May 13, 2018

The splendour and variety of India’s Golden Triangle

Taj Mahal

India is a country of enormous contrasts where poverty sits beside wealth, beauty intermingles with filth, and structure and chaos compete for supremacy. It will dazzle all your senses and cause you heart-ache at the same time.

It can be challenging and charming, overwhelming and stunningly beautiful. The eager friendliness of the people is endearing, and the food is unforgettable but there is likely to be unexpected glitches no matter how much you plan.

India is a large country and the one with the second largest population in the world. It really is many countries all rolled into one. If you lay a map of India over a map of Europe you will see that it covers the area from Scandinavia to North Africa and from Spain to Russia. It is one of the world's oldest living civilizations yet the present nation-state is just over 70 years old.

Just like Australia, it is difficult to see the whole country in one visit. That is why my wife and I restricted ourselves to a part of north-west India, known better as the Extended Golden Triangle, on our recent visit. There were many highlights.

Delhi, India's capital, is dotted with mosques, forts, and monuments left over from the Mughal rulers that once occupied the city but there are also some more modern temples and other buildings. The contrast between rambling Old Delhi and well planned New Delhi is immense, and it's interesting to spend time exploring both.

Udaipur, in Rajasthan, is sometimes called the most romantic city in India because of its famed lakes and palaces. The City Palace complex, the architecturally splendid Bagore Ki Haveli, and Lake Pichola with its beautiful Lake Palace Hotel are just some of the 'must-see' sights. We loved it.

Jodhpur is famous for its blue buildings and for the unusual pants worn by a polo team when visiting England in 1897. The impregnable Mehrangarh Fort, which rises above the city, is one of the largest forts in India.

Also here is the magnificent Umaid Bhawan Palace, one of the last great palaces to be built in India. The royal family of Jodhpur still occupies a section of it but most has been converted into a luxury hotel. Nearby Mandore was the capital of the Marwar region before Jodhpur was founded.

Pushkar is a sleepy little holy town that attracts a lot of backpackers and hippie types and is one of the most visited pilgrimage places in India. Surrounding by hills on three sides, Pushkar abounds in temples and is centred on the lake which has mythological importance.

Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan's most famous festival, is held here late October or early November depending on the moon and it attracts 200,000 visitors from around the world.

India's desert capital of Jaipur, known as the Pink City because of the pink walls and buildings of the old city, lures visitors with its stunning ancient palaces and forts. It is an excellent place to shop for gemstones, silver jewellery, bangles, clothes, blue pottery, and textiles.

Nearby Amber Fort is set on a hill top overlooking Maota Lake and it is accessed on the back of elephants. It was the original home of Rajput royalty until Jaipur city was constructed and it is now a much-enjoyed attraction.

"I am sitting in front of the Taj Mahal absorbing the magic of the world's most beautiful building. India's crowds, chaos and poverty are temporarily relegated to the back of my mind as I let this piece of paradise into my soul". - Len Rutledge

There are quite a few worthwhile places to visit in Agra and around, apart from India's most famous monument -- the Tāj Mahal. The many interesting remnants of the Mughal era will surprise you and the crazy, congested bazaars of the Old City will fascinate you.

Don't miss a visit to majestic Agra Fort, Mehtab Bagh known as the Moonlight Garden, and the tomb of Itimād-ud-Daula or 'Little Tāj'.

Indian food is widely perceived as being predominantly vegetarian but in fact less than half of the Indian population is vegetarian. In the past, the abstinence from meat eating has often been an economic consideration because many people could not afford meat.

As India improves economically, the consumption of meat is increasing and the variety of cuisines available to the visitor has sky-rocketed. We were delighted with much of the local food and with the people who cooked and served it.

The Golden Triangle region has accommodation costing from $18,000 (no this is not a misprint) to $2 per night. Naturally the quality and experience varies widely. We generally used economical 3-star accommodation and were happy wherever we went.

India has some of the best and most expensive hotel rooms in the world and the facilities and service are virtually unmatched anywhere. On a couple of nights we lived like royalty at reasonable cost in restored palaces that are now hotels. That experience will long be remembered.

Words: Len Rutledge Pictures: Phensri Rutledge


Len is the author of Experience India's Golden Triangle 2018 available as an ebook or paperback from http://www.amazon.com/dp/B078H9VPJB

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


1. Agra Taj Mahal
2. Jaipur Hawa Mahal
3. New Delhi Qutb Minar
4. Puskar
5. Udipur Lake and City

April 08, 2018

Walking the Dog in Switzerland


International travel expert, John Newton braved the icy conditions up on the Saint Bernard Pass to catch up with some friendly giants for a walk in the Swiss Alps. He was relieved to swap the mountains for level ground where he mingled with younger, mischievous furry friends. All 10 of them.

It's that time of year again when locals and tourists alike get the chance to take a walk on the wild side with the Swiss national dog, some of which have achieved worldwide fame as movie stars, starred in a host of advertisements and featured on postage stamps.

Every weekend from the end of December until the end of February, the Barry Foundation – based in Martigny, Switzerland - organises leisurely walks accompanied by Saint Bernard dogs in the mountain village of Champex-Lac.

The 90-minute walks take dog lovers around the idyllic, snow-covered alpine lake, with participants taking it in turns to hold the Saint Bernard's on a lead, while youngsters can enjoy a ride in a sledge pulled by the dogs.

"The walks are beautiful. Our Saint Bernard's love going out in the snow and coming into contact with the visitors," said animal keeper, Leah Fluckiger. "The participants sense that too. And what's more, the walks lead through the spectacular scenery of the snowy alpine plateau."

Each walk in Champex-Lac is accompanied by three Saint Bernard's. One of the heavyweight dogs pulls a specially-designed sledge for children under the age of 10 to ride on.

"As long ago as in historical times, the Saint Bernard's used to pull carts. This remains a very suitable activity for the dogs, even today," said Manuel Gaillard, who is in charge of the dogs. "We have adapted the work of pulling the dogs a little, and replaced the traditional carts with sledges."

Ideally, the walk should be combined with a visit to the Saint Bernard museum, which is the only one of its kind in Switzerland and tells the story of the dogs, the Great Saint Bernard Pass and hospice. "The museum in Martigny is open every day. Visitors can find out more about the history of the hospice dogs and meet other dogs from our breeding kennels," said Rudolph Thomann, managing director the Barry Foundation which, as owner of the breeding kennels, is responsible for the continued management of the 300-year-old breed and the preservation of the special type of hospice Saint Bernard dog.

The Barry Foundation is named after the legendary Barry, who lived at the hospice in 1800 until 1812 and is considered the most famous of all the dogs who ever provided rescue services on the Great Saint Bernard Pass. He saved the lives of more than 40 people.

The many legends surrounding his name greatly contributed to the Saint Bernard's reputation. As a result, there is always a dog named Barry at the hospice, which was founded by monks in the 11th century as a refuge for travellers and pilgrims on the 2469-metre high Great Saint Bernard Pass – for centuries an important traffic route between the economic centres of northern Italy and North West Europe – and for pilgrims on their Via Francigena route to Rome.

Large mountain dogs have been kept at the hospice since the mid-17th century to guard and protect those staying there. The Saint Bernard's were rapidly adopted as companion dogs and above all as rescue dogs for travellers who lost their way in the snow and mist. The dogs from the Great Saint Bernard Pass saved the lives of many people, averting countless deaths in the snow. The reputation of the Saint Bernard's (then called 'Barry dogs') grew throughout Europe in the 19th century – thanks to chronicles published in many languages and to reports passed on by word of mouth by the soldiers who had crossed the pass with Napoleon Bonaparte in 1800. The legendary Barry became the archetype of the rescue dog.

Today, Saint Bernard's no longer play a key role in mountain rescues. Helicopters and faster, smaller dogs get to the accident scene much quicker.

Contact them direct for special offers and discounted passes. Go to: www.champex.ch or email – champexlac@saint-bernard.ch

In Switzerland, the writer received a good licking at the Saint Bernard Museum and Hospice. After travelling to Martigny by train on a Eurail pass provided by Rail Plus, Australasia's leading international rail specialist. For more information on European train journeys, itineraries and pricing, go to www.railplus  or call (In Australia)  1300 555 003.

Story and images: John Newton

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

  1. Author, John Newton finds a favourite
  2. I want to lead, no I do, no I do
  3. Please throw the ball for me
  4. Who wants to be rescued
  5. Please take my photo
  6. Running rings around
  7. Yes, we are twins