Then I hit the jackpot. It's the W Retreat and Spa on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. I've never been one to head to the beach for a holiday, but this place may just change my mind. Vieques Island is also home to Mosquito Bay, a bioluminescent bay, which the Spanish originally thought to be the work of the devil! With it's sparkling blue water and rolling green hills, the only thing the devil could possibly be doing on Vieques would be holidaying at the W.
Built in the 1500’s, and the site of the 6th city of Delhi, the Purana Qila (translated as ‘old fort’) is definitely worth a visit when in Delhi. These days, the ruins are set amongst manicured green gardens, full of picnicking locals.
The lovely red sandstone Sher Mandal, which was used by Humayun as a library and observatory, ultimately brought about his end. After hearing the call to evening prayers, Humayun slipped, fell down the stairs, and died from his injuries two days later.
Delhiite surveying the ruins of the Purana Qila on a serene February afternoon.
When one thinks of the geographic term 'county', a number of images come to mind. Thoughts turn to the English and Irish isles, where the shires of antiquity were carved into the map of a defeated nation by Norman invaders. One also thinks of the vast expanse of America with its various states. Images of sheriffs in stetsons and spurs, laying down justice in the style of the nineteenth century flow through the mind.
China, on the other hand, does not immediately come to mind as a nation of counties. Of the many such geographical subdivisions in China, Yangshuo stands apart from the rest.
Nestled between the Li and Dragon rivers, the town of Yangshuo is small by Chinese standards, with less than half a million occupants. Oddly enough, the city seems smaller than it actually is. Perhaps this is because of the narrow lanes, which crisscross the town, or the heritage architecture, which is of a type one rarely sees in contemporary urban China, as the country pursues an architectural future molded by steel and draped in glass facades. Travellers who enjoy historic pleasures above the diversions of the modern world would be advised to avoid the aptly named West Street, where smoke-filled pubs and clubs proliferate; their gaudy neon signs promising more than they can possibly fulfil.
Above all else, Yangshuo County is a place renowned for its natural beauty. The bizarre, forest covered karst peaks and other rock formations form of an otherworldly landscape which is best observed while cruising either of the two rivers on a bamboo raft. Opportunities for climbing and hiking through this mountainous terrain abound.
Continuously inhabited since the 6th century BCE, Delhi is a city of contrasts. Visit a modern shopping centre such as DLF Emporio with its Jimmy Choo and Louis Vuitton stores, and you could be in any western country. Visit the old laneways in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk and you will experience the real Delhi where stall holders hawk exotic spices, incense and colourful fabrics.
My first impression of Delhi? I won’t lie – I thought it was chaos. It seems that everything in Delhi is covered in a fine layer of dirt until June, when the monsoonal rains will wash the city clean (if only temporarily). Piles of rubble litter the roadsides and unfinished construction abounds.
But, if history is your thing, it’s definitely the place to be. The three world heritage sites, the Red Fort, Qutb Minar and Humayun’s Tomb are must sees.
The Red Fort, constructed by Shah Jahan in the 17th century. The fort served as the Mughal Emperors’ capital until 1857, when they were booted out by the British Indian government.
The tomb of Mughal Emperor Humayun, commissioned by his wife Hamida Banu Begum in 1562.
My favourite, the Qutb Minar, a sandstone and marble tower, is covered with carvings and verses from the Quran. Qutb-ud-din Aibak commenced construction in 1192, and, unfortunately for us, the inside of the tower is now closed to visitors.
Do you know the story of the Persian warrior who was marching to battle?
The warrior was carrying a bow but no arrows. On the road he met a friend who asked why he had not brought any ammunition. "How will you fight?" asked his friend. "I will use the arrows sent by the enemy," he replied. "But what if no arrow comes?" "Then," replied the bowman, "there will be no war."
One of my favourite stories, taken from William Dalrymple's City of Djinns.
Persian Warrior Glass Picture, vandekar.com
Where: Golden Temple Road, Amritsar
When: March 3rd, 2011
Why: Well it was a 'culture and religion' tour of India; how could I not visit the spiritual centre of the Sikhs? Apparantly the Golden Temple attracts more visitors than the Taj Mahal.
After all, you've gotta have faith...
Me. Arriving day after tomorrow. I never even wanted to go to Delhi. Until I read City of Djinns, that is. It is definitely one of my favourite books and chronicles the year that William Dalrymple spent in the city. Travel writing, history and humour. This book has it all. And you'll find out what a Djinn is.
(Intersection in Old Delhi, by Richard l'Anson via Lonely Planet)
What's on my to do list whilst in town?
- Red Fort
- Humayun's Tomb
- Qutb Minar
- Purana Qila
- Firoz Shah Kotla
- And, if I have time, any markets I find along the way
A trip to the Taj Mahal is also on the cards, and a drive up to Dharmsala and Dalhousie, if I can swing it. I hear the Himalayas look spectacular this time year, so hopefully I will be able to report back with a first hand account.
So, I'm signing out for next 2 and half weeks, and you can expect plenty of photos once I'm back in the world of wifi.