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High Five - Global Hotspots This Festive Season

Christmas season is around the corner and many Indians have started packing their bags to greet the New Year somewhere outside the country. Raadia Mukadam unveils five global hotspots Indians are flocking to this season


Cut to about 15 years ago: liberalisation is still some years away, the big money is yet to flow in and a vacation abroad during the Christmas-New Year season is reserved for about a handful in India. Not many could afford it, not many considered the season as vacation time, even the thought crossed the minds of not many. That was 15 years ago. It is different today. With liberalisation and the creation of a whole new class of urban yuppies, there was a shift in work and leisure values. Work hard, take a break and return to the grind. Now, there was the money and, taking a cue from the West, the season was considered prime time to revel. The hoi polloi still partied at home but for the middle to senior level executive and businessmen, a short spring abroad for the New Year was within the scope of possibility. It is a concept which is gaining ground. Most tour operators will vouch for it. There is only one catch - Europe and the United States, traditional favourites with Indians, have few takers due to their extreme winters. The five global hotspots then that vacationers are thronging to are Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Dubai and Australia.

Malaysia: Truly Magic
There is a love affair that is slowly developing between Malaysia and the Indian tourist. It is hard to pinpoint why but one factor is that Malaysia is one of the ports of sail for Star Cruises which rules the roost in India and cruising is hitting big time among Indians. In simple words, if an Indian wants to go on a cruise he cannot embark from India but has to go to Malaysia or Singapore from where the cruise starts. The booking, of course, is done from here.

“Most cruise passengers also take a land package. This allows them the best of both worlds – enjoying the luxury of a cruise and also exploring Malaysia before returning to India,” says Lalit Seth, managing director, Raj Travels.

Even discounting this phenomenon, Malaysia has enough magic to keep the tourist enthralled. As their slogan, 'Malaysia Truly Asia', promises, the country is a blend of different cultures and religions, and Indians form the third largest ethnic group after Malays and Chinese there.

What does Malaysia have in store for you? Let's begin with Kuala Lumpur (KL), the capital, which has two must-sees. The first naturally are the mammoth Petrona Towers and the impressive shopping arcade it houses. And then there is the famous 'Chinese Night Market' for best bargain buys any time of the day or night.

A hour's drive from Kuala Lumpur gets you to Sunway Lagoon which has the classy Sunway Lagoon Hotel, theme park and shopping arcade. Moving on your itinerary, Putra Jaya, situated 25 kilometres away from KL, has retained its old palm plantations while being converted into a sleek city. When it’s completed, the city will be the Intelligent Garden City that epitomises the government’s vision of 21st century Malaysia.

At Genting, the entertainment city, you could try your luck at the massive casinos or take a break for some live entertainment with the Ice Show.

Other options in Malaysia include Langkawi, an adventurous chill out zone and a duty free island; Taman Negara, which gets you on to the wild side of nature; Cameron Highlands, a ‘home-away-from-home’ in the colonial set-up; Mount Kinabalu; Penang and Melaka.

Singapore: Born Again
Singapore periodically reinvents itself and is therefore a destination which, despite its little size, never gets saturated. It dons a new avatar every few years. For over a decade Singapore had been a shoppers' paradise. It then went on to become a place where gastronomic fantasies are fulfilled. And in its latest reincarnation it is projecting itself as the culture country of the East. Since November 2002, Singapore has exploded into a frenzy of lights, colours and activities with the four-month long 'Celebration Singapore'. Back-to-back celebrations, events, parties, parades and more are happening. You can enjoy an exhaustive range of shopping from branded labels, ethnic crafts to flea market knick-knacks.

Whether you are culturally inclined or not, take a trip to the ‘Esplanade - Theatres On The Bay’, not only to marvel at its architectural genius but to view the more than 30 compelling performances that will be playing exclusively all season. Those with animal inclinations should not miss the ‘Wild Breakfast Program’ at the Singapore Zoological Gardens, in the company of animals.

For those of you who have the energy, draw up an itinerary flying to Malaysia or Singapore, spending three nights there before taking off on a cruise. And for those who would not like to sail, a triangular fare offered by Malaysian Airlines, Thai Airways or Singapore Airlines is recommended. This fare permits you to land in Singapore or Malaysia and return from the other country. You could travel between the two countries by train, which is only a few hours journey. Air Mauritius also offers special fares on Mumbai-Mauritius-Singapore-Mumbai or Mumbai-Mauritius-Kuala Lumpur-Mumbai sectors.


Mauritius: Beach Paradise
Traffic to Mauritius is at all-time high with Emirates Airline having launched flights to Mauritius which allows a three-night stopover in Dubai at the same fare. Cashing in on this SOTC, the outbound division of Kuoni Travel (India) Pvt Ltd, have launched a ‘five night in Mauritius with three nights in Dubai’ package. The response has been rave. Already the package has been sold to over 1000 passengers and they cannot sell anymore due to availability of seats.

Uninhabited, densely forested, surrounded by turquoise lagoons and multicoloured coral reefs, the tropical island paradise of Mauritius is as good as it gets. For tourists, Mauritius has pristine beaches, undersea walks, scuba diving, parasailing, helicopter joyrides, casinos and to top it all, the pleasures of duty free shoping.

Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, is a must see

In December, there is an entire range of water-sports activities available, from paddling, swimming, paddle-boating, water-sking, parasailing, undersea walking, diving, submarine cruising and deep sea fishing. On land, facilities include golf courses, horse-riding, nature parks where one can go hiking or fruit-picking, a forest reserve for hunting deer and wild boar, botanical gardens and a bird sanctuary.

Compromise on any other activity if you might but take a full day tour to Lle-aux-Cerfs, a beautiful resort on a Robinson Crusoe-like island. Here you can enjoy the picturesque beauty of fine white beaches and the translucent waters which is the characteristic of Mauritius.

Dubai: Shop-Till-You-Drop
Shopping is Dubai's USP and if you are a shopaholic there is no other place to go. With the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) preponed this year to January 15, you can start drawing up your shopping list. DSF is an unparalleled shopping extravaganza, offering an array of fun, shopping and fabulous prizes, including luxury cars and gold. In addition the event also features fashion shows, street performances and daily fireworks. Sleep is definitely not part of your agenda.

And yet, there is more to Dubai than shopping. From the timeless tranquillity of the desert to the lively bustle of the souks (markets), the visitor gets a kaleidoscope of attractions. In a single day, the tourist can experience everything from rugged mountains, awe-inspiring sand dunes, sandy beaches, lush green parks, dusty villages, luxurious residential districts, ancient houses with windtowers to ultra-modern shopping malls. Dubai is both a dynamic international business centre and a laid-back tourist escape; a city where the sophistication of the 21st century walks hand in hand with the simplicity of a bygone era.

The nightlife is equally varied, with many bars, pubs, discos and nightclubs which remain open until the wee hours. Outside the hotels, small eating places are to be found in all parts of the city including Deira, Bur Dubai, Satwa and Jumeirah.

In a single day, the tourist in Dubai can experience everything from rugged mountains, awe-inspiring sand dunes to sandy beaches
Dubai is a cosmopolitan society with a culture deeply rooted in the Islamic traditions of Arabia

The city offers three of the finest golf courses in the world, horseracing venues, traditional camel racing tracks, archaeological sights and snorkelling as a recreational option. There are also plenty of water sports, including jet-skiing, water-skiing, scuba diving, snorkeling and deep-sea fishing. The icing on the cake is the desert safari, complete with camels, a barbecue dinner with a sensuous performance by a belly dancer. The perfect culmination to a perfect vacation.

Australia: As Big As It Gets
While the East marks the hottest outbound destinations, Australia still reigns supreme with the upper market segment. Australia has an incredible array of experiences for the tourist, from the vastness and drama of the outback, to the spectacle of the Great Barrier Reef and its islands, the cosmopolitanism of Sydney and arguably some of the best beaches in the world. Visitors expecting to see an opera in Sydney one night and then meet Crocodile Dundee the next day, will have to rethink their plans. Australia is vast, as vast as it comes.

Summer (December to February) can get uncomfortably hot in Australia. If you're in the southern states during these months it's great beach weather. Up north, this is the wet season, when it's very, very humid and when the sea is swarming with box jellyfish. On the upside, the Top End is beautifully green and free of tourists at this time. Not a very good time to visit Queensland or the outback. Christmas is part of the long summer school vacation and during December and January you can be forgiven for thinking that half of Australia is on holiday. This is when accommodation is almost always booked out. Hang around till January and you can witness the huge Festival of Sydney, an arts and cultural extravaganza. Sydney, Australia's premier city and economic powerhouse, is built on the shores of the stunning Port Jackson. Remember to go to the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.

You can explore smaller regions by foot, horseback or even on the back of a camel or clip-clop along the Snowy's excellent horse riding trails. There are countless surfing beaches, some of them in the cities and some in beach towns. In conclusion, Autralia leaves you with that grudging feeling of 'so little time, so much to do'.

Singapore has been strategically reincarnated as the culture country of the East