400 spotlights illuminate the Eiffel Tower during the New Year's Eve in Paris, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009. The Eiffel Tower, the 324 meters (1,063-feet) high tower, mark its 120th birthday in 2009. (AP Photo/ Michel Euler)
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As flying to Singapore and Malaysia from India gets cheaper than travelling between Kolkata and Mumbai, Indians are finding more international travel destinations within their reach than before. The once-haloed 'foreign trips' are no longer a luxury but rather a must-do on the list of most middle-class Indian families. Abhishek Mande lists out some of the overseas destinations that were most popular this year.
Perhaps the most popular among the emerging tourist destinations across the world is Sri Lanka. One of the biggest reasons behind its popularity is the value of its currency, which is less than the Indian rupee. So you can walk with your head held high and buy as much as you want.
If you're with the right operator you can even boast of having stayed at the Taj for at least three nights and four days and not have burnt a hole in your pocket. Mayur Bhat of Anubhav Travels visits Sri Lanka at least once month and says it is a 'becautiful country with beautiful people'. However he adds that it is also perhaps a country that has not got its due.
"If you visit a country, you must spend time there to like it," he says pointing out that many tour operators arrange for a 3 day 4 nights trip, which does not do any justice to Colombo, let alone the whole island nation. Bhat says that Sri Lanka has a lot to offer and most Sri Lankans look up to Indians as their own. "The people there are very courteous. And that goes a long way in developing tourism in any country," he adds.
This is one place that would not have been half as popular if it hadn't been for package tours from India. Kesari Travels, a prominent tour operator, regularly arranges trips for various age groups to Singapore.
What makes this more popular also has to do with the fact that it is one of those places that is within the reach of many middle-class families. In about Rs 50,000 you can spend a good deal of time in Singapore and its neighbouring countries.
With spotlessly clean roads and surroundings that will dazzle them Singapore has an aspiration-value for the Indian middle class that has always been fascinated by a trip to a foreign country.
Singapore in itself might offer very little 'touristy' options besides a few water sports. But it is home to a popular Grand Prix track, a visit to which is an experience in itself.
A little-known fact about Singapore is that it has the higest density of swimming pools in the world. Every lane and bylane has one accompanied by a small cafe. Most of these are open to public at very cheap rates.
Yet again, a large part of its popularity can be credited to the organised tour operators. However there is a good section of tourists who make their trips to Bangkok simply to buy their electronic goods. Mayur Bhat tells us that he's managed to get some sweet deals on his flat screen televisions as well as the laptop that sits on his office desk.
While you can do the usual tried and tested trip of Thailand, the adventurous ones these days are actually venturing up north where trekking is very popular. The northern Thailand is much cooler than the rest of the country and might just be the place where you might want to head.
If you hit a search for Air Asia you will be surprised at the rates they are offering for flights to Malaysia and other parts of South East Asia. Indeed, low cost airlines such as this one have been largely responsible for the growing popularity.
Also Malaysia offers some typical touristy things to do -- be it something as simple as a visit to the Petronas Towers or a trip to one of the national parks.
But if it's Malaysia you want to experience, try out some of the tropical islands there that offer some breathtaking scuba diving options. Also visit Penang, the bustling island city that is famous for its cuisine.
Malaysia often comes as a part of a deal -- of the South East Asian tour package -- that clubs various countries in a single trip. But you can also do just Malaysia, which is feasible in a single trip -- unlike Thailand, which could require a long stay or a at least a couple of trips to cover it entirely.
They say there is no better way to travel across Europe than to backpack your way across the continent. The hitch however is that this adage may not hold true for many of us who love to be taken around.
Sure, a trip to Europe is a dream for many. So if you have that little extra to splurge why not go west? Yet again a good arranged tour will get you a good deal and will take you across a bunch of countries in the continent over a fortnight.
England, France, Germany, Switzerland are some of the regular favourites. Though we're sure a backpacking trip has its own charm.
According to a tour operator Egypt is one of the most promising destinations that is now getting to be popular amongst young Indians too. While a typical trip to Egypt will involve a visit to the pyramids, Cairo and other cities of the country are shoppers paradise what with anything from antiques to spices being freely available.
Indeed Egypt can be quite like India in a certain sense. If you don't haggle, you don't get a good price for what you want is the general rule of the thumb.
While hygiene may be a bit of an issue, Egyptian food is something to die for as are Egyptian people who come across as being friendly and helpful.
Don't be surprised if you find a Hindi-speaking bloke in Mauritius. A good deal of us had made our way there back in the day to work on the fields and can safely say that have played a good part in the making of Mauritius.
Indeed, the island nation has a lot to offer. With scenic beaches and clean waters scuba diving is unsurprisingly the most popular of attractions here. Also since the country itself has people from varied cultures, there is nothing 'Mauritian' per se. People there speak French, Hindi, Tamil and even Bhojpuri. So if you're in the mood for North Indian bashing like a certain Mr Thackeray, we'd advise you to exercise caution.
South Africa and India share much in common. Besides the love for cricket, the two countries have immense respect for Mahatma Gandhi who stayed there before returning to India and taking up the cause of the country's freedom struggle.
Besides history, South Africans and Indians bond much over cricket. The love for the Gentleman's Game has bred a lot of mutual respect between the two cricket-crazy nations.
The winner of the Kingfisher Calendar Girl Hunt this year comes from South Africa. So that should hopefully give you some idea about what you can expect there at least as a tourist -- miles of beaches and some great weather. What else would anyone want from a vacation any way?
Needless to say various scuba diving experiences are very popular and well worth a dry. Among these, diving to wreck sites is also said to be quite popular -- what with over 2700 vessels having sunk along the coast.
Popular destinations include Cape Town, which houses the Table Mountain, Johannesburg, where you can visit a goldmine and Durban where water sports are quite popular.
Definitely more popular amongst the younger folks, New Zealand has a host of adventure sports on offer. On the other hand cities such as Queenstown also offer quiet scenic tours with breathtaking views.
Among the adventure sports that will keep you entertained are skiing and snowboarding, parasailing, mountaineering and bungee jumping, the modern version of which was born here.
Wellington, the capital of New Zealand has quite a few things to offer. The national museum is a great place to take your kids to. The cable car offers some breathtaking views of the landscape as do the many vantage points since the city is surrounded by hills.
Seems like the racial attacks have done little to affect Indians travelling to Australia. According to Kesari Travels, alongside New Zealand, Australia has been one of the most popular destinations where Indians have travelled this year.
Australia, which is also a continent in itself, has a lot to offer -- for the old as well as the young. You can go wine tasting, surfing, snorkelling, skiing, gambling or simply spend a day at the races.
The slightly adventurous ones can actually try out the only n*de beach in Perth and the artistically inclined could check out the opera at Sydney.
Cities to visit include Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. And the language spoken is cricket.
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