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Cochin
Pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation its only desirable quality is a certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India. Pliny The Elder.
stay
Malabar House
Malabar House
Great food and wine bar upstairs. Amazing live music live every night.
Trinity Resort
Trinity Resort
On the back waters an hour from Fort Cochin  a must.
eat
Malabar house
Malabar house
For dinner and live performance.
Kashi Gallery on Burgher Street
Kashi Gallery on Burgher Street
Great café for lunch and to see the groovy kids hanging out working on their novels.
Café Jew Town
Café Jew Town
Clean and easy right near the synagogue where you might need a fresh lime soda after.
see
Kalarippayat
Kalarippayat
The oldest martial arts forms of Asia to achieve fitness and prevent injuries. Go for the mark up part if you like seeing men put on makeup with intensity.
Bishops House
Bishops House
Lovely old house with a quirky museum.
St Francis Church
St Francis Church
Built in 1503, I love old Colonial churches with the windows all open painted in fiesta colors with birds swooping over the pews.
Chinese Fishing Nets
Chinese Fishing Nets
In Vasco da Gama Square still working and built in the 14th century!
shop
Crafters
Crafters
One of the big antique shops on Jew Towns main drag. Also, see his spices shop at the end of the road.
Heritage Arts
Heritage Arts
In Jew Town road has 7 massive warehouses dont miss one. Cochin is a port town so its easy to ship to the USA, but argue hard it might be more relaxed than the North but the dealers are not.
Idiom Booksellers
Idiom Booksellers
Amazing collection of books on India.
Kashmir
Published: November 08th 2013
Kashmir
"Who has not heard of the vale of Cashmere, with its roses the brightest that earth ever gave its temples, and grottos, and fountains as clear as the love-lighted eyes that hang over their wave." - Thomas Moore Lalla Rookh
Kashmir
Expecting machine gun bunkers, I was pleasantly surprised to just stroll out from the airport in Srinagar into any other Indian town except with air-the fresh, soft alpine! I am surely not in with trucks and taxis barreling down on you. Instead, I arrived in a land of gardens and lakes that's been put on hold of Indian urban sprawl for the last 20 years, not out of choice, but be that as it may I would say dash there and enjoy it while it lasts.

Muzaffar, the owner of Kashmir Caravans who led tours around the world before he came back home to set up shop in Srinagar, met me at the airport. Muzaffar did a brilliant job organizing my trip around the region and immediately we were battling back and forth like crickets trading stories of distant lands we had both traveled-oh yes Fergana Valley weavers are intense. And the souks of Damascus don't get lost in them etc.
Kashmir
After the gardens I took a small launch from the ghat (which just means landing but I like the word) to the houseboat I stayed on, The SukoonIt is one of the few upmarket boats, subtly redone with a well-trained staff and its anchored at the end of the lake without any other boats to obstruct your view of the mountains. I was just in time to sit up on the deck and have a cup of chai as the sun set- I can see why the Brits stayed here for months on end during the summers!

The next day we went to a local crafts fair called Farmers Market Art & Crafts Bazar that is usually held every two Sundays at the Almond Villa owned by the daughter (Joyti Singh) of Maharaja Karan Singh. The fair trade featured local artisans selling crafts ranging from almond honey to felted rugs. You must try the home cooked Biryani and Kashmir apple pie they sell.

Kashmir
Kashmir
Muzaffar then led me on a jaunt through the old city, first `to the Nakashband Sahib, a famous Sufi shrine with a very intriguing pagoda style of architecture. Continuing we next went to the Jamai Mosque with features a massive central courtyard and miles of prayer rugs. Lastly we stopped at the Shah-I-Hamdan mosque which was in full swing with many supplicants due to Eid, and the mosque was decked in piney green prayer clothes fluttering like the flocks of pigeons.


I was fortunate to be invited back to Muzaffars stately home for a real Kashmir home cooked lunch, which is always a treat. Seated on the floor, the dishes kept coming and if you are non veg don't miss the mutton in Kashmir its their specialty.

After lunch I did some shopping and first on the list was Muzaffar shop called Andraab, which also has locations in Delhi Jaipur and Udaipur. The shop features creatively designed Kashmir scarves and throws and with the strong dollar its a steal right now!
Kashmir
Kashmir
Muzaffar then led me on a jaunt through the old city, first `to the Nakashband Sahib, a famous Sufi shrine with a very intriguing pagoda style of architecture. Continuing we next went to the Jamai Mosque with features a massive central courtyard and miles of prayer rugs. Lastly we stopped at the Shah-I-Hamdan mosque which was in full swing with many supplicants due to Eid, and the mosque was decked in piney green prayer clothes fluttering like the flocks of pigeons.


I was fortunate to be invited back to Muzaffars stately home for a real Kashmir home cooked lunch, which is always a treat. Seated on the floor, the dishes kept coming and if you are non veg don't miss the mutton in Kashmir its their specialty.

After lunch I did some shopping and first on the list was Muzaffar shop called Andraab, which also has locations in Delhi Jaipur and Udaipur. The shop features creatively designed Kashmir scarves and throws and with the strong dollar its a steal right now!
Kashmir
Down the street is the first studio Mahatma & C photography since 1915. They still sell lovely black and white postcards and old equipment while a charming proprietor Mr. Mehta will tell you the story of the company.

The perfect end of the day is a ride along the back canals by boat. The boat is paddled by two fellows chatting in Kasmiri while I lounge back and we pass through the narrow back lanes of the lake where farmers grow vegetables, shop keepers smile as you pass them by, girls paddle in other boats on errands and cover their heads when you see them, kingfishers flit from tree to tree, and pops of moving color and life seems to be stopped in another century.
Pondicherry
Pondicherry
stay
eat
Jaipur
Jaipur
"Arise! Awake!
And stop not till your goal is reached." - Swami Vivekanada
stay
eat
Cairo
Published: October 31st 2013
Cairo
No Death on the Nile, Please
"It enchants me, the black rocks of Elephantine, and the sun, and the little boats on the river. Yes its good to be alive."  -Agatha Christie

In December, I happened to be updating my will while also getting ready for my trip to Egypt. Protests in Tahrir Square were all over the news, complete with dramatic close-ups of zealous protestors. My father called and asked if the will had anything to do with my upcoming trip. No Pop, Egypt is an incredible country and I havent seen the Nile yet, just the Western desert ages ago.  I assured him trying to assure myself too.

A travel pal of mine, Julia Gajcak, works all over the world with hotel groups and had secured us cabins on The Zahra, arguably the best boat on the Nile. Of course, this was six months ago when all was calm in Cairo. It had paid for in advance for the trip so there was no turning back.

Once we arrived, we had an early AM pick-up by Heba Mounir, our Egyptologist. (I love that word.) She said we must first stop at the latest tourist site in Cairo, none other than Tahrir Square, just around the corner from the Four Seasons Nile Plaza where we were roughing it. The square is filled with makeshift tents and walls covered in layers of amazing graffiti. Commerce is still alive and well: t-shirt vendors and tea stalls are everywhere. Bottom line is  Cairo is a city of twenty million and, contrary to present belief, its a great time to travel. Its like NYC during the Wall Street protests, life forges on  the traffic is the biggest nuisance.
Cairo
The Egyptian Museum sits at one end of the square. I could have gotten lost there for days, but we only zoomed around the highlights. I loved the old wooden cabinets that house the artifacts, but the general condition of the museum is a shame. Next we went out to Giza to satisfy my travel mates need for the clichéd shot of her mounted on a camel with the pyramids in the background. Luckily Heba negotiated the correct rate with the camel mafia and my partner was satisfied for the moment.

You need lots of time in this ancient city to fully appreciate it. We packed in a lot in one day, and thankfully on New Years Day the locals seemed to be taking it easy as we zipped around town. Consider traffic when making plans in Cairo; it can be a tangled mess. First we went to the Citadel to see the Salah Al Din mosque and school. I love wandering around empty mosques with the embellishments, scale, and the mixture of patterns. We also saw Sultan Hassan and Al Rifa monuments.

Years ago I had visited the Gayer Anderson Museum, which features two fabulous old houses joined by a bridge dating back to the 1600s. Major Gayer-Anderson, a Brit expat was allowed to reside in the house during the mid-30s while overseeing the restoration of its fountains and interiors. He adorned the interiors with his personal collection of art, furnishings and carpets. Id asked if I could move in to no avail.

Next we found dazzling fabrics at the tentmakers of Chareh El Khiamiah, a fun souk with local products sold alongside touristy items. A late lunch at Falafel was acceptable, but if you do go make sure you stop at Café Riche, a classic example of the intriguing old buildings in downtown Cairo. Dont forget the Lehnert and Landrock bookshop, with its black and white photographs of Egypt by Rudolf Lehnert and Erst Landrock. Theres also a brilliant assortment of old postcards and maps, as well as an extensive selection of books on Egyptian art, culture and politics. I asked our guide about renting an apartment, as it would take months to see the whole city, and she said the old flats might run about $800 a month, so I am looking into it.
Cairo
Luxor
We flew to Luxor to begin our Nile cruise aboard The Zahra, which is run by the Oberoi. The Zahra is supposedly the best boat on the Nile and I can easily believe it after our pampered week on board. The staff is incredible and the food, prepared by an Indian chef and his talented Egyptian sous chefs, was excellent. Our schedule was simple: during the days we visited temples, sailed a bit, and of course made time for our three square meals.

The first day was a visit to the Karnack Temple and the well-edited Luxor Museum, which was so pleasant compared to the dusty Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The Karnack Temple complex is massive. I dont think I was fully prepared for the scale of Egypt. I had been thinking of other temple complexes I had seen in AsiaAngkor Watt, Borobudur. Here, the endless columns and halls expanded by successive pharaohs and invaders were another thing entirely. The gigantic columns at Karnack, with their unusual patterns of papyrus, crowned by lotus plant capitals are surreal.

Back on board after visiting sites, Imaran Sultan, the general manager of The Zahra would occasionally join us for a drink. He was a charming chap from Dehradun, India, whod been stationed on the boat for a challenging two years, but he managed to keep his chin up in these trying times and run a perfect cruise.
Cairo
On the second day we drove to the West Bank to see the Valley of the Kings, deep in the Theban Plateau. Robbers had already plundered most of the tombs there long ago, except for King Tutankhamens, which remained untouched until Howard Carter discovered it in 1922. I couldnt believe the brilliant colors in the temples, still so vibrant even after thousands of years and blanketed with hieroglyphs. The burial chambers are covered with depictions of the underworld and filled with items to assist the pharaohs in the afterlife. The sites were almost empty of tourists, which made the temples even more special. Our guide told us this was a recent state of affairs: before the revolution, visitors would often wait outside the tombs for hours, only to be quickly ushered in and out with little time for lingering-we lingered!

The temple of Madinat Habu was next. These massive walls once sheltered the entire population of Thebes during one of the later invasions. We saw great reliefs illustrating military campaigns and incredibly deep carvings with soft washed-out pigments.
Cairo
Onward we went, to the Valley of the Nobles, boasting four-hundred tombs of royalty and high officials from the New Kingdom. We also visited Deir al Medina, where the craftsmen and laborers who worked on the royal tombs had lived and were buried. Their tombs are even more fantastic  it appeared as if they saved their best work for their own tombs of course. I envied the yellow ochre they used for the delicate palm trees and will try to get this color in one of our prints.

After the Valley of the Nobles we stopped in at Howard Carters house, the British architect who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922. His lovely domed home is set in the perfect location, overlooking the North side of the temples. Its easy to imagine the famous archeologist still living here; artifacts lie strewn about and his typewriter sits as if patiently awaiting his return.
Cairo
We finished the day at the Temple of Hatshepsut, elegantly rising from the desert, which used to be fronted by terraces myrrh trees. That day we found it overrun with exuberant Egyptian schoolchildren, which made me realize how tricky it must be to take in these sites with loads of people are crawling all over them. Queen Hepshepsut designed the temple herself during the 18th Dynasty. Note the reliefs of the Punt Expedition, which tell the story of the Hatshepsuts journey to Somalia and all of the lovely fish seen on the expedition.

For our next venture, we jumped on a charming little boat to cross the Nile to check out the Luxor Temple in the center of town. The temple was built during the 18th and 19th Dynasties and is dedicated to the gods Amun, Mut, and Khonsu. The Abu Al-Haggag Mosque now sits atop the temple, though it was originally built at ground level, the temple itself being buried beneath sand at that time. One enters the temple down a majestic avenue of sphinxes, which I am eyeing some replicas for my garden in Connecticut.

Being a big fan of Agatha Christie, we stopped into the Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor. I found it a little frayed at the edges, but still pretty atmospheric.

The next day, I harassed Kunal Patel, the boats chef, to allow us into the kitchen to observe his Egyptian sous chef making khalta rice and baymiya tagine. It was fun to watch this giant of a man heartily stirring the ingredients. He had to trim the top of his toque so he could comfortably stand in the kitchen. The dishes were amazing see recipe below and please call me over when you make it I want to come over.
Cairo
Cairo
Cairo
ASWAN
As we continued on the following day, we cruised to Edfu, a small town along the river. This day was especially wonderful and spent lolling about the deck. I was impressed by our captains nimble navigating skills as our boat was squeezed into a lock and then lifted up as the water rose beneath us. Salesmen dangled their wares from the passing docks, ready to make a deal. I spent the day drawing as we drifted by groves of palm and date trees, only occasionally jolted out of my reverie by the braying of mules as they made their way along the riverbank.

We waited until dusk to visit the Temple of Horace, which had been buried under sand for two thousand years. A horse-drawn carriage was our mode of transportation, which would have been quite quaint if we hadnt been stuck in a traffic jam with vehicles coughing out exhaust fumes and if my travel companion wasnt constantly sneezing due to her horse allergy. All of which was easily forgotten once we beheld the elegant statues of Horace guarding the entrance. Once inside we found courts and hallways with excellent reliefs of Horaces sacred boat. The temple is the largest and best-preserved example of Ptolemaic architecture in Egypt.

On our list for the next day was The High Dam, where we began to understand fully the importance of the Nile to life in the countries through which it runs. Being the longest river on Earth and meandering through five countries, the Nile is Africas life support system. The dam controls the rivers annual floods and prevents damage along the floodplains. It also provides approximately half of Egypts power supply.
Cairo
After seeing the High Dam, we visited to the Philae Temple, which had been relocated to higher ground to escape the rising waters of the dam. The approach by boat is magical. You are dropped off along a courtyard flanked by columns. The Temple of Hathor contains dazzling reliefs and centuries of graffiti in Arabic, French, and English, giving a sense of how much of the world has passed through Egypt over the centuries.

On the way back we stopped at the Old Cataract Hotel, recently updated by French designer, Sybille de Margerie. A magical lobby reflective of its iconic heritage dances with candlelight while flutes murmur in the background. The terrace overlooking Khnum Temple and Elephantine Island is the ideal spot to have a drink.

One of the prettiest settings is that of the Temple of Komombo. Situated alongside the Nile, the temple is dedicated to two gods: on the left side, the falcon god, Horus and on the right, Sobek, the cool crocodile god. Columns are detailed with lotus, lilies, and papyrus of the Delta. Dont miss the crocodile museum with its crocodile mummies.

The Botanical gardens were a bit of a letdown. We though it would be fun to go there by felucca, a small sailing boat, but floundered about in the channel for 45 minutes due to the lack of wind. One of the sailors pulled out some jewelry made by his sister, which was actually a pleasant distraction. Finally we made it to the gardens, but found them in poor condition. However, the view of the desert from the gardens made the trip worthwhile.

Nearby is the Nubian museum, which has some truly lovely ceramics, jewelry and odd village scenes. I do wish there had been more textiles and basket crafts. The section on the flooding of Nubian villages during the creation of the dam is quite depressing.

The next day we caught an early morning flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel. I was a bit disappointed we hadnt chosen the land option, which sounded more exciting and involved a motorcade complete with armed escorts. Abu Simbel was hewn out of a solid cliff in the 13th century BC. Another temple of Hathor was built to honor his wife, Nefertiti. Four massive statues of Ramses II create its striking entrance. Inside, battles rage as Ramses quells the Hittites. Even more impressive is the fact that in the 1960s, during the creation of Lake Nasser, the entire temple was moved from its original site to its present location. The airport-waiting lounge has a nifty video of the project.
ALEXANDRIA
Since I am a great Lawrence Durrell fan, I needed at least a day in Alexandria. Sadly, the city is losing some of the charm so well documented in his books. Lovely old buildings along the Cornice are being broken down to make room for new high-rise apartment buildings. We did have a lovely guide Rina and her recently appointed husband, who saved the day. We saw Pompeys pillar firstso cool to see this ancient monument set against the backdrop of now modern city. Next we visited the soaring Bibliotheca Alexandria, crammed with students, followed by the Mosque of El Morsy Abou al Abbas. Then we drove by Montazah Palace to catch a glimpse of this hybrid of Ottoman and Italian architecture, which is quite a successful collaboration. A few dusty antique shops failed to excite. We dodged great old tramsjust the right shade of yellowto finish our day with an excellent lunch at Bella Vista, a fresh fish joint on the sea.
Cairo
SIWA
First of all, you must stay at the Tirizi Eco Lodge. The manager, Taha, is a charming scion of an old Moroccan family who speaks eight languages and knows the area like no one else. Fatima, a former Olympic javelin star from Rabat, cooks a mean tagine and seems to do most of the work around the lodge. The place is made of mud in the traditional Siwa way and runs without heat or electricity. The flickering evening torches and kerosene lamps reflecting on the lake lull you into a serene state. Wake up Taha to take you on a run in the early AM. The hotel is a very special place, but bring your down parka during winter  it gets chilly!

The hotel supplied us with a car and a driver named Ahmed, who showed up in his jalaba and a well-worn Toyota Land Cruiser. Since everyone in Siwa knows everyone else, I asked him if he knew my last driver from years ago. He did, but told me he doesnt drive anymore since he got in trouble with the army for going too close to the Libyan border. We stopped by the Roman Tombs at Siwa  there are roughly 400,000 in and around the town. The layers of history in this oasis erode time, just as the hills surrounding Siwa slowly crumble into themselves.

Ahmed blazed into the desert for some daredevil dune driving (see video). As we sped up and down the mountains of sand, I tried to reassure myself that at least sand would make for a softer landing if we rolled over. The rapid ascents and descents, the dazzling sand and bright skies all reminded me of the rush you get from skiing minus the sand. I tried to get my travelling companion to reenact the English Patient with me, suggesting that I leave her in a cave with a drawing pad and Herodotus, but she declined. We stopped outside a small village to see a meteor that had fallen from the sky 22 years ago. Expansive fields of fossilized shells left us amazed at the fact that the desert was the sea ages ago. At a tiny sanctuary with hot sulfur springs we met an Australian filmmaker who is editing a film called The Tent Makers of Cairo. Of course I had to grill him on where I could find these fellows in the bazaars of Cairo. We finished our perfect desert day up in the high dunes for sunset and some tea made courtesy of Ahmed.
Cairo
Next day we toured the ancient town of Siwa to learn more about its history. The people of Siwa are the descendents of eleven different Bedouin tribes from Algeria and Libya. Their houses are mostly made of mud, which is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We went to the Mountains of the Dead to see one of the best-preserved tombs. The paintings inside were incredible  I couldnt believe the brilliant colors  soft reds, sienna and greens filling in crisp hieroglyphs. Then on to the Temple of the Oracle, built in 550 BC where Alexander the Great famously stopped to consult the ancient oracle about his plans to conquer the world. I dont have an army backing me, so my request was perhaps less ambitious: would I one day rule the world of home furnishings? Finally we visited the Shali Fortress, the old fortress that protected the Siwans for centuries from invaders looking to steal olives, dates, and wheat. A small bazaar near the entrance has some decent wool blankets, silver, and baskets. Our guide, Hadi was excellent and was a great educator. I always recommend good guides, even if their main job is to protect you from the harassment of other guides.
CONTACTS
GUIDES

Guides really save a lot of time by making sure you dont get lost or hassled by urchins and or other guides. Budget $40/50 a day for one.

Alexandria guide rina1857@hotmail.com 00201004165668
Siwa guide Hadi siwaoasis24@yahoo.com// 01005866751
Reda guide in Cairo reda_mokaz4@yahoo.com. 2101006505053

HOTELS

Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza.
The MS Oberoi Zahra. Great GM on board, Imran Sultan.
Four Season Hotel Alexandria at San Stefano.
Taziry Eco lodge, Siwa. The GM is Taha make sure you have dinner with him.

FOOD/ SHOPPING

Sequoia Restaurant Abu El Feda Street, Zamalak, Cairo
Aswan shopping in the tourist market which is walking distance from where the boats dock.
Bella Vista Seafood Restaurant, Alexandria- Shawki the owner was charming you can call him on his mobile 01280349585.
Taboula Lebanese restaurant in Cairo, walking distance from Four Season. 1 Latin America Street Garden City.
Siwa Creations, 17 Ahmed Heshmet, Zamalek
Lehnert & Landrock, 44 Sherif Street, great bookshop.
Tentmakers of Chareh El-Khiamiah for tent fabrics, pillows etc.
Felfela Restaurant, 15 Talaat Harb Street.
Website for filmmaker chareh-elkiamiah.com
Cafe Riche, 17 Talaat Harb St, Downtown, Cairo
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