Need for tourist friendly ethos: Bina Kak

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JAIPUR: Responding to the encouraging tourist response in the last few days and in order to streamline tourist infrastructure, Bina Kak, tourism
minister called for a meeting with the senior officials of tourism department, art and culture, transport, home and police. Stressing the need for a tourist-friendly ethos the minister called upon the need for close coordination between the various stakeholders in tourism, police officials and the tourism department. Addressing the gathering, Kak said there was a need to regulate unauthorised guides, lapkas, mahauts by providing them identity cards and name plates for which the art and culture department was also entrusted the responsibility to work up an action plan. Besides, places of tourist interests should also have CCTVs and videography facilities. Assuring her all their support senior police officials said adequate action would be taken against all such anti-social elements upon receiving a written complaint by the tourist. The transport department on the other hand was asked to provide adequate transport facilities to the outstation tourists. Among those who were present were secretaries of various departments, IG police and representatives from the tourism industry.Read More...

Rumours float of Britney Spears visiting Kerala

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The popular tourist destinations of Kottayam and Alappuzha in Kerala were Tuesday evening agog with rumours that Britney Spears was arriving on a private visit with her kids.
Tomy Pullikattil, who owns a fleet of houseboats on the Vembanad Lake, said he had been flooded with phone calls asking if the news was correct.
"I must have received a 100 calls including from abroad asking if Britney is indeed visiting. Even the district collector called me to inquire if it was true, and to all I have given the same answer - that I too have heard about it. I also got a few calls from anxious resort owners from Kumarakom," said Pullikattil.
Meanwhile, a report from London said the pop star has apparently cancelled the visit after learning that the paparazzi have already reached here.
A few years ago Paul McCartney went unnoticed even after moving around in the capital city attending a temple festival. It was only after he boarded the aircraft did his travel agent reveal that the singer had been in Thiruvananthapuram. Read More.....

Japanese woman stabbed in Bali incident

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The body of a Japanese woman has been found on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali.

Hiromi Shimada, 41, who was found naked and bound, had been stabbed repeatedly in the stomach.

Her body was discovered on Saturday night in a rented house near the popular tourist beach of Kuta.

Earlier this year, the partially decomposed body of another Japanese tourist was found in the same area after a suspected kidnapping.

An Indonesian man had already been arrested for the earlier Read More.......

Travel Picks: Top five wine hotels

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SINGAPORE - Whether you're an old-world aficionado or new-world evangelist, there's a vineyard hotel out there for you.

Boutique hotel website Mr & Mrs Smith (www.mrandmrssmith.com) lists the world's best hotels for wine lovers.

1. Calistoga Ranch, Napa Valley, United States

California's Napa Valley is the heartland of U.S. winemaking: an easygoing, river-run pocket of rolling greenery that revels in a sun-kissed climate. Calistoga Ranch, a collection of 48 wooden lodges woven into a forest of pines and oaks, is a supremely romantic embodiment of the valley's welcoming, informal atmosphere. The ranch has its own vineyard, label and tasting cave. Visiting vintners from all around pop in with their wares throughout the year, and the wine list in the restaurant could take a week to read, let alone sample. Furthermore, guests who want to get their hands juicy can join in harvesting, pruning and crushing. The hotel's Bathhouse spa uses Calistoga's mineral waters, offering numerous soaking treatments, scrubs and massages, and the exclusive Lakehouse restaurant is one of Napa's most celebrated.

2. Hawksmoor House, Cape Winelands, South Africa

A one-of-a-kind guesthouse on the Matjieskuil wine farm half an hour outside Cape Town, Hawksmoor House allows you a nostalgic glimpse into South Africa's vintage Winelands world: lingering breakfasts on the veranda, vineyard walks, sundowners on the stoop and indulgent dinners in an 18th-century dining room. Don't expect five-star flourishes - this is about unpolished home-grown perfection washed down with a spectacular sunset. The estate grows its own grapes, and provides its own label wines to help stock its cavernous cellar, but there are that many vineyards nearby (Stellenbosch, for starters) that you can take a tasting tour of the Winelands without leaving your armchair.

3. Villa Bordoni, Tuscany, Italy

This 10-roomed restored villa may well be the best spot in the world to secret yourself if you've a taste for Chianti. Set amid the inimitable Tuscan countryside of cypress trees, olive groves and, of course, rolling vineyards, the rustic-luxe hideaway is perfectly positioned for strolling among the vines or exploring the wine towns of the region, such as Montepulciano and Montalcino, or gastronomic, cultural hotspots such as Siena and Florence. The restaurant is the jewel in Bordoni's crown, and there's an excellent selection of Chianti Classico from local winemakers -- the Montrachet-alike 2001 vintage from Querciabella is liquid heaven.

4. Le Relais du Franc Mayne, Bordeaux, France

Surrounded by seven acres of lush St-Emilion vineyard, this 16th-century chateau is at the heart of southern France's wine country. This is a hip hybrid of working winery and boutique hotel, with barrel-loads of charm and style. Outside is classic 16th-century Girondine style; inside, the hotel's nine bedrooms share space with the trappings of viticulture, the eye-catching renovated vat room where guests can learn about wine-making from experts, and the underground caverns where barrel upon barrel of the lush liquid is stored. The hotel offers free wine-tasting sessions and, for the more determined, the nearby Vignobles & Chateaux runs a daily wine school.

5. The Louise, Barossa Valley, Australia

Rivalling Hunter Valley for the title of Australia's wine capital, Barossa is a place of pilgrimage for wine-lovers and foodies alike. The Louise is where the really discerning ones end up, a bastion of urban slickness in a profoundly rustic region, with 15 marvellous modern suites and an almost monastic sense of reverence when conversation moves wine-wards. With more than 100 wine-makers within spitting (and swilling) distance, you could easily spend your entire stay careening around the countryside sampling Barossa's bolshy reds. Where there's wonderful wine, fabulous food is never far behind: the hotel restaurant is a booking-essential destination in itself, with a 'locavorous' seasonal menu that sources 90 percent of its produce from within 30 km of the hotel. As you'd expect from the restaurant's name - Appellation - the wine list is one to remember.Read More....

In Bethlehem, glow of holiday edges out gloom

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank - Thousands of pilgrims from around the world descended on the traditional birthplace of Jesus yesterday, greeted by choruses, scout troops, and rock bands for the most upbeat Christmas celebrations this Palestinian town has seen in years.
But the Holy Land’s top Roman Catholic clergyman reminded followers that peace remains elusive, while the threat of sectarian violence in the Islamic world and the lava spilling from a volcano in the Philippines clouded the celebrations for other Christian communities across the globe.
Bethlehem residents, hemmed in by an Israeli security barrier and still recovering from years of violence, celebrated their town’s annual day in the spotlight along with tourists who came from across the globe. Visitors milled around Manger Square, mingling with clergymen, camera crews, and locals hawking food and trinkets.
Christmas in Bethlehem has its incongruous elements - the troops of Palestinian boy scouts who wear kilts and play bagpipes in one of the town’s holiday traditions, for example, or the inflatable Santa Clauses hanging from church pillars and storefronts looking out of place and overdressed in this Middle Eastern town with not a snowflake in sight.
Hanna Pioli, 23, and her sister Katherine, 25, were spending the holiday far from their hometown of Salt Lake City.
The sisters miss celebrating a “white Christmas’’ at home and were taken aback by the warm weather, Katherine Pioli said, but still thought Bethlehem was the best place for Christians to spend the day.
Jeffrey Lynch, 36, a sanitation worker from New York, was taking a tour through the Church of the Nativity, the fourth-century Crusader era structure built atop the grottos that mark the spot believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.
“It’s a miracle being here on Christmas Eve. It’s a lifetime opportunity. I wish everybody could be here,’’ he said.
But the Holy Land’s top Roman Catholic cleric, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, reminded listeners in a holiday address that peace remains out of reach. “The wish that we most want, we most hope for, is not coming. We want peace,’’ Twal said after he passed into Bethlehem in a traditional holiday procession from nearby Jerusalem.
Twal and his convoy of dozens of vehicles entered Palestinian-controlled territory through a massive steel gate in Israel’s heavily guarded West Bank separation barrier, escorted by Israeli soldiers and police in jeeps.
The barrier and the heavy Israeli security presence served as reminders of the friction and hostilities that have thwarted peace efforts.
“We want freedom of movement, we don’t want walls,’’ Twal said after passing through the barrier. “We don’t want separation fences. We hope that things will become more normal for us.’’
Only hours later, an Israeli man was shot and killed in the West Bank in an attack by Palestinian gunmen. Such attacks, once common, have become rare in recent years as the West Bank has regained a semblance of normalcy.
Israeli Radio identified the man as a resident of a nearby settlement, and a little-known Palestinian faction took responsibility for the attack.Read More....

Britain and US protest after India tightens tourism rules

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Tougher visa rules follow arrest in US of Mumbai terror suspect who visited India on multiple-entry visa.
The Taj Mahal, in Agra. Tourists visiting India have been barred from returning to the country within two months.
Britain and the US have lodged a diplomatic protest with India after the government in Delhi introduced rules barring tourists from returning to the country within two months of any visit.
The new visa rules, which also apply to other foreign nationals, are apparently a reaction to the arrest in the US of a Mumbai terror suspect, David Coleman Headley, who had entered India on a multiple-entry visa.
The British high commission in Delhi has urged the Indian government to rethink the policy, which is expected to hit tourists planning to use India as a base for touring the region.
It will also be a blow to thousands of Britons living in India on long-term tourist visas. Many foreigners living in India prefer to use tourist visas rather than go through the complicated process of trying to secure a visa that would grant them the right to residency.
Some apply for six-month tourist visas and then travel to nearby countries, such as Nepal, to renew them. Those on longer-term tourist visas ‑ for five or 10 years ‑ are also required to leave the country every 180 days and tend to fly out for a couple of days before returning. Under the new rules, that would no longer be an option.
Posts on internet travel forums suggest that some British tourists have already fallen foul of the rules and have found themselves stranded and unable to return to India after visiting neighbouring countries.
On the IndiaMike forum one poster, from London, described how he had been renting an apartment in Goa and had travelled to Nepal to apply for a new six-month tourist visa, only to be informed that he would not be allowed back in for two months.
"This is insane," he wrote. "How can you introduce a rule without any prior warning and let ppl [sic] make plans and pay for flights etc and mess everything up for them … I now have no option but to get a transit visa and leg it back to Goa, get my stuff and leave … all this achieves is me and 1000's of others having to cut their plans short and spend none of that cash into the system … Well done!!"
A spokesman for the British high commission said the high commissioner had written to protest. "We have discussed this matter with the government of India. As yet there is no real clarity over the details of the proposals or of how they might be implemented. We understand that the Indian government is reconsidering its plans. We shall keep a close eye on this as it develops because it has the potential to impact on a large number of British nationals."
Details of the plans are yet to be published but reports in India suggested that people of Indian origin living in the UK will also be caught up in the rule change.
Many British passport holders with Indian origins use tourist visas to visit relatives in India rather than tackling the bureaucratic minefield involved in applying for a Person of Indian Origin card, which would allow them entry into the country. They will also be subject to the no return for two months rule.
The Indian government has apparently sought to defuse the row by giving consular officials the power to grant exemptions in exceptional cases, although there is as yet no clarity on how that might be applied.
British diplomatic sources also suggested the changes had alarmed some Indian companies with nationals working overseas, who feared that their business interests might be affected if other countries introduced reciprocal arrangements.
The decision, by India's home ministry, comes after officials reviewed the case of Headley, who is under arrest in the US accused of scouting targets for terrorist attacks, including the Mumbai attacks last year which left 166 people dead.
He was found to have used a multiple entry business visa to make nine trips to India, during which time he is alleged to have visited a number of potential targets.
India has already cracked down on business visas this year, informing thousands of holders that they must return to their home countries and prove that they meet much stricter criteria before new visas will be issued.
Ironically, the clampdown comes as the country attempts to boost its tourism industry. Last week the home minister, P Chidambaram, announced the trial introduction of a visa on arrival scheme for citizens of Singapore, Japan, New Zealand, Luxembourg and Finland and said a country the size of India should be attracting at least 50 million visitors a year. About five million tourists visit India every year, including an estimated three quarters of a million Britons.
A final draft of the visa regulations is expected to be issued next month but in the meantime a number of embassies in India have notified their citizens of the changes. The Indian embassy in Berlin has also posted the rule on its website, noting that "a minimum gap of two months is mandatory between visits as tourists to India".
The introduction of the new system coincides with a visit to India by the business secretary, Lord Mandelson, who has been trying to calm Indian concerns over changes to Britain's immigration rules.Read More......

Vizag tops travel charts of tourists

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This winter, the sun kissed beaches of Vizag and the green capped valleys of Araku seem to be topping the travel charts of the tourists. The room bookings from December 28 to January 1 have already touched its peak and almost 90 per cent bookings are done from December 15 onwards at all the hotels and resorts of Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) at Vizag and Araku.
Better infrastructure, green environs and clean stretch of beaches have attracted tourists from all parts of the country and even abroad to the region this year. The last tourist season from September to November witnessed a 10 per cent rise in tourist inflow as compared to the figures of last year during the same period. Taking Borra Caves as the benchmark, the number of tourist arrivals recorded during the season was 1.25 lakhs.
In its efforts to attract more tourists, APTDC has initiated several projects in the Araku valley. “The work for the tribal bazaar project near the tribal museum in Araku has already started and is expected to get over within a year’s time,” APTDC Divisional Manager S. Surya Prakasa Rao told The Hindu. The total budget for the project is Rs.1.5 crores and the bazaar will feature tribal handicrafts, an amphitheatre, musical fountain plaza, children’s play area and a boating zone.
The corporation has also taken up a project to develop road and other infrastructure facilities at the scenic Thatiguda Waterfalls at Anantagiri at a cost of Rs.57 lakhs. At its Anantagiri hill resorts, nine economy-type accommodations are coming up at a cost of Rs.40 lakhs.Read More....
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