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By Nitish S. Rele

Where can you enjoy one of the best boat journeys in the world? Kerala�s backwaters, of course. �The network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals that fringe the coast of Kerala make for some fascinating explorations. The basic little wooden boats cross shallow, palm-fringed lakes studded with cantilevered fishing nets, and travel along shady canals.�

India also has the most history per square mile among 10 other places such as Italy, London, Venice and Paris. �It has weathered countless invasions and cataclysms, and hosted many religions, including, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.�

So says the Blue List: 618 Things To Do & Places to Go, a 328-pager just released by the Lonely Planet (, U.S. $19.99). The book with 40 categories and 400 entries looks at some of the classic, iconic, unusual, unexpected, guilty and gorgeous elements that add zing to one�s travel. More specifically, the first section highlights the best places to get naked; best kid-friendly destinations; places most like they are in the film; places to love with things to question; world�s best booze and where to drink it; most stupid things you�ve heard a tourist say, etc.

The second section puts the spotlight on at least 10 nations in each of the continents, including India, China, Nepal in Asia; Argentina, Brazil, Mexico in the Americas; Croatia, England, Turkey in Europe; Egypt, Iran; Israel in Middle East, among several others.

Needless to say, India and its cities feature prominently throughout the Things To Do section. It is one of the 10 nations listed as the best foodie destination. �Whatever the ingredients: the dish usually contains a heady cast of exotic spices that make the taste buds stand up and take notice,� according to the Blue List.

To sample the wonderful food of the country, you got to hit the road. And what better mode of transportation than the train? �Travelling around in the fabulous old trains, you�ll get to sample India�s many variations in religion, language, customs, art and cuisine that clamour together in one big sensory overload,� notes the Blue List. �You may even come home with a carpet that�s magically transport you back to India each time you look at it.�

Wildlife Safari in Africa may be the No. 1 kid-friendly destination for Blue List in the world. But stepping up to the plate thereafter is India, where �Travelling children are lavished with attention � like it or not,� says the Blue List. �Families love the Taj Mahal: its shiny white marble floors make a great skidding surface for shoeless feet.�

It is said that a successful travel guide depends upon good writing rather than good lists. The 400 travel experiences � ranging form greatest historical journeys to classic city breaks to most grueling events � offer a compelling and informative read. Further boosting the contents are more than 250 colorful photographs, six regional maps and a world map, and a calendar of the best places and things to do.

The Blue List is an excellent book, which can be dipped into at random or read from start to finish.


Well, I guess it may have all started with my English teachers in St. Peters and then Campion, a Jesuit school in Bombay that has also produced writers such as Shashi Tharoor, Manil Suri, Boman Desai and Firdaus Kanga. And my parents added fuel to the fire by providing my sister and myself unlimited books and comics, encouraging us to stay safely home. The constant company of characters such as Billy Bunter and Flicka and Captain Blood and Psmith will fire a kid�s imagination and form a certain admiration for the nimble minds that created them.

Then here�s a funny story: the aptitude tests at Campion pronounced me �very superior� in the arts and only �average� in science � so of course I had to go into the science stream anyway, in order to have a �real� career and become my family�s third-generation civil engineer. Still, some basic brains coupled with language skill will get even the most artistically inclined youngster into the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT, Kharagpur) and then earn him a scholarship to the University of Delaware. Fast-forward past a master�s in engineering, a return to India, training at Tata Burroughs, reassignment to the States, a contract at Ford, a Green Card, a job move away from the winter, and you find me in Florida, utterly burned out on the techie life, starting to read once again, wondering how I could ever have done without it, and trying to write something other than computer programs for a change.

Soon I was back in school, at the University of North Florida (UNF) in Jacksonville, for a master�s in English and creative writing this time and enjoying the hell out of it, earning precious little anymore but starting to publish stories in magazines and win awards. People either thought I was crazy or gutsy. For a while, though, I managed to hold on to my confidence. What rich, complex material I had, after all: Bombay, Kharagpur, Delaware, Detroit, Parsis, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, engineers, programmers, writers, Indians, Persians, Americans. But for many years thereafter, while I taught literature at UNF and tried to eke out a story or two during summers, breaking into book print remained a pipe dream.

One night, after I returned home late from teaching a creative writing course for the first time, about a dozen years after I�d begun to write, I found a cryptic message on my answering machine, from someone who said she was the director of the University of Iowa Press. I had to struggle to recall if I�d ever sent them my book manuscript, maybe half a year earlier. When I did get hold of her next morning after a sleepless night, she apologized for keeping me in suspense but said it was the best part of her position to be able to tell someone in person, each year, that his or her book had won the nationwide Iowa Short Fiction Award, judged by the famous University of Iowa Writers� Workshop, and that it would be published by the press. I pretty much busted the poor lady�s eardrums in return, I yelled so hard into the phone! It was probably the most exciting and fulfilling moment of my life.

Since then, �Ticket to Minto: Stories of India and America,� has also been published in India and will soon appear in translation for the first time, in Germany. Neither of my parents lived to see all of this happen, but I think they�d have been proud and would maybe even have agreed that the arts stream would have been the better choice for me in Campion. Now, I have two new book projects on my hands. The first is about characters in stories and in real life who, like myself after my parents died, are forced to come to grips with matters of mortality and try to find ways to transcend death. The second is a novel, set in Delaware and Bombay, about a minor hate crime and its lasting impact on the Indian American victim. Beyond that, it�s hard to tell what lies in store; writing well at literary book length is such a hard row to hoe. But it�s good to know I�ll always love what I do, and that somewhere in the world readers are enjoying my stories and finding my characters good company.

Sohrab Homi Fracis ( is the first Indian author to win the Iowa Short Fiction Award, described by the New York Times Book Review as �among the most prestigious literary prizes America offers.� He lives in Jacksonville.

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