The year 2022 will be remembered for a number of reasons, most of them bad. From the war in Ukraine to our inability to see the climate crisis for the threat it is, the low points of the year were many. But after two years of the horror of covid-19 and the trauma of forced seclusion, the one bonafide bright spot of 2022 has been the ability to travel again. Sure, people did travel in 2021 but fear of the imminent next wave of infections continued to hover like a dark cloud. In 2022, people started travelling again more freely, whenever they could, wherever they could.
This was the case with members of the Lounge team as well. So, we decided to have members of our team write about the travel experiences they cherished, the moments that brightened up their lives after a grim couple of years of isolating at home. As we look forward with hope to 2023, everyone here at Lounge wishes you safe, happy and enriching travels in the new year.
The haunting Aurangabad Caves
For most people, Aurangabad is just a stepping stone to exploring the nearby Unesco World Heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora. While the wonders of those rockcut caves are well known, Aurangabad ends up getting a bit of short shrift. First of all, the city is full of historical treasures from the Mughal era and earlier, including Daulatabad Fort, Bibi ka Makbara and Aurangzeb’s tomb. The most stunning site in the city, though, are the Aurangabad caves, along the eastern face of a table mountain.
If you like Ajanta and Ellora, you will love these Buddhist caves, which are coterminous with their more famous local cousins. As I discovered during a recent visit, in many ways they are even better.
You won’t find the huge crowds, the mind-numbing tourist “experience”, and can enjoy the otherworldly grandeur of these caves and their spectacular rock-cut sculptures in relative peace and serenity. The lack of tourists, and the sheer mute antiquity of the sculptures, gives the Aurangabad caves a haunting quality that Ajanta and Ellora can struggle to match.—Bibek Bhattacharya
Old Geneva in a TukTuk
Geneva might be a paradise for those who love to walk but it is something else to experience the city in pouring rain while sitting in a TukTuk (electrical rickshaw). This novel experience came as a surprise to me—and it clearly wasn’t a usual sight for the residents of the city either, since they looked agog at our group as we zipped across the old quarters.
On this cold October day, the cityscape had altered drastically, with the luxury stores on the lakefront giving way to cobbled streets, medieval buildings and basilicas with their stained-glass paintings.
It helped that our TukTuk driver and guide, Sebastian, was a history buff, who took the group through the many milestones from Geneva’s rich past. He showed us the bridge over the river Rhône that had been cut down by Julius Caesar to prevent the Helvetians—the Celtic tribe that used to occupy most of the Swiss plateau—from crossing over to the city. The TukTuk ride allowed us to take in many more landmarks in old Geneva than we would have been able to on foot—such as the Reformation Wall in the University grounds, which honoured the events and individuals who led the city’s transition to Protestantism in 1536, the original home of the Red Cross, and the Place du Bourgde-Four, the city square in the old town.
All this while drinking in the lush fall colours, gleaming and sparkling in the rain.—Avantika Bhuyan
Chocolate-shopping in Sydney
Australia is known for cuisine that celebrates its multiculturality, sweet wines and ocean-to-plate practices. One rarely thinks of chocolate, unless one has been tasked with carrying back the much loved, very Australian Tim Tams (layered chocolate-malted biscuits with chocolate filling and smothered in more chocolate). There’s more to their chocolate than Cherry Ripe and Tim Tams, though. Tasting and buying the chocolate made by local, small-scale, single-origin producers could be a way to create your own food experience.
I started by idly buying a Yellow Box Honeycomb in Sydney because the box was pretty and the description of chocolate “infused with natural nectar and pollen from Australian yellow box gum trees” was intriguing. The depth of flavour led me to look up the makers, Cacao, a 10-year-old brand from Melbourne that creates handcrafted chocolates, and led me to artisanal indie chocolatiers such as Bahen & Co (my recommendation: coconut and cherry bars), Jasper + Myrtle (wattle milk chocolate) and Chocolate On Purpose, which sources ingredients from indigenous communities. Daintree Estates grows its own cacao—rare for Australia—near the rainforest in the Far North Queensland region. It’s run as a cooperative and produces delicious, creamy wine-infused as well as espresso chocolate. I didn’t have the time but many chocolatiers allow tours of their facilities. My favourites remain Jasper + Myrtle’s cinnamon and spice drinking chocolate and Cacao’s salted caramel popcorn liberally dipped in 59% dark Belgian chocolate and sprinkled with Murray River Salt.—Shalini Umachandran
Anegundi, a village bustling with history
Anegundi, a village near Hampi in Karnataka that pre-dates the Vijayanagara kingdom by many centuries, has so many historical layers and stories that it will take multiple visits to unfold them all. I made a beginning this year when I visited the tiny village in early December for the closing of the exhibition ‘Red Lilies, Water Birds: The Saree In Nine Stories’. Organised by the Registry of Sarees and curated by textile historian Mayank Mansingh Kaul, one of the most thrilling parts of this unique exhibition was discovering Anegundi itself, where heritage homes have been beautifully restored and maintained by the Kishkinda Trust.
Although over 30km away from the main historical sites of the Vijayanagara kingdom, walking in and around Anegundi, you stumble upon scattered ruins of the kingdom, from an ancient bridge called Tallarighatta and the gate that still guards entry to the village, to the many minor mantapas and samadhis scattered around this ancient site.
Go back many more centuries and you have the Anjanadri hill dating back to the Ramayan period, said to be the birthplace of Hanuman (the whole area is thought to be the legendary Kishkinda, of the eponymous kanda, or chapter, in the epic). Peel back more layers and you find this to be the site of prehistoric megaliths, like the ones at the ancient burial site of Hire Benakal, which is dated between 800-200 BCE (the transition period between the Neolithic and Iron Ages). If you go to Hampi, a visit to Anegundi and an introduction to the centuries of history it enfolds is a must.—Shrabonti Bagchi
Carrot cake hunting in Europe
“You wasted money on gajar ka halwa,” my mother scolded me over a video call when I showed her my purchase of the day: a slice of carrot cake from The Hummingbird Bakery in London’s South Kensington.
According to her, any carrot cake is part of the West’s failed attempt to make the Indian dessert their own. For me, hunting for and then devouring a slice of carrot cake every Sunday had become a routine over the two months I spent in Europe early this year. The mission was to find the best carrot cake. Why? No reason, really. Was I always into carrot cake? No, I was Camp Chocolate. But one 2017 fall evening in New York, I tasted carrot cake for the first time, at a Hungarian café, and fell in love with it. Since then, I haven’t had any luck finding the twin of that slice. I did feel the same New York mushiness when I tried a slice at the very pink EL&N London café on Brompton Road but too many raisins killed the fun. I was looking for a slice that had just enough processed sugar to not overpower the sweetness of carrot shavings and the right amount of cinnamon to make me feel it is fall during peak summer.
Not happy with my discoveries in London, I decided to spend my free time while in more-grey Cardiff, hunting. Two cafés—one in a gorgeous castle—offered too-sweet but fresh carrot cakes. The search during a quick day trip to Paris resulted in too-dry versions. In Athens, after eating a slice in a hole-in-the-wall bakery, I asked myself: Am I asking for too much? Towards the end of the trip, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, I ordered my usual: a flat white and a slice of carrot cake. It was big and had ample walnuts. By then, I didn’t care.
And there it was: the best carrot cake, living in quiet harmony with centuries of art and architecture. A square-shaped hug so warm it could melt you.—Pooja Singh
Books and beer in Bengaluru
My first break in almost two years turned out to be a visit to Bengaluru—a city I had never been to. While I had heard a lot about the weather and the notorious traffic, I found the highlights amid books and craft beer, like most of its residents do. If you are visiting Bengaluru for the first time and have only a couple of days to spare, these would be my suggestions.
Church Street is heaven for book lovers—visit Bookworm and the famous Blossom Book House. The same area is dotted with excellent pubs: I would highly recommend the non-vegetarian tacos at Easy Tiger. For craft beer lovers, there is Arbor Brewing Company (Ashok Nagar) and Seven Rivers at the Taj on MG Road. A bonus would be breakfast at Toit Brewpub in Indiranagar or Ballal Residency off Residency Road. Nor can you miss out on the sumptuous Andhra meals at Nagarjuna, also on Residency Road. Right opposite it is Meghana Foods, renowned for its biryani. Most of all, though, give the Bengaluru Metro a try.—Nitin Sreedhar
The toy train to Ooty
While visiting Ooty this year, a ride on the toy train—a first for me—was a must-do. After all, Bollywood has romanticised the Nilgiri Mountain Railway wonderfully (think Chaiyya Chaiyya from Dil Se). I had high expectations and the ride did not disappoint. No matter how many times you see it, the way the mountains welcome you feels surreal. With the pine trees on one side and lush tea plantations on the other, the landscape holds your gaze. So, if you are looking for a quick but stunning flip-book view of Ooty and Coonoor, hop on to the Ooty toy train next time you visit the hill station.—Aisiri Amin
Gulmarg in summer
Gulmarg, a popular skiing destination, looks and feels different in summer. The air is cold and sweet. And if you, like me, don’t enjoy extreme cold, Gulmarg in summer can be the perfect getaway, with temperatures varying from 13-23 degrees Celsius. Soak in the breathtaking view of green meadows covered in blankets of purple, yellow and white flowers, with snow-capped mountains in the distance.
And, of course, don’t miss out on the prime attraction: gondola rides (you must pre-book). The biggest highlight, however, wasn’t riding one of the world’s highest cable cars, it was the walk through the flower beds to reach the cable car station. Get away from the enthusiastic horsemen and mountain bikers and the 30-minute walk under the blue sky won’t disappoint.—Debasree Purkayastha