through out the world for its fun whitewater and amazing jungle scenery! We will paddle a couple hours through some very fun class 3 rapids to the spectacular Rios Tropicales Jungle Lodge. This is a true paradise, complete with zip lines over the river, jungle walks, rainforest canopy tours, waterfalls and time to just relax in this amazing river canyon. Overnight at the Jungle Lodge. (B + L + D)

Day Five
A full day in Paradise Enjoy a full day at Rios Tropicales Lodge! Take an optional early morning bird-watching hike with your guides to see toucans and many other species. Upon return, breakfast will be served and then after a little rest, a full day of adventures; like enjoying a 4-platform canopy tour thru the forest of our Private Reserve or visiting the lodge conservation project “Plant for the Planet” where you will plant a native tree and receive a certificate that indicates that you participated in the program which is part of the United Nations Environmental Program “Billion Tree Campaign” or hike to “wake up” waterfall and a experience the new canyoing tour.

Day Six
This morning we continue our tryst with the Pacuare river, entering the lush, magical gorge of the Pacuare. The rapids become more powerful and technical in nature, and we’ll power through “Bobo,” “Huacas Arriba,” “Huacas Abajo,” “Cimarrones,” and “Dos Montañas” rapids. Gorgeous waterfalls tumble into the river, and we might even be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of some of the exotic birds and animals inhabiting the jungle area. We take out near the town of Siquirres and drive 2½ hours to the beautiful Arenal volcano area. Late in the afternoon, Ecotermales hot springs awaits—relax and enjoy the hot, mineral pools with temperatures that go from 90-150°F. Dinner will be served at the hot springs restaurant. We stay at the Mountain Paradise hotel

Day Seven
Arenal and the Peñas Blancas River Morning hike near Arenal Volcano, with the rest of the morning and early afternoon free to relax. Late afternoon Twilight River Safari to experience the transition of the jungle from dusk to darkness, followed by a traditional Costa Rican dinner at the home of a local family.

Day Eight
Arenal Morning kayak paddle on the lake’s calm waters, with the beautiful volcano as a backdrop. Afternoon drive back to San José. Farewell dinner in the evening.

Day Nine
Depart for Cancun or home.
Hotels
Mountain Paradise Lodge, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Arenal Volcano National Park

The Mountain Paradise Lodge sits at the base of Volcan Arenal, and features spectacular views. If you’re lucky, you may even get a glimpse of lava in the evening! This hotel’s lovely setting, pool, and jacuzzi allow guests to truly enjoy the relaxed pace of the Arenal region.
Mawamba Lodge, Tortuguero

Nestled in the lush rainforest, this is the ideal hideaway for nature lovers and the perfect place to discover the wonders of the Tortuguero National Park. The lodge features lush gardens and rustic accommodations, along with regular visits from brightly colored exotic birds.
Rios Tropicales Lodge

Let the sound of the Pacuare River lull you to sleep at this sustainable eco-lodge. This evening’s lodge offers a haven for relaxation and immersion in tropical sights and sounds. The lodge features open air gathering pavilions with thatched roofs and comfortable hammocks swinging in a gentle breeze. Guests enjoy ample viewing decks for watching the toucans fly overhead and the roaring river below.

The Mayan Riviera, Yucatan, Mexico

What I like about this itinerary is to have found a perfect combination of stays that are split between jungle lodges, luxury haciendas and beachfront boutiques. Plunge pool at your hotel in Playa del Carmen!

WHAT’S INCLUDED

7 nights accommodation in the listed accommodations
Guided tour of Chichen Itza Archeological site and Cenote ik-Ill
Privately guided excursion to Uxmal & Kabah
Celestun with private boat tour and Merida city tour
Biking tour of Coba
1/2 day Tulum trip
Private transportation in deluxe vehicle with driver as mentioned

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED
International or Domestic Flights
Meals and drinks other than those mentioned
Tips or personal expenses
Travel insurance
Any items not mentioned

Day 1 – Arrive in Cancun

Meet your bilingual driver at Cancun airport for a 2.5 hour drive to the lodge at Chichen Itza.

Overnight at Lodge at Chichen – Royal Mayan Bungalow

Day 2 – Chichen Itza & Cenote
Early today after breakfast you will explore Chichen Itza in a privately guided excursion to the most famous Mayan temple city, which served as the political and economic center of the Mayan civilization.

After visiting this archeological site, you will stop for swim and refresh in one of the Mayan Cenotes, natural underground rivers that were once the only resource for fresh, sweet water in the local Yucatecan jungle. After a refreshment and lunch in a local restaurant, you will continue for a 2.5 hour transfer to your beautiful and romantic Hacienda Santa Rosa located 45 minutes south of Merida, and your home for the following 2 nights.

Overnight at Hacienda Santa Rosa – Superior Room with Breakfast

Day 3 – Day Trip to Uxmal & Kabah
You will be met by your guide in the hotel lobby this morning for a full day excursion to Uxmal & Kabah. A World Heritage site, Uxmal is one of the most magnificent and best restored ruins in Yucatan. Kabah is a city known as the second greatest religious center of the Puuc style. It connects with Uxmal via a sacbé (Mayan road) that originates in El Arco, main door to the city.

Return to your hacienda and enjoy the evening at leisure.

Overnight at Hacienda Santa Rosa – Superior Room with Breakfast

Day 4 – Excursion to Celestun & Merida City
Today after breakfast and check out, you will be picked up for a privately guided tour of wonderful wildlife sanctuary, Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve. Celestun is home to one of the largest migratory flamingo populations in the world. Continue your Journey with an afternoon City tour of Merida. Founded in 1542 by the Spaniard Francisco de Montejo over the ruins of the Mayan city T’ho and receiving its name to evoke the conquerors the city of Merida in Spain. Merida is known as the White City, her remote Mayan roots, superb colonial monuments and the splendor of her turn to the XIX century architecture, has made Merida a captivating and charming mixture of cultural influences.

Overnight at Hacienda Xcanatun – Superior Room with Breakfast
Lush gardens surround Hacienda Xcanatun, an exclusive small hotel converted from a traditional hacienda

Day 5 – Merida/ Coba / Riviera Maya
Early this morning after breakfast and hotel check out, you’ll continue towards the Riviera Maya, visiting the Coba archeological site in route. Here you’ll get to enjoy one of the greatest archeological sites on a private guided bike trip.

After departing Coba, you’l enjoy a tranquil evening along as you transition into the magical Mexican Rivera.

Overnight at Playa Del Carmen: Hotel Esencia – Garden suite with plunge pool and Breakfast

Day 6 – Day at leisure
Enjoy a beach day at leisure in the Mexican Riviera

Overnight at Playa Del Carmen: Hotel Esencia – Garden suite with plunge pool and Breakfast

Day 7 – Half Day Tulum Visit
Today you will visit Tulum Arqueological site, considered to be one of the most beautiful Mayan archaeological sites. The only Mayan archaeological site to be in use at the time of the Spanish conquest, Tulum, means wall in Mayan. Also known as Zama, or city of dawn, this beautiful site sits on 50-foot high cliffs above the sea.

Then head back to your hotel for an afternoon on your own.

Overnight at Playa Del Carmen: Hotel Esencia – Garden suite with plunge pool and Breakfast

Day 8 – Departure from Cancun
Today is departure day. At the appropriate time, you’ll be transfered back to the Cancun airport for your flight home.

LADAKH, a drive across the high mountains


LEH MANALI DRIVE.
GRADE :DEMANDING                                                      

SEASON: JULY THROUGH SEPTEMBER

This spectacular road through the highest mountains in the world is open for only 3 months in the year – from mid July through September – crossing the Pir Panjal, the Greater Himalaya and the Zanskar ranges, it reaches a maximum elevation of 5304m. Calling this a road, maybe conferring more than it’s due, that it is a drivable route: a grand testament of human endeavor is the truth. The 476 km journey over four high passes and some of the most awe inspiring terrain in the world starts from Manali, along the green valley of the Beas river, up the steep switchbacks of the Rohtang Pass at 3978m. The Rohtang forms the divide between the verdant Kullu valley and the stark expanse of rock and glacier, in the rain shadow of the Pir Panjal range.

From Rohtang, the road descends to the Chandra River and follows it to Tandi where the Chandra meets the Bhaga River, little villages with groves of poplar, willow, and potato fields irrigated by glacial streams dot the landscape. The road continues past Keylong (district headquarters of Lahaul) and the last town till Leh, 360 kms beyond. Following the Bhaga River through Darcha and past the pastures of Zingzingbar, starts the ascent to the Baralacha Pass (4892m). “The Pass with the crossroads on its summit” – this grand pass straddles the meeting point of gigantic ranges, offering passage down four different routes, along the valleys of the Chandra and Bhaga rivers and into Ladakh and Spiti.
A rough stretch of road descends to the pastures of Sarchu 107 kms from Keylong. Now begin the wide-open spaces, dotted with the amazing textures and colours of craggy mountain faces, the gash of the Tsarap river, with it’s mud sculpted sides. The awesome world of nature’s timelessness dwarfing Man.

Once across the Tsarap river starts the grueling ascent to LachulangLa Pass (5059m), 54 kms from Sarchu. The amazing shapes and colours as you reach the top compensate the hard drive, descend along a little stream to Pang. Beyond Pang, the road crosses the Sumskyal, a deep gash marking the edge of the great Kyangshuthang plains – a massive plateau at an altitude of 4500m. Across the vast expanses of this plain are chances to see the Kyang (Tibetan wild ass), the Nabu (Blue Sheep), lots of marmot, as well as the Pashmina sheep of the Shepherds of Rupshu.
We take an interesting diversion at this point, short of the Tanglangla Pass – at 5325m, the highest point on the highway. 136 kms short of Leh a dirt road east leads to the Tso Kar Lake. We camp at this lake and see the breeding Brahmini ducks, Grebes and Black necked cranes. From Tso Kar we take a little used dirt road past hot springs and meadows where yak herders and goat herds have their summer pastures and taking a circuit north meet the highway in the Indus valley, and onto Leh and the comforts of hotels and hot baths.

(Along the regular route, once across the plain, at Dibring, the road starts climbing across the snowy reaches of the Tanglangla and descends into more inhabited Ladakh, meeting the Indus river at Upshi. Passing the Monastries of Hemis, Thikse and Shey, The road reaches the Bazaar of Leh.)

Leh is located in the Indus river valley at a crossroads of the old trading routes from Kashgar, Tibet, and Kashmir. Its importance as a trading town slowed down with the partition of British India, and ended with the closure of the border in 1962 during the Sino-Indian war. Since the 1999 war with Pakistan, and the consequent development of the Manali-Leh highway, it has become a bustling tourist town, the sights to visit are the Palace and the monasteries, and a wander through the bazaar is essential.

We can do two trips out of Leh: to the Nubra Valley and the Pangong tso lake.

For Nubra we cross the highest motorable pass at Khardungla (elevation 5359 m or 17,582 feet). Khardong La is historically important as it lies on the major caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in Chinese Central Asia. About 10,000 horses and camels used to take the route annually, and a small population of Bactrian camels can still be seen at Hundar, in the area north of the pass. It is an area that has only recently opened to the world. Still only about 45 kms of the valley are accessible. It is a tiny bit of paradise, orchards and wild flowers, the bactrian camels, wide meandering river. A discovery, leading to the highest battleground of the world – the Siachin glacier.

Pangong tso lake: situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft). It is 134 km (83 mi) long and extends from India to Tibet. Pangong Tso can be reached in a five-hour drive from Leh, most of it on a rough and dramatic mountain road. The road traverses the Changla pass, where army sentries and a small teahouse greet visitors. The lake is spectacular, we spend the night in a camp on the banks, you get to see breeding Bar-headed geese and Brahmini ducks. If you are lucky enough to be there on a moonlit night and brave enough to weather the cold, there is magic there too, as there is all over these mountains.

Get in touch if you would like to do one of these drives, there are some fixed departures and i can tailor a trip too if you like.

Kerala: homestays

Kerala

Do you remember reading stories about sailors’ first sightings of the Malabar coast: the evocative, rich scent of spices, green hills spreading back from the white sands and surf of the beaches? Kerala: a land that fascinates, there are beaches and back waters, ranging plantations full of scents, smells, romance, elephants and bison, chucked in with the odd roaming leopard or tiger. An abundance of wild birds and domestic ducks that waddle through rice paddies. Ayurveda at it’s best: healing combined with nature, the immense luxury and well being of a good massage!

All of this, and then they have fully explored the potential of homestays with their plantation homes, riverside farms and mountain retreats.

I have discovered some lovely places during my travels and introduce you to them here. The prices range from 3000 to 10000 rupees per night depending on season and location, so if they interest you call or mail me, most take guests by recommendation only.

I can create for you a varied itinerary of Kerala discovery mixing and matching with some of these and the super luxury that exists too.

The Whistling Thrush Bungalow at Nelliyampathy.

In the midst of a rambling forest of a mixed plantation: coffee, cardamom, pepper, vanilla. All the scents associated with the old time ships that sailed to our Malabar coast.
Nelliyampathy is the home of George and Anju Anthony and offers typical Kerala hospitality. You can wander and see the working of the plantation, see a host of amazing birdlife, sit and picnic and swim at the little dam on the property, follow the stream and maybe meet a bison. Hike upto the little church on the hill or relax in the garden and drink great coffee.

Prices between Rs. 3500 to 8000.

Tony and Anju also have a jewel of a small resort on the banks of the Wayanad lake: Kayaloram, unlike all the large fancy resorts across the lake from them, is a small 8/10 room place – a great restaurant – beautiful old rooms in traditional Kerala houses and an unsurpassed view of the lake. An ancient lady gives you a wonderful massage (maybe replaced by a younger one now.) You can also choose to take a cruise on their rice boat. It does not get much better.

Prices between Rs. 5000 to 8000.

The Old Courtyard Hotel on old Cochin Island, was a run down old home belonging to an old jewish lady that was converted by Jacob and Rose Kuruvinakunnel into a perfect little property – probably my best place to stay in Old Cochin. The courtyard with the mango tree and open air restaurant where they serve divine deserts and rather wonderful food is the perfect spot to sit on a warm lazy afternoon. The bustle of old cochin’s sea front is a short walk away as is the market. The rooms are individual and interestingly charming. As a gateway to Kerala it is the perfect start.

From 3000 to 6000 per room + 17.65 tax

The Farm at Mankotta Island,Kerala. A family home and working farm that accepts guests by reference only. Jai an ex Naval Officer and his wife Laila invite you into their home and their life on the River Pamba. You lie on a hammock in the courtyard and watch life float by on the river. The low ochre farm buildings have two guest rooms. The main house is an old Kerala home with a steep pitched roof and rambling bougainvillea. Of an evening Jai Chako will invite you to share a drink and regale you with anecdotes from his planters chair on the verandah. The food is home grown and cooked, very delectable. You can explore the farm, visit the nearby village temple, swim in the river and lie under the coconuts to dream.

Prices between Rs. 5500 to  8500

Hill House is situated at Kuttikanam. Set in the Ghats, a five minute drive from the main Kottayam Kumily road, built on a 600 acre estate where tea, coffee, cardamom and other spices are grown. A unique house built entirely from salvaged wood from old buildings that are indiscriminately torn down, overlooking spectacular views of the valley spread before it.
It is a place of peace and serenity, you can choose to do some strenuous or leisurely treks, there are scenic walks on the estate. Visits are arranged to nearby Ayurveda and Spice factories that are run by a local NGO. Thekkady and the Periyar Game Sanctuary are approximately 40 kms away. Guests have an opportunity to see a working estate, a cook and maid are on hand to look after you, your hostess and her family live a five minute walk away and are on hand for advice about activities and also welcome you into their family.

Prices range from:
Rs. 8000 for 1 room, Rs.15,000 for 2 rooms, Rs.20,000 for 3 rooms
This is inclusive of full board.

Please note that all prices quoted are to give you an idea, exact prices will be available on booking depending on time of year and availability.

TURKEY: beyond Istanbul!

TURKEY: more than just Istanbul.

Say Turkey and people say Istanbul, which ofcourse is fascinating. But there is so much more, just two of those ‘more’ spots I am mentioning here because they so fascinate.

Cappadocia and Pamukale, both miraculous natural wonders that beg to be explored.

Cappadacio’s unique landscape was formed from the erosion by wind and water of ancient lava ash deposits. It created what they call ‘Fairy Chimneys’ that the wind sings through and honey combed caves that were used by early Christians escaping from the Romans. They created hidden sanctuaries and complete settlements from the 4th to the 14th centuries.

The churches, monasteries and cave dwellings are still to be seen and fascinate. An absolute must visit hotel is an attraction that adds to the reasons to go there.

Pammukalle is a phenomenal natural wonder , imagine this crazy white cliff, with stepping pools of unbelievable blue just littered all over! Ofcourse, much as you would like to laze in one of those amazing pools, they don’t anylonger allow because of the deterioration that it was causing the area, however there is a spa pool that can be visited and anyhow it is a spectacle worth seeing.

Istanbul and it’s wonders are listed in this itinerary below that I have put together for what I think is a must do trip of Turkey – that there is much more to do – is a given, but this is a first essential.

Day 1: Arrive Istanbul. Transfer to (Garden house Hotel (http://www.gardenhouseistanbul.com/)  or  Hotel Daphne (www.hoteldaphne.com/)

Sightseeing in Istanbul is not included in the tour cost, incase you just want to wander and do things as you like, but options are listed below if you would like guided tours:

Sultanahmet – Old Istanbul – Small group tour price: 80 EURO per person (Private tour price: 105 EURO per person)
Visit The St. (Haghia) Sophia, which was built by the Emperor Justinian. It was the largest building in the world for over 1000 years. See its intricate mosaics and huge central dome. Continue to the Topkapi palace, which was used by the Ottoman Sultans from the 15th to 19th centuries. We will also see the impressive collection of priceless jewels, crystal, silver and porcelain, robes worn by the sultans and relics of the prophet Mohammed.(Entrance to the Harem is extra). After lunch we will see the Blue Mosque, built for Sultan Ahmet I, which is a unique piece of architecture with its six minarets and features 20,000 beautiful Iznik tiles. Visit the ancient Hippodrome with Obelisk of Theodosius, Snake Pillar and German Fountain of Wilhelm II. Walk through the back streets of Old Istanbul and visit the Yerebatan underground Cistern. See the Grand Covered Bazaar (except Sundays).
Overnight Istanbul

Day 2 –  In Istanbul, sightseeing option as below:
Bosphorus Cruise with Beylerbeyi – Small group tour price: 90 EURO per person (Private tour price: 135 EURO per person)
Visit the exotic Egyptian Spice Market on the Golden Horn. Board your cruise of the Bosphorus, the waterway, which separates the continents of Europe and Asia. Pass Rumeli fortress, built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1452 to prepare for his conquest of Istanbul. We will visit the museum of Sadberk Hanim, which has an excellent private collection of artifacts dating back to the prehistoric period and an ethnographic section housed in an old Ottoman building.  After lunch in a seaside fish restaurant, cross over the Bosphorus Bridge to Asia and visit Beylerbeyi Palace, which was the summer residence of the Ottoman Sultans, then on to Camlica Hill, for a magnificent view of Istanbul. Cruise is done by public boat unless other arrangements are made.
Overnight Istanbul

Day 3 – Istanbul – Cappadocia (L)
Take the morning flight from Istanbul Ataturk airport to Kayseri. Arrival and meeting at the airport just outside the arrival’s gate with a sign bearing your name and transfer to Cappadocia. In the morning, first meeting with the lunar landscape of Cappadocia: rock formations beyond belief in Devrent valley; walking in Zelve Open Air Museum: a journey into the past with its troglodyte houses; visit to Pasabag “fairy chimneys” where the voice of wind mixes with the “songs of fairies”. Lunch in Avanos, center of terra cotta work of art since 3000 BC. and a demonstration in a traditional pottery workshop. Afternoon, visit the famous Goreme Open Air Museum and see the best examples of Byzantine art in Cappadocia in rock-cut churches with frescoes and paintings (10th to 13th century). Climb on top of the Uchisar Rock-Castle to have a panoramic view of the valleys of Cappadocia. Overnight Cappadocia.

Day 4  – Cappadocia- (B.L)
Meeting at the hotel reception at 09:30am
Tour to Kaymaklı Underground City, one of the most interesting underground settlements in Cappadocia. Soğanlı Valley, an Open Air Museum in a wild natural setting near a typical Cappadocian village with its different style Rock-Cut churches and frescoes. Villages in the valleys, surrounded by the “table top” mountains, are spectacular. Lunch and Visit to Sahinefendi newly discovered (01 May 2002) mosaic houses & Archaeological excavation site. Continue with Keslik Monastery near Cemil, that hides its frescoes behind a very thin smoke layer which we can only see by torch light. Our tour finishes with a visit to Mustafapaşa (Sinasos), an old Greek town with its spectacular old Greek houses; very fine examples of late Greek settlements and architecture. Overnight Cappadocia

Day 5- Cappadocia- Ephesus (B.L.D.)
Pick-up from hotel 2 hours before flight departure.
Take the morning flight from Kayseri to Izmir  by Turkish airlines: (direct or via Istanbul) . Arrival and meeting at the airport and Visit to the ancient city of Ephesus and first visit the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Ephesus was undoubtedly one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world. Impressive structures we will see include the Library of Celsus, Temple of Hadrian, Theatre and Odeon. We also visit the House of the Virgin Mary and church of St. John. Overnight Kusadasi near Ephesus.

Day 6 – Ephesus – Pamukkale (B.L.D)
Meeting at the hotel reception at 08:30am
Drive to Pamukkale, on the way, visit  Aphrodisias. Aphrodisias was primarily known as a center for the arts, specifically sculpture. The Aphrodisias School of Sculpture had a distinctive style and was very well circulated throughout the Greek and Roman world. Discovery of Travertine terraces and Hierapolis. The travertine terraces at Pamukkale are one of the most spectacular natural wonders we ever have seen. Formed by  various mineral springs in a vast white cliff side, about 200 m overlooking the plain, calcite-laden waters have dripped down over a series of terraced levels and created a fairyland of bizarre solidified cascades and shell-shaped basins. It looks like creations of snow or like swathes of cotton, which gave the scenery the Turkish name Pamukkale (cotton castle): “pamuk” for cotton and “kale” for castle. Moreover the water in the basins changes color with the light through the day. Overnight Pamukkale.

Day 7 – Pamukkale – Istanbul (B)
Pick-up from hotel 2 hours before flight departure.
Transfer to Denizli airport and take the Turkish Airlines morning flight from Denizli to Istanbul Ataturk airport- END OF SERVICES.

Depending on your connecting flight back home the requisite arrangements for another night stay in Istanbul may be made.

RATES
Small group tour (Maximum 8 people): 1200 EURO per person sharing a double room.

Private tour (Exclusive for 2 – 4 people):  1500 EURO per person sharing a double room.

Sightseeing in Istanbul:
Sultanahmet – Old Istanbul – Small group tour price: 80 EURO per person (Private tour price: 105 EURO per person)

Bosphorus Cruise with Beylerbeyi – Small group tour price: 90 EURO per person (Private tour price: 135 EURO per person)

(Please note rates are estimated as of Oct 2011 and would fluctuate at the time of booking)

INCLUDING:
– Domestic flights in the program.
– Airport transfers where needed.
– Transportation by a comfortable AC non smoking Luxurious car/Van with professional driver.
– Professional and experienced licensed guide during the tours.
– Gamirasu Cave Hotel (www.gamirasu.com)   in Cappadocia with breakfast.
– Richmond Thermal (www.richmondhotels.com.tr)  Hotel Pamukkale with breakfast and dinner
– Charisma Hotel (http://www.charismahotel.com/) in Kusadasi near Ephesus with breakfast and dinner.
– Entry fees to the sites and museums
– Parking fees.

EXCLUDING
– International flights
– Drinks, Lunch, Dinner apart from those mentioned in the inclusive per hotels as above.
– Tips to guide, driver and hotel personnel.

PS:
Package Rates based on double room at Gamirasu in Cappadocia (www.gamirasu.com), if you wish to upgrade: for a deluxe room please add 20 EURO per room per night.  For a Cave Suite, please add 90 EURO per room per night. For a Superior Suite, please add 140 EURO per room per night. For Eagle Nest Suite, please add 240 EURO per room per night, for Byzantine King Suite, please add 900 EURO per room per night

** Hot air balloon: http://www.cappadociatours.com/cappadocia_balloon.html
Cappadocia has a magical unique landscape. If you wish to do a balloon ride one time in your life save it for Cappadocia, you will have an unforgettable experience. Please reserve at the earliest, dates and locations fill fairly quickly. Price from 140 EURO per person, please ask for details.