Tag Archive | "India"

Asia Week New York

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Battle Scene of Akbar's Imperial Army. Mughal, India. Courtesy Kapoor Galleries.

Battle Scene of Akbar’s Imperial Army. Mughal, India. Courtesy Kapoor Galleries.

By Bobbie Leigh

For the in-the-know or the inexperienced,  Asia Week New York is a marvel:  five auction houses and  45 international Asian art galleries  transform Manhattan  into a  once-a-year- showcase  for museum-quality exhibitions. “Asia Week New York, now celebrating its seventh anniversary, is more exciting than ever,” says Lark Mason, the 2016 Chairman.

The range of work presented in this Asian art extravaganza is jaw-dropping: painting, sculpture, bronzes, ceramics, jewelry, jade, textiles, prints and photographs from all over Asia. What makes Asia Week New York so special is that the gallery owners and their staffs   eagerly engage with visitors.   Judging from past years, they try to give visitor detailed information, always keeping in mind that their goal is to educate or at least enhance an understanding of the material.  Perhaps Asia Week is the most  understated marketing venture you will ever encounter. 

Vase by Suzuki Goro. Courtesy Dai Ichi Arts.

Vase by Suzuki Goro. Courtesy Dai Ichi Arts.

For example, it is not unusual for a gallery owner like Beatrice Chang of Dai Ichi Arts (18 East 64) to spend 15 minutes explaining the provenance of an object and giving you the context in which it was made. The generosity of the organizers who appreciate inquisitive visitors is what makes Asia Week New York so special. Chang’s provocative show is “Seductive Beauty: Masterpieces from Japan.”  One highlight is a tall stoneware vase created in 2002 by revered master ceramist Suzuki Goro, who is known for his humor and cutting-edge work.

Joan B. Mirviss, LTD (39 East 78th Street) is also featuring contemporary Japanese work.  Ann Wadsworth, the gallery administrator, emphasizes that the Western World has not had a lot of exposure to Japanese water jars as a utensil to be collected.  “Tea bowls are much more popular,” she says adding that because these water jars are much larger, they give the artist a lot of creativity to play around the form.”  Among these truly extraordinary art objects is an 1985 floral-patterned water jar by Ono Hakuko, a woman ceramist know for her mastery of   gold leaf on porcelain.

Japanese water jar by Ono Hakuko. Courtesy Joan B. Mirviss Ltd.

Japanese water jar by Ono Hakuko. Courtesy Joan B. Mirviss Ltd.

Kapoor Galleries (34 East 67th Street) Sanjay Kapoor, a member of the family-owned gallery specializing in Indian and Himalayan arts, says there is a lot of significance and back history in  his gallery’s  Asia Week  presentation, “Amrita, Nectar of Immortality.” The sculptures in this show have been  objects of veneration for centuries. “They were made as objects of devotion and are invested with intense emotional energy,” says Kapoor who is especially interested in helping younger people learn more about  “the classical arts.”

Prepare to be dazzled at the Kang Collection Korean Art show (9 East 82nd) “Viewing the Past Through Modern Eyes.”  The star attraction here is Ran Hwang’s 2013 large-scale installation, “First Wind-CL.”  Imbued with feminist nuances, Hwang has used buttons, pins, and beads on a wooden panel, a tour-de-force with implications about rapid modernization in the 21st century according to the gallery notes.

J.J.  Lally & Co (41 East 57th) is a treasure trove of Chinese art, furniture, painting, and ceramics.  This year the gallery is featuring a large ancient Chinese jade blade from the Shang Dynasty, around 1300 BC.  It’s the centerpiece of the gallery’s  “Ancient Chinese Jade: From the Neolithic to the Han.”   Jade blades were never used in warfare.  Instead, they were precious symbols of power and status, used in court ceremonies and buried in tombs.  This Asia Week exhibition goes a long way of explaining why jade has always occupied a special place in Chinese artistic culture.

For details about all the galleries and their masterworks: www.asiaweekny.com.

 

Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.

Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.

 

India for The Newbie

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The author, mid elephant, in India.

The author, mid elephant, in India.

Story & photos by Cathie Arquilla

My son asked, “So, how was India?” I knew I had about two minutes to describe my trip, he was wolfing down Cheerios, about to be late for school.  “It was a hot mess,” I said. Explaining further, it’s super busy and chaotic.  Everyone is going and coming and doing a million different things in the span of fifty feet.  No one seems to follow the rules, you’ll see trucks going down the wrong side of the highway.  There doesn’t seem to be any zoning laws. It’s perfectly okay to paint your house bright orange, jerry-rig your electrical, and set up a shop (or home) on a street meridian. BUT there is something incredibly freeing about the whole place.  The constant honking usually isn’t angry.  It’s just a shout-out.  Hey, I’m here, on your left, passing you now, hi there, here I come.  Contrary to the, get the F out of my way MF, rage you can get and (sometimes) give here at home.

Underneath and on top of the mess, there is great beauty and creativity. It’s magical, happy and sad at the same time.  Occasionally, I felt sensory overload. I would have to shut my eyes for a minute because I was seeing, smelling and hearing too much all at once. For that reason, it’s nice to have a quiet place to rest your head at the end of the day.  And hospitality is just one of the things “Incredible India” does best.  It’s not officious, rather it’s genuine and caring– ‘I really want to help you, it’s not just my job.’

We stayed at the Taj brand hotels with the exception of ITC Rajputana in Jaipur.  My sister and I were doing a typical “first-timer” tour of India, The Golden Triangle– Delhi, Agra, Jaipur.  Our add on was Lucknow, the capitol city of Utter Pradesh in the northeast.

British Residency in Lucknow

British Residency in Lucknow

Lucknow: Untouristed and Unsettling

Known as the Nawabi City, Lucknow is steeped in history, rich with culture and architecture of the Nawab era. If you are interested in the Indian Mutiny of 1857, it’s a rich place to explore, especially for an Anglophile. There are very few tourists and you’re free to roam the monuments at your own peril (tourism without regard to law suits). I did get an unsettling feeling of… was it anger, disapproval, or just a weird sense of fascination from some of the men?

I was looking for a silver jewelry box and my guide took me into a few small shops on a main commerce street in Old Town. I took off my shoes as instructed, but there was no welcome or smile from the proprietor, on the contrary, it was more like, what is SHE doing here?  Also, while visiting the British Residency, the ruins of a large British township that was under siege during the Mutiny, we were openly learned at. I asked our guide, “Do they hate us? Or is it socially acceptable for men to stare?”  He said it’s because we’re white, “They think you’re British and in this area, the British are not well liked.” Obviously there isn’t a factual answer, it’s a feeling, something you can’t exactly Google.

Vivanta by Taj

Vivanta by Taj

Vivanta by Taj – Gomit Nagar – Lucknow

What turns this whole story on it’s head was the very nice welcome and hospitality we received at the the Vivanta Gomti Nagar Lucknow, the Taj’s number two brand, followed by the Gateway and the Ginger hotels.

I met Sales Managers Alpana Singh and S. Shabahat Husain for tea and they told me that the hotel was rather new (15 years), and built in the colonial style of the British Residency, with influences of French and Mughal (Nowabi) architecture. They explained that while they would like Lucknow to attract more tourism, right now their clientele is mostly there to conduct business and the Vivanta Lucknow caters to that customer. Ms. Singh, who started working for the hotel one year before it opened, said the hotels biggest asset was being part of the Taj brand.  Immediately, consumers know to expect excellence from the brand and that is what ultimately drives sales.

To best describe the excellent service we received, I have to tell a quick story about Swati, an on-duty service manager, I got to know.

My sister had purchased a sari from a popup store in the hotel with the idea that she would wear it at a gala the following night. The custom blouse that goes with the sari would not be completed in time, but she could wear a gold t-shirt instead.  The next day we got back to the hotel with an hour to get ready for the gala and Bonnie, my sister, said she couldn’t wear the sari because she didn’t have a matching petticoat.  This is a drawstring underskirt, that you tuck one end of the sari in to.  I’m a fashion stylist and I wasn’t going to let Bonnie leave the hotel in nothing else but that sari!

I called Swati.  I told her not only did we need the petticoat, but she had to come back to put the sari on because I didn’t know how to do it.  She said she needed the sari to match the fabric of the petticoat and that once she had it in hand, she would bring it to the room and put the sari on Bonnie.  With 45 minutes left, I had my doubts about pulling the sari mission off (honestly, I wouldn’t have bet a rupee on it).  It’s India, just thinking of the traffic and craziness outside, I felt defeated. Not only did Swati arrive in time to put the sari on, but the petticoat was the absolute perfect match to the sari fabric. Swati, duty manager and valet too.

Oudhyana Restaurant, Taj Vivanta

Oudhyana Restaurant, Taj Vivanta

Oudhyana Restaurant – Nowab Splendor, The Taj Stamp

I’m sure there is amazing, adventurous, eating in local markets and city restaurants in India, but Anthony Bourdain I am not. Taking advice from my sister and friends who have been to India, I stuck mostly to hotel dining.  Yes, I wanted to be more authentic in my food choices, but like forgoing train travel, I didn’t want to take chances with the timing of our trip, being sequestered sick in bed or stuck on a train, was not an option.  However the Taj Hotels offer such fantastic dining, there is no compromising to be done.

Vivanta Gomti Nagar Lucknow has a one-of-a-kind restaurant called Oudhyana.  The dining room was like being in a Tiffany jewelry box.  Despite the fact that I was wearing a sequined gold skirt with a gold silk charmeuse top and jeweled sandals, I felt under dressed.  In this dining room you should bathe yourself in silk and jewels and finery from head to toe!

If ever you need to indulge a Nowab fantasy, this is the place to do it. The cuisine type is Awadhi, a northern India cuisine specific to Lucknow, but similar to Central Asia and the Middle East. Think slow fire stews, kebabs, korma–a big spread of small plates set before Nowabi princes during the Moghal era. Sous Chef Harish Chand Sharma makes this fantasy come to your table. A small selection of dishes worth remembering and mentioning here include: mustard fish, mutton kabab, and a vermicelli dessert.

Old Town, Delhi

Old Town, Delhi

The Golden Triangle – A Typical Itinerary for Atypical India 

Delhi

If you find yourself in Delhi, and anyone on a Rajistan Golden Triangle tour will, make sure you hire a bike rickshaw and take a ride through Old Delhi, this slice of India gave me a sense of place like no other. The rickshaw driver who weighed at least 35 pounds less than me (okay I’m 145) was managing with a bike chain that kept quitting on him. So he ran half the time. My sister was next to me (I’m not going to tell her weight). The driver was undaunted!

Our guide Pushkar, a young man with fashionably saggy pants, took us through the spice market and to a Sikh temple where we also toured the adjoining kitchen.  The kitchen had wok-like pots big enough for three four-year-olds. The ladies, patting, balling, and tossing dough seemed as chatty and comfortable as any feminine DIY gossip group the world over. They were getting ready to feed 100 plus, free of charge.

I asked Pushkar what he wanted to do after being a tour guide.  He said his plan was to retire at 35 and open an ashram in his home village up north, a lofty aspiration and rather different form western 20 somethings!

The stand out meal in Delhi was at the Taj Mahal New Delhi (The Taj Mansingh). Surprisingly, it was Chinese food.  Dining at the House of Ming felt like being in a James Bond movie.  One of those scenes where he is somewhere in the world being totally handsome, smart, international, glamorous and well fed.  The House of Ming prides itself on being a favorite of Delhi’s elite and while I didn’t recognize any Bollywood film stars, I bet they were there! Celebs aside, it was a tantalizing meal with tastes twisting and turning in my mouth – hot counteracted by sweet, soft in opposition to crunchy.  Order the lotus stems tossed in seasonal honey and dried red chilis. I’m not sure you can get them anywhere else.

The author at the Baby Taj.

The author at the Baby Taj.

Agra

Home to the Taj Mahal, Agra is probably one of the most touristed spots in central Asia. My neighbor Surendra Shah gave me some excellent advice before my trip.  He said to see the “Baby Taj” before visiting the Taj Mahal. Did we follow said advice, no, our schedule was turned around so we visited I’timad-ud-Daula (the Baby Taj) after seeing the Taj Mahal, but at sunset, and it was precious in comparison, like hearing flutes instead of drums.  Like the Taj Mahal, I’timad-ud-Daula is a tomb.  It is a precursor to the Taj, the first Mughal monument to use white marble and inlay. I’m not a Moghal scholar, but to me the architecture and inlay work was every bit as artistically jaw dropping as the Taj.

Moonlight Garden

Moonlight Garden

The other bit of advice from Mr. Shah was to see the Taj Mahal from the Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden) before visiting.  This advice we did follow and it was a perfect build up to seeing the Taj Mahal the next morning at sunrise. Mehtab Bagh is situated along the Yamuna River just opposite the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort.  It was the last Mughal-built gardens along the Yamuna and was said to be the chosen site of a black marble mausoleum (identical to the Taj Mahal) that Mughal Shah Jahan wanted to build for himself.  However, in typical Mughal dynastic fashion, excellent fodder for a dramatic TV mini-series, Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb and the black Taj was never to be.

Peshawri restaurant at ITC Mughal, was our favorite meal in Agra. Riffing again on a movie reference, here I thought of Omar Sharif in Laurence of Arabia. Picture an exotic caravan tent set from a 50s MGM movie, except without the tent, the walls with their jagged tiles say cave more than ten, add lots of orange, green and red cushions and rugs, beaded screens, low lights, no dancers but a serious yet friendly waitstaff with oversized turbans… and you’re there. The food is inspired by the North-West Frontier Province, which encompasses parts of Afghanistan and Northwest pre-independence India. It’s a tradition of clay ovens and tandoor, it’s not saucy. We had some huge prawns fire cooked on a yard long skewer, a sword really.  The method for marinating the prawns was to use a big butter drenched rag (or cheese cloth?) and squeezed it over the prawns. Delicious.

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

On the Way to Jaipur

The lower left point on the Golden Triangle tour is the city of Jaipur home to the stupendous Amber Fort, but there are two stops on your way there from Agra that should be made.  They are Fatehpur Sikri and the Chand Baori step wall in Abhaneri.

Fatehpur Sikri is an imperial palace city built by Mughal emperor Akbar. Visiting the complex gives you a frame of reference for the whole Mughal dynasty and it especially emphasizes the splendor and brilliance of Akbar’s court.  If I had to choose to run away with any one Mughal emperor, it would be Akbar!  His ability to assimilate different cultural influences and religions in the architecture of Fatehpur Sikri is unparalleled. His courts became the center of arts, literature and learning and he championed an Indo-Persian culture, which thrived on religious acceptance. There is so much history and lore to garnish from this magnificent palace city that you should be very particular about your guide and read up on Akbar The Great before you go!

Hindu Goddess, at Chand Baori Stepwell

Hindu Goddess, at Chand Baori Stepwell

Maybe it’s because Bonnie and I were the only ones there, but The Chand Baori Stepwell did feel mystical. A local guide took us around the top most part of the well describing the Hindi gods and goddess on various stone pieces lying about.  Looking down into the giant hole that is the well, one could get vertigo. The name “stepwell” both describes how it works and what it is.  You step down stairs to get to the water accumulated at the bottom. Women were most often associated with the wells, because they collected water while offering prayers. The Chand Baori stepwell has something like observation rooms overlooking the well with ornate architectural details now in semi-ruin. Being there, you could almost hear the laugher, gossip and chatter of the women seeking water and refuge on a hot summer day.

Note: The Golden Triangle sites are a lot about the Islamic Mughal Dynasty of the 16th century. The Chand Baori stepwell was built between 800 and 900AD and it is Hindu, dedicated to Hashat Mata, the Goddess of Joy and Happiness.

Jaipur 

In Jaipur there are several requisite tourism sites, but the one that was stand out for us and most any visitor, is Amber Fort. I knew we would be riding a “Amber Fort Elephant” up the access road to the fort, a rather hokey way to get there (not to mentioned probably unsanctioned by animal rights activists) but I couldn’t wait to get on that elephant!  I had a big agenda to recreate the picture of my fashion idols Lee Radziwill and Jackie Kennedy on an elephant in India, sans the white gloves, and I did it!

Amber Fort also known as Amber Palace has a layered history with many medieval structures destroyed or replaced, but today the palace complex of the Rajput Maharajas still stands.  Like India itself it is enigmatic. So dramatic in form, grace and intricacy, one doesn’t know where to look first.

Glimpse a reflexion of yourself in Shesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors), your face is cut into bits, your image is reflected a million times over, it is both disconcerting and awe-inspiring.

Disconcerting and awe-inspiring. That is the hot mess that is India.

 

 

Fashion stylist and travel writer Cathie Arquilla searches out style in both the unexpected and the typical, especially while “on location.” Formerly a celebrity stylist, who dressed the likes of Cindy Crawford, Bill Joel, Natalie Merchant and Midori, Cathie now provides private shopping and personal styling direction to clients at the Carlisle Collections Showroom in New York City.  Her love for travel is equal to her passion for fashion and as a writer she is a hybrid of the best sort, inspiring us to notice details, textiles, shape and form, while telling us about what is cool and fun to do.  Cathie is a regular contributor to Travelgirl, Healthy Aging and GoNOMAD.com.  Check out her Travel + Fashion blog at cathiearquilla.com.

Both fashion stylist and travel writer, Cathie Arquilla searches out style in both the unexpected and the typical, especially while on location. Formerly a celebrity stylist, who dressed the likes of Cindy Crawford, Bill Joel, Natalie Merchant and Midori, Cathie now provides private shopping and personal styling direction to clients at the Carlisle Collections Showroom in New York City.  Her love for travel is equal to her passion for fashion, and as a writer she is a hybrid of the best sort, inspiring us to notice details, textiles, shape and form, while telling us about what is cool and fun to do.  Cathie is a regular contributor to Travelgirl, Healthy Aging and GoNOMAD.com.  Check out her Travel + Fashion blog at cathiearquilla.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goa: In Search of “the Right Kind of Tourist”

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1430217783goa

By Roger Cox

I’m old enough to have participated in the pilgrimage of hippies to Goa in the 1960s and 1970s, but I didn’t get there myself until 2014, by which time I was well beyond any urge to drop out, ingest psychedelics, and cavort nude on the beach. Rumor is that some of that still goes on, possibly in North Goa, site of the flea market at Anjuna Beach, where hippies sold their possessions and crafts in order to subsist for another week or month. These days the market is open only on Wednesdays (the one day, as it happened, I could not go). Too bad. Lonely Planet calls it “unmissable” and a place to see “Goa’s old faithful hippies mingling with I Heart Goa–clad Indian tourists, package-holiday Brits and Russians, and young backpackers in search of bargains.”

Echoes of the hippy era aside, Goa’s allure today remains its beaches and inexpensive lifestyle. In fact, beaches line some 83 percent of the state’s 60 miles of coastline, most of it washed by a warm Arabian Sea. There are more than a score of named strands, ranging from very commercial—Calangute and neighboring Baga—to tranquil retreats like Mandrem (a small fishing village) in the far north and Agonda (a Ridley turtle sanctuary) in the south. All of them experience seasonal variations, drawing the largest crowds from November through March, typically reaching a peak in December. Those are also the months with the greatest concentration of colorful festivals, including a Goan version of Carnival in February. April and May are very hot, with temperatures in the 90s. By June, monsoon season has arrived and endures into fall.

Se-Cathedral

Se-Cathedral

I started my trip at a hotel near Pangim (I was in town for the Goa International Travel Mart). When the conference ended, I decided against an AirBnB-listed beach shack at $15/night and instead moved to a guesthouse near Benaulim Beach, paying $55/night for a opne-bedroom apartment with air-conditioning and intermittent WiFi. I rented a bicycle (about $1 a day) to halve the time it took to get to the beach down the road to the west and to the small village to the east.

Yet Goa turned out to be much more than the sum of its beaches–and not at all like much of the rest of India. For 450 years Goa had been a Portuguese colony. That didn’t end until 1961. That legacy shows in the architecture of the state capital of Panjim and in a wealth of churches and convents, among them two World Heritage Sites: the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which dates to 1605 and holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier, and the churches and convents of Old Goa, chief among them Se Cathedral (seat of the Archbishop of Goa), the largest church in India and perhaps all of Asia.

Touring these sites in 90-degree heat with a crowd that included women in saris and men in turbans was at once fascinating and disorienting. Whatever else, this was not the India I’d later experience in Mumbai–certainly not the India of Slumdog Millionaire or the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. In fact, Goa is one of India’s richest states: it has the highest GDP per capita—two and one-half times the country as a whole—and a very high literacy rate of 87 percent. Moreover, the mountains to the east are known for their biodiversity and harbor numerous wildlife refuges and bird sanctuaries. Its byways and rural roads, though slow to negotiate, can be exceptionally beautiful, lined with trees and carefully constructed low rock walls, like those you might find in New England. Greenery abounds.

Cashew seller in Pangim. Photo Roger Cox.

Cashew seller in Pangim. Photo Roger Cox.

I wandered happily through the streets and market in Panjim (where I bought bags of the fabulous local cashews and marveled at barrels of rice in a rainbow of colors and the hennaed hands of young shopgirls). I also toured a tropical spice plantation, tasting feni, a potent drink made from cashews, where I stocked up on oils and powders to take home. But as a Westerner and a newby to India, I was far most intrigued by the Hindu temples, which are scattered through the countryside. That led me to the 18th-century Shri Mangueshi, set above an impressive brick-and-tile-lined ceremonial water tank about a dozen miles from Panjim. A set of stairs climb to a courtyard that encloses the blue-white-and-yellow domed temple itself–a cross-cultural mix of Christian and Muslim architectural styles–and a seven-story lamp tower inset with colorful depictions of the Hindu gods. Leaving shoes outside, I entered the temple, where bare-chested priests in white cotton dhotis presided in a room with marble floors, silver chandeliers, and a far wall with embossed images of gods and serpents and a gold and silver shrine to Shiva.

Shri-Mangueshi-Temple

Shri-Mangueshi-Temple

Getting around to see these attractions can be time consuming. Improving infrastructure to make exploring easier is one of a number of issues that the Department of Tourism, Government of Goa (www.goatourism.gov.in/), is addressing in a 25-year tourism master plan for the state. Essentially, they hope ultimately to redefine Goa’s appeal, one more in keeping with position as one of India’s richest states. Among the proposed changes are greater focus on cultural heritage, festivals, cruise ship piers, river excursions, weddings, and medical tourism. They realize they need to develop more tourist friendly mass transit. They want to encourage the construction of more golf courses, water parks, and oceanariums. They also want to lure more 4- and 5-star hotels (to supplement the two Vivanta by Taj properties, The Leela, the Grand Hyatt, and others), and encourage more restaurants to offer Goan and other native cuisines. From their perspective, the airport needs to be better and so does the convention center to attract more meeting and incentive groups. And those alluring beaches need more lifeguards, better sanitation, changing rooms and lockers, improved parking, and more and better police patrols–including at night.

Panjim

Panjim

Many of those goals–like improved mass transit and better beach amenities–would unquestionably enhance the traditional Goa experience for everyone who visits. But behind these changes is the professed desire on the part of Tourism Goa to alter the region’s visitor demographic with the idea of luring what they’re calling “the right kind of tourist.” Rather than backpackers and charter flights of hard-drinking Russians, they are blunt about wanting to substitute a clientele with more money to spend–even if that means turning their backs on the very clientele that have sustained them over the decades.

Fortunately, 25 years is a long time, long enough for someone to ask whether the world needs a Miami Beach along the Arabian Sea. Meanwhile, the wrong kind of tourist, like me, can still settle into a place near the beach and stroll to the water’s side for a cheap dinner and a beer to watch the sunset. Not quite the same a dropping out, but still a reason to visit Goa.

Roger Cox is the founder and editor in chief of Tennis Resorts Online.

GLP Films: A Toilet Fascination Leads to Social Change (India)

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The Interview: Rumit Mehta of Immersion Journeys

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Traveling in Gurjarat, India with Immersion Journeys

Traveling in Gurjarat, India with Immersion Journeys

By Everett Potter

(Photos copyright Rumit Mehta/Immersion Journeys)

This month, we’re offering a giveaway to Ghana’s Zaina Lodge in partnership with Immersion Journeys. I met the company’s founder, Rumit Mehta, a few years ago at the Adventure Travel World Summit and was struck by his friendliness, knowledge and passion for adventure travel. I quickly learned about his remarkable company, Immersion Journeys, and its deeply rooted trips in both Africa and India. That comes as no surprise, since he was born in Kenya to parents of Indian background and raised in Tanzania. Immersion has a wide range of African trips and their India tours are becoming ever more far reaching. In fact, the new Immersion Journeys tour to the western Indian state of Gujarat was just named one of National Geographic Traveler’s 50 Trips of a Lifetime for 2015, the third time they’ve been so honored. I caught up with Rumit in Manhattan, where he lives.

Rumit Mehta, founder of Immersion Journeys

Rumit Mehta, founder of Immersion Journeys

EP. What is your background and how did Immersion Journeys begin?

RM. I am actually an architect by training and worked in the field for 13 years or so in various roles as a designer, and in management and construction. In the mid-2000’s I had a desire for a career change and by then I had already begun dabbling in planning custom trips to Africa for people. Pretty soon it became clear that I could do this full time and pay the bills and Immersion Journeys was born.

EP What makes an Immersion Journeys tour different?

RM We always say that the road from point A to B may be followed by all travelers, but it’s what we do between points A and B that sets us apart. Our trips are highly experiential and guests tend to often get spontaneity on our trips. For example, there might be a sudden stop on the highway in India because there is a camel train and local herdsmen coming towards us, which allows us to get out of the car and interact with them.

Immersion Journeys travelers in Gurjarat

Immersion Journeys travelers in Gurjarat

EP Tell me about the trip that was just named one of National Geographic Traveler’s 50 Tours of a Lifetime.

This is an itinerary that travels through Gujarat, a state in western India. It has been under the radar as their core GDP has always been manufacturing and mineral extraction. Plus there’s Rajasthan, the neighboring state has always taken kudos for highly developed tourism. Of late, in the past five years or so, the Gujarat state government has aggressively begun promoting the arts, culture and crafts of Gujarat. It is a state with overwhelming diversity: archeological digs of the Indus valley civilization, a long coast line, a history of trading between Persia, China and Africa for hundreds of years, amazing textile work and hand embroidery that is sold in stores in Europe and the US. It has a deep and patriotic culture involving music, food and dance rituals, and is the only place outside of Africa where lions can be found, and the only place in Asia where one can see herds of wild asses, a now protected species. It is also home to one of the largest Jain temple complexes in the world, accredited by the Guinness Book of World Records, which to this day remains a pilgrimage site and not officially a tourist site. There’s also the famous Raan of Kutch, a white expanse of a salt desert that hosts the annual White Desert festival visited by tourists from the world over. We put all this together to develop an 11-night trip that provides an opportunity to visit Gujarat and lets visitors immerse themselves in many of the experiences mentioned above.

Children in Gurjarat.

Children in Gurjarat.

EP. For someone who’s never been to Africa, which one of your trips might you suggest?

RM. We always suggest first timers visit either East Africa — Tanzania or Kenya –or South Africa, with an extension to Victoria Falls and/or Botswana. The infrastructure and service levels are amazing plus there’s a high density of wildlife. A lot of decisions are also based on budget. To make things affordable for, say, a party of only two people, we would recommend they take a ‘scheduled departure’ where they share the vehicle with a maximum of four others for a total of six. It makes the trip less expensive but they would still have a fantastic time. If the party is more than 2 people, we would recommend the trip on a private basis.
Our top selling East Africa trips are Discover East Africa, Gems of Northern Tanzania and Kenya Wild life Adventures.
Our top selling Southern Africa trips are Splendors of Southern Africa and Best of Botswana & the Falls
Of course, we can mix and match any of the above.

Musicians in Gujarat, India

Musicians in Gujarat, India

EP. And which trip in India for newbies?

RM. A difficult question. India is a country that has no starting or end point for any traveler. Ever! This is because it is so vast and diverse. However, first time travelers to India want to see the highlights, such as Jaipur, Taj Mahal and New Delhi, which is repeatedly marketed and most recognizable world over. Wild life in India is quite amazing with the Bengal tiger as the highlight of any time. India also offers an opportunity to do side extensions like a quick 2 night trip to Amritsar’s Golden Temple or Lucknow. Two of our most popular trips for newbies are:
Classic India and Tigers & Kings.

Elephants in Mole National Park, Ghana

Elephants in Mole National Park, Ghana

EP. Tell me about the Ghana project with Zaina Lodge?

RM. This is a 25 chalet eco-lodge in northern Ghana Molé National Park is the first of its kind in Ghana. The pioneering vision is to have a guest experience a safari in west Africa, when traditionally they would have gone to east or southern Africa. The lodge is set on an escarpment overlooking two watering holes that animals use for their water source. Each tented chalet is luxuriously furnished and has views of the escarpment for miles, indoor and outdoor hot showers, and flush toilets. The common areas consists of an infinity pool, bar and restaurant. The lodge will provide game drives and walks led by professional guides. To get to the lodge is a quick 60 minute flight from Accra to Tamale and then a 90 minute drive on the highway to the park gate. Immersion Journeys is involved in the project as an investor and to also help promote this unique destination.

EP. Is Ghana really a destination for seasoned African travelers?

RM. No, Ghana is a destination for all travelers. It’s also an easy country to travel to as practically everyone speaks English there and is incredibly hospitable. What makes Ghana unique is that it has a long Atlantic coast line offering spectacular beaches, a deep rooted heritage of the Ashanti and other important tribes, and a decent infrastructure of roads and airports. One can learn more about the slave trade and American civil rights leaders who frequented Ghana. You can do a nice 9-10 day trip to Ghana in a relaxed manner and see a lot and end on a high note on a safari. It’s only an 11-hour direct flight from the east coast of the United States to Accra, the capital, so for those with limited time, this is the ideal destination be it the first time in Africa or the forth.

15877097115_50080cd926_zEP. I know that you travel a lot, personally leading many of your trips. You were born in Africa, of Indian descent, and you live in Manhattan. But at the end of the day, where’s the place where you feel most at home?

RM. I still yearn for Africa despite having lived in the U.S for 25 years! Our travelers who have visited Africa can attest to this feeling, as once you visit it you want more. Despite the globalized and free-wheeling atmosphere felt in big cities in Africa, there is a level of simplicity that still exists. I am fortunate that I can travel to Africa on business which allows me to go back to my childhood. I am extremely lucky I can also visit India and connect with my heritage. Just a few months ago I went there and took part in the annual kite flying festival. But home for me is the U.S. now. That’s where I live and own a business. But I still have the option to travel to my former home to re-connect.

 

 

IJ Logo with RVisit Immersion Journeys

Sibling Rivalry in India’s National Parks

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Bengal tiger, Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Bengal tiger, Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Viewing a tiger, Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Viewing a tiger, Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Caravan of jeeps for elephant rides to view tigers, Kanha Nation
Caravan of jeeps for elephant rides to view tigers, Kanha Nation
Brown fish-owl, Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Brown fish-owl, Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Sambar deer, Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Sambar deer, Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Langur monkey, Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Langur monkey, Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Langur monkeys, Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Langur monkeys, Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Dustry road with 4×4 early morning, Kanha National Park, Madhya
Dustry road with 4×4 early morning, Kanha National Park, Madhya
Sunrise, Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Sunrise, Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India

By Julie Maris/Semel

Two tiger cubs squabble and their mother reprimands them with a reverberating ROAR! Like drums resonating through Bandhavgarh National Park, the roar puts every living thing on high alert. The memory of that penetrating sound echoes louder than my first glimpse of a tiger crouching in the bush.

Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench, and Panna National Parks in India’s Madhya Pradesh state, provide cover not only for the Bengal tiger, but also for Langur monkeys, Chital and Sambar deer, jackals, and countless birds.

Before dawn at Bandhavgarh, I awoke in the chilly darkness to join the lodge’s naturalist. At the park’s gate, only a limited number of safari vehicles are permitted to line up for assigned routes to which the drivers strictly adhere and to pick up their local park guides. Vinod, a formidable guide with fifteen years experience, spoke only when necessary. Sitting on the rear, upper seat opposite the driver’s side, he constantly looked at the road for footprints and listened to the whooping calls and yelps. Everyone else spoke in hushed whispers while scanning the landscape in anticipation.

Sunrise revealed the dusty roads, now crowded with caravans. The sun rose over the hills illuminating the ancient fort as the grasslands below filled with spotted deer.
A quick break for tea allowed us time to peel off our multiple morning layers of clothing. As we stopped at watering holes and meadows along the way, a chorus of chattering monkeys with a pink-faced newborn, a howling jackal posturing his dominance, and a four-foot tall Lesser Adjutant stork feeding among the Chital came into view.

Romantic visions of quiet jungle safaris where one is alone on a plateau immediately dissipate when signs of tigers become apparent. The first sighting of those magnificent cats takes our breath away! Even though difficult for the novice to spot through dense bush from the jeep, finally there he is, in full view. Standing with muscular shoulders, huge paws, mascara-like, rimmed, green eyes, black lips that emphasize canine teeth, and forehead stripes always in an inquisitive frown, he’s the perfect model posing for the paparazzi with their long lenses and rapid-fire cameras.
Soon bored and obviously unperturbed by human presence, the tiger sits for his photo ops, yawns, licks his paws, and then calmly walks away, either for his morning nap or perhaps a cool swim.
We do likewise and retreat to our safari lodge to be met with refreshing fruit drinks. After lunch made with organically grown vegetables from the garden, we did what any smart tiger would do.

Late in the day, we headed back to the park to meet the mahouts, the elephants’ drivers and handlers. Barefooted, they direct the elephants with varying foot pressure and verbal communication. Another tiger was spotted! This time, you wait your turn to climb the ladder to the howdah, the seat atop the elephant.

Once I had direct eye contact with that tiger at close range for several minutes, I felt as though we bonded, and I’m sure he smiled at me when we turned to leave.

The Taj Safari lodges range from the rustic ambiance at Baghvan in Pench to the sophisticated and elegant Pashan Garh at Panna. Mahua Kothi at Bandhavgarh with its seasonal raised and tented camps and Kanha’s Banjaar Tola’s folk-art filled rooms are luxurious enough for any Maharaja, not to mention the matchless food and service. The Taj Safari lodges practice sustainable ecotourism and conservation.

If you go, the options include short flights to local airports, but for those intrepid travelers, driving between the parks is another adventure and opportunity to see rural life and to meet people.

Madhya Pradesh Tourism: www.mptourism.com

& Beyond Taj Safaris: http://www.tajsafaris.com

 

Julie Maris/Semel, with camera in hand at age seven, discovered travel photography as a teenager. Following her passions, she worked with Bill Maris, a well-known architectural photographer, and subsequently for editorial clients, that include Traditional Home magazine and Design New England, producing stories about gardens, architecture, and travel. Her sense of adventure turned to the Antarctic, the Arctic, Asia, and Africa while working for Quark Expeditions, TCS Expeditions, and national tourist boards. Her photographs, Images of India, were exhibited at the New India House sponsored by the Consulate General of India. See more photos at http://www.juliemarissemel.com

Julie Maris/Semel, with camera in hand at age seven, discovered travel photography as a teenager. Following her passions, she worked with Bill Maris, a well-known architectural photographer, and subsequently for editorial clients, that include Traditional Home magazine and Design New England, producing stories about gardens, architecture, and travel. Her sense of adventure turned to the Antarctic, the Arctic, Asia, and Africa while working for Quark Expeditions, TCS Expeditions, and national tourist boards. Her photographs, Images of India, were exhibited at the New India House sponsored by the Consulate General of India. See more photos at http://www.juliemarissemel.com

Francesco Clemente: Spanning Two Worlds at New York’s Rubin Museum

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Francesco  Clemente, "The Four Corners" Private Collection

Francesco Clemente, “The Four Corners” Private Collection

By Bobbie Leigh

Francesco Clemente’s curriculum vitae, like his art, is filled with ambiguities. He played a psychiatrist in the film “Good Will Hunting.” He once modeled for GQ magazine and in 1999 at age 47, only mid-career, he had a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum. Disenchanted with the political and social realities in his native Italy, Clemente began visiting India in the 1970s. Since then, he has lived and studied in various Indian cities, always involved with local arts and culture. Clemente became well known very quickly, eventually collaborating with poets and artists including Allen Ginsburg, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol.

Francesco Clemente: Inspired by India, an exhibition now on view at the Rubin Museum presents some 20 works created during the artist’s 40-year engagement with India. Because of its small scale and beautiful installation on the museum’s sixth floor, the exhibition concentrates on the artist’s highly personal interpretations of Indian motifs. In some cases, his work seems to be inspired by childhood memories and dreams. In others, Hindu mythology and religion. Your best bet is to let the work wash over you, just enjoy it, rather than search too closely for meanings in what is clearly a personal vision. In Clemente’s work, there are no borders, no signposts, everything changes from the point of view of the observer.

The highlights of the show are five billboard-scale paintings from the 1980s, created with the assistance of unnamed Tamil sign painters from Madras. “The Four Corners,” 1985, is probably the best known of Clemente’s large-scale works. A large hand rises from the sea with the thumb pointed to the bottom knuckle of the pinky finger. According to curator Beth Citron, it is a representation of the number one in a certain form of traditional Indian finger counting. Across the palm is a suggestion of a world map, highlighting Africa and parts of Asia. In this work, countries, like his art, have no clear boundaries.

Francesco Clemente, "Moon." Collection Museum of Modern Art.

Francesco Clemente, “Moon.” Collection Museum of Modern Art.

Even more ambiguous is the 1980 “Moon,” depicting a man dragged out of the moon by a huge boulder attached to him by a cord around his neck. He plummets head first from a white-yellow tinged moon surrounded by twirling seas. Is he drowning, dreaming, or just sinking into oblivion?

In a small gallery, almost a niche similar to what you might find in a Hindu temple, are canvases that draw on the erotic temple sculptures in the eastern state of Orissa. These magenta-hued watercolors from 1989 are highly personal expressions of Hindu temple iconography.

Francesco Clemente. "Sixteen Amulets VII"

Francesco Clemente. “Sixteen Amulets VII”

Also in this small gallery, Citron has mounted a little gem, the Pinxit series, referring to a court culture genre. Clemente’s “Sixteen Amulets for the Road,” are small-scale watercolors on handmade paper, roughly 20 x 22 inches. Here is where you can best see the influence of Mughal miniature painting in Clemente’s work. In number VII in this series, a figure is weighted down with chains, similar to “Moon.” The background is a Mughal architectural drawing while around the frame are tiny Mughal figures.

Alexander Gorlizki "Downtime"

Alexander Gorlizki “Downtime”

The artist Alexander Gorlizki became aware of Cemente’s Pinxit series years ago at the Guggenheim retrospective. “I responded to Clemente’s approach to story telling that is open to interpretation, using a visual language that is whimsical and playful,” says Gorlizki who also works within the tradition of Indian miniatures. “There is a correlation in Clemente’s work not only with early Indian paintings but also medieval western manuscripts that often deal with morality while using absurd and surreal relationships and puns.”

On view through February 2, 2015; www.rubinmuseum.org

Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.

Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.

Smart Deals: Cathay Pacific to India

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index

 

What’s the Deal: Cathay Pacific just kicked off a fare sale to India from all five US gateways (Chicago – ORD; Los Angeles – LAX; New York – JFK; Newark – EWR; and San Francisco – SFO) – with Economy Class fares up to 55% off.

Details: 

·         EWR/JFK/ORD/SFO – Chennai from $1184

·         EWR/JFK/LAX – Mumbai from $1194

·         ORD – Mumbai from $1208

·         EWR/JFK/ORD/LAX – Bengaluru from$1189

·         EWR/JFK/LAX – Delhi from $1228

·         ORD – Delhi from $1243

·         EWR/JFK/ORD – Kolkata from $1190

·         EWR/JFK/ORD/LAX – Hyderabad from$1205

Fine Print:  This sale runs until  April 30, 2014. The travel period is now until May 23, 2014

Booking: Cathy Pacific

Smart Deals: Mountain Travel Sobek

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In Ladakh's Nubra Valley with Mountain Travel Sobek.

In Ladakh’s Nubra Valley with Mountain Travel Sobek.

What’s the Deal: Mountain Travel Sobek is rolling out a $500 off deal for select Asia Adventures in India and Borneo.

 Backstory: Mountain Travel Sobek is the granddaddy of adventure travel companies, strating with a trek to Nepal in 1969. Leo Le Bon, Allen Steck, and Barry Bishop—officially founded the company in January 1969 with the hope of indulging their incurable wanderlust while doing business at the same time. On a parallel track, Richard Bangs, Lew Greenwald, and John Yost founded Sobek in 1973 after leading an expedition on the Awash, a little-known African river filled with crocodiles. The trip, meant to be a last fling before the three recent college graduates entered the routing working world, instead inspired them to form a commercial international rafting company, naming it after the ancient Egyptian god of crocodiles. In 1991 the two companies joined forces to become Mountain Travel Sobek.

Fine Print: Valid through March 29, 2013 on selected trips only.

Details: The deal can be redeemed using the promo code AS012.

Booking: Mountain Travel Sobek

The Interview: Tour d’Afrique

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Meltdown Madness in Africa with Tour D'Afrique

Meltdown Madness in Africa with Tour D’Afrique

By Everett Potter

When I hear the words “bike tour,’ I usually think of a week of cycling in Provence, Vermont or Napa Valley. I picture relatively easy riding, incredible scenery and great food and wine, neatly packaged into a six-night trip by an adventure travel company.

What the words “bike tour” don’t conjure in my imagination is a four month trek from Cairo to Capetown or a 2,700 mile ride from Paris to Istanbul. These are rides where your mind and body are tested and where strenuous riding is often the rule, as are deep cultural encounters you’re unlikely to have on a six-day pedal.

The company that offers such extraordinary adventure experiences is Tour d’Afrique and I learned about them from a guy named Shanny Hill, whom I met at the Adventure Travel World Summit in Lucerne, Switzerland last October.

Shanny is the Project manager for the Toronto-based company and we recently had a chance to speak about the groundbreaking trips that his company offers.

 

Shanny Hill of Tour D'Afrique in Ethiopia

Shanny Hill of Tour d’Afrique in Ethiopia

EP: How did Tour d’Afrique Ltd begin?

SH: Tour d’Afrique Ltd was conceived in the late 1980’s when Henry Gold, the company’s Founder and Director, was managing an international NGO that delivered humanitarian assistance to disadvantaged communities in Ethiopia and other African countries. His original concept was to produce inexpensive, rugged mountain bikes in Africa, for Africans, as a low cost solution to local transportation needs, and to market this new bicycle by organizing a cycling race across the continent – the Tour d’Afrique.

While the mountain bike project did not take off, the pioneering vision of the Tour d’Afrique proved irresistible. In early 2002 Henry and Michael de Jong began the preparations in earnest, undaunted by enormous skepticism and the mountain of logistical challenges to be overcome, and, on January 15, 2003, thirty-three cyclists saddled up at the Pyramids at Giza and started pedaling south. Four months later, with Table Mountain and Cape Town in sight, they celebrated the realization of their dream and the establishment of the Guinness World Record for the fastest human powered crossing of Africa.

Since then our unique little company has grown, in leaps and bounds, through many trials and tribulations. The Tour d’Afrique has been recognized as the world’s longest and most challenging stage race. Following in its spirit, several more continental and sub-continental cycling expeditions have been undertaken,

All told more than 800 intrepid souls have now completed one of our epic trans-continental rides. Through our Foundation, and the donations of many of our clients, more than 2000 bicycles have been distributed to health care and community development workers in Africa and India.

Eiffel-Tower-Paris-France

The Orient Express Cycling Expedition, from Paris to istanbul, with Tour D’Afrique

 

EP: Give us an example of some of your trips and their length.

SH: Here are three of our upcoming trips. The North America Epic is just as it sounds – an epic cycling ride across all of our great continent from Anchorage to Mexico City. The intrepid cyclists from all across the globe will cycle 7,000 miles through Canada and the USA, and then along stunning Baja Peninsula before returning to mainland Mexico to cycle the final leg into Mexico City. This epic journey under human power takes 4 months and gets underway in Anchorage on Independence Day.

The Orient Express Cycling Expedition follows in the spirit of the luxury train line that once crossed Europe from Paris to Istanbul. But this is no luxury tour of Europe. We will be pedaling our way through each day and each town – covering 60 miles each day and staying in campsites and 2 and 3 star hotels to rest our heads in some of Europe’s hotspots – like Ulm, Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest. This 2,700 miles journey takes 6 weeks during July and August. We arrive in Istanbul on August 25 after a ferry ride down the Bosphorus Strait. We take advantage of Europe’s rich history, wonderful cycling routes, explore its great cities, and its fabulous countryside scenery, at a pace much slower than the Orient Express trains of the past.

Our inaugural Bamboo Road Cycling Expedition will become the mother tour of South East Asia. This truly trans-continental trip will take participants from the metropolis of Shanghai, thru southern China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and then ending in the city-state of Singapore. For several years now, SE Asia has been a popular destination for cycling tourists, and we want to offer a grand tour that can encompass a great deal of the region in one tour.

EP: Who’s going on these trips, how many riders, what are their ages, and how experienced are they as riders?

SH: The people who are participating in our tours are from all walks of life it seems. From nuclear physicists, to truck drivers, and teachers, they have many varied professions. Though we typically have 60 to 70 % males on our tours, we are increasingly seeing more and more women participating and more and more nationals from all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada, and the USA. We have also had Brazilians, Egyptians, South Africans, Taiwanese, and many other nationals from emerging markets.

The skill level and experience of our participants is also quite varied. We have serious racers, and fit seniors, to first time cycle tourists who come on our tour and treat it as their own weigh loss program. Participants are as young as 18 and have been as old as 71. We do our best to accommodate all that wish to participate with staffing, cooks, and support vehicles working to create a framework built to give them the best chance at completing each day’s ride.

Chow times on the North American Epic, Tour D'Afrique

Chow times on the North American Epic, Tour d’Afrique

EP: How about accommodations and meals?

SH: Most of our tours are a mixture of camping and simple hotels. Our new tour of South East Asia, along with a few others, are all hotel or indoor accommodation. We choose simple and practical hotels when staying indoors. While camping in some of our more remote locations in Africa and Asia, we do some rough camping where our support trucks, and the water and supplies they carry are all that we have to sustain us for the night.

We do not compromise on is food. We have used trained chefs on many of our tours, because we know the importance of a tasty and nutritious meals at the end of a long day of cycling. You don’t ever want to have a hungry cyclists on a tour.

 

EP: Are there guides along for the entire ride or do I need to be proficient in map reading and another language or two?

SH: We have tour support staff that help create a framework of support. The style of our tours means that we also expect the participants to be involved in the process and involved in making the tour a success. This can mean that the participants will be using maps at times to double check the directions given by the tour leader, helping the chef chop vegetables to prepare for dinner, or helping others in the group with their bags perhaps. The idea is that on an expedition of this nature, its necessary that staff and clients work together as a team.

With that said, we do provide a great deal of staff support – with most of our longer expeditions having a full time medic, chef, bike mechanic, drivers, and tour leader.

EP: What sort of training regimen is required for these rides?

SH: We send out training tips to our registered riders. The most common thing that interrupts riding on tour is soreness. Sore knees, sore backs, sore butts…. The best way to combat this is to ride regularly in the run up to the tour. At a minimum we suggest you start some dedicated training 3 months before the tour starts.

Riding at least three times a week for a minimum of two hours each time. This could be in the form of cross training or bike rides at a steady pace. This will get you to the tour start with a base of fitness and well adjusted to your bike.

 

EP: You’ve got five levels of difficulty –easy, moderate, average, challenging and hard. How hard is “hard?”

SH: Good question. Hard can be very hard.

If I think back to my toughest days on one of our tours, it would be in Northern Kenya – part of the ‘Meltdown Madness‘ section that is rated as hard. Picture yourself riding in the rocky desolate landscape of the Dida Galgalu desert for 60 to 70 miles in 100 degree heat with no shade over a terribly rutted road. Now picture doing that for 5 days straight.

The truth is that this section described here has actually recently been paved and we may soon drop the rating down a notch to ‘difficult’

There are other examples I could come up with, but the truth about these ‘hard’ sections is they are often the most memorable, and people who at the start of a tour were struggling through the easiest of stages, find themselves stronger and more determined and ready to face these hard stages halfway through the journey.

We also have many sections with much lower difficulty rating, and so the ratings scale is definitely worth checking out.

 

North American Epic, Tour D'Afrique

North American Epic, Tour d’Afrique

 

EP: Tell me more about the North American Epic.

SH: The North American Epic was redesigned for 2013 to become a truly unique and truly trans-continental tour. In 2011 it was an west to east tour – from San Francisco to St. John’s, Newfoundland. This was a good route, but not quite exotic enough for our taste, and not truly a crossing of all of the North American continent.

Now with the new route from Anchorage to Mexico City, participants can see a line on a map stretching all the way across our continent. With many other tours being offered across the US or Canada from West to East, this tour give people a chance to cover the continent North to South.

Interestingly, those that have already signed up to participate are not North Americans, but people from all across the globe that want to come here and experience these places from the seat of their bicycle. They are from Norway, Britain, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa to name a few.

All the tour dates, details, and prices can be found here: http://tourdafrique.com/tour-overview/?t=north-american-epic

EP: Can you do parts of the North American Epic, if you do don’t have time for the entire journey?

SH:  Of course. All our expeditions are split into 2 and 3 week segments to allow people to be part of the experience while not committing to the long time require to complete the whole expeditions. The North American Epic is split into 8 tantalizing sections. With names like ‘Land of the Midnight Sun‘ and ‘Alaska Highway’ and ‘Canyonlands‘ interested cyclists are sure to find a section that suits their interests and timeframe.

We have had some people do a section at a time and eventually completing one of our trans-continental tours over the course of several years.

 

Tour d'Afrique riders in India

Tour d’Afrique riders in India

 

EP: Any new trips planned for Tour d’Afrique?

SH: Yes, we always have new projects in the works. The Bamboo Road Cycling Tour described earlier is one, and in 2014 we will start where that tour left off and launch the Trans-Oceania from Singapore to Sydney, Australia – crossing the outback and cycling through Adelaide, Melbourne on our way to the big finish at the Opera house in Sydney.

And, with the completion of this tour, we will have completed all the tours we needed to be able to offer the 7 Epics Challenge – a global cycling challenge for the truly crazy cyclists. A series of 7 supported cycling epics that touch every corner of the globe.

 

Visit Tour D’Afrique for more info

 

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