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If you know even the littlest bit about train travel, then you've probably heard of both the Orient Express and the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Both luxury trains associated with the gilded age, they are now shadows of their former selves, carrying fannypacked tourists on shorter or altered routes instead of the evening gown-wearing, long cigarette-smoking moneyed classes who indulged in a leisurely trip between Paris and Istanbul, or through Mongolia and into Moscow.
Luckily for those who have romanticized these luxury trains, there is a country that still embraces the idea: India. In the new few months, two new opulent trains will launch on routes that aim to cover some of the most famous sites in India, including the Taj Mahal and Varanasi of course. Per person, per night prices for the tripsthe shortest trip being a weekbegin at a staggering $500. But you'll be getting your money back in spades with these choo-choos...
While we're busy being happy for the winner of the CN Traveler Awards, plenty of other airlines around the world have news of their own, and mainly in the new routes area. For those of you chilling around Asia like our own Claire Duffett, here's the need-to-know new routes coming your way:
· Air Asia begins low-cost direct flights from their base in Kuala Lumpur to Calcutta, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) in India in November. One-way flights (including tax) begin as low as $32, and these new routes compliment Air Asia's current India destination of Trichy, effectively quadrupling their Indian routes.
Keshav Kaushik, a lacto-vegetarian who abstains from meat and eggs, boarded an Indian Airlines flight in February of 2003. He informed the air-hostess about his dietary preferences and she indicated understanding. Despite this, a cake that Kaushik was served had a piece of egg shell. Hilarity failed to ensue and the case has been making its way through the Indian court system ever since:
The passenger became nauseous and also fell unconscious. The flying staff and other fellow passenger rendered necessary help and after disembarking at Delhi airport he lodged a complaint with the consumer court. Kaushik further alleged in his complaint that 35 days after the incident he suffered haemorrhage in the abdomen and had to be hospitalized to undergo surgery.
Has Kanye West been reading Eat, Pray, Love lately? It's been reported that the megalomaniacal star is considering going on retreat in India, to an ashram in Pondicherry to "reassess life."
After his famous interruption of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the MTV video music awards last month, and the open liquor-swilling and outlandish behavior he exhibited in the front row and on the red carpet at the same event, it seems like Kanye is overdue for such a calming vacation. Ashrams are however designed for lengthy stays, without contact with most of the outside world and devoid of all the luxurious comforts that Kanye enjoys.
We tend to think of Paris or Florence as the places to go for an art hit, but India's largest city Mumbai might be the up-and-coming spot. A new art gallery has just opened there and wants to start showing off India's huge art tradition to the world.
The Gallery BMB is one of the first new galleries in India for a long timethe few that do exist are mostly from British colonial timesbut the directors predict it will be the first of many more. It will showcase art from international artists as well as encourage emerging Indian artists to make a name for themselves.
Filming the movie version of the popular book Eat, Pray, Love, Julia Roberts has been all over the world. Now that she's moved on to the "pray" portion in India, a closed set hasn't been easy. As they shoot in the town of Mirzapur, south of New Delhi, Roberts has been hounded by everything from paparazzi to gawking townspeople toand these won't relentasses.
Donkeys interrupted filming the other day when, during a scene, they wouldn't stop braying. Stupid asses, making noise about celebrities trying to work. Don't they know who Julia Roberts is?
India's third largest airline Jet Airways has been going through some troubled times lately. From selling off planes to fight economic woes and having to cut prices by 40% to try and get some more passengers on board, they have drawn the short straw in terms of airline luck this year.
Now their latest drama has involved a sustained campaign by pilots to call in sick. From last Tuesday, more than half of the airline's pilots said they were unable to fly due to illnesstheir version of striking, since the rules forbid them from striking without giving management sufficient advance warning. The reason for the "strike" is that four pilots were sacked after asking the management to recognize the union they'd formed.
Divorce travel has, somewhat ironically, arrived in India. Ironically, because about one in one hundred marriages fail in India, compared to about half of marriages in the United States. Just the same, KV Tours and Travels have started offering packages designed to stop their customers from getting divorced.
Targeting near-break-up couples whose families are worried about the relationshipto the point where the family members might pay for the couple's vacationKV Tours also arranges a qualified marriage counselor to accompany the couple on the trip. We hope they've figured out that three can be a crowd, though.
Remember how your parents pestered you about getting travel insurance before you headed off on spring break or to Europe? We admit that our own insurance coverage over the years has been hit-or-miss, but every now and again we remember why we pay for it.
This is one of those times. Recently, an Aussie tourist took an unlucky fall off a steep mountain track in India and ended up paralyzed in a hospital in New Delhi. And yes, you guessed it, this guy was traveling without any insurance, even though he was 64 years old and should have known better.
If you're an astronomy enthusiast and have anywhere between $600 and $1,600 to throw around, say goodbye to recession travel and hello to your very own eclipse-chasing flight adventure.
On July 22nd, if you haven't already heard, there's going to be a total eclipse visible across Southeast Asia. In the past, the best a tourist could do was fly to the region and watch it from the ground, but Indian company Eclipse Chasers Athenaeum has put together a package that lets people get a little closer to this rare celestial event41,000 feet closer.
Passengers will be flown above the clouds in a new JetLite 737-700, at which point the airplane will chart a path directly below the moon's shadow. At exactly 6:26am local time, the flight will intercept the shadow, providing about 3 minutes worth of eclipse viewing.
Google Earth, the magical software that makes real life more like Second Life, may have been used in the planning of the recent terrorist assault on Mumbai, says a lawyer who has filed suit in the Bombay High Court. He's hoping that the Indian government will order a "complete ban on Google Earth and similar sites like Wikimapia" in the interest of national security.
Indian officials have previously expressed concerns about security and mapping software, as in 2006 when then-President Abdul Kalam warned about Google Earth and its utility to terrorists. The search giant agreed in 2007 to blur out some imagery that India deemed sensitive, but that clearly didn't include tourist-friendly venues in the heart of Mumbai.
To us, this is a case of "guns don't kill people, people do." Even the areas worldwide already blurred out by Google are listed on the internet, and making photos of "sensitive" facilities--whatever that means--difficult to obtain doesn't eliminate threats. But the band of terrorists in Mumbai wasn't looking to take out a secret military installation; their goals were massive chaos, a high body count and as much media exposure as possible.
As to whether an eventual ban on Google Earth will help stem violence in India, a company spokesman tells The Telegraph:
Tools such as Google Earth are built from information that is already available from both commercial and public sources, and it is important to remember that the same information is available to anyone who purchases imagery from those public sources.
[Photo of the Bombay High Court: Google Earth]
Not long ago, the BBC reported gunfire at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport. But now reports indicate that it was merely a scare, easily understandable in the wake of last week's terrorist attack on Mumbai. So with tensions super high and governments warning about continuing dangers, it's fair to ask, just how safe is India?
The conversation, as usual, is on Twitter, where Budget Travel magazine says:
Peter Greenberg had bad timing in defending travel there in his newsletter today.
A few others agree, but while we said an airport shooting would be "the last thing India needs right now," we also have to get behind Greenberg's call that the Mumbai attacks shouldn't deter travelers.
As the "Today Show" travel editor points out:
The very best time to go somewhere is after there’s been a civil disturbance, a terrorist act or a natural disaster, because … these countries derive the bulk of their foreign exchange from travel and tourism. It supports their economy. The worst thing you can do to a country is to disrupt their travel and tourism if you want to shake their economy to its foundation.
Are the odds of something terrible happening in the next few weeks in India greater than the odds of a terrorist assault on Des Moines before Christmas? Probably. But should we all cross the country off our lists for the foreseeable future? Probably not.
· Surveying Mumbai After The Terror Siege [Jaunted]
[Photo: Stuti ~]