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Newsletter 67 - sent on the 23 August 2023
Laos or South India: you decide!
Sometimes real life gets in the way of planned intentions, and this has been the case over the past couple of months. I had been working on a potential itinerary in Southern India for the beginning of 2024, but have had to drop virtually everything since the beginning of July. As a result, this itinerary is not ready to be launched, but I am concerned that I wait until it is polished, then I won't have the time to successfully market it.
As a result I am trying something slightly different. I am soft launching this tour and a potential alternative itinerary to Laos and giving you the chance to make a provisional booking. Obviously this is not binding in any way, but it will give me an idea of how many people would seriously consider each of the two options, and whether it is worth finishing the most popular itinerary in the next few weeks, or waiting until the following year. You can make a provisional booking on this link.
We also still have two places left for our exciting new tour Impressions of Mongolia, which departs in June/July 2024. If you would like to snap up one of these places, then do get in touch as soon as possible.
Potential tours for February 2024
This is a unique chance to shape our potential itinerary for February 2024. We have been working on a trip to Southern India, but events have overtaken us, and so I am giving you the chance to decide whether I will finish and launch this exciting new itinerary, or replace it with a potential trip to Laos in Southeast Asia. If there is not enough interest in either tour being run in February 2024, then we will delay both until subsequent years.
A broad outline of each option is below, and you can express a provisional interest in either or both of these trips using this link.
Impressions of South India
Starting in Kerala, we will explore the historic city of Kochi (formerly Cochin) and the fascinating surrounding areas. Kerala is one of the most relaxed states of India, and is noted for the many influences that have washed up with traders over the years. These include the iconic Chinese cantilevered fishing nets, and the historic synagogue in the old Jewish Quarter of the city.
Kerala is a land of spices, religious dancing and many temples. It is an entrancing mix of historic and colonial architecture as well as beautiful scenery and traditional villages, many of them grouped along an atmospheric maze of inland waterways - the fabled backwaters of Kerala. We will explore these on an overnight cruise on a converted rice barge on the picturesque backwaters around Vembanad Lake.
Our itinerary is timed to take in one of the many temple festivals that happens in this region, although this will involve some level of flexibility as dates for these festivals can vary at relatively short notice.
Temple festivals in Kerala often include processions of caparisoned elephants, religious dancing and fireworks. They are incredible to witness though and around this time they happen all over the state.
Leaving coastal Kerala we will head to the ancient city of Palakad before heading up to Ooty in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu. This is one of the hill stations that were used to escape the heat of the Summer during the British Raj.
Ooty is famed for being the place where snooker was invented, and here we can explore tea plantations and take a ride on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway – a so-called Toy Train, which is an atmospheric narrow gauge railway which is pulled by a steam locomotive
From Ooty we head to the Bandipur National Park, which is one of the finest tiger reserves in the country, before continuing to the fragrant city of Mysore. Famed for its Sandalwood production, here we will explore the fantastic City Palace, and also take an excursion to the nearby Jain pilgrimage site of Shravanabelagola, famed for the 57-ft high statue of Bahubali - the tallest monolithic stone statue in the World.
We finish in Bengaluru (Bangalore) ready for our flight home.
Impressions of Laos
We will explore this fascinating and little visited country from top to bottom, taking in all of the varied highlights.
We start in the iconic city of Luang Prabang, which was the historic capital. Nestled next to the might Mekong River, Luang Prabang is a city of monks, Buddha statues and monasteries. Taking river transport along the Mekong, we will visit the Pak Ou Caves – which is where ancient Buddha images are retired, as well as some hill tribe villages.
A less visited part of the country is in the North East, where vast plains of enigmatic stone jars have been discovered. This was one of the most bombed regions on the planet in the Indochina War, and there are still many remnants of this tragic time.
This region is home to many hilltribes and we will have a number of opportunities to meet them and explore their villages.
We continue to the town of Vang Vieng, which is noted for stunning karst eroded rock formations, and then on to the capital Vientiane. Although the city has developed over the past 25 years since I first visited, it is still one of the most chilled capital cities you will ever encounter.
We fly to the South, to the city of Pakse before continuing to the ruins of Wat Phou Champassak. Our visit is timed for the annual festival, which will attract countless pilgrims, monks and traders. It will be a vibrant and interesting time to see the ruins which used to be a part of the Khmer Empire which was based at Angkor in Cambodia.
Finally we head to the inland delta of the Mekong River at Si Phan Don – or four thousand islands. A tangled network of riverlets and waterfalls, this is a particularly traditional part of Laos and a good location for spotting the Mekong River Dolphin.
If there is enough interest in either of these two itineraries, then we will endeavour to launch it in time for February 2024. The other destination will run the following February. To express a provisional initial interest, then please use this link and register your interest. It is of course, not a binding commitment, but if we get enough interest it will mean that we will finish specifying the trip and launch it in the next few weeks. It will also mean that anyone who has shown a provisional interest will get first refusal when the tour is launched in a few weeks time.
Impressions of Mongolia
We still have just a couple of places left on our second tour for 2024, to Mongolia at the end of June. This itinerary is timed to take in the ancient Nadaam festival, which is a celebration of the so-called manly skills of riding, archery and wrestling that Genghis Khan thought were essential for his Mongol Warriors who swept the Mongolian Plain in the 13th Century.
Starting in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar we tour some of the training camps that spring up for the festival, where participants get ready for the big event. This is a much better time to take pictures, as you will be able to get closer to the athletes in a more relaxed setting.
In the run up to the actual festival we head out on an adventurous mission exploring the Gobi Desert and some of the stunning cliffs, canyons and sand dunes in this remote part of the World. We will also visit ancient Buddhist monasteries and a ruined city, whilst staying in traditional Ger tented camps.
We return to Ulaanbaatar for the Nadaam Festival – which is now held in a modern stadium, although the horse-racing events are out on the never-ending plains outside of the city.
This tour is officially an exploratory tour. Although Steve has visited Mongolia before, he has not run this trip before. It is based upon an existing Intrepid Travel itinerary, so we are confident everything will run smoothly.
Impressions of Mongolia departs from Ulaanbaatar on 29 June 2024 for 15 days. Under our new variable pricing policy, the cost is from £2950 per person if the full 12 people travel to £3150 per person for the minimum of 8 people. You can see more information on this link. You can see the full itinerary on this link and make your booking on this link.
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