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BW Businessworld

The Cool Quotient

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Okay, so it's summer again… and it's blazing hot out there! But where do you go? To a cool place? A cold place? Or, a really, really COLD place? The toughest part is deciding where to go. Usual beach activity is oh-so-humdrum, head-outs such as Dubai, Singapore and the US are oh-so-passé, and even exotica such as the Caribbean, Hong Kong and Malaysia seem either vapid or jejune. Don't sweat (no pun intended), help is at hand. We spoke to some international travel hotshots to get some dope on where the rich are headed this summer. (The idea: if you can't decide where to go, then follow other birds of your feather.) According to Madhav Pai, COO, Leisure Travel- Outbound, Thomas Cook India, Indulgence (its luxury brand) has seen maximum bookings this season for eastern Europe such as Austria, Poland, New Zealand's Queensland and Scotland. According to Peter Kerkar, director of Cox & Kings, the most preferred destinations for the rich, or high networth individuals (HNIs), this summer are Oman, Spain, Macau, the UK and Peru. Each has either recently launched itself in India as a travel destination or has introduced new facilities. Sharat Dhall, managing director of TripAdvisor.in, also seconds the rising popularity of places such as Argentina, Ireland and Peru. Of the 30-plus places listed by the three operators, 10 were common, from which we dropped some, such as the US and the UK, that are traditional destinations, and selected six places that are less explored by tourists. We then divided the six into two categories — cool and cold. The ‘coldest', of course, is a bit of a surprise. Take your pick, and then pack.

Cool
Spain: Some vacationers are content coming home well rested while others look forward to returning with stories that induce envy. And this European country is surely meant for travellers who enjoy both. Madrid, Malaga, Seville and Barcelona are traveller's dream destinations with assorted activities from skiing in the mountains to sunbathing on the beaches up for grabs. Though Spain is a year-round destination, the ideal months to visit are May to September. If you are a water sports fan, hit the coast and get your fill of surfing, scuba-diving, sailing and a lot more. And if you are a hill-boy (or girl), strike out for places like Pyrenees, Sierra Nevada, La Rioja for skiing, trekking in Spain's highest peak Mulhacen, and snow-boarding. Spain also offers assorted Roman ruins, Celtic remains, Moorish constructions, world heritage sites, and amazing parks and gardens.

New Zealand: The Kiwi country these days evokes imagery of Hollywood blockbuster Lord of the Rings. Well, now you can live those images by taking a trip to the movie's breathtaking locations; tour operators there vie with each other to offer the most ‘authentic' Lord of the Rings tour. Don't miss Queenstown — a quaint little cosmopolitan haven nestled in an inlet of the glacial, spectacular and mysterious Lake Wakatipu. Here, you can bungee jump, ski or snowboard, white water raft, skydive, hang glide, jet ski, and drive quad bikes to your heart's content, even as you savour great southern wine and cuisine, and striking alpine scenery. Rotorua, a hotbed of geothermal activity and the cultural epicentre of New Zealand, is another jewel in its kitty. Geysers, hot mud pools and steaming craters are testament to the incredible earth forces on display. The best time to visit is May-July.













LEISURE AND ACTIVITIES: (From left) Mountain trekking in Machu Picchu in Peru's Andes; glaciers in Argentina; and dog sledding in Norway


Ireland: Perched on the northwest tip of Europe, Ireland has hundreds of cultural, natural and historical attractions from Bunratty Castle to The Burren in Clare, The Guinness Storehouse and Kilmainham Jail in Dublin to The Skelligs and The Lakes of Killarney in Kerry. It is rightly said — this is the one place in the world where even getting lost is worthwhile. While there are no major temperature differences between the seasons and rains are likely every second day, best time to visit the place is from April-October. Cox & Kings suggests a visit to St Patrick's Cathedral, stop at the Old Jameson Distillery followed by whiskey tasting in the Ball o' Malt Bar. Also visit the Guinness Storehouse, part of the world-renowned brewery, and uncover the history of the famous beer. Finish off your tour with a delicious pint in the rooftop Gravity Bar. And yes, don't forget to take in the forests and glens, and hike up the mountains to uncover and discover ancient myths and sites.

Cold
Argentina: Crackling of breaking ice and immense sheets of ice walls plunging into the waters can blow away heat blues in a jiffy. And to visit these glacier territories you need not fly to Greenland or Antarctica, all you have to do is plan a trip to the Glacier National Park in Patagonia. The region of Patagonia and the area of El Calafate are extremely rugged and as a result support many activities such as hiking, biking and horseback riding. If you are a marine wildlife lover then Peninsula Valdes region will interest you. You can admire the colony of magellanic penguins, elephant seals, killer whales (orcas), and other marine species. Also discover one of the smallest and most beautiful dolphins — the Commerson's Dolphin — only found in the Argentinean Patagonian coast and in the Kerguelen Island in the Indian Ocean. June is the beginning of the winter season in Argentina, and the perfect time to visit.

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Norway: This is one place where the sun never sets in the summer. North Norway is home to both the midnight sun (constant daylight from April to July) and the northern lights (best seen in October, February and March). It is a rugged land of steep mountains, deep fjords and scenic coastline, making it a great place for outdoor adventures like dog sledding, snowmobiling and wildlife safaris. Norway has a range of tourist attractions from Lofoten Island — also known as lover's paradise — to Tromso to Bergen or Storsteinen. Head to East Norway for  places like Jotunheimen, which offers good conditions for skiing both on and off prepared tracks. If that's easy for you, then explore the rough, off-track terrain of the Strynefjellet mountains. Jotunheimen also offers activities such as ice cannoning, ice climbing, snowshoe walking and breathtaking walks under the night sky. Another must-visit place is Innerdalen, the country's most beautiful mountain valley; the lure is heightened by the fact that no road leads up to it, you can only reach there after a two-hour walk.

Peru: This one is strictly for the fit. Trekking is the major attraction and the Inca Trail, an ancient route more than 2,000 metres high in the Andes mountains above the Urubamba river that the legendary Inca red Indians are believed to have taken to reach the city of Machu Picchu, is the highlight. With routes that take two or four days, and given the high altitude, the trek can get strenuous. The result, though, is worth the effort, with the ancient ruins of the Incas bewitching you, and over 400 species of birds that inhabit Machu Picchu enchanting you. After a day long trek at the ruins, you can relax at the nearby hot springs. May to November is the best time to go.

Coldest
Now, here's the fun part. You can escape the heat and experience ice-cold temperatures even in India. Drop in at one of the many ice bars  across the country, where you can sit on an ice chair in a room made of ice decorated with ice sculptures. Have a vodka or tequila shot in an ice glass amid minus 8-10 degrees temperature. If the idea excites you, head to Delhi's Ice Lounge in Saket or Rajouri Garden's Freeze Lounge or Mumbai's 21 Fahrenheit. Drinking and dancing at such low temperatures can be exhilarating, but don't expect to survive there for more than 30 minutes as the furry coat and gloves are not protective enough. And when the chill in the air starts to hit your ears, nose or feet, the hip hop music or the ice sculptures seem to lose their charm. However, if you have visited ice bars in London, Milan or Tokyo, lower your expectations before you step inside.

While ice bars help experience sub-zero in India's blazing heat, there's no substitute for the real thing. So stop pottering, and plan your vacation before you miss the summer rush.









ICE-ICE BABY: The Ice bar in Saket, New Dehi (BW Pic By Tribhuwan Sharma)


(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 30-05-2011)