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‘Cities are great for short trips’

Have you actually visited all the places that you write about or are some destinations researched?

india Updated: Feb 24, 2010 01:25 IST

I have been to every single place I’ve written about. There is a difference between a visceral connection to a place and gathering of information. My pieces tend to have anecdotes, comparisons to other places and quirky observations that are deeply personal.



Not all trips were taken the last week; I often write about travels a decade ago, as it is quite nice to read about a place in a different time, but then I do rely on my extensive notes and photographs.



When I travel, I like to take along a local guy to see the interesting places. How can I meet more people like that?


Amrit Pal Singh, Ferozeshah Road, Delhi. Having a great, lit-up, local guide is the key to unlocking the living culture of a place and getting to uncover many aspects of it in a short while. For a curious traveller, it is also the most enjoyable way to get under the skin of a city, and to communicate with people who don’t speak your language.



I go to great lengths to find the right local person. Hotel concierges and ground agents are a good starting point. Well before my trip, I make it a point to ask for a guide who is local, knowledgeable and fluent in English, and enthusiastic about his work. Sometimes I get lucky and get a guide with flexible timings, who is well read and a good raconteur. It’s a well-connected world, and even friends of friends often come to the rescue. Many places now have “erudite guides” that are retired professors, writers, historians… you have to ferret them out.



There are so many places to go to. How do I pick a destination?


Sonia Mehta, Chandigarh. Most people like to start international travels with places they’ve heard about most often. But having seen one or two of them, it’s quite good to try places that have captured your imagination through books or movies. Taking the train from Beijing to Lhasa, learning survival skills in the Australian Outback or photographing Lake Louise and Banff National Park in Canada can satisfy the explorer in you. A lot depends on the time of year you want to take a trip. August is a prime month for seeing the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara, Kenya. January is best for walking along glaciers in Southern Argentina. Bhutan comes alive in April with festivals.



Cities are great for short trips. If you have more time, combine a city with surrounding landscapes. For instance, Marrakech with the Atlas Mountains, Hanoi with a cruise in Halong Bay. For budget travel, look out for airline and hotel deals during off seasons.



Write to Geetika Jain at

geetikaglobetrot@googlemail.com

if you have any thoughts and questions relating to her Globetrot column.