Category Archives: United Kingdom

The world’s most expensive but beautiful countries

The trouble with beauty is that it does not exist merely in cities that are affordable or accessible. Stunning marvels are flung across varied corners of the globe, many of which are far beyond our means. And yet, the travel-loving heart wants what it wants, even if means taking a personal loan for travel, just to make the next big trip a reality. So without much ado, here are the five most expensive but also very beautiful countries, according to Numbeo’s Cost of Living Index.

1. Bermuda

Bermuda by Joshua Davis Photography
Courtesy: Joshua Davis Photography

We’ve all heard about the Bermuda Triangle, that mysterious part of the North Atlantic Ocean where many sailing vessels and aircrafts have purportedly disappeared without a trace. Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory is actually the northernmost point of the Bermuda Triangle. And scary legend or not, I’d love to walk along those gorgeous shores and climb the 180 steps of Gibbs Hill Lighthouse to survey all of Bermuda.

2. Switzerland

Earlier this year, I had the good fortune of finally seeing what all the fuss about Switzerland is. One look at the sweeping vineyards of Lavaux, the ethereal sheen of Lake Geneva and the timeless beauty of Chillon Castle and I knew why it is every Indian’s dream to visit Switzerland. The muse of many romances, both reel and real, Switzerland is worth a visit for the snow-tipped Alps, the art, the vineyards and the lakeside panorama.

3. The Bahamas

Nassau, Bahamas by Valeria Almeida
Courtesy: Valeria Almeida

Raucous parties, music festivals and a celebration of life is what I associate with The Bahamas, an archipelago of over 700 islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. Best known for its capital city Nassau, The Bahamas is worth a visit not only for its glorious beaches but also the exciting food and distillery tours, art galleries, water sports and eco adventures.

4. Norway

Norway by Michael Gwyther-Jones
Courtesy: Michael Gwyther-Jones

I’ve watched every season of The Vikings with as much fervour for the historical characters as the stunning landscapes of far-off Norway. Be it lush green mountains or serene fjords and glaciers, Norway is a country of extreme and untouched beauty. A visit to this Scandinavian jewel is incomplete without admiring the 9th-century Viking ships at Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum and enjoying cruises that begin at Bergen, colorful wooden houses typical to Norway.

5. Iceland

Iceland by Moyan Brenn
Courtesy: Moyan Brenn

The spectacular Northern Lights are reason enough to plan a trip to Iceland, even if it may seem like the other end of the planet. Volcanoes oozing with lava and hot springs are complimented by the enormous glaciers at Vatnajökull and Snæfellsjökull national parks. Icelandic legends abound in the rugged landscape of this country and in the capital city Reykjavik, you can admire modern architecture and design. Summers in Iceland are a surprising burst of green.

So start adding to your piggy bank because these countries are definitely worth the sacrifice.

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India, from a foreigner’s eyes

We travel to fall in love; with a stranger’s land and a culture that often has nothing in common with ours other than that it’s also based on love and mutual respect. But what British Airways has accomplished with its latest heartwarming campaign is to remind us of the immense warmth nestled in our own homes. The ‘fuelled by love’ short film depicts a typical old Tamilian Brahmin lady, who takes great pleasure in playing the veena and churning out fluffy warm idlis. She encounters a friendly young airhostess aboard a British Airways flight and somehow, irrespective of differences in age, nationality and background, they develop a deep bond.

It’s true that airhostesses are paid to be nice to people on board but we all know that they are not all the same. Every now and then, you encounter one who is particularly polite, not stingy with her smiles and goes that extra mile to put you at ease. Helena is the prototype of a young professional who doesn’t often encounter the familiarity of ‘home’. Imagine being part of an airline whose Indian division operates 49 flights a week from London Heathrow to five cities – New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. It’s but natural that you’d encounter more of India than Britain. And in Helena’s case, she really likes what she sees.

The motive of the campaign is clear – British Airways wants to convey their love for India and reinforce the fact that this love would be quite evident every time you took one of their flights. But the idea of shooting an entire short film and the extremely touching storyline makes it more than just an advertisement. It makes it a hopeful commentary on finding common ground and friends on foreign shores (or skies). Being a Tam-Brahm myself, I couldn’t help but imagine all the lovely paatis (grandmothers) who are often endearingly ignorant when it comes to technology and modern forms of transport. But if we can make it easier by helping each other along the way, we’d be turning travel into a beautiful journey of loving back, don’t you think? That’s the message I choose to take away from the ‘Fuelled by love’ campaign.

I’ve never flown British Airways but when I do, I shall look out for Helena and her ilk. They are the ones who never raise an eyebrow if you ask for water a hundred times during the flight (some people are just easily dehydrated!) and furnish every request with a smile that reaches their eyes.

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Meet Benjamin Zand, a hotshot BBC filmmaker

To give him credit, the ‘hotshot’ is my addition; not his own. Benjamin Zand has a job most of us would drool at – he’s a reporter and documentary filmmaker for the BBC. Most recently, the British-Iranian journalist donned the hat of a ‘social traveller’ in China to film a BBC World News documentary titled ‘The Travel Show – China Special‘. Zand used home grown social media to travel the country and his adventures were telecast on BBC World News earlier this month. Don’t worry, you can still view the episodes here. And now, over to the man himself.

You call yourself a ‘social traveller’. What is all that about?

Well, I tend to just call myself a traveller. I suppose a social traveller is someone who aims to meet and interact with as many people as possible – ditching the hotels, looking beyond the landmarks and staying at other people’s places – all whilst using technology along the way.

The Travel Show telecasted a China special last weekend, as filmed by you. Please share five interesting facts about China you learnt while filming the documentary.

  1. How unique different parts of China are from each other. China is a country of a thousand peoples; there are so many different traditions, customs and landscapes in the most-populated country in the world.
  1. I am a braver man than I thought! China has a lot of very interesting food items – pig’s brain, rabbit’s head, duck tongue to name but a few… They’re not as bad as I imagined, but I still can’t believe I ate them.
  1. How amazing the people of China are. How willing they were to let me into their homes, to give me a helping hand when I got lost, and to show me things I would have never found otherwise.
  1. How the Chinese internet works! They may not have the social media channels and websites we use, but they have amazingly well-functioning alternatives. So well-functioning that a lot of people don’t even know their internet is censored.
  1. The stark difference between Hong Kong and Mainland China. Their lives are different, their mind sets are different, and how they see each other is very interesting.

Is travelling as a documentary filmmaker better than travelling for leisure? Or do you combine both?

I get asked this a lot, and all I can say is that it’s very different. When you’re travelling for leisure, you have more time and you’re more aware of your surroundings because you’re not looking at a camera. When it’s for a documentary, you’re quite often consumed with getting the job done – finding the right people to speak to and getting the specific shots we need. That said; you do travel to places you probably wouldn’t visit if you were travelling alone, and you get to have experiences and meet people you might not have otherwise. So I really do love them both. They both have their place in my life.

What advice would you offer to folks who want to get into video blogging?

Don’t think about it too much, just start doing it. You don’t need a fancy camera, editing software etc., you just need to be interesting. And it’s not going to be great at first, but you’ll learn over time. Be yourself, do something different and keep going. Also, take criticism and listen to your audience.

Benjamin Zand

How did you end up working for BBC?

I actually started doing work for the BBC when I was in university. I started doing runner work on a programme called the Big Questions. Then, when I left university, I worked as a researcher on science items for a programme called the One Show. When that ended, I applied to millions of places to no avail, so I created a travel website called Informed Explorer – this taught me so much. Eventually, after continued attempts at getting a job, I was given an opportunity at the World Service, they decided to hire me and it’s been onwards and upwards from there.

So which is your favourite country/destination so far and why?

Difficult question, as I love every place I’ve been! But, my favourite country/destination is probably Thailand. The reason for this is simple, and it’s not really about the destination. Travelling is so much more than where you go – it’s about who you’re with, where you’re at in life and the experiences you have. My trip to Thailand was one of my first big trips as an adult, and I went with a very good friend of mine. Up until that point, I had never felt any freer. Thailand is such a spectacularly different country, and I was able to go wherever I wanted in it. I didn’t want to ever leave, or close my eyes. I knew then that travelling was all I wanted to do.

Google Maps or a real map – which one would you choose?

Neither, at first – getting lost is part of the fun. Then I’ll realise that I really need to get to where I was going and I’ll use Google Maps!

If you have questions of your own, leave a comment! Follow Benjamin’s travel escapades on Twitter or Instagram

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The English diaries

Poem at Hyde Park

Under the blue beyond

I gaze at milky straits
Carving secret passages,
When the clouds forget to look.
The rhythmic whooshes of the pastoral wind
They sing to me of stories
Hidden deep within the folds of the foliage.
I gaze and gaze
At what seems to be endless verdant paradise
In every direction it stretches
And in every direction it pleases.
Unshaped and uncropped,
The shrubberies are free to peer
At whatever bird or bee catches their fancy.
Jottings aboard a cruise down the Thames

All touristy places are the same. Crawling with people, sounds, colours and smells. In London, there was no jostling. There wasn’t much of impatience either. There were some suspicious glances – not too many. But just enough so I never forgot I was a tourist.
The cruise – it moved at so leisurely a pace – it almost seemed to be still. I’d look up to see that the view had changed merely five degrees to the right. And then, it would pick up pace.
The stately figures of the city watched us circling by, like dour Britishmen of yore, I imagined. People whooshed past in motorboats and ‘ribcrafts’, reminding me of the plethora of boating options available at Udaipur’s lakes.
Reminiscing in Bombay
Yesterday, I saw a sculpture at Horniman Circlethat reminded me of the ones I had seen in the museums of Paris. Sometimes, I think Mumbai contains glimpses of the whole world in it. But this post is about my three-day trip to London (which was followed by Paris) and neighbouring areas, which is why I called it the English diaries.
London was my first real trip abroad (barring one to visit my dad in Dar es salaam when I was twelve). Londonwas also my first holiday alone. And London was my first step into the magical continent of Europe. I had heard so much about this member of the golden triad (London, Paris, New York) and yet, I was unprepared for the turrets, castles and brick buildings that transported me to the sets of a fairytale or a Harry Potter novel. I was also amazed at how sparklingly clean the city was – as though unlived in. Londonwas disciplined, crisp and visually perfect. No, it wasn’t as jolly or spirited or friendly as Paris. But it had character. London – she was a stately queen where Pariswas the friendly commoner. And yet, Londononly touched my heart in bits. It wasn’t the London Eye or the Tower of London that charmed me. No, in fact the spots that weren’t on touristy itineraries – those were the ones that convinced me the city had some soul. I must mention five places in London that stood out from the rest, for me:
Tate Modern gallery (and the walk along that stretch of the Thames)

I saw some really stunning modern art – videos, images and installations. But the most interesting sight I saw was a young man directing a little child across a long, empty space, while he took photographs of her. He had an assistant with him and it looked like a photography project. I had mixed feelings as I saw the little girl scamper across the ground, giggling. She seemed to love the guy – perhaps she was his daughter. In that case, was it right for him to use her for professional purposes? I didn’t know why I had that odd feeling of disquiet. But I was simultaneously fascinated. And like me, so were many others. In fact, some took photographs of the whole scene. A photograph of the process of photography. It seemed apt that such a thing should happen at Tate Modern.

Shakespeare’s Globe theatre


I missed Julius Caeser by just an hour. So I had to make do with the theatre tour and exhibition. But it turned out to be just brilliant. Not just Shakespeare – the exhibition took me on a journey of the whole city through the ages. I saw Londonin black and white. I saw Londonbefore it was shrouded in the aura of being one of the busiest cities in the world. And I think I might have loved that Londonmore.


Southwark, the locality on the opposite side of the road from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, does not feature on too many travel guides to London. But those little cobblestoned streets and walls, that pretty vintage pub The Anchor, the facade of Southwark Cathedral, the ruins of Winchester Palace, the exhibition of the mighty ship of Sir Francis Drake and finally, the quaint Borough Market, fragrant with the aroma of freshly baked bread – all of it charmed me completely and it was perhaps one of the best walks I had in the city. Later, I found out that Southwark is one of the oldest parts of London and I’m glad I stumbled upon this hidden treasure.
Hyde Park


I went to Hyde Park many times – sometimes to rest my tired toes after a busy day of traipsing around the city and sometimes because it was only a fifteen minute walk from my hotel (Chrysos at Norfolk Square). I’d heard so much about this place but I couldn’t see it all simply because of its sheer expanse! Nevertheless, I was awed by the size of parks and gardens in London. They occupied such a sizeable chunk of the map and such green standards are something all cities should emulate.
Marble Arch (and the lifesaver Tesco supermarket)


Marble Arch bus-stop was the one that always came to my rescue. Although still a healthy 15-20 minute walk from my hotel, I always had this sense of comfort and relief when I got off here and faced that familiar sculpture of a horse’s head, looking as though it was suspended mid-air. Marble Arch is London’s Arc de Triomphe and adjoins Hyde Park. It’s common to see cyclists zipping past on lanes dedicated for them and giving tourists like me a complex with their admirably flat abs and ripping pectorals. Marble Arch is where I clicked my first photograph of a streetside musician and then beat an ignominious retreat when he insisted on being paid (I was broke in London!).
My tryst with royalty


I had more than my fill of English royalty at the Buckingham Palace (where I also made it to the change of the guards) and Windsor Castle (part of my out-of-London day tour). It would be tough to say which one made a greater impression on me but I think I’d vote in favour of Buckingham Palace – perhaps because I visited there first but I also found it more elegant, luxurious and slightly homelier than Windsor Castle. I also found the gardens with their little ponds, woods and swimming ducks really delightful.
The famed English countryside
On my day-long tour of the countryside (places at least two to three hours away from London), I had Windsor Castle, Stonehenge ruins and the Roman-Georgian town of Bath on my itinerary. I had high expectations from Stonehenge but owing to the crowds and the fact that we were only allowed to observe those lofty stone tributes to the Sun God from afar, I was far from satisfied. The gorgeous town of Bath with its well-preserved hot springs and Georgian architecture seemed straight from an era where ideals like nobility and dignity had their requisite place in the lives of men and women. A couple of ladies dressed like the ancient Romans posed for my picture, like all the tourists milling about and peering into the depths of the olive-green pool. 

I think I would liken my London experience to the taste of the spring water I had at Bath – somewhat pleasant and somewhat strange, but with a lingering aftertaste that didn’t exactly make me nostalgic – but it certainly made me smile. The memory seems borrowed – as though it wasn’t me who actually lived it all. But when I shut my eyes and transport myself back to that crisp, chilly evening street at Norfolk Square or the magical bylanes of Southwark or my journey from the airport to the hotel, driven by an enterprising Sardar who somewhat allayed my trepidation, I can almost believe that it all happened. And it happened to me.