In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
India: six great hidden gems by train
Monisha Rajesh, author of Around India in 80 Trains, spent four months travelling the country’s railways. Here she selects six great places to visit by train, from idyllic hill stations to coastal towns, beyond the main tourist hubs.
When it comes to hill stations, forget Shimla, Darjeeling and Ooty, and ascend into the arms of Matheran, a walker’s paradise hidden among the jungle-topped Sahyadri hills, 80km east of Mumbai. Originally used by the British to escape the Bombay heat, Matheran is vehicle-free and accessible only on foot, on horseback, or by the narrow-gauge toy train which trundles along tiny tracks laid in the dark-red clay. It’s still an ideal weekend break from the heat and noise of Mumbai. Take a picnic to Charlotte Lake, view the mountains from Celia Point and head to Nariman Chikki Mart for some local chikki – a sweet made from groundnuts and jaggery. But beware the bold monkeys who bound alongside, viewing you as little more than a mobile tuck shop.
How to get there Matheran has a 40-rupee (50p) entrance fee. Opt to walk along the shaded tracks to the town, where you will spot single flip-flops dotted around the terrain. On your return take the 1½-hour toy train journey from Matheran down to Neral where you can then take a two-hour connection to Mumbai (£2.30 first class, 50p second class). You’ll soon see ticketless passengers dangling off the side of the train, losing their flip-flops en route.
Where to stay The Verandah in the Forest (+91 2148 230810, the-verandah-in-the-forest.neemranahotels.com, twin rooms from £40) is a mansion hideaway which sings of colonial times
Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu
A warm, friendly aura pervades Kanyakumari – along with the smell of dried fish. This peaceful town, perfect for an overnight-trip from Kerala, is the southernmost tip of the country where the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea all meet, resulting in a unique marbling of multicoloured sand. Not one for bathers, the sea thrashes the rocky shores and is best observed from the manmade wall which runs along the seafront. On full-moon days the sunset and moonrise occur simultaneously, and on Chitra Pournami (in 2013 it falls on 25 April) when the sun and moon are face to face on the horizon – considered the prime time to witness the phenomenon. On regular days join the scores of people who gather on the beach before dawn waiting for the first crack of light over the sea.
Never take a bad travel photo again: Tips from 10 pros
It’s not the violin. It’s the violinist.
Likewise, it’s not the camera equipment. It’s the eye behind the lens, writes Chuck Delaney in the forward to his new book, Top Travel Photo Tips from Ten Pro Photographers.
The colourful and concise guide by the director of the New York Institute of Photography is illustrated with lush images and contains interviews with 10 accomplished travel photographers, along with their best tips for getting “wow” images in all kinds of settings.
Here are 10 of my favorites from the book’s 10 contributing photographers: :
— Don’t just take photos; create them by planning your shoot. “If you plan a photo session in advance, no matter where you travel, you’ll shoot images you’ll be proud of nearly every time.” – Michael Doven
— Odd numbers are more interesting than even numbers. For example, opting for three trees in a landscape, instead of four, “is more visually appealing.” — Wendy Connett
— Take note of what’s behind your subject. “The background is just as important as the foreground in the final look of the image.” — Larry Louie
— Engage your subjects by talking to them – or using gestures if you don’t speak the language. “When you create a feeling of intimacy … with your subject, you can shoot stunning portraits.” — Chase Guttman
— In popular tourist spots, go out early in the morning when the locals are going about their business, but before the tour groups arrive. — Mitchell Kanashkevich
— Practice “situational awareness” to anticipate what’s coming. When doing ski photography, for instance, get into position before a storm in order to capture the best post-storm light. — Marc Muench
— Be patient. Compose a shot and then wait for action to enter the scene. — Nadia Shira Cohen
Why Malawi is turning into a traveller’s paradise
To reach Mount Kasukusuka, you have to canoe across the Bua River. It’s just a five-minute paddle, but rains had turned the waters into a fast-flowing, mud-brown torrent and I had seen crocodiles lurking only the day before.
My guide Shai alleviated my fears by rowing strongly enough for both of us. Once on shore, we walked through grasses so tall that they tickled my face before coming across a boomslang, a deceptively small but vicious snake sunbathing on the slope. “Kasukusuka means ‘elbow’ in our Chichewa language,” said Shai, trying to distract me, “because it looks like a bent arm with the elbow pointing upwards”. It’s an apt name for the mountain with a smooth incline and a knobbly bit at the summit. With no clear path, inelegant scrambling for the final half hour was needed to reach its 1,068-metre peak.
From the top, all I could hear were a few barking baboons and birdsongs. Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve’s 1,800 square kilometres splayed out beneath me in shades of green, from the dark leaves of miombo woodland hugging the hillsides to the bright neon dambos (glades). Even from up here, elephants are often seen roaming below. We saw none, but on our descent found a few unbelievably huge bones scattered around – the remains of an elephant killed five years ago and a sad reminder of how poaching decimated this reserve.
Only 160km from the capital Lilongwe, Nkhotakota in Central Malawi has, until recently, seen few tourists. Only low-budget backpackers have long travelled here, loving the laid-back vibe of the country, with its lakeshore villages like Cape Maclear and Nkhata Bay being perennial favourites. One of Africa’s poorest nations, however, it could ill-afford to protect its national parks, which suffered neglect and a consequent poaching free-for-all. For years, tiny Malawi was overshadowed on the prosperous safari circuit by its bigger, bolder neighbours Tanzania and Zambia.
Yet, today, Malawi is enjoying a quiet resurgence. An infectious optimism has been spreading across the country since its new president Joyce Banda came into office in April. New luxury lodges on the lake and in the once forgotten national parks and reserves are extending their appeal to more affluent travellers while simultaneously helping local communities and wildlife conservation.
One such lodge is Tongole, which opened in May last year in Nkhotakota. Developed by two British philanthropists, David Cole and David Gridley, and a Malawian, Bentry Kalanga, as a legacy for Kalanga’s son who died in a car crash in the UK, its whole raison d’être is to help his former childhood community.
Lovelorn Turkish sailor obsessed with British woman deported from UK after 8-month journey
To Ramazan Culum’s mind, it was the ultimate declaration of love.
To win the heart of a young British waitress he had met in Cyprus seven years earlier, the Turkish businessman set off on an eight-month odyssey in a tiny yacht, braving stormy seas and travelling 2,500 miles to track her down.
The only problem was that the object of his affections, Courtney Murray, had never indicated any interest in him, and in fact had fled her job in Cyprus to escape his disturbing and persistent overtures.
This was not enough to deter Culum, however, from a quest that has seen him arrested, lose his job as a company director and, as he put it, get banned from “more countries than Osama Bin Laden”.
His bizarre journey has now been brought to an abrupt end after he was arrested in a British port on Friday and told he will be deported.
The 38-year-old’s obsession is said to have begun in 2005 when he met Ms Murray while on a scuba diving trip in Northern Cyprus, where she was working in a cafe.
Although she took “no interest” in Culum and served him just the once, he is said to have stolen her phone number from the cafe’s wall and began harassing her.
Her friends claim Culum showed up at the restaurant several times – once wielding a knife so he could “take her” – and was eventually arrested and deported from Cyprus. Ms Murray was apparently so terrified she returned to her home, thought to be in Liverpool, where she eventually married.
In early 2011, Culum was still refusing to give up, and tracked Ms Murray down on Facebook, only for her promptly to block him from contacting her on the site.
Undeterred, he set off from Bodrum, Turkey, in April this year, after writing on his online blog that he aimed to marry Ms Murray – despite admitting she “abhorred him”
During his epic voyage, Culum is thought to have been arrested in both Italy and Spain because he didn’t have the correct papers. He also battled stormy seas in the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, getting hypothermia at one point.