Have you got your summer travel plan sorted out? To the lesser known towns in Europe or to where water stretches out to the horizon in ‘seven jewel-coloured bands’… Read on for some great vacation ideas
…to white sand that makes you feel like you are sinking into clouds of talcum powder
By Sanaa Ahmed
This year, I want to go back to the Maldives. It’s a no-brainer, really, because everyone who raves about the archipelago significantly undersells it. Few can do justice -- in words or photos -- to white sand that makes you feel like you are sinking into clouds of talcum powder and water that stretches out to the horizon in seven jewel-coloured bands. Or to the spectacular coral reefs in waters so clear, they don’t belong in a sea. And nothing prepares you for the total sensory disorientation you experience walking from your cottage to the shore: verdant, tropical rainforest with exotic flowers suddenly gives way to a beach that is, well, sand.
Even so, I had trouble reconciling myself to the idea of going back. Windows 10 ensures I see stunning landscapes, seascapes and what-not every time I fire up my laptop. There’s so much I have yet to see; why would I go where I’ve been before? Why not China or Japan instead, which I’ve been dying to see? If nature is my thing, why not South Africa, Iceland or even New Zealand? If familiarity is the issue, why not the UK or even Thailand? Why the Maldives?
Because dreams aren’t bucket lists; they are the slippers one reaches for at the end of a long day. The performative and aspirational elements are culled away and one is left with something that just soothes and comforts. (Besides, #achy feet #Aerosoftforever sounds ridiculous even if one is covering Milan Fashion Week in four-inch stilettos!) In our dreams, we chase moments that capture who we were and what we felt. The Maldives was before I’d experienced loss and it’s a place I reach for every time I need a dream.
From mountainous north to beach towns of south in seven hours
By Dur e Aziz Amna
After working in New York for some years, my husband and I are planning a very millennial leap of faith this summer: we are taking time off to travel. We will start our adventure in Lisbon, the charming city known for its soulful fado music, or as my Portuguese husband calls it, Portugal’s answer to qawwali. After a day in Lisbon, we will start driving around, and take advantage of the compactness of the country. It takes seven hours to drive the full length of the country, from the mountainous north to the beach towns of the south.
In the north, we will visit the Douro Valley, where tour boats take you up and down the river as you look out at breathtaking views -- rolling hills, terracotta roofed houses, and terraced vineyards as far as the eyes can see. The Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region, rests on the Atlantic, offering nightlife for European partygoers and sunny beaches for families. Sagres, on the western tip of the Algarve, was home to Portugal’s most prolific school of oceanic navigation; the graduates from here sailed around the world, aiding a colonial empire that would outlast Britain’s.
The rest of our time will be spent visiting less-known attractions like Óbidos, a small fort town, and Guimarães, Portugal’s earliest capital that is known both for its medieval aura and as an upcoming cultural hotspot. For at least one night, we will go visit family in Febres, a town as small as Dhok Marian, my family village in Pakistan. There is very little to do besides going on walks and bike rides, perhaps to the sole bakery in town for fresh bread. No one will find me complaining.
Swimming in the Devil’s Pool
By Faiza Hasan
"It would be just like the fight scene in Black Panther." We are trying to convince our boys to jump off Victoria Falls with us, something which, the older one informs me, is "not good parenting."
"We would go down the Zambezi river, right to the edge of Victoria Falls and then swim in the Devil’s Pool."
The boys roll their eyes and point out that I don’t know how to swim. But one can dream.
Devil’s Pool is a small rock pool right at the edge of Victoria Falls, accessible only during the dry season from August to January, when the waters of the Zambezi river are at its lowest. It is nature’s ultimate infinity pool, with a rock ledge that forms a natural barrier, preventing people who are brave, or as my sons insist "stupid enough", from being swept away to certain death over the edge of the waterfall.
After a swim in the Zambezi (watch out for the crocs) and a short walk over the slippery rocks of Livingstone Island, you reach the edge of the 2km-wide Victoria Falls, the spray from which can be seen 30 miles away, earning it the name Mosi-oa-Tunya, or the Smoke that Thunders. Trained guides help you leap or cower into the Devil’s Pool, where you can sit on the "Devil’s armchair" and gaze down the almost 360ft drop, as torrents of water gush past you.
The view is supposedly spectacular, described beautifully by David Livingstone as "…so lovely, it must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight."
"Yes, but what if we die?" asks the younger one.
"You won’t!" I reply, only slightly uncertainly. "Besides, it would make one hell of a Facebook profile picture."
To the swimming pool of an ocean
By Fasi Zaka
Beaches can have a magical effect on some people. I am one of them. The renewal a few days on a beach lends can last for months. I have always tried to understand why this is so.
There are explanations, but their scientific merit is iffy. From the belief that walking on sand helps to earth the pent-up charge in your body, to the ionized air lifting depression… whatever it is, it’s good! Just like that terrible teeny bopper pop song, it won’t be remembered two years later, but it sure feels good now.
But, what I would love to visit someday, is an atoll. The best way to understand an atoll is to think of it as a swimming pool of the ocean. It’s a coral reef rising enough to trap water within it, creating a calm body of water that distinguishes itself from the impersonal anger of an ocean.
The beauty of an atoll is not just getting an agreeable slice of the ocean. It’s also the colour, that magical colour turquoise of the warm water. This bluish green tumescence comes from the shallow depth, minerals and the relative calm of those waters. Like trees growing out of old graves, an atoll is a beautiful tomb to the legacy of a withered and wasted volcano.
The place I have always wanted to go to is the Maldives. It is atoll upon atoll, as if nature took time out from evolution to pen a moving love letter. I probably will never be able to visit because it is prohibitively expensive.
Maybe someday it would be possible if I sold a kidney. But the clock is ticking, because they may drown as sea levels rise. And when that happens, it will be as if the Library of Alexandria has burned down again, taking with it the secrets of millennia.
A hypothetical journey three kilometres of exclusion away
By Kamil Chima
As the sun lays on the yellow grass, scorches dead fields, and whips and prickles the back of many a neck, one can’t help but yearn for shade. And the search for shade always triggers in me thoughts of travel.
One such afternoon I thought up a unique destination, and one to which access is forbidden. In the Bay of Bengal, in the Indian territories of the Nicobar and Andaman Islands lies the North Sentinel Island. Surrounded by a 3km radius of exclusion, the island is home to the Sentinelese people, one of the last remaining communities untouched by modern civilisation.
Getting a visa to India is hard enough, but access to this lonely island is impossible. So sorry to disappoint but this journey will be hypothetical. But if ever given the chance one could learn so much not just about them, but of our own societies, of our origins.
My curiosity starts with the basics. Have they ever built a fire? What kind of tools have they fashioned? How far did they venture into the ocean before giving up? How was it that they sought not to go further than that? Do they feel shame when they are unclothed; or shame at all?
And what would they think of us, of our societies. Our societies that spread, and mingled and grew. That warred and fought and learnt. That have achieved wonders, but also destruction in its wake.
Alas, this fascinating island and the deep ocean that surrounds it is out of reach. This journey into the past will always be three kilometres of exclusion away.
‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards’. I’ve heard Sri Lanka has a relaxed visa regime. And Turkey also. Oh and they’re both only a flight away.