The Art of Wellness

Published in Villa 88 Magazine Winter 2016 issue (December).

Set amidst quaint villages against the backdrop of the Altean mountains, SHA Wellness Clinic is aiming to turn heathy living into an art. Priyanka Pradhan discovers how detox therapies and macrobiotic diet make for a luxury getaway to the south of Spain.
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“No sugar, no meat, no dairy, no eggs…”

As squinted while taking in the information, the chef added, “No eggs, no oil, no preservatives or artificial colors and ofcourse, no tobacco. ” He had a monk-like expression with the practiced ease of someone who is accustomed to seeing gawking faces.

“Welcome to the SHA method”, he smiled.

I found myself at SHA Wellness Clinic, perched high atop the scenic Altean mountains near Alicante, anticipating what my dinner will look like, not without a feeling of trepidation.

The macrobiotic diet forms the crux of the wellness program at SHA, which aims to offer a unique and effective approach to wellness and beauty- also known as the ‘SHA method’.

When founder, Alfredo Bataller Parietti realized how this diet cured his digestive ailment in less than two months – something western medicine could not do in his thirty years- he decided to share the benefits with others. ‘SHA’, meaning ‘luminosity’ in Japanese was born out of his passion to propagate this therapeutic diet, aiming to offer a healing and rejuvenating experience for the body.

“Its not just a diet, it’s a complete lifestyle”, says master chef Foraida Llamas. We tailor and personalize the macrobiotic menu according to our program for each guest. We also have specifically targeted diets for certain deficiencies that are common, such Vitamin B12, or cholesterol problems as well as various lifestyle diseases.”

For instance, the ‘Kushi’ diet is prescribed for those on a strict ‘Detox and Weight Loss Program’, based heavily on grains and vegetables with an intake of less than 500 calories a day and no use of oil. The more intermediate, ‘Biolight’ diet is meant for guests on anti-stress, anti- tobacco or rejuvenation programs, while the most lenient menu is that of the ‘SHA diet’, which offers a healthy alternative to every-day eating and general wellness.

Programs are tailor-made for guests after medical and nutritional consultations with in-house doctors. Along with a specific diet, guests are offered an array of services such as massages, beauty and aesthetic treatments and exercise modules with a personal trainer – all picked specifically, as per the guests’ health assessment and preference.

The hydroenergetica therapy, for instance, is one of SHA’s most popular treatments for relaxation, combining the effects of hydro massage and the therapeutic qualities of a seaweed body wrap and even color therapy, together. Other treatments such as ‘Indiba therapy’ target cellulite and water retention on the face and body, while the ‘BDR Facial’ aims to offer a luminous, even-toned complexion with the help of mechanical and chemical peeling.

The oriental therapies of Acupuncture and moxibustion are also offered at SHA, along with various massage techniques from across the world, in an effort to offer guests a wide spectrum of options to best suit their wellness needs.

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“We recommend a two-week break to rejuvenate and detox here. Not only does that give time to actually relax and take the mind off daily life, but it also gives you time and space to adapt to the SHA method. Moreover, to enjoy full benefits of the treatments and see results, two weeks is ideal. We also have 7-day modules and a 4-day Discovery program for those who want to try our facilities for an overview of SHA – a wholesome approach to wellness,” says Pedro Catarino, Director of Wellness, SHA Wellness Clinic.

He adds, “I call us a luxury, ‘functional’ wellness clinic and spa, rather than a med-spa because we are result- oriented as well as exclusive and unique.”

The ‘luxury’ element of SHA is manifested best in its suites, particularly in the Royal and Presidential suites. Offering unrestricted, sweeping views of the Atean mountains as a backdrop to the quaint Spanish village below and a view of the gin-clear sea in the distance, the suites do elevate the SHA experience by a few notches.

“Besides, sunny Alicante offers a lot to explore outside of SHA as well. Experience the outdoors on a biking expedition, kayaking in the sea or even a leisurely walk across the neighboring villages – all of which add value to the ‘healthy holiday’ here,” adds Catarino.

My own wellness vacation wrapped up with a master class in macrobiotic cooking- indoors, but adventurous, nonetheless.

“Let’s try and take something back home from SHA– perhaps a certain heathy habit cultivated here or even a resolution,” says chef Llamas.

I opted to take her marinated tempeh and miso dressing recipe, along with a slice of the SHA philosophy and a helping of simple do’s and don’ts for a much-needed alternative, healthy lifestyle.

In all, I’d call it a sweet deal, even without the artificial sugar.

shawellnessclinic.com

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On the Lankan Heritage Trail

Published in Villa 88 magazine, Autumn 2016 issue

Exploring Sri Lankan history and heritage through its boutique hotels sheds light on some amusing, colorful and delightful stories, writes Priyanka Pradhan

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Download PDF : https://www.scribd.com/document/329384167/Sri-Lanka-Boutique-Hotel

In the morning sun, colorful little birds gather for a quick dip in the small, tiled fountain which forms the center of the open courtyard, inside what was formerly an 18th century Dutch mansion. Gigantic pillars create tall shadows in the corridors of the refurbished mansion, while the pale walls and high ceilings offer a sepia-toned throwback to Dutch-era Sri Lanka.

As sunbeams illuminate the ancient doors and windows on the façade of the iconic Galle Fort Hotel, stories from the pages of Sri Lanka’s history come to life. The estate has seen times of strife and turmoil as well as that of prosperity, as it morphed from a princely Dutch mansion to barracks for the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II, a post office, a bakery, and most recently, a pitch for Galle’s adolescent cricketers, before it was finally refurbished to become The Galle Fort Hotel in 2003.

The boutique hotel offers some unique insights into Sri Lanka’s journey through the ages. For instance, a suite named after a seven-foot tall eunuch, the Chinese Admiral Cheng Ho, commemorates his visit to Galle in 1406. The admiral had halted at Galle en route to an expedition to explore the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific with seven voyages, long before Cristopher Columbus set his anchor down on the sandy shores of Ceylon.

Recipient of the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award of Distinction, The Galle Fort Hotel is a treasure trove of such stories unearthed from history, culture and folklore. The architecture of the renovated estate also reflects more than one style and school of design. While a majority of the boutique hotel retains its Dutch charm, parts of it pay tribute to Sri Lanka’s British heritage as well as its ethnic Sinhalese flavor.

The Galle Fort Hotel’s sister property, the Thotalagala estate pays homage to this indigenous Lankan flavor. About 5 hours from Galle, in Sri Lanka’s northern Haputale district, a sprawling heritage boutique bungalow is nestled in the lap of hills, among 8,000 hectares of lush green. Formerly a tea planter’s bungalow, the 145-year-old property is restored to give connoisseurs from across the world an opportunity to sample the rich, homegrown essence of Ceylon tea. As the estate is fully functional, guests of the boutique property have the privilege of going tea picking with the planters for a more immersive experience and a glimpse into the traditional lifestyle of a tea planter.

A closer look inside the bungalow reveals seven luxury- themed suites based on personalities that shaped the history of tea culture in Sri Lanka- particularly Sir Thomas Lipton, who has the master suite dedicated to him in honor of his contribution to Lankan tea. Memorabilia from the British Colonial era, picnic breakfasts in the tea country and the traditional English cigar room in the bungalow make for an indulgent experience. Add to that, a kitchen with an exhaustive menu of local and international gourmet cuisines and on-demand services, Thotalagala aims to offer a decadent experience.

As the sun sets over the sea of green, just over the edge of the high tea table, it illuminates the not just the panorama of peaks and valleys but also that of history and heritage waiting to be explored through Sri Lanka’s luxury boutique stays. galleforthotel.com

The Basel Museum Crawl

Published in Al Nawras, inflight magazine for Air Arabia, May 2016 issue.

With more than 40 museums and galleries, the Swiss city offers a delight for the curious mind. From the conventional to the quirky, Basel seems to have it all.

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Perched at the crux of France, Germany and Switzerland, the city of Basel has been the cornerstone for a fusion of cultures for centuries now. As one of the oldest cities in Switzerland, Basel’s numerous museums hold the key to a treasure trove of European heritage – from the Celts who first inhabited the banks of the Rhine in the 5th century BC, to the Romans who christened the city Basilea in 374 AD to the prosperous art, culture and transport hub we know know today. A day-long museum crawl attempts to uncover Basel’s legacy through art, music and folklore.

The Basel Kuntsmuseum (St. Alban-Graben 16, 4051 Basel, Switzerland) is a great place to start, simply because you’ll find yourself amidst the largest and oldest public art collections in the world.

It became a municipally owned museum in 1661, when Basilius Amerbach, a prominent citizen of Basel sold his private collection to the city. The museum has since housed art dating back to the 15th century, such as early drawings of the river Rhine which offer a rare insight into medieval society and culture in the region.

Apart from local and regional works, the Basel Kuntsmuseum houses original artwork from some of the biggest names in history –  from Monet and Van Gogh to Picasso and Warhol- under the same roof.

After a $112 million renovation project, the Basel Kuntsmusum opens this April with a massive expansion and three venues within the area, aiming to offer an immersive experience for the visitor.

A brisk, ten-minute walk from here along the cobblestoned backstreets will lead you uphill, into a former prison cell that currently houses the iconic Basel Museum of Music (Im Lohnhof 9, 4051 Basel, Switzerland). The fact that this medieval building will celebrate its 1000th birthday soon, is just part of the charm.

In tracing the timeline of Basel, the museum transports you into various points in the city’s history to experience the evolution of music, first hand. More than 650 instruments spanning five centuries are exhibited here and can be experienced acoustically, for an unforgettable musical journey.

Linked closely with Basel’s musical history, is the local folklore of three symbolic figures – the Wilder Mann (the savage man), Leu (the lion) and Vogel Gryff (the griffin), who were meant to guard the honor societies of Kleinbasel (the province on the western bank of the Rhine). To this date, an annual procession takes place every January, to commemorate this tradition with marching bands and celebrations along the river.

From the 16th century onwards, this tradition, referred to as the Vogel Gryff saw the use of many types of brass instruments, drums and fanfare trumpets for the first time- some of which are carefully preserved and displayed at the museum today.

Also on display are several historical keyboard instruments that were made, or played in Basel. Curiously shaped medieval-age grand pianos, ancient baroque guitars and foot-long trumpets make for a fascinating journey of Europe’s musical history.

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Download PDF: https://www.scribd.com/doc/311480716/Basel-Priyanka-English

Downhill from the Lohnhof building, is the Barfüsserkirche Museum (Barfüsserpl. 4, 4001 Basel, Switzerland), located inside the Barfüsser Church which was renovated in 1298, after a fire.

With an exhaustive record of Upper Rhine’s cultural history, the permanent exhibition offers original objects documenting handicraft traditions and everyday culture from Basel’s celebrated past.

Some of the most striking features of the museum exhibit are the Basel Cathedral treasure and original fragments of Basel’s dance of death or Danse Macabre, a series of murals from the 15th century, depicting the universality of death.

If the mood is somewhat morbid at this point, take a quick detour to the near-by  Puppenhausmuseum Basel (Steinenvorstadt 1, 4051 Basel, Switzerland) for a whirlwind tour of the quirky collection of dolls, miniatures and dollhouses from the turn of the 19th century.

The museum showcases unique dollhouses from the region, which are considered pieces of art for their ingenuity, craftsmanship and accuracy to scale. Originally, these dollhouses were never meant to be used for play, but commissioned by influential families to demonstrate prestige and social standing.

Some of the handmade dolls displayed here are made from clay, wood and plant fibers, which were originally used as cult objects or healing symbols. When commercial production of dolls began in the 15th century, neighboring Germany was considered to be its birthplace. Today, the museum exhibits both, traditional as well as contemporary doll-making traditions from the region and around the world.

A good way to wrap up the museum crawl is a visit to the Clock and Watch Collection, housed in the Museum of Domestic Culture (‪Elisabethenstrasse 27 / 29, Basel, Switzerland). A treat for watch aficionados, the collection offers a glimpse into the workings of unique sun dials, mechanical clocks and watches from private collections of traditional time-keepers and hobbyists from across the country.

A room at the museum is dedicated exclusively to Basel’s own watch-makers, who by 1780 had earned a reputation for their precision and skill.

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Download PDF (French translated version): 
https://www.scribd.com/doc/311484638/LE-MUSEE-CRAWL-DE-BALE

Where to stay in Basel:
The Passage Basel (Steinengraben 51, 4051 Basel)
Location is key for this contemporary styled hotel. Its proximity to the Basel SSB train terminal makes it accessible, while its 4 star amenities make it a comfortable stay.

Where to eat:
Lowenzorn (Gemsberg 2–4, Basel, Switzerland).
Try traditional Swiss cuisine, especially the sumptuous Kalbsläberli und Rösti (veal liver with grated, fried potatoes) and classic cheese fondue. You wont find an English menu here but the staff is incredibly helpful and friendly (and multilingual).

Restaurant Zum Alten Stokli (Barfüsserpl. 1, Basel, Switzerland)
Located at the head of a bustling stretch of pubs and restaurants, Stockli offers great ambience for a night out.

Confiserie Schiesser (Marketplatz 19, Basel)
Running since 1870, this quaint bakery offers light bites, homemade chocolate and unforgettable signature treats.

Loy Krathong: A Feast For The Senses

Published in Villa 88 Magazine, Spring 2016 issue

Even as the gorgeous beaches of Thailand beckon, make another journey to explore the country’s rich cultural heritage through the festival of light.
Words by PRIYANKA PRADHAN

Loy Krathong: Published in Villa 88 spring 2016 issue

Loy Krathong: Published in Villa 88 spring 2016 issue

Download PDF: https://www.scribd.com/doc/303180166/Loy-Krathong-A-Feast-For-The-Senses

Hearts pounded to the beats of drums, as young Thais paraded across the streets of the historic town of Sukhothai to celebrate the festival of lights, Loy Krathong. The costumes were a feast for the eyes while the taste buds were tantalized by street food such as roasted silk worms, potato pops and grasshoppers on skewers. If there’s ever a time to experience the country’s spectacular cultural side, it is this.

The parade kicks of with much fanfare and excitement, as locals flock to see elaborate sets and costumes that represent Thai identity, pop culture, as well as characters and episodes from local folklore. Soon after the parade, more than a hundred candles are lit in little pods decorated with leaves and flowers, to be set afloat on the lake.

It’s a rare pleasure to watch the festivities in Sukhothai, the birthplace of the Loy Krathong festival, as the quaint town comes alive in a frenzy of colors and lights. Rooted in 14th century Theravada Buddhist tradition and early Thai-Lao-Shan history, the festival comes from the legend of a beautiful woman called Nang Nopphamat. She was known to attract the reigning King Ramkamhaeng’s attention, by crafting a lotus-shaped o ering with a candle and fruit carvings, and floating it downriver. Ever since, the ‘Loy Krathong’, which could be loosely translated to ‘floating basket’, has been symbolic of good luck and hope for the Thai.

The cultural journey takes one next to the city of Chiang Mai, located in the beautiful mountainous province of Thailand. Known as the cultural capital of the country, Chiang Mai plays an important role in the evolution of Loy krathong and its sister festival, the Yi Peng. Here locals gather to light paper lanterns (called khom loy) with candles and illuminate the night sky, to symbolize letting go of bad luck and misfortune—a celebration that evolved along with Loy Krathong and coincides with the days of the festival, in the Lunar calendar. When seen in tandem, the floating water baskets and lanterns in the sky o er an unforgettable visual spectacle.

The last leg of the journey is the e ervescent capital, Bangkok. Fireworks, temple fairs and festivities light up the city while major roads are blocked and reserved for the legendary Loy Krathong to parade through the city—like the one in Sukhothai but with the inimitable signature of Bangkok’s raucousness, pomp and flourish.

Loy krathong is a beautiful time to experience Thailand for a more spiritual and cultural connection with the country. The festival helps understand local culture like little else can, leaving one with fresh hopes, luck and goodwill.

 

The Elephant Trail

Published in Al Nawras, in-flight magazine for Air Arabia, February 2016 issue.

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A close encounter with these giants in Sri Lanka- Published in Al Nawras, Inflight magazine for Air Arabia. 

Download PDF: https://www.scribd.com/doc/296933253/On-the-elephant-trail

The forest is eerily still at times, especially at noon. Breaking the silence every now and then, though, is an earth-shaking thud in the far distance. There’s a nervous rustling of trees and a deep rumble that gets louder, as those thunderous footsteps get closer. Smaller animals scurry past us, clearing the pathway in anticipation.

The jungle knows; Rani’s herd is on its way to the watering hole.

Deep inside Hurulu Eco Park in Sri Lanka’s Habarana province, our small jeep safari waits patiently for the 62-year-old matriarch, Rani, to lead the way. Hands trembling from excitement and, in part, from the heart-stopping footsteps of more than 16 mammoths moving together, we wait with bated breath.

After a long interval under a canopy of leaves, we see the herd saunter towards the water, about six metres away.

Two little calves in the herd tug at their mothers’ tails and an adolescent male tries to match step with his grandmother.

The elephant family unit is tightly knit and protective grandmothers often babysit little ones while the parents are away. Here, Rani was taking charge of the young ones, gently nudging them into the water.

She surveys us from a distance. Unimpressed, she continues to perform her duties.

Ten thousand hectares of teak plantations and waterways are home to Rani and more than 12 other herds of elephants at the Eco Park, part of the Hurulu forest reserve. A 22-kilometre safari across the reserve takes us over narrow mud trails and windy hillocks that o er spectacular vistas of the forest, interrupted only by breath-taking encounters with the Lankan giants along the way.

Standing tall at 3.5 metres, Sri Lankan pachyderms are the largest of the Asian species, and tend to intimidate at rst sight. However, their interaction with other members of the herd, and even other animal species that share their home, reveals their inherent gentle nature and complex emotional range. In fact, it is believed elephants can recognise each other even after a separation of 20 years, and ‘catch up’ through touching each other’s scars.

Close by, is the Kaudulla National Park, located o the Habarana-Trincomalee road within what is known as Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. A 6,656-hectare ‘elephant corridor’ runs across this park, where most of the country’s elephant population pass through – a natural migratory pattern of the Sri Lankan elephants, at certain times of year when water dries up in areas.

The corridor also runs across Minneriya National Park, nestled inside an evergreen forest, o Habarana-Polonnaruwa Road. At the heart of the park lies the ancient Minneriya tank, built in the 3rd century AD by King Mahasena, where huge ocks of painted stork and spot-billed pelicans accompany the elephants on their

grazing trips. It is not uncommon to see a gathering of more than 100 elephants at a time, cooling o and grazing together in the meadows.

For a closer and cruelty-free encounter, one can visit the Elephant Transit Home, about ve kilometres west of Udawalawe National Park. As an orphanage for abandoned, injured and rescued elephants, the home helps rehabilitate elephants and release them into the wild. Visitors can observe the elephants at feeding time but physical interaction with the animals is not permitted.

The home is also supported by international animal rights NGO Born Free Foundation, which has endorsed the orphanage for best practices of animal care.

The best way to wrap up the elephant trail is by stopping at a watering hole to watch elephants cool off. As Rani’s herd emerges from the water, we watch the jungle prepare yet again, for the regal departure.

WHERE TO GO
As opposed to orphanages and private elephant farms, national parks can be a better way to see elephants as they are in their natural habitat. Below are some of the places where the animals are treated well and visitors can observe elephants at close proximity without being intrusive.

HURULU ECO PARK
Habarana-Trincomalee Road, Habarana, Sri Lanka

KAUDULLA NATIONAL PARK
Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

MINNERIYA NATIONAL PARK
Habarana-Polonnaruwa Road, Habarana, Sri Lanka

ELEPHANT TRANSIT HOME
Ratnapura, 70190, Sri Lanka

UDAWALAWE NATIONAL PARK
7th Mile Post, Sevanagala, Monaragala, Uva Province, Sri Lanka

Palawan Islands, Philippines

Tropical Enclave

Published in Villa 88 Magazine, Winter 2015 issue.

El Nido Islands in the Palawan archipelago, Philippines, is attempting to woo nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers with its ‘guilt-free’ luxury eco resorts.  – Priyanka Pradhan

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Download PDF: https://www.scribd.com/doc/294635262/Tropical-Enclave

The water was choppier than it looked from the 50-seater aircraft, flying low over the gently swaying palm trees on the Palawan Islands.

I was flying from Manila into El Nido luxury Eco Resorts, a cluster of privately owned islands in Palawan, in the wee hours of the morning with less than 10 Kgs of baggage and a boarding stub made of wood- a little to my bewilderment.

“We’ve replaced paper with these re-usable wooden passes to conserve the environment. Imagine how much paper is wasted as boarding passes everyday by airlines all over the world!”, said an official at the Island Transvoyager Inc. (ITI) which operates the private carrier to El Nido.

Soon after touchdown at the rather precarious –looking runway along the beach, a speedboat ferried guests to either of the four sprawling El Nido islands, nestled amongst 1,780 others, that make up the Palawan archipelago.

Now this was one bumpy ride on the waves, but distracted by the charms of the turquoise blue waters, no one seemed to mind. A pod of hornbills soared above us even as the sparkling clear waters introduced us to our seafaring companions, just below. The staccato rock face and uninhabited islets passed by silently, lending a haunting, rustic beauty to the panorama.

“We can go swimming with the whale sharks later…with plenty of sea turtles and sting ray for company,” the boatman quipped. “On my last dive I encountered a whale shark that was about 40 feet long!” he added, much to everyone’s wide-eyed excitement and his own, thinly-veiled amusement.

With a first impression like this, it was impossible not to look forward to a stay at Lagen Island resort, one of El Nido’s properties tucked away discreetly along a natural lagoon.

Out of the four island-resorts, Apulit, Miniloc, Pangulasian and Lagen, the latter is arguably one of the most beautiful. Overwater villas, a sunset pier and a shimmering infinity pool are embraced by a four-hectare tropical forest. But even more inviting is the bevy of friendly locals who welcome each guest with a traditional song, accompanied by acoustic guitars and smiling faces.

Inside the villas, prominent touches emphasize the resort’s pledge for sustainability. Renewable materials are used to construct these villas, rainwater catchment system is in place for each room, and the ‘Ten El Nidos’ guideline make an appearance across the resort’s properties to educate guests about this Environmentally Sensitive Protected Area.

The resort also supports local communities by using natural and handmade, locally- sourced products, encompassing what the folks at El Nido like to call, ‘guilt-free’ luxury.

Speaking of guilt, the resort’s decadent spa inspires a day of sloth, pushing back plans for exploring the great outdoors, to another day. With an exhaustive variety of treatments using hand-picked ingredients, exotic tropical fruits and indigenous herbs from the islands, one can’t be blamed for giving in to temptation. Oh well, blame it on the island vibe.

But there’s much to do outside the resort too. Kayaking across sleepy mangroves and secret lagoons, and snorkeling with schools of friendly Sergeant Major in the coral-rich waters takes up most of the day. For the fitter lot, there’s a trekking trail across the jungle and a steep climb on Snake Island, for sweeping views of the Bacuit Bay.

If that isn’t enough to feed the adventurous spirit, a cave exploration at one of the many towering limestone formations, certainly will.

As for me, scrambling on all fours between crevices of limestone caves and finding unknown species of spiders while I was at it, was not what I expected. Even so, I found myself doing cannonball dives off low-hanging cliffs and rock surfaces. Well, there must be something in the island air to make a 32-year-old attempt this.

Fresh catch of the day is served as a picnic lunch on the white-sand beach of Entalula island, another property of El Nido. Grilled fish, a basket of mussels and jumbo prawns are meant to eaten with white rice and soy sauce, in typical Philippine style. The famous tropical mango also makes a regular appearance at meal times.

Back at Lagen resort, the poolside offers a beautiful setting overlooking the moonlit lagoon and only the sound of waves in the distance. The nights are quiet– don’t expect wild parties at the bar but look forward to sophisticated, private evenings here. The days are deliciously slow too, filled with close encounters with nature and a heady measure of adventure and romance.

Nevermind the bruised knees and matted hair. It’s the island life, afterall.

Where to stay:
El Nido Lagen Island or El Nido Pangulasian island ( Higher end)
elnidoresorts.com

How to get there:
Island Transvoyager Inc. operates a private carrier that ferries guests to and fro, 3 times daily from Manila to El Nido Island.
Bookings via Email to El Nido Boutique and Arts Café
flights@elnidoboutiqueandartcafe.com

There’s Something About Rome

Published in Villa 88 Magazine, September 2015 issue. 

A trip to Rome reveals the city’s ancient past and modern charm – Priyanka Pradhan

Download PDF: Published in villa 88 Magazine, September 2015 issue

Download PDF: Published in villa 88 Magazine, September 2015 issue

In its three thousand-year-old, glorious and tumultuous history, ‘the eternal city’ has been the cynosure of politics, power, art and architecture. A stroll across ancient Rome tells stories of megalomaniac rulers and evil conspiracies, while its spectacular monuments and intricately carvedstone gargoyles set in centuries-old grand fountains leave you spellbound.

But the Roman experience begins even before touchdown, at Fiumicino Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport. Emirates’ Business Class service from Dubai to Rome offers a great introduction to the city with a range of fine Italian wine onboard, gourmet Italian cuisine, premium amenities from Bulgari.

Once you’ve landed, you’re most likely going to see St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, Piazza Navona, Trevi fountain and other tourist attractions straight off the bat. But here are a few ideas for a more immersive and entertaining adventure in the Italian capital.

FOODTRAIL
Embark on a food trail starting from Campo Di Fiori for its famous ‘Forno’ joints (bakeries and all-day breakfast bars) and the food market for giant ‘limons’ and the juiciest cherries, condiments and fresh buffalo mozzarella.

Next, walk across to the Jewish Ghetto for delicacies such as fried zucchini flower and supplì—made from recipes passed down from Jewish families since as far back as the 15th century. For lunch, stop by Tratorria Monti (Via di S. Vito, 13/A, 00185 Rome) or the whimsically named, Drunken Cow (Hosteria La Vacca M’briaca, Via Urbana 29/30, 00184 Rome) for an authentic Italian kitchen.

Romans seem touchy about their gelato so be warned about flashy, branded geleto chains across the city that are regarded as ‘rip offs’, or as pronounced by an impassioned local, “Unethical and wretched”. Instead, look for quaint little geletarias such as Fior Di Luna (Via della Lungaretta, 96, 00153 Roma) which are considered authentic and produce gelato from locally sourced ingredients.

NIGHT CRAWL ON A SEGWAY SCOOTER
While the classic way to see Rome may be upon a Vespa scooter, a more fun and hassle-free (and fuel free) way is onboard a Segway. Glide across the ancient monuments, fountains and cobblestone lanes, navigate the crowds and street performers at major squares and finish off the trip with a breathtaking view of the Colosseum, illuminated by hundreds of electric lambs from within. http://www.romebysegway.com

LEARN TO MAKE TIRAMISU
Learning to make tiramisu from scratch, in the country of its origin definitely counts for bragging rights back home. Enroll in a class to make the popular Italian dessert over a fun afternoon and then take your masterpiece with you to enjoy at leisure—so you can have your cake and eat it too, quite literally.

Try Tiramisu Station, Via dei Fienaroli, 5, 00153 Rome.

Grafitti on the streets of Trastevere, Rome.

Graffiti on the streets of Trastevere, Rome.

A DAY IN TRASTEVERE
Across the river Tiber, lies Rome’s bustling neighborhood, Trastevere. Historically, this neighborhood was a haven for immigrants, especially the Jewish community and Syrians, forming a sub-culture of its own. Trastevere retains much of its medieval architecture and old world charm in its winding cobblestone streets and somewhat eerie maze of narrow lanes. However, today, with innumerable boutiques, cafes, art galleries, trendy restaurants, and bars, it makes for an incredibly lively day (and night) out.

Walk into Bir & Fud (Via Benedetta, 23, 00153 Roma) for fun evening of Roman cuisine in true Trastevere style.

..But the journey isn’t over until you sample Emirates’ Business Class lounge for a luxurious experience, in keeping with the proverbial Italian ‘La dolce vita’ way of life. From being able to swap stories of Italy over the bar, to boarding directly from the Business Class lounge, Emirates  completes the Roman experience in style.

Going Solo

Published in IWC Ladies Magazine Middle East, October 2015

Travel is always more about the journey than the destination; even more so, for women traveling solo on a path to self discovery, a gastronomic adventure or simply an opportunity to snatch a few rare moments alone.
-Priyanka Pradhan

Download PDF: Going Solo, published in IWC Ladies Magazine, October 2015

Download PDF: Going Solo, published in IWC Ladies Magazine, October 2015

Here are some top destinations for solo vacations, ideal for women – recommended, eaten-loved-and- prayed in, by other women travelers.

CHIANG MAI, Thailand

Photos by Lavanya Ullas

If there’s one place in Thailand that serves better coffee than anything else, it is Chiang Mai. This cozy town is all about its quaint bookstores and art galleries, quirky fashion boutiques and an overall hipster vibe. This walled, fortress city has many mysteries waiting to be unraveled, dating back to the Lanna Kingdom in the 1200s.

But deep in the jungles at the foothills of Northern Thailand, you’ll uncover Chaing Mai’s best kept secrets – it’s regal elephants. Spend a day at an elephant camp getting to know these gentle pachyderms and even learn to train them as mahuts.

Take a walk around the tribal Karen village for a peek into their nomadic lives and perhaps pick up a few tribal trinkets for your jewelry collection back home.

Where to Eat: Chiang Mai sleeps early but no reason why one can’t rock out at a local Karaoke diner with a few cocktails, before calling it a day. Try Loco Elvis (Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District Ph: +66 88 493 3303) for a fun night out. Where to stay: Yindee Guest House, Ratvithi Rd (Old town), Ph +66 53 418 585 Chiang Mai.

KYOTO, Japan

Steeped in history and centuries-old traditions, Japan’s erstwhile imperial capital holds the key to a treasure trove of Japanese heritage.
No less than ten thousand shrines still stand in this historic city, alongside traditional homes or machiya (townhouse) and numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Catch a traditional Kabuki performance (classical Japanese dance-drama), a maiko dance recital or visit the local Bunraku puppet theatre for a slice of Japanese culture. If you’re a foodie, then the 400 year old Nishiki food market with delight your senses with innumerable types of street food, pickles and confectionary (wagashi).

Where to Eat: Try a traditional Kaiseki meal at Kikunoi Restaurant – Shimokawara-dori, Higashiyama-ku. (Ph: +81 75-561-0015). Post dinner; grab a drink at the bustling pub street Kiyamachi –dori. For a more casual affair, treat yourself to a delicious portion of Okonomiyaki (grilled, pizza-like dish) at ant of the home-styled teppenyaki restaurants in Kyoto’s Gion district.

Where to stay: Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Shijo Nishinotoin St, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto. Ph: 075-361-5531

ROME, Italy

From unlocking mysteries of the ancient civilization to sampling the classic Roman focaccia, this city can offer a host of fascinating stories even before breakfast. As the seat of ancient art, politics, architecture, and literature, Rome will simply leave you spellbound.

Experience the drama, excitement and raw beauty of Rome at the Colosseum, the Roman Forums, and the Piazza Novona, but also be sure to visit the bustling neighborhood of Trastevere, across the river Tiber. Expect artisan gelaterias, microbreweries, Jazz clubs and parties that spill onto the streets until the wee hours of morning – a great way of experiencing the decadent Roman life.

Where to eat: Forget pizzas and pastas. While in Rome, do as the Romans do and head to a local kitchen with authentic fare. Try Trattoria Monti (Via di S. Vito, 13/A, 00185 Roma +39 06 446 6573) or the whimsical Drunken Cow- Hosteria La Vacca M’briaca (00184, Via Urbana, 29, 00184 Roma +39 06 4890 7118). Don’t leave without a taste of some homemade tiramisu. Where to stay: Hotel Romano: A cozy boutique hotel overlooking the busy streets of central Rome, a hop away from the Roman Forums and the Colosseum (Largo Corrado Ricci, 32, 00184 Roma +39 06 678 6840).

THE ANDAMAN ISLANDS, India

Apart from the stunning and pristine white-sand beaches, the islands that make up the Andaman archipelago in the Indian Ocean, are some of the best in the world for diving and snorkeling. Camping under the stars on uninhabited islands, trekking across the thick jungles and exploring new islands along the way will feed your spirit of adventure, if not turn you into a victim of wanderlust.

While the Havelock Islands in the Andamans are best for diving and snorkeling, do spend a day or two in the capital city, Port Blair. Explore the Cellular Jail and the MG Marine National Park, take a walk around the city market and cycle along the sloping streets for a feel of the island life.

Where to Eat: Sample local seafood from small restaurants along the beach villages in Havelock.
Where to stay: Fortune Resort Bay Island, Port Blair (Marine Hill, Port Blair +91 3192 234 101); Dolphin Resort ( No. 5, Govind Nagar, Havelock island)

 BARCELONA, Spain

It’s the artsy woman’s ideal destination. Barcelona’s natural beauty apart, it is a haven for art lovers, given Gaudi’s whimsical creative endeavors enshrined in this city and Pablo Picasso’s peripatetic upbringing in the city he called home. But Barcelona is also about Las Ramblas, the street that never sleeps. Known as the nightlife capital, this city comes alive in the wee hours of the morning, with its cosmopolitan crowd, thumping music and wheeler-dealers of things one could never imagine being sold on streets. Let’s just say Barcelona by night is best taken with a pinch of salt, and perhaps a slice of lime.

Don’t miss going up to the Montjuic Castle – the views are worth it and if time permits, take a small detour to Monteserrat (approximately an hour from Barcelona by train).

Where to Eat: A Tapas bar hop across the city on Las Ramblas Where to stay: Barcino147, Gran Via de las Corts Catalanas 662, Barcelona, 08010 Spain Ph: +34 607 37 91 01

IWC Ladies Magazine, October 2015

IWC Ladies Magazine, October 2015

Conde Nast Traveller Middle East, July 2015

History On a Plate

Published in Conde Nast Traveller Middle East, July 2015

On a road trip to the culinary capital of the Philippines, PRIYANKA PRADHAN gets a glimpse into the past as she samples everything from cricket salad to seafood stew and market-fresh mangoes.

Download PDF: History on a Plate, Published in Conde Nast Traveller Middle East, July 2015

Download PDF: History on a Plate, Published in Conde Nast Traveller Middle East, July 2015

Are you going to eat that?” A curious tourist at my table asked, as my cricket (kamaru) salad arrived in style, dressed in jelly and salted egg, and garnished with hand-rolled cheese. This, along with river shrimp in guava soup and papaya with sticky rice, made up part of a seven-course, re-invented menu fromPampanga, Central Luzon, a province known as the culinary capital of the Philippines.

I was dining at Casa Roces (0063-2-735 5896, casaroces.com), a refurbished Spanish ancestral home-turned-restaurant in an upscale part of Manila, right across from the Malacañan Palace. Run by the Center for Culinary Arts

(CCA). Casa Roces attempts to introduce Filipino food to the global palate by tweaking and creatively enhancing traditional recipes.

“Our cuisine is perhaps the most underappreciated of all Southeast Asian cuisines,”says Chef Sau del Rosario, culinary director of the CCA and a Pampanga native. “And so far, even we’ve believed that our food is so distinct and unique that it won’t appeal to non- Filipinos. But now we’re getting creative to allow the world a peek into our kitchen.”

Inspired by this sentiment, I set out on a road trip from Manila to Pampanga, vowing to eat anything that was put on my plate. My first stop was at the colossal 12,000sqm Araneta Center Farmers’ Market (0063-2-911-3101), for an introduction to local ingredients such as the lemon zest or souring agent calamansi, as well as succulent palm heart, bitter melon fruit and arguably the sweetest variety of mango in the world. The market was a melting pot of sights and aromas: different types of eel (palos) – a local favourite – on display alongside stingray and dried fish (balad).

A pot of blood soup (dinuguan) arrived at my table at the market’s indoor stretch of restaurants. Admittedly squeamish but equally intrigued, I picked bibingka (sweetened rice cake served with grated coconut), papaitan (goat’s intestines) and a serving of dried fish to wash down with my blood soup – a meal for those unperturbed by questionable breath.

The soup was delectable, despite its gorysounding ingredient: sweet and sour with fresh chillies that gave it a depth of flavour.

While blood is not uncommon in other Southeast Asian cuisines (nam tok soup in central Thailand or the Taiwanese blood cakes,for example), the Filipino dinuguan can be distinguished by its strong vinegary aftertaste.

Forty-one kilometers north of Manila city,I found myself in the quiet, dusty countryside surrounding the historic town of Malolos in the Bulacan province. Jeepneys and cycles trudged along at an unhurried pace and the red-tile roofs of local homes seemed to glisten in the sun. At the end of a winding street, the neoclassical Bautista Mansion beckoned with the promise of war tales, relics from the country’s prei-ndependence era and a sumptuous lunch.

Built in the 1850s, the Bautista Mansion is now run by historian and antique collector Dez Bautista and is open to the public. A visit to the grand mansion offers a chance to dine in the same room that Philippines’ national hero José Rizal did just before he was arrested for attempting to garner support for his revolution against Spanish colonial rule. In addition to a slice of history, the kitchen serves up an array of curated heirloom recipes, passed down four generations of the Bautistas. A mouthwatering homemade meal of Sta Veronica Birang – a distinctive preparation involving small pieces of fish or meat, diced vegetables and cheese wrapped together, breaded and fried – and a lovely chat with the charming Bautista took care of both curiosity and hunger.

“The women of Malolos invented this dish during the revolution,” he told me. “It was accessible, took 20 minutes to make and had very inexpensive ingredients. It’s due to its simplicity that the dish has survived till today.” A short walk from the Bautista Mansion lies the Casa Real de Malolos, a museum dedicated to the 21 Women of Malolos, who fought for their right to higher education during Spanish rule. Learning to make traditional tea time snacks and intricate cutwork wrappers for confectionery called borlas de pastillas offered an insight into the life and times of working-class women in the Philippines during the 1800s.

Pampanga was my final stop on the road. An inland province, it is known for its freshwater delicacies – especially frog, mole cricket and lizard – used in ancient traditional dishes that have survived the test of time. Life in this province is so closely linked with gastronomy that the kitchen is the largest and most important room in the typical Pampanga house. With Spanish, Mexican, Cantonese and Malay influences, Pampanga’s cuisine has a unique set of flavours. Some of the delicacies that originated here include biringyi (chicken in saffron rice) and tidtad itik (duck stew), born out of the multicultural exchange.

At the culinary museum in Angeles City,Museo Ning Angeles (0063-45-887 4703), Chef Atching Lillian Borromeo explained how some of the region’s most iconic dishes were accidental inventions or born out of necessity:

“In the days of colonial rule there was no cement to build houses, so egg white was used as a substitute. As a result, egg yolk was a byproduct and given away free at churches. The women of Pampanga began experimenting with yolks in different ways in the kitchen – giving birth to the 250-year-old recipe for eggyolk biscuits: Panecillos de San Nicolas.”

For my last supper in the culinary capital, I made my way to Bale Dutung (0063-45-888 5163), home of Pampanga’s artist-chef-writer Claude Tayag who, on occasion, opens his home to the public for a sampling of his specially curated menus. While the sea urchin with mochi (rice cakes) and bringhe talangka (rice cakes with crab roe) were crowd favourites, from his 11-course menu, a surprise lay in the kare kareng lamang dagat.

“Did you know this dish – seafood cooked in a peanut-based sauce – was inspired by the Indian curry?” he asked

the gathered diners. “When the British army occupied Manila and Pampanga, they brought with them 500 Indian sepoys from the East India Company. These soldiers stayed back after the clash between the British and the Spanish and settled down in the Pampanga region, lending their culinary influence to Filipino food, seen in dishes such as kare kareng lamang dagat and biryingi, the latter of which is inspired by the Indian biryani.”

With a story behind every dish and a history that’s checkered with the spoils of war and cultural exchange, Filipino cuisine has an important legacy to carry forward. A large part of the cuisine could be considered an acquired taste, suited to adventurous foodies and travellers. Yet even for the more tentative taster, a plate of adobo or the curiously named, fruity halo-halo dessert will do the trick.

And to answer the wide-eyed tourist’s question about my elaborately dressed cricket salad – I didn’t just eat it, I did so with relish.

Conde Nast Traveller Middle East, July 2015

Conde Nast Traveller Middle East, July 2015

Lakes of Ladakh: Published in WKND Khaleej Times

Lakes Of Ladakh

Published in Wknd. Khaleej Times, 26 June 2015.

From surreal landscapes to lake side camping and bird watching, the three major high-altitude TSOs (lakes) of Ladakh offer a rare experience for nature enthusiasts. Priyanka Pradhan discovers the allure of these natural blue wonders.

Download PDF: Lakes Of Ladakh - Published in Wknd, Khaleej Times

Download PDF: Lakes Of Ladakh – Published in Wknd, Khaleej Times

Tso Kar

How to get there:
• From Tso Moriri: 86km; 3-hour drive to Korzok village (Tso Moriri)
• From Leh: 160km; 3.5-hours by road to Tso Kar
• The Leh-Manali road (NH1) passes 30km west of Tso Kar.

It was the middle of June in Rupshu valley, southeast of Ladakh. The stillness in the air was palpable and the cold, almost unbearable. Suddenly, millions of micro-crystals, almost invisible to the naked eye, toppled from the sky, making their journey toward the ground. In a few moments, the first snowflake landed gently on my shoulder.

At 14,700ft above sea level, the only sound was that of strong winds, sweeping across the barren landscape — a partially frozen lake, nestled between patches of lime-green pondweed and laced with sparkling white salt along the shores. Tso (lake) Kar had already cast its spell on me.

The freak summer snow started to cast a misty sheen over everything in sight when my only other companion across the 10km stretch of Tso Kar joined me in admiring the surreal view. We surveyed each other from a distance until I recognized him — he was the beautiful male black-necked crane.

According to Buddhist legend, various past incarnations of the Dalai Lama were carried from monastery to monastery on the backs of these mystical birds — the reason why they’re revered in local culture today, as symbols of peace. But ornithologists are just as fascinated by the black-necked crane, which is known to traverse across China, Tibet and Bhutan, specifically to the Tso Kar basin in Ladakh for its summer breeding season, each year. Here, the male of the species puts up quite a show — a spectacular mating dance, in order to be chosen as a suitor. My friend appeared to be working on that agenda, when I had spotted him.

Habitat destruction and shrinking freshwater sources have rendered his kind endangered today, with only 5,000–6,000 of the species left in the wild, as estimated by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

I left to offer him some privacy, and hoped that he found his mate soon.

In my quest to find some form of shelter, I hiked about three kilometres north of the lake to find the nomadic settlement of the pastoral Thugje tribe. A hot cup of butter tea, locally known as po cha, and a few warm, smiling faces were proof enough that kindness is, in fact, a universal language. The tribe lives in tents made of resilient yak hair, which they sometimes offer to weary travelers, as paid accommodation.

Tso Moriri

How to get there

  • From Leh: 240km — roughly 7- 8 hours by road from Leh.
  • From Pangong Tso via Chumathang: 235km direct route (for Indian nationals) or 339km via the indirect route.

The drive to base camp at Tso Moriri was 
accompanied by a flock of the bar-headed geese flying alongside — the world’s highest-flying species of birds. The sunset had cast a kaleidoscope of hues and the crystal blue waters of the lake had faded to reflect the colours in the sky, which was a signal for the birds’ nest-ward journey after a day of swimming, feeding and lounging on the brackish lake side — their annual summer retreat.

The infamous Korzok wind-chill woke me up at sunrise, just in time to watch the glorious phenomenon unfold. As the colors of the sunrise melted into each other, the sounds of Ladakhi goats being herded across the rocky terrain and the aroma of steaming pots of tea created an 
extraordinary symphony for the senses.

Grazing fields lie along the lake’s 19km shoreline, offering ample vegetation for herds, at least in the summer. Come winter, these grazing grounds can be buried under three feet of snow, making it very difficult for the herbivores to sustain themselves.

For the domesticated variety of local ‘Changra’ goat, caretakers make sure expensive fodder and supplements are bought from neighboring 
regions in winter, in order to supply the global pashmina business. The Ladakh region is the source of the finest pashmina wool in the world, out of which, the richest variety comes from goats of Korzok and Rupshu regions, owning to their diet from grazing fields such as that of the Tso Moriri basin.

Even the 34 species of birds found here, including 14 species of water birds, the Tibetan Kiang, wild horses, yaks and Himalayan marmots rely heavily on the rich resources of the Tso Moriri.

My own survival, however, was sustained chiefly by a constant supply of Maggi, thukpa and momos, but I did enjoy an occasional meal of traditional Ladakhi fare, particularly the skyu (staple wheat flour dish) and tangtur (wild vegetables).

The drive to base camp at Tso Moriri was 
accompanied by a flock of the bar-headed geese flying alongside — the world’s highest-flying species of birds. The sunset had cast a kaleidoscope of hues and the crystal blue waters of the lake had faded to reflect the colours in the sky, which was a signal for the birds’ nest-ward journey after a day of swimming, feeding and lounging on the brackish lake side — their annual summer retreat.

The infamous Korzok wind-chill woke me up at sunrise, just in time to watch the glorious phenomenon unfold. As the colors of the sunrise melted into each other, the sounds of Ladakhi goats being herded across the rocky terrain and the aroma of steaming pots of tea created an 
extraordinary symphony for the senses.

Grazing fields lie along the lake’s 19km shoreline, offering ample vegetation for herds, at least in the summer. Come winter, these grazing grounds can be buried under three feet of snow, making it very difficult for the herbivores to sustain themselves.

For the domesticated variety of local ‘Changra’ goat, caretakers make sure expensive fodder and supplements are bought from neighboring 
regions in winter, in order to supply the global pashmina business. The Ladakh region is the source of the finest pashmina wool in the world, out of which, the richest variety comes from goats of Korzok and Rupshu regions, owning to their diet from grazing fields such as that of the Tso Moriri basin.

Even the 34 species of birds found here, including 14 species of water birds, the Tibetan Kiang, wild horses, yaks and Himalayan marmots rely heavily on the rich resources of the Tso Moriri.

My own survival, however, was sustained chiefly by a constant supply of Maggi, thukpa and momos, but I did enjoy an occasional meal of traditional Ladakhi fare, particularly the skyu (staple wheat flour dish) and tangtur (wild vegetables).

Lakes of Ladakh: Published in WKND Khaleej Times

Lakes of Ladakh: Published in WKND Khaleej Times

Pangong Tso 

How to get there:

  • From Leh: 171km to Spangmik, Pangong Tso by road.

    •From Nubra valley: 175km from Diskit to Spangmik by road.

  • From Tso Moriri: 235km – A very scenic route, but gas stations are are few and far in-between.

And finally, I set foot on the banks of Ladakh’s most famous lake, the Pangong Tso, as seen in one of Bollywood’s top grossing films, Three Idiots. I tried to shake off the association and take in the lake side vistas with a fresh perspective, but after 10 minutes of running into ‘Rancho café’, ‘Three Idiots restaurant’ and a chalkboard saying “Rancho and Pia couples’ soup available here”, I gave up.

The movie may have put Pangong Tso on the world map six years ago, but the lake is still reeling from the effects. Such is the level of commercialization, that the lake has turned into a raging picnic spot, with loud music from car stereos and baskets of chips and soft drinks — sadly, most of which are left behind, forming ugly patchworks of trash along the shores of the lake.

But the ravages of human interaction are cause for much more than just mild irritation. The adverse ecological impact on the fragile ecosystem of the lake resulting from the mounting heaps of plastic garbage, sound and air pollution has seriously threatened the habitat of migratory and nesting birds. In the long-term, prolonged littering and polluting by tourists may result in complete habitat destruction, loss of natural flora and fauna and shrinking of the lake, according to WWF India.

The charm of what was once referred to as ‘the enchanted lake’ seemed to elude me completely. I left the beautiful lake side at sunset, on a pensive note. Perhaps the delicate ecosystem of Pangong Tso is in need of as much attention, love and understanding as the volatile political borders of India, Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and China, through which the waters of the lake flow, ever so seamlessly.