THE ULTIMATE 2014 VACATION BUCKET LIST
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. —Lao Tzu
For the ancients, travel was an adventure fraught with unimaginable dangers. Travellers were exalted in myth, like the wanderings of Ulysses, the labours of Hercules, and the dangers faced by Jason and the Argonauts. Then the sea was full of monsters and beguiling evil enchantresses, and lands populated with one-eyed demons. But as the Buddha said, it is better to travel well than arrive. And arrive they did, as the world slowly turned on its axis through the centuries. Marco Polo reached the court of Kublai Khan. Hiuen Tsang, who travelled from China to India and Afghanistan, is one of the world’s earliest travel writers. Then the earth was flat, and any mariner who sailed too close to the horizon was apt to fall off the sea, to be devoured by monsters. Centuries later, Christopher Columbus discovered America, while searching for India and Vasco da Gama found it. Charles Darwin went to the Galapagos and changed how we perceive humanity. Lady Hay Drummond-Hay flew the world in a Zeppelin between two world wars. Four decades later, Yuri Gagarin conquered the final frontier. Men like Copernicus, Galileo and Einstein were travellers of the mind, while the great sage Sankaracharya who walked from Kerala to the Himalayas through forests and plains was the world’s first holy traveller.
It is all about unravelling mysteries and giving the world the gift of knowledge. To be on easy terms with the world, was to lose the mystery of travel—satellites penetrated areas where no man had seen before; bulldozers devoured forbidden Amazon forests driving ancient tribes further inward; and deep sea vessels brought the primeval secrets of the ocean to television screens. It was Hilaire Belloc who said, we wander for distraction but travel for fulfilment. Slowly, a change began in the narrative of journeys—the transition of the traveller into the tourist. Flights, ocean cruises, tour buses, luxury taxis, guided visits, luxury hotels offered packages, and tour operators inveigled passengers with freebies in luxury hotels in Manhattan or Bangkok. Banks offered travel loans. The mystery of travel was diminishing, and the polar opposites of luxury travel and backpacking are the two reference points of all travel today. Yet, there are some brave souls out there who wish to charter the unknown and the dangerous, recapturing the romance of travel. They go to warzones, courting dangers to experience conflict first hand; they go seeking ghost sightings in Chernobyl (Fukushima could follow soon); they watch rats milling around in Karni Mata Temple and see garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean for $10,000 per person. Man hasn’t given up travelling yet, seeking outlandish mysteries that still exist, adventures that thrill and tours that illuminate.
Cassadaga Ghost Tours and Orb Photography: The Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp in Central Florida was founded in 1894 by spiritualists. Thousands of people visit this little town to communicate with their loved ones—human and animal—which have passed beyond the veil. The residents claim they can communicate with the dead. There are certified mediums, psychics, palm and card readers, tarot readings, and handwriting mediums to offer solace to the bereaved. Afterwards, you can head to Spook Hill in central Florida, where your car will roll uphill on its own. The belief is that the Red Indian witchdoctors who lived there had left powerful magic behind. $15 for the Encounter Tours and $25 for the Orb Photography Tours. For information and reservations, call 386-228-2880.
Head to the Haunted: Nicholson Cemetery, Prithviraj Cemetery, Sanjay Van, Bhangarh Fort, Kuldhara, etc. Ghost tours, led by Rajesh Kumar, secretary and Chief Technical Officer at the India Paranormal Society, will take you to these destinations, where going alone is not advisable. Kumar teaches you to handle electronic paranormal research equipment, EVP recording, nature of orbs, how to communicate with the spirits, how to discretely photograph them and finally, how to analyse forensic evidence. Costs: Rs 1,500-2,000 per person (within Delhi); Rs 5,000-6,000 per person (outside Delhi).
Swim with an Elephant: Most of us have ridden an elephant. Now it’s time to swim with one. Rajan is almost a celebrity in Havelock Islands in Andaman Islands. Using his trunk as a snorkel, it dives into the deep sea, while visitors get a unique chance to share this adventure with it. The 63-year-old retired elephant was born in captivity in India. At the time, logging was rampant and it was trained to swim and carry logs from one part to another. Subsequently, it was brought to Havelock. During the same time, logging got banned there. It is said that almost 200 elephants were sent back to the mainland India in 2002 and Rajan was not sent back. People at Barefoot Scuba Dive Resort in the island took it upon themselves to take care of it. Since then, they have engaged Rajan in unique diving tours, hence helping raise money for its cost of living.
Crossword University Cruise: The cruise was started by Stan Newman, editor of the Newsday Crossword Puzzle. On offer are ‘Puzzles: 101’ for learners and ‘Tackling the Toughies’ which help you become a black belt in crossword as you sail through the Caribbean on the MS Statendam. Starting out from Fort Lauderdale, you wrestle with words as the ship takes you to Nassau, San Juan, St. Barts, Dominica, Antigua and St. Thomas. At stopovers, travellers form small groups for morning and afternoon sessions to solve puzzles. Cost: $240 per day. Special Event Cruises: Phone 1-800-326-0373.
Fly a MiG Over Russia: The legendary MiG-29 has been guarding Indian skies and you get a chance to feel like an Indian fighter pilot at a military airstrip near Moscow. The five-day trip includes a visit to Nizhny Novgorod Aircraft building plant Sokol, sightseeing and a suite at Metropol, the legendary hotel that overlooks Red Square. Russian fighter pilots will ride shotgun with you as you perform 45 minutes of breath-stopping manoeuvres and go up 70,000 feet to the edge of space flying at Mach speeds. Another adventure from the same tour company is a chance to dress up in an Orlan space suit fitted with biometric sensors to check health readings underwater at the Russian Space Agency’s Hydrolab. Here real-life astronauts train to simulate weightlessness in a 12-metre deep neutral buoyancy tank. You need to be a certified diver of the right height and weight. End the tiring, but satisfied day of any of the three nights at a four-star Moscow hotel. The company also offers a three-day Covert Ops Adventure vacation in Arizona led by Vietnam and Desert Storm-era Special Forces vets, taking a crash course in elite Israeli counter-terrorism. Incredible Adventures, 6604 Midnight Pass Rd, Sarasota, FL 34242, United States (941) 346-2603
Drive A Tank: At Kasota, Minnesota, navigate two British army tanks—the FV433 Abbot and the FV432 Armoured Personnel Carrier—through a densely wooded course and test-fire an authentic STEN machine gun. Testosterone-laden tourists love the ‘crush package’ that obliterate anything lying in the path of ‘Larry’ —the 60-tonne Chieftain Main Battle Tank. Drive A tank: Call 1 (507) 931-7385. Email: email@example.com
Learn to be a Firefighter: Inside every man is a little boy and inside every little boy is a hero. At the Central Florida Fire Academy in Orlando, considered one of the finest fire-fighting training schools in the US, use the Jaws of Life to rescue a victim (not real of course) from a burning car, test-drive the giant fire truck, and end the day with a real fireman’s dinner. 550 W Cherry St, Kasota, MN 56050, US, Phone:(507) 931-7385.
Shark Baiting in the Honduras: The depths of 1,500 feet off the coast of Roatan are patrolled by prehistoric six-gilled sharks. A tour on Stanley Submarines’ custom-built, submersible Idable brings you face-to-face with these monsters. Live bait is attached to the sub to entice the giants of the deep, which are even longer than your 13-foot sub. Watch them go for it through nine 30-inch viewports. Book Your Dive, Roatan Institute of Deepsea Exploration 011-504-3359-2887.
Be On Top of the World: Peaking through the clouds is the highest mountain on the planet, Mount Everest, at 8,848 metres above sea level. Take a good look at it from that height in a 3.5-hour helicopter ride that takes you right above the formidable mountain. The views are incredible, the feeling unimaginable. Besides the Everest, you will also get a chance to view the other peaks, part of the colossal range. Best time to visit is January through May and September through December. Cost: $4,600 per flight (one to three people) or charter cost $5,500 up to five people.
Look ‘Beneath the Surface’: This exploration begins in the access of 3,614 feet, deep under the earth’s surface. Spelunking into the longest and deepest lava tubes in the world, the Kazumura Cave in Hawaii, unravels a labyrinth of eco-systems that you could not have imagined existed. The layered descend into the cave begins after a scenic walk through the Puna Rain Forest. This odyssey takes you closer to cave spiders, dripping lava stalactites and stalagmites, dribble spires, glimmering rock formations and gives you a chance to witness the fragile Gypsum crystals, that, guides say, are so delicate that they can be broken by a single drop of water. There are 101 known entrances to the cave. Cost: $30 onwards.
Go With The Wind: Escape from the ferocious Indian summers to frosty polar winters, to sail, ski and kite fly—all at once—in sub-zero temperatures. Kite skiing in the South Pole is an adventure, the ordinary man wouldn’t have normally elicited, but it may just be the thing you were looking for. The traction kite provides the pull, as the breeze gets stronger. Once you’ve got your hand on it, you can progress to climbing slopes. The best time to plan this trip is during the Antarctic summer (December, January). You must have evacuation insurance. Cost: $65,000 upwards.
Slip on the snow: Glacier hiking and ice-climbing is one of the most challenging yet stimulating experiences. Skaftafell in southeast Iceland is one of the best places to indulge in this activity. A guide will first brush up your hiking skills and then off you go, first finding a firm foot on easier gradients, and subsequently advancing to steeper ones. On your way through these glistening glaciers, you’ll see a myriad of ice formations, caves, crevasses and tapered ice walls. If you look carefully into one of the melted ice water pools, you see polar aquatic life. It wouldn’t be surprising if you got to experience an avalanche as it’s not entirely uncommon in this part of the world. View from a safe distance though. Cost: 17.50ISK per person.
Breathe in Some Coffee: Ditch premium pool-facing rooms for ones facing coffee plantations that Tata Coffee’s Plantation Trails makes possible. Its holiday homes in Coorg are situated right in the middle of sprawling coffee estates. As you take a round around the plantation, you smell cardamom, pepper and vanilla that perfume the air. Each bungalow is spacious and comes complete with all necessary amenities. When you decide to step out, hire one of the open jeeps through the plantations, as the drivers double up as guides, telling you about the characteristics of each kind of coffee bean. Bird watching is another popular activity around the region. Cost: Rs 5,970.
Be a Cowboy for a Day: Get into the saddle and gallop away in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At Estancia El Ombu, you get to spend a day (or more), experiencing ranch life as a cowboy. So get a quintessential pair of leather boots with a hard wooden heel, a pair of jeans and a faded worn-out hat, and get ready for your lessons. You first learn to saddle your horse with the help of instructions being imparted by your personal gaucho. Next, you learn to hold the reins. Once you’ve got your hand at the activity, you can go for longer rides with a guide or by yourself. Once you’re back, you can lend the gaucho a hand with their daily chores. What will follow is an asado (barbecue) lunch with some local wine. If you’re in a larger group, folk music performances and creole horse-back skill events are also organised. Cost: $500 onwards.
Steer the Steep Slopes: Ski down powdered slopes of some of the coolest destinations for heli-skiing in British Columbia. Your experiences will be as diverse as the terrain. On this snow adventure, you will ski down glades, chutes, alpine glaciers and more. As you begin skiing, it may be freezing but once you start, too many warm clothes may hamper your movement. CMH is the company that provides some of these tours. Cost: $4,615 onwards, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*All tour costs are approximate figures and vary from tour to tour. They’re subject to change.