5 SMALL COUNTRIES YOU MUST VISIT: GOOD THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKETS.

I have been exploring the many views from my #SoulWindow solo since 2008 across India. After having visited 150 destinations in India, I am curious to explore what lies across the border. In recent past, I have travelled to Nepal (Everest Base Camp trek), Jordan and Bhutan (twice) outside India. Despite their small size I was impressed by the variety they offered and the personal satisfaction as a traveler. As much as I am attracted to bigger cities and bigger nations, I am equally attracted to smaller cities and nations as well.

peruEarlier I spent all my salary on Indian destinations. I could have done many foreign destinations but I chose to explore India first. These days, my eyes are set on international travels. I am saving money and planning well in advance to make my travel dreams come true. There are many options to manage your funds these days such as Sabse Important Plan by Birla Sun Life. Companies like Birla Sun Life have identified that today’s consumer want to save money not only for the basics but for vacations and other pursuits of life as well. Their sip investment plan is a great idea to save money and make your travel dream come true.

Below are some of the small nations I wish to explore. As they say, good things come in small packages, so do these countries:

Peru: Who wouldn’t want to follow the Incan trail, hike up to the citadel of Machu Pichu or take selfies with Peruvian llama? But there is more to Peru than the above mentioned clichés. It is amazing that this small country hides so many secrets under its sleeve. Be it the exotic wildlife, a rich heritage and culture or the peaks of Andes mountains and tropical Amazon Basin rainforest, there is a lot that Peru offers.

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Hike to Machu Pichu in South America is everyone’s dream.

Israel: When I was in Jordan, I could see parts of Israel during my road trip. I was tempted to cross the border and explore the Israel side. I learnt a lot about the rich history of the region as I walked through Petra and Wadi Rum etc in Jordan. The history of Israel is somewhat connected with that of Jordan. I would love to study it, connect the dots and grow my understanding.

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Israel

Indonesia: There is so much this small country has to offer. I would love to visit its important places and study the Hindu roots of the region. I would love to see Wayang Kulit, the shadow puppet shows, where the artists play scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata.  Despite the touristy frills I am curious to explore Bali and ancient stupas of Borubudur and Yogyakarta.

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Borobdur in Indonesia

Japan: Japan has fascinated me since long. The mere culture and quirks attract me more than anything else. I can’t wait to try the vegan ramen, sushi or explore the Wonderland Tokyo, bump into a geisha, walk over a carpet of cherry blossom, sleep in a capsule hotel or sit on a complicated Japanese commode. Despite being a small country, Japan is full of things to do/see/eat. What’s not to love?

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Japan is full of quirks

Mexico: I was first interested in Mexico after reading a piece on Mexico by the feted travel writer Paul Theroux. Later when my aunt and a family friend, both of them settled in USA, showed me pictures of their Mexico trip, I had started dreaming of going there someday. The Mayan archaeological sites and the unexplored deserts and tropical beaches attract me the most.

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Aztec ruins of Mexico

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I can’t wait to see Commodo Dragon in Indonesia

 

 

10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT TOKYO WONDERLAND BEFORE OLYMPICS/PARALYMPICS 2020!

TOKYO THE WONDERLAND, the capital of Japan is a fascinating city! Ever since I have set my eyes on international travels, Japan has fascinated me as a destination. From what I have read on Japan, the quirks, the food, the advanced technology and the constant narrative of modernity blending seamlessly with tradition appeals to me the most. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government promotes Tokyo as ‘“a place that promises all kinds of fun by constantly generating new styles while bringing tradition and innovation together.”

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Aerial view of Skytree, Tokyo, Japan.

 

HERE IS WHY YOU SHOULD DISCOVER TOKYO WONDERLAND BEFORE THE WORLD RE DISCOVERS IT IN OLYMPICS/PARALYMPICS 2020

  • EXCELLENT DINING IN TOKYO: Being a vegetarian, I was delighted to know that one can find many varieties of vegan food in Japan. I am keen to try Soba, buckwheat noodles (served with hot soup or cold with dipping sauce), Tempura (Much like Indian Pakoras but with a Japanese twist), Vegetarian sushi (Order Vegetarian Sushi in Delhi and Gurgaon here) and Ramen, Izakaya (Home style cooking available in Taverns). And who wouldn’t want to try Bar Hopping at traditional Nomiya gai, the drinking streets in Japan?
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I saw live Tezuma performance by Taiju Fujiyama at Le Meridien, New Delhi
  • UNIQUE CULTURE OF TOKYO: Heard of Kosupure? The chances are high that you will bump into a local dressed up as fictional character, especially from science fiction, fantasy or anime. The sumo wrestlers, Geishas and Kabuki dance drama theatres from past still fascinates people from across the globe. Not to be missed is the Tezuma Tezuma is a traditional Japanese magic art form. It is appointed as a Japanese intangible cultural property in 1997. I was fortunate to catch live performance by Taiju Fujiyama, a young and famous magician at the Tokyo Wonderland seminar at Le Meridien, New Delhi. I can’t wait to have an immersive cultural experience in Japan.
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Eidabashi Suijob, Tokyo, Japan
  • EXCITING SHOPPING IN TOKYO: Nakamise Shopping Street is lined with 90 stores from the Edo Era. Kappabashi Dogugai Street, with a history of over 100 years sells Japanese, Western and Chinese Tableware, Raw food ingredients, food samples, kitchenwares, the works! Denbouin Street is great for picking souvenirs such as Japanese accessories, sweet amanatto beans, crafts, chopsticks, food etc. Don’t miss the statue of a famous thief on the roof of a garment shop, the eight faces of Edo drawn on the shutters and the colorful roof tiles. I am a non shopper, but I think Tokyo will convert me into one.
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The natural splendours of Okutama, Tokyo, Japan
  • DELIGHTFUL STAY OPTIONS IN TOKYO: As per 2015 records Tokyo has 675 hotels (98,644 rooms), 1194 Japanese style inns (45,204 rooms) Hostel bed starts at 2000 yen. Approximate Charges for rooms are (Twin Bed rooms): Economy hotel (7,000 yen), First Class Hotel (30,000 yen), Luxury Hotel (40,000 yen). Oh, and did you just ask me the price of a capsule hotel and a love hotel?
  • COMFORTABLE NATURE IN TOKYO: Who has not heard of the cherry blossom flowers that blanket Japan in during spring season? During the autumn, the brilliant colors of leaves lend a different took to the city. Tokyo has numerous manicured gardens where you can savour the bounty of nature. Why just hear those stories, why not go and experience it yourself?
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I saw live Tezuma performance by Taiju Fujiyama at Le Meridien, New Delhi.
  • EASY TRANSPORT IN TOKYO: The 20 railroad lines and 13 subway lines (fares start at 170 yen) run from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. and are dependable. 49,447 taxis ply on Tokyo’s road. Chargeable IC Cards, Suica and Pasmo are used for JR (Japan Railways), subways and buses in Tokyo.
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Marunouchi Ilumination, Tokyo, Japan
  • MUSEUM & ART GALLERIES IN TOKYO: With so much of rich history, Tokyo has many museums as well as art galleries. Being a numismatics enthusiast, Bank of Japan Currency Museum fascinates me.
  • QUIRKS OF JAPAN: Japan is full of quirks, be it the scandalous toilets of Japan or the frightening thought of entering a public onsen sauna naked. There are vending machines everywhere in Tokyo and so are cute mascots. Throw in capsule hotels and a never before experience is guaranteed. Do you have it in you to handle the quirks of Japan?
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Jyanoyu Onsen, Tokyo, Japan.
  • SIGHT SEEING IN TOKYO: There is a lot you can see in Tokyo. The peaceful Asakusa belies its violent past. The Sensoji Temple, built in 628 (Oldest Temple in Tokyo) is one of the most famous landmarks of Tokyo. The night view from Tokyo Skytree at 450 metres high Tembo Galleria, I am told is breath taking. A stroll through Yanesen transports your soul to a bygone era. When visiting the Shibuya scramble, don’t forget to check out the statue of the famous loyal dog
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Koishikawa, Tokyo, Japan
  • SIGHTSEEING IN PERFECTURES NEAR TOKYO: There is a lot you can explore around Tokyo. My most desired excursion from Tokyo is of course Mount Fuji (160 minutes from Tokyo). It is a childhood dream to see the sacred mountain of Japan for myself. Declared a World Cultural Heritage Site, a visit here is a must. Kamakura (60 minutes from Tokyo; history and culture), Nikko (90 minutes from Tokyo, famous for World Heritage Site Nikko Toshogu Shrine), Kawagoe (50 minutes from Tokyo, history), Chiba and Saitama are some of the best places to visit near Tokyo.
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Asakusa Nomiya Gai, Tokyo, Japan

I was amongst the lucky few who attended the first ever Tokyo Wonderland media seminar at Le Meridien, New Delhi, India. With all eyes set on Olympics/Paralympics 2020 to be held in Tokyo, Japan, the world is curious to learn more about Tokyo. The discerning Indian tourists are also looking beyond the clichéd destinations they are generally used to and are choosing Japan as an offbeat destination. The seminar was in fact aimed at promoting tourism to Tokyo to Indian travelers. I was fascinated by the video footage of Indians living and working in Tokyo, some for as long as 11 years. Thanks to the relaxation of short term visa requirements, more than 1,00,000 Indians visited Japan in 2015.

Mr. Ken Katayama, Deputy DG, Bureau of Industrial and Labour Affairs, Tokyo Metropolitan Government addressed the media in Japanese (which we understood thanks to live translation via an earphone). He maintained that India and Japan has always had a friendly bond and it makes sense to increase the Indian footfall on Japanese soil.

The 5 themes promoted at Tokyo Wonderland event are: 1) Comfortable Nature 2) Excellent Dining 3) Unique Culture 4) Delightful Stay and 5) Exciting Shopping

Out of these Comfortable nature, Excellent dining (I hope to find vegetarian Japanese) and Unique Cultures the most. And though I am a strict non shopper, somehow shopping in Japan appeals to me. Perhaps because the things you can buy in Japan are available exclusively in Japan.

Ms. Rewati Chetri, a finalist in Femina Miss India 2015 spoke animatedly about her visit to Japan, especially Tokyo. She is representing India at the Miss International 2016 to be held in Tokyo, Japan and couldn’t help but gush at all the sensory delights of Tokyo as she regaled the audience with her stories from Tokyo. Joining her in conversation was Mr. Akito Tadokoro, director (Marketing & Promotion Tourist Promotion Department (Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau). His subtle sense of humor made his stories from Tokyo even more interesting.

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Mr. Ken Katayama, Ms. Rewati Chetri and Mr. Masahiko Sakamoto at Tokyo Wonderland seminar, Le Meridien, New Delhi

Masahiko Sakamoto, Senior Director Tourism Division (Bureau of Industrial and Labour Affairs, Tokyo Metropolitan Government) stated that keeping in mind the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and increasing footfalls from foreign countries including India, the government is building multi lingual information desks at different places in Tokyo to tackle the language barrier.

With so much to eat/see/do in just one city, I can’t wait to be in Tokyo and tell you about my own experience there.

THE VIEW FROM MY SOUL WINDOW IS WONDERFUL!

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Note: All the pictures used here are by Tokyo Wonderland

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Asakusa Sensoji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan

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