Enchanting Countries - Rajiv Bakshi


Discovery Networks India,Associate Director/Marketing and Communications-Rajiv Bakshi takes us along on some of his memorable holidays across international and national shores. Apart from the fact that Rajiv's job takes him around the world, he personally loves to globe trek. Rather, what really gets him going is driving around new places.

I do not like being driven around. The wheel has to be in my hand for me to enjoy the drive to the hilt. Germany and France have been his favourite destinations and I have traversed most parts by road with like minded friends.

The atmosphere in German cities like Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Munich, Stuttgart and Frankfurt is unique: charged with historic importance, packed with architectural highlights and filled with restaurants to get stuffed in. We can stroll around streets with ancient buildings and marvel at times gone by.

I am a keen observer of people, culture, and of course restaurants and keep comparing it to conditions in India. Most of these cities are quite typical for German culture and lifestyle in general: beer gardens and pedestrian areas as zones of communication perfect for soaking in German vocabulary and collocations, an exceptionally well-preserved old town, idyllic streets, loads of hinterland to explore... and open-minded and friendly inhabitants.

Berlin is full of life and energy with all sorts of cultural activities, a thriving night life and dazzling new architectural triumphs. Elsewhere, Munich (with its domes, towers, chic shops, and beer festival) as are Hamburg (of lakes), Frankfurt (skyscrapers, books - and apple wine), and Cologne (fabulous Gothic cathedral, Kölsch beer - and wild carnival celebrations) are all wonderful cities to explore.

These are fun, relaxed and vibrant cities with fabulous shopping and pulsating night life. I am always checking out the shopping areas to buy gifts for friends and family. Frankfurt's international flair guarantees an inspiring stay. Here, one can explore a modern and dynamic city and enjoy its tolerant and open-minded spirit.

Language has never been a hindrance. People are open-minded and tolerant. One just has to be civil and polite and the directions and maps are all so self explanatory that one would really have to be dense to get lost.

All these cities have an atmosphere that is reverberating with historical importance. But I am not a museum kind of person, I prefer soaking in the real life visible around today.

Munich has plenty of cultural and sporting activities, fashion and lifestyle, and the people are friendly and approachable. Plus, Munich's surrounding and its close proximity to the Alps offer additional experiences. Munich has no shortage of wonderful green spaces.

The locals are easy-going and communicative. Throughout the year all sorts of festivals provide various amusements. You can spend your free time shopping, drinking coffee and tuning in on local talk and gossip - an easy way of picking up vocabulary and collocations.

Driving along the German Alpine Road is an amazing experience. It is an exhilarating route full of twists and turns. The 450 kilometre-long route is stunning and offers great variety - Alpine meadows, hills, mountain peaks, green forests, valleys and lakes follow one another in a steady rhythm. The other exhilarating speed-thrill is driving from Stuttgart to Zurich. I did it in less than two hours, after a 14-hour flight. For anyone planning this adventure, I offer no guarantees.

Traditional farming villages alternate with historical towns against the majestic panorama of the Bavarian Alps. There are almost 25 ancient castles and palaces to visit. Over 20 crystal-clear mountain lakes offer not only thrilling views but also a wide choice of sports and leisure activities. And I am the kind who prefers to play the sport rather than watch it.

All along this panoramic route there are opportunities to try delicious German specialties, both in the fresh air at a beer garden or at traditional inns - and, last but not least, the famous "Mass", a litre tankard of beer.

Along the German Wine Route, the climate is mild, the scenery like Tuscany's and the people warm and friendly too. The wooded hills are planted with vines, while figs, kiwis and lemons. Wine tasting with a winegrower is a chance to become a bit of a connoisseur. Wonderful wines from famous vineyards can be enjoyed everywhere, in tasting rooms and countless wine taverns or even at road side stalls.

I am attracted to lake side properties and have had the good fortune of staying at some of the most exclusive lakeside properties in India and abroad. Germany's lakes are as diverse as the countryside which surrounds them. Some are very well known; others are hidden gems that only reward people who take the trouble to seek them out. They offer fresh air and fantastic natural scenery - and the waters that are crystal clear.

German life is a new environment of tolerance and multiculturalism. Two of Cologne's biggest attractions are the carnival and art. The city celebrates carnival as a week-long street-festival with colorful parades, outlandish costumes and live music. I have spent a lot of time at a fair and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Paris is another enchanting city. Driving around it offers a wonderful insight into this multifaceted, magical, and at times secretive, city. The bustling Champs Elysees is one place I simply love. The shops and Parisian life in the area reveal the very symbol of sophistication, graceful living and celebration.

The food is delectable. One can enjoy the fish dishes prepared with vivid seasonings. The diversity of French wines reflects the diversity of France itself. Tiramisu is to die for. Each region offers a unique landscape, climate, culture, and history that have combined to produce the most famous wines in the world.

The city has many of the world's most visited monuments, such as the Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Arc de Triomphe. I am one who cannot keep staring at the wonderful sight of the Eiffel Tower. I prefer walking the streets, absorbing the local way of life. There is something that aches in your sense of romance when you wander among the baroque Parisian architecture with the language lilting in the air around you.

Washington is another city that beckons. The walking trails are great for long walks or exercise. I am looking forward to exploring the city on my next visit.

I also seek out educational institutions wherever I go. I check out the campus, meet up with professors and generally soak in the thought process in each campus. It is enriching and one always feels more empowered after being to these institutions.

My wife Meenakshi also shares this travel bug. She has visited Vietnam, Sri Lanka, China, England and so many more unique countries on her own by charting out a map and discovering a new place each time. I have imbibed a lot of my fascination to travel from her. We have had wonderful vacations at Colombo and Goa. Colombo is one place I like as our currency is stronger there! The food is great and its nature's paradise.

As far as Goa is concerned, I always feel that it stands apart from the rest of India. The sense of freedom one feels there is awesome. The Leela Hotels property is by far the best beachside property I have stayed in, though I would give Taj's properties, all three, the next best rating. I visit Jaipur regularly and love shopping there. Bhopal, Lucknow, Kochi, Chandigarh, Agra, Udaipur, Jabalpur - each city attracts me for both its unique city life, special settings and food specialties.

We have a two-month old baby and we are just waiting for her to be a little more manageable to take her to our next dream destination - Scotland.

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