Monday, October 18, 2010

Splendours of the Sahara news

-By Swetha Amit
When one thinks of Egypt, mummies and pyramids are what come to the mind. Pyramids cover only about 5 per cent of the country while the remaining 95 per cent is covered with sand dunes. Going by this logic, one really hasn’t experienced Egypt until one has visited its vast and spectacular desert.

Possessing an adventurous streak, we decided to take a tour right into one of nature’s wonders, Egypt's desert. We had an early start to the day from Cairo and boarded the 4x4 SUV which was laden with our tents and the essentials needed to camp in the desert. We set off on our expedition accompanied by our driver and guide. As we drove down listening to informative inputs from our tour guide, we saw signs of civilization slowly giving way to scanty vegetation and piles of sand. We trusted our skilful driver who, we were told, knew his way around like a fox. After stopping for lunch on the way, we ventured further and reached the camel caravan by evening.

Into the sunset: The camel caravan comprised a herd of camels tended by their respective keepers amidst the barren land. We mounted on a camel each as we set off for the long desert safari. Our ride lasted for about an hour in the silence of the desert which was broken by occasional animated chatter by the camel keepers. The cruise into the desert wonderland in the middle of nowhere was a surreal experience. We paused for a while to watch the marvellous sunset, which painted an altogether different picture of the desert. Darkness crept in slowly and our ride came to an end along with a rather long day.

Black magic moments: The next day, we drove down further to explore the beauty of the Black Desert, which is believed to have been formed due to a meteorite colliding with the earth's surface millions of years ago. True to its name, this was unlike any other desert. It had volcanic-shaped mountains covered with small black stones. Spreading over acres, it was uninhabited. Everything seemed to tower over us, making us feel insignificant. We managed to climb one of the peaks to enjoy the wind and the view. We couldn’t get enough of the black beauty of the landscape. After clicking a few pictures, we rather reluctantly left to continue our adventure.

Sands of time: We drove to an area with sand dunes all around. A child-like enthusiasm gripped us as we got out and wandered around the picturesque setting. Grabbing a football, we indulged in a friendly game which drained our energy, and we sat down on a dune to soak in the beauty of our surroundings. The scorching sun finally got to us and we walked back to our vehicle to find its wheel stuck in the sand. We pitched in to help our driver and guide who were doing their best to loosen the wheel. Not a soul was in sight. Fortunately, after what seemed like ages, help arrived in the form of another vehicle with tourists like us. The joint effort soon extricated the vehicle from the clutches of the dunes. After thanking our saviours, we set off, exhausted with the effort.

The mirror effect: Our next halt was at the Crystal Mountain near the White Desert. This huge piece of rock sparkled and glistened in the rays of the sun, making it look like a massive chunk of crystal, hence the name. This was formed from limestone and white chalk from the White Desert. We managed to capture its beauty with our camera. As we walked around it, we found huge chunks of crystal pieces strewn about. It, without doubt, was easily one of the favourite tourist hangouts.

White as snow: We soon reached the White Desert where we were to camp for the night. As we entered, we gaped in awe. The entire landscape appeared to be covered with snow. We looked around to see beautiful and unusual wind-carved sculptures resembling humans and animals. It was like being on a different planet altogether. White Desert was known to be safe for camping and looked absolutely clean. As sunset reddened the horizon, we set up our tents and the fireplace.

Campers delight: Our tents looked quite cosy and comfortable. Our guide lent a helping hand to our driver, who was assigned to cook a sumptuous dinner. The silence and the stars added to the atmosphere. We could see a few campers who were at a distance from us. We sat by the fire, warming our hands before the feast, and treasured every moment in the enthralling place. We weren’t disturbed by crawly insects. As we started on our delicious meal, to our delight, the desert fox, which was usually known to haunt camps, joined us for dinner. The animal was shy and hesitant. However, after a few friendly calls by our driver and a few pieces of chicken, it got comfortable in our company. This is probably the only animal one gets to see while camping in the White Desert. It had been a tiring day, and we settled into our sleeping bags for some well-earned rest. Waking up, we lay admiring the desert's early morning beauty for some time. Later, we gathered our tents and headed towards Bahariya oasis to get some breakfast. The night in the White Desert was an unforgettable experience altogether.

Oasis charm: Bahariya Oasis offered its own delights. Here we found ourselves amidst ancient brick-and-mud houses and date palms. Greenery was abundant after the shades of black, yellow and white of the desert. Our guide gave us information about irrigation facilities around the desert. We visited the museum for the golden mummies, tombs of nobles from the 26th Dynasty of Egypt and the Ain Muftillah Temple. We also saw the Ain Bishmu Spring, a natural spring used during the Roman times. After lunch, our desert tour came to an end, and we drove back to the capital city of Cairo.
It was a wonderful experience and we carried memorable moments from the Great Sahara. The unique beauty of and the tales attached to each place enriched our fascinating expedition and we ended up feeling like a character from an Arabian Nights tale.

How to reach the Sahara:
By road
: Organised tours provide air-conditioned vehicles from either Cairo or Giza, which give a full tour of the desert.

Best time to visit:
Egypt is a year-round destination. However, due to its scorching summers, November-March proves to be tourist-friendly months with its pleasant weather.

Cost of the tour:
Depending on the travel agency and the number of stops, the tour cost can range anywhere from USD 300 to USD 350. One must also remember to tip tour guides and drivers as its mandatory to do so, which is about minimum $20 per day.

Some essential tips:
Carry loads of water and food while venturing into the desert.
Carry medicines.
Take care to employ a good guide and driver.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Stars Shine Down

It was a star studded show last evening at PVR Cinemas, Juhu! It was a private screening of Robot and we were thrilled to have been given an invite. As we entered the cinemas, we were one of the few to have arrived early. We waited inside the lounge eager to get a glimpse of the stars. One by one they finally walked in in their own stylish manner.

Isha Koppikar arrived rather subdued. Kunal Kapoor looked ridiculous with a hat on for some reason. Rakesh Om Prakash Mehra walked in rather confidently and was found engaging in some conversation with a few others. Karan Johar came in a poised manner. Dev Anand and Prem Chopra came in and headed straight towards the giant looking Sofas. Hema Malini came in and greeted Latha Rajnikanth in a warm manner. While Tabu looked rather lost and forlorn. Shriya Saran no doubt looked pretty but seemed to appeared rather whiny for some reason. Reema Sen gracefully posed for photographs with a few fans. The show was about to commence when Amitabh walked in quickly with the media hounding him.

During the intermission, we had a few words with Vidhu Vinod Chopra who appeared to be humble and pleased at the praise meted out for his film 3 Idiots. We got a glimpse of Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai and Raju Hirani. As we entered the hall, Aamir Khan was found walking down the steps followed by his better half Kiran Rao. There were a lot of whistles and claps for the Superstar. He was so humble and down to earth despite his incredible achievements. Post the show, Big B and Rajni Sir were found exchanging warm pleasantaries with the media clicking pictures furiously. Aamir was asked to pose between them. Following them appeared Aishwarya Rai who looked stunning in a White Salwar. Abhishek Bachchan looked cool,casual and unassuming.

Overall it was an enjoyable evening which went on late. Nevertheless an interesting case of stars shine down where we got a glimpse of the whos who.


Friday, October 01, 2010

Mr Oliver’s Diary: Takes one back to school

-By Swetha Amit
Certain books evoke feelings of nostalgia, propelling one on a walk down memory lane. Thoughts about our school days always brings back fond memories of our friends and teachers and the numerous happy moments shared with them. Ruskin Bond’s latest book ‘Mr Oliver’s Diary’ is a record of the many memorable moments of the students and teachers of a prep school. It creates a sense of longing in the reader for the good old times when he / she was a child and life was stress-free.

The story unfolds in the backdrop of Simla, similar to the setting in several of Ruskin Bond's earlier works. The narrative starts off by describing the train journey of a teacher — Mr Oliver — in the company of hungry and mischievous boys. Back at school, there never is a boring moment, and Mr Oliver records the hilarious events taking place on an everyday basis in his diary. Right from the notes on his pet parrot, sleepwalking students and the eccentric headmaster, to that about his secret infatuation towards a Miss Ramola, his entries are witty and entertaining. His escapades with ‘Bhoot aunty’, frogs in the vicinity and a prowling leopard constitute the latter part of the book.

Mr Oliver seems to be another character of Bond who will be adored by the kids. A vivid narration of his escapades ensures that there exists never a dull minute for the readers. Written primarily for children, it is a book adults can enjoy as well. The pranks and jokes portrayed and the element of mischief underlying the narrative makes it a hilarious read. Those who have enjoyed Bond’s earlier works can be assured of a trip to the foothills of the Himalayas once again with his simple and inspired style of writing.
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