India Travel Guide
From the snow-capped Himalayas in the north to the sun drenched coastal villages of the south, India unfolds like an ancient tapestry. At times threadbare and fading, the land stretches from desert dunes and scattered slums to the rich embroidery of ancient, jewelled palaces, and the majestic domes of forgotten empires.
Since the first civilisations rose on the banks of the Indus River almost 5,000 years ago, India has given birth to Buddhism and Hinduism, been touched by the Empire of Alexander the Great, seen the ancient empires of the Mauryas and Guptas rise and fall, and has traded with Pharaohs and Caesars.
An invasion by the white Huns scattered its people until the sweeping hand of Islam saw new kingdoms rise, heralding the era of the Sultans. Defeat came again as the Mogul Emperors marched over the mountains and into the Punjab. The decline of the Mogul Empire gave way to the Marathas, who consolidated control of India just in time for the arrival of the British. The sun finally set on the British Empire as India reclaimed independence in 1947, heralding a new age of democracy.
India is a feast for the senses; where the air is heavy with the scent of jasmine and dancers trail frenetic melodies in colourful silk saris. Its cooks compose dishes from a palette of exotic spices that may leave a lingering taste of saffron or aniseed. In India’s cities, the stench of slum living competes with the cacophony of seemingly endless traffic and a myriad of other textures, colours and movements all jostling for your attention.
United Arab Emirates Travel Guide
The United Arab Emirates on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula is a bit of an anathema in the Middle East. This union of seven sovereign sheikhdoms was formed when the British withdrew from the Gulf in 1971, and today it is a modern, trend-setting conglomeration of high-rise cities with state-of-the-art tourist infrastructure, magnificent beaches and a paradise of duty free shopping. Unlike other Arab states the UAE actually courts and encourages tourists, constantly adding and upgrading events and attractions to complement its renown as the shopping capital of the world.
The sun always shines on the UAE and its gleaming cities, the most popular of which is cosmopolitan, wealthy Dubai, which is characterised by a ten-mile long (16km) deep creek that forms a natural harbour. In Dubai resides the Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone, which makes the city a must for shop-a-holics. A major attraction is the annual Dubai Shopping Festival.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and one of the most modern cities in the world. Visitors revel in large gardens and parks, green boulevards, sophisticated high-rise buildings, modern communication services and transport, international luxury hotels, rich shopping malls and cultural centres. The city’s airport ranks as one of the finest in the world.
Just in case travellers forget they are actually in Arabia, the UAE also offers a host of experiences and attractions that utilise its historic Bedouin heritage, including camel treks, henna tattoos, desert stargazing, 4×4 trips through sand dunes and cruises aboard a dhow. Hundreds of tour companies offer a variety of excursions and adventure packages to suit all tastes and persuasions.
Lebanon Beirut Travel Guide
Lebanon is a country immersed in history. Lying on the Mediterranean Sea, at the junction of Asia and Europe, Lebanon’s cities and harbours were once major outposts in Phoenician and Roman times. The Békaa Valley, known in the 1st century BC as the ‘granary’ of Rome, is still the country’s main agricultural region. One of the highlights of visiting Lebanon is the constant reminder of the country’s long-standing role in the history of the world. Evidence of Phoenician and Roman occupancy is best seen at the pre-Roman historic site of Baalbek, known as the largest and best preserved Roman ruins in the world, and in the coastal cities of Saida (Sidon) and Jbail (Byblos), where tourists have the rare opportunity to snorkel amongst long-submerged Phoenician ruins.
Lebanon has a remarkable natural landscape, especially considering the mostly desert countries surrounding it. There are four main geographic regions in Lebanon that can easily be identified on a map of the country. From west to east, there is the coastal plain, the Mount Lebanon Range, the Békaa Valley, and the Anti-Lebanon Range. Each region varies in topography and climate and what it can offer a visitor. Because Lebanon is a small country, day trips to historic coastal towns and lovely mountain villages are easily made from Beirut, the capital.
From 1975 until the early 1990s Lebanon endured a bloody civil war, which deeply scarred the country and its inhabitants, and took years to pick up the pieces. Enjoying moments of growth and prosperity Lebanon has slowly recovered and tourists have started visiting the country once again to indulge in its unique culture. In July 2006, Israel launched a month-long military campaign in Lebanon in response to the killing of three Israeli soldiers and the capture of two by the armed Shiite Muslim group, Hezbollah. Once more crippled by the conflict surrounding Israel, Lebanon is again rebuilding and ensuring that a ceasefire holds.
The ancient cities, ski resorts, impressive architecture and striking landscapes of Lebanon are just the start. The country is also known for its abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood and for its traditional starters, known as ‘Mezza‘, where 40 small dishes are served as appetizers. Beirut, known as the Paris of the Middle East, is a trendy and cosmopolitan city where a variety of languages, nationalities and religions assimilate. This melting pot of cultures is apparent in the colourful contrasts of the Mediterranean city where modern life plays out in the midst of ancient buildings, where churches and mosques sit adjacent to one another, and traditional and modern types live together in relative harmony.
Sudan Khartoum Travel Guide
‘Bilad al-sudan’, or ‘land of the blacks’, is not a country to visit for remarkable tourist sites, but rather for those curious to meet the wonderfully hospitable people or interested in experiencing a culture far removed from most Western societies.
In the north, the Nubian Desert forms a large part of the country, where huge wetted clay water pots are located under every tree or shady shelter for drinking, whereas the narrow strip of land following the length of the Nile River, in contrast, is green and agricultural. The south is characterised by swamps and rainforest. Desert towns have wide, dusty roads, which remain empty for the main part of the day due to the heat. In the evenings, however, streets come alive with movement and colour, the women’s vivid wrap-around clothing and hennaed fingers standing out from the crisp, white kaftans and turbans of the men.
Sudan has been afflicted by violent civil wars for nearly half a century, and more often than not makes headlines on most international news broadcasts. Yet outside these conflict areas the country is generally safe to travel in, and those who get there will be treated with extreme courtesy and friendliness. The Sudanese take Arabic hospitality very seriously and it is unlikely that a traveller will pass by without an invitation to share in a meal or to visit someone’s home.
Torn into Northern and Southern Sudan by cultural and religious disputes, it is the north that occupies the largest area and includes most of the urban centres, including the capital, Khartoum. The largely Muslim, Arabic-speaking population of this area are proud of their country and will take great delight in showing it off. For those in search of what Sudan has to offer, the peaceful capital at the junction of the White and Blue Niles, and its sister city Omdurman, are good places to begin, with the National Museum, a large souq (covered market), camel market, and the Tomb of the Mahdi. To the north of Khartoum are the ruins of the Royal City of Meroe as well as the pyramids in which the kings are buried. Kassala to the east boasts a wonderful souq known for its local variety of fruit and silver jewellery, and a desert landscape dominated by jebels, or hills. The war-torn south is largely rural and lacking in infrastructure, and holds little of interest for the visitor.