Buddhism has ancient roots in Myanmar, and its influence is all pervasive – arguably more so than in any other Southeast Asian country. Everywhere you go you encounter monks and nuns in the streets, often marching around neighbourhoods and markets on their daily rice round collecting alms from local householders.

During a research trip in 2013 I crossed paths with groups of red-robed novices most days and thought them always poised and dignified, and fabulously picturesque – never more so than when hanging around beautiful stucco pagodas or tramping over teak bridges on the watery outskirts of Mandalay. I even came across a couple of young monks amid the ruins of ancient Bagan, swotting up on their language lessons between vigils at candle-lit shrines, in scenes that would have been familiar to the masons and sculptors who made the monuments nearly a thousand years ago.

The ubiquity of stone-carved Buddhas, still hand crafted in the backstreets of many Burmese cities, along with the prominence on modern skylines of elegantly tapering pagoda spires, identical in form to those erected by Burma’s ancient rulers on the central plains of the country, underline the great continuity that sustains the people of Myanmar. The quiet humility and devotion of the Burmese at prayer is for me one of the things that makes the country such a joy to visit.

Sun streams through late-twelfth-century windows of a shrine in Bagan

Sunrise over the Shwe Leik Too temple, Bagan

Young novice prays at a shrine dedicated to Buddha’s mother, Bagan

Novices crossing the famous U Bein’s Bridge, Amarapura

Worshippers circuiting the Kuthawdaw Pagoda outside Mandalay

Gilded stupas above the Ayeyarwady River at Sagaing, near Mandalay

Monks mustering ahead of the evening alms round, Mandalay

The resplendently gilded interior of the Shwenandaw Monastery, Mandalay

Buddha for sale: serenity amid the storm of south Mandalay

Young workers at a sculpture workshop in Mandalay give their newest Buddha a final rub down

A woman of the Pa-O minority at the stupa complex in Kakku

Novice at the teak Shwe Yanghwe Kyaung monastery near Nyaungshwe

A young monk playing chinlone

An ornate, Shan-style pagoda at a monastery in Nyaungshwe, near Inle Lake

Worshippers at the 70m-long reclining Buddha in Kyauk Htat Gyi Pagoda, Yangon

Explore more of Myanmar with The Rough Guide to MyanmarCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

There are few more quintessentially French views than castle turrets stretching up into a clear blue sky. From the gracious châteaux of the Loire to majestic palaces like Versailles, the country’s castles mark its landscapes, reveal its history and draw visitors from around the world.

To celebrate the publication of the new Rough Guide to France, we’ve picked a few of the lesser-known highlights.

You might not have heard of these châteaux, but they’re well worth a visit

1. Châteaux Vaux-le-Vicomte, Seine-et-Marne

While most people flock to Fontainebleau or Versailles, of all the great mansions within reach of a day’s outing from Paris, the classical Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte is the most architecturally harmonious and aesthetically pleasing – and the most human in scale.

Louis XIV’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, had the château built between 1656 and 1661 at colossal expense, using the top designers of the day – architect Le Vau, painter Le Brun and landscape gardener Le Nôtre. The result was magnificence and precision in perfect proportion, and a bill that could only be paid by someone who occasionally confused the state’s accounts with his own.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

2. Château de Malbrouck, Lorraine

Only 2km from France’s border with Germany, the imposing and impregnable Château de Malbrouck is a restoration marvel. Every brick and turret has been placed in the medieval manner by masons re-schooled in bygone techniques.

It gained its name from the Duke of Marlborough, who decided to invade France through the Moselle using the castle as his base. It took just two weeks for the Duke of Villars, one of Louis xIV’s best generals, to assemble a massive army and scupper his plans, but the castle’s name has remained in folk memory as Malbrouck, a Francification of Marlborough.

Château de Malbrouck by Thierry Draus via Flickr (CC-BY)

3. Château de Rohan, Brittany

The three Rapunzel towers of the Château de Rohan in Josselin, embedded in a vast sheet of stone above the water, are the most impressive sight along the Nantes–Brest canal.

They now serve as a facade for the remnants of the much older castle behind, built by Olivier de Clisson in 1370, the original riverfront towers of which were demolished by Richelieu in 1629 in punishment for Henri de Rohan’s leadership of the Huguenots. It’s still owned by the Rohan family, which used to own a third of Brittany.

Château de Rohan by mat’s eye via Flickr (CC-BY)

4. Château de la Ferté-St-Aubin, The Loire

The Château de la Ferté-St-Aubin lies 20km south of Orléans, at the north end of the village of Ferté-St-Aubin. The late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century building presents an enticing combination of salmon-coloured brick, creamy limestone and dark slate roofs.

The interior is a real nineteenth-century home – and you are invited to treat it as such, which makes a real change from the stuffier attitudes of most grand homes. You can wander freely into almost every room, playing billiards or the piano, picking up the old telephone, sitting on the worn armchairs or washing your hands in a porcelain sink.

Château de la Ferté-St-Aubin via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY – modified)

5. Château des Pêcheurs, The Loire

Twelve kilometres northeast of Gien in La Bussière is a surprising château dedicated to fishing: the so-called Château des Pêcheurs.

Initially a fortress, the château was turned into a luxurious residence at the end of the sixteenth century, but only the gateway and one pepper-pot tower are recognizably medieval. Guided tours are available, but you’re free to wander around, soaking up the genteel atmosphere evoked by the handsome, largely nineteenth-century furnishings and the eccentrically huge collection of freshwater fishing memorabilia bequeathed by Count Henri de Chasseval.

Château des Pêcheurs via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY – modified)

6. Château de Tanlay, Burgundy

The romantic Château de Tanlay is a pleasant 8km cycle along the canal southeast from Tonnerre. This early sixteenth-century construction, very French in feel, is only slightly later in date than its near neighbour, but those extra few years were enough for the purer Italian influences visible in Ancy to have become Frenchified.

Encircling the château are water-filled moats and standing guard over the entrance to the first grassy courtyard is the grand lodge, from where you enter the château across a stone drawbridge.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

7. Château de Bussy-Rabutin, Burgundy

The handsome Château de Bussy-Rabutin, a French National monument, was built for Roger de Rabutin, a member of the Academy in the reign of Louis XIV and a notorious womanizer. The scurrilous tales of life at the royal court told in his book Histoires Amoureuses des Gaules earned him a spell in the Bastille, followed by years of exile in this château.

There are some interesting portraits of great characters of the age, including its famous female beauties, each underlined by an acerbic little comment such as: “The most beautiful woman of her day, less renowned for her beauty than the uses she put it to”.

Château de Bussy-Rabutin via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY – modified)

8. Château de Châlucet, The Limousin

The Château de Châlucet lies 5km up the valley of the Briance to the east of Solignac. At the highest point of the climb there is a dramatic view across the valley to the romantic, ruined keep of the castle, rising above the woods.

Built in the twelfth century, the château was in English hands during the Hundred Years’ War and, in the lawless aftermath, became the lair of a notorious local brigand, Perrot le Béarnais. It was dismantled in 1593 for harbouring Protestants and has been much restored recently.

Château de Châlucet by Guillaume LARDIER via Flickr (CC-BY – modified)

9. Château de Hautefort, The Dordogne

The Château de Hautefort enjoys a majestic position at the end of a wooded spur above its feudal village. A magnificent example of good living on a grand scale, the castle has an elegance that is out of step with the usual rough stone fortresses of Périgord.

The approach is across a wide esplanade flanked by formal gardens, over a drawbridge, and into a stylish Renaissance courtyard, open to the south. In 1968 a fire gutted the castle, but it has since been meticulously restored using traditional techniques; it’s all unmistakably new, but the quality of the craftsmanship is superb.

10. Château de Menthon, Haute-Savoie

Close to the village of Menthon-St-Bernard near Annecy is the grand, turreted Château de Menthon. The fortress has been inhabited since the twelfth century and was the birthplace of St Bernard, the patron saint of mountaineers – indeed, the castle remains in the hands of the de Menthon family.

In the nineteenth century, however, it was extensively renovated in the romantic Gothic revival style and now possesses an impressive library containing some 12,000 books. On weekends, costumed actors relate the château’s history.

Château de Menthon by Guilhem Vellut via Flickr (CC-BY – modified)

11. Château d’If, Côte d’Azur

The Château d’If, on the tiny island of If, is best known as the penal setting for Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

Having made his watery escape after fourteen years of incarceration as the innocent victim of treachery, the hero of the piece, Edmond Dantès, describes the island thus: “Blacker than the sea, blacker than the sky, rose like a phantom the giant of granite, whose projecting crags seemed like arms extended to seize their prey”. In reality, most prisoners went insane or died before leaving.

Today, the sixteenth-century castle and its cells are horribly well preserved, and the views back towards Marseille are fantastic.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

Explore more of France with the Rough Guide to FranceCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Header image Château de Hautefort via Pixabay/CC0.

Whether you’re hurtling along in a rickshaw, eating fantastic curries, kicking back on the backwaters or hiking in the mountains, backpacking India will always be an adventure. You’ll need your wits about you, and preparation is key – here are our top tips to making your journey as smooth as possible. Check out The Rough Guide to India for everything else you need to plan your trip.

1. Eat where the locals eat

Restaurant meals are often dampened down for tourists. If you want an authentic curry, follow the locals and find the busy places; empty restaurants are often quiet for a reason.

2. Swot up on trainspotting

Using the extensive Indian train network is an excellent way to get around this huge country. Trains book up fast and the booking system – as with many processes in India – can be highly convoluted. The train information website The Man in Seat 61 has a comprehensive breakdown of the complex process. If you’re getting a sleeper train, try to book the upper or side-upper berths, for more privacy and security, and give sleeper class a go at least once.

While a/c is more comfortable, the tinted windows mean you won’t see nearly as much scenery, nor will you have such an interesting and diverse mix of fellow passengers.

Image by Helen Abramson

3. Agree a price before you do anything

When taking a rickshaw or taxi (if it has no meter), hiring a guide, staying in a hotel or going on a tour, always check what you’re expected to pay first – and, in many cases, haggle for it. If a restaurant menu has no prices on it, check how much your food will cost before ordering. When buying a product in a shop, check the item for its MRP – Maximum Recommended Price – which should be printed on it in small letters.

4. Purify your water

Tap water in India should be avoided. However, think about how many plastic bottles you’d get through buying mineral water over a fortnight, and then imagine eight million foreign tourists doing the same thing every year. That’s a lot of plastic. A greener option is to purify your own – there’s an increasingly effective range purifying filters which destroy even the tiniest bacteria and viruses.

The most advanced systems, such as the Water-to-Go bottle filters, turn the stuff of murky brown lakes into crystal clear, fresh-tasting water. It’s also worth bearing in mind that in many restaurants in India, reversed osmosis (RO) water is available – it’s free, environmentally friendly and completely safe to drink.

5. Bring your own toilet roll

Indians use their left hand and a jug of water or a hose instead of toilet paper. Aside from in the most upmarket or touristic destinations, you shouldn’t expect toilets to have paper, and the toilet itself may be just a hole in the ground. Although getting used to using the hose is no bad thing, it’s a good idea to carry toilet paper – and hand sanitizer – around with you.

Image by Helen Abramson

6. Be respectful

This is a country with a rich cultural heritage and strong, deep-rooted religious traditions. Your experience of travelling through India’s rich and mysterious landscapes will be much more positive if you remain mindful of local social etiquette.

Women should always cover their shoulders and wear loose fitting clothing that comes below the knee. In Muslim areas, midriffs should be covered.

Eat with your right hand (the left is for toilets), don’t point the soles of your feet at anyone, take your shoes off before entering a temple and avoid public displays of affection.

7. An apple a day won’t keep the doctor away

Fruit and vegetables may be washed in untreated water; eat peeled fruit such as bananas and mangoes, and avoid raw veg.

8. Find the festivals

From huge national holidays to tiny village festivals, there’s always a cultural or religious celebration of some kind going on somewhere in India, often incorporating music, dance and striking costumes. If you can fit a festival into your stay, you won’t regret it.

As Hindus make up 80 percent of the population, most of the festivals are based around Hindu gods and stories, such as colourful Holi Festival, but there are dozens of others too. Try the camel fair in Pushkar, Rajasthan, every November, or the Buddhist Hemis Festival in Ladakh in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Image by Helen Abramson

9. Stay safe

Avoid carrying large amounts of cash on you, and protect your valuables in crowded places such as train stations. Take a mobile phone and get an Indian SIM card so you can make a call in an emergency. Women especially should dress conservatively and never wander alone in the dark or plan to arrive somewhere in the middle of the night. If you feel you’re being hassled, be confident rather than polite, and call loudly for help.

10. Try the street food

Sampling street food is a key part of the fun of a trip to India. Mumbai has an especially appealing range, with cheap treats such as pani puri (crispy deep-fried bread filled with tamarind, chilli and potato), bhel puri (sev, puffed rice, chopped onion, potato and chutney), vada pav (soft roll stuffed with deep-fried potato) and much more. Make sure you can see the food being prepared in front of you and the ingredients look fresh.

11. Take earplugs

Earplugs are a basic essential to ensure a good night’s sleep on trains and buses, or in thinly walled beach huts and noisy hotels.

Image by Helen Abramson

12. Get off the beaten track

Foreign travellers tend to hit roughly the same destinations and routes in India. Branching out from these areas allows visitors to experience a side of this country that hasn’t been affected by the massive tourist industry, and thus gives a more genuine insight into Indian life.

13. Go with the flow

India can be a challenging place to travel. You’ll enjoy it to its fullest if you’re open to new experiences and can accept that strange and unpredictable things will happen every day. Patience is vital, and a sense of humour will go a long way. And if you’re invited to a wedding, accept!

Explore India with the Rough Guide to IndiaCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

London is celebrated for many things. And rightly so; it’s up there with the most progressive, creative and historic cities in the world. But here at Rough Guides the thing we love most about London is its marvellous eccentricities.

While editing the latest Rough Guide to London, Greg Dickinson took note of some of the barmiest goings-ons in the city.

From the overstuffed Horniman walrus, to a lamp fuelled by Savoy sewers, to a hipster clown funeral in Dalston, these are a few of his highlights.

This philosopher didn’t want to miss meetings after he died

One of the founders of UCL (University College London), philosopher Jeremy Bentham bequeathed his fully clothed skeleton so that he could be posthumously present at board meetings of the University College Hospital governors, where he was duly recorded as “present, but not voting”.

Bentham’s Auto-Icon, topped by a wax head and wide-brimmed hat, is in “thinking and writing” pose as the philosopher requested, and can be seen in a hermetically sealed mahogany booth.

You can attend a clown’s funeral in Dalston…

Iconic nineteenth-century clown Joseph Grimaldi’s annual remembrance service, held at Holy Trinity Church in Dalston, has become a cult event among hipsters and circus performers alike.

Clowns shoes by Barney Moss via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0)

… and if you jump over his grave, a song will play

His actual grave is set back behind respectful railings at Joseph Grimaldi Park, just off Pentonville Road, but a modern memorial nearby allows a more irreverent homage. Two bronze casket shapes set into the ground, one dedicated to Grimaldi and the other Charles Dibdin, who employed him at Sadler’s Wells, lie side by side.

Against all instincts, just take the leap and dance on Grimaldi’s “grave” – the pressure of your footsteps sets off his trademark tune Hot Codlins. Less Rest in Peace than Rest in Play, it’s a fitting, and poignant, celebration of one of the world’s wisest fools.

This 90s American artist created his own Victorian home

Just to the north of Old Spitalfields Market, you can visit one of the area’s characteristic eighteenth-century terraced houses at 18 Folgate St, where the eccentric American artist Dennis Severs lived until 1999.

Eschewing all modern conveniences, Severs lived under candlelight, decorating his house as it would have been two hundred years ago. The public were invited to share in the experience, which he described as like “passing through a frame into a painting”.

Today, visitors are free to explore the candle-lit rooms, with the conceit that the resident Huguenot family has literally just popped out: during these “Silent Night” explorations, you’ll experience the smell of food, lots of clutter and the sound of horses’ hooves on the cobbled street outside.

Denis Servers’ house by Matt Brown via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0) – modified

Brad Pitt takes on a whole new meaning in Cockney

Cockney rhyming slang is London’s very own eccentric coded language, where a word is replaced by two or more words, the last one of which rhymes with the original. For example, instead of the word “stairs” you have “apples and pears”; a piano (pronounced “pianner”) is a “Joanna”; and pinch becomes “half-inch”.

Rhyming slang is constantly evolving, too, with public figures providing rich pickings: Brad Pitt (shit), Posh & Becks (specs) and Gordon Brown (clown).

There’s a massive, overstuffed walrus at the Horniman Museum…

Pride of place in the Horniman’s gallery of curiosities goes to the splendid overstuffed Horniman Walrus (who even has his own Twitter account). The taxidermist didn’t know he was supposed to have wrinkles, so stuffed him to capacity.

Horniman Walrus by Bex Walton via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0) – modified

There are dinosaurs that look nothing like dinosaurs in Crystal Palace

Competing with the Horniman Walrus for best-loved Victorian curiosity in south London, the dinosaurs of Crystal Palace may look like extras from a 1970s sci-fi film, but they have an illustrious place in the history of the public understanding of paleontology.

Created by animal sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in 1854, he consulted the experts of the day, in particular Richard Owen who had coined the term “dinosaur” in 1842. Though most are wildly inaccurate according to our current understanding of dinosaur anatomy, at the time it was an ambitious project to show to the public the latest scientific discoveries.

Only… when Hawkins didn’t know how they looked – or if the scientists disagreed – he had to be a little “creative”.

There’s a place where you can stand on a box and be heard

For over 150 years, Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park has been one of London’s most popular spots for political demos. In 1872 the government licensed free assembly at Speakers’ Corner, a peculiarly English Sunday-morning tradition that continues to this day, featuring a motley assortment of ranters and hecklers.

This family at Eltham Palace adored their pet lemur so much…

… that they gave him its own bedroom.

The ring-tailed lemur, called Mah-Jongg and alive during the 1920s and 1930s, was also notorious for biting disliked male visitors. Such was his owners’ devotion to him that Mah-Jongg crops up in numerous artworks displayed in Eltham Palace, such as the mural by Mary Adshead in the billiard room in the basement, which is set out as it would have been during the Blitz, when the family, staff and visitors sheltered there.

Eltham Palace by DncnH via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0)

There’s a ‘wind-powered’ lamp near the Savoy

Don’t miss London’s last remaining Patent Sewer Ventilating Lamp, halfway down Carting Lane and historically powered by methane collected in a U-bend in the sewers below. The original lamp, erected in the 1880s, was replaced by this replica after being damaged in a traffic accident.

And some trivia for you Rough Guides fans out there – the building behind the lamp at 80 Strand is Rough Guides HQ!

Explore more of London with the Rough Guide to LondonCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

We sent Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills to the southernmost tip of the Indian Subcontinent to research Kerala for the upcoming Rough Guide to India. From tea estates in lush green hills to sultry palm-fringed backwaters, plus a host of deserted beaches, she dove beneath the surface and immersed herself in the region’s natural wonders, lavish festivals and heavenly South Indian food.

In this video, Rachel shares tips on the top five things to do in Kerala. Here’s her expert travel advice for your trip to “God’s Own Country”.

Have you ever wanted luck and happiness for an entire year? All you have to do is slip on a fundoshi (a traditional Japanese loincloth), get purified with freezing cold water in the middle of February and join 9000 other Japanese men – with their 18,000 bare cheeks – in fighting over one of two lucky shingi sticks. Piece of cake, right?

On the third Saturday of February each year, in the Japanese city of Saidaiji-naka in Okayama, over nine thousand men, not including spectators, travel to the Saidai-ji Temple for one of Japan’s most eccentric festivals: the ‘Naked Festival’ known as Hadaka Matsuri.

Hadaka Matsuri dates back over five hundred years, when worshippers began competing to receive paper tokens from Shinto priests known as “go-o”, which supposedly gave a whole year of happiness to those lucky enough to win.

Today, competitors are first purified with cold water, then at midnight the lights to the temple are switched off and the priest throws the lucky charms – two 20cm-long sticks – into the crowd from a window above. To win, competitors must catch the stick and thrust it into a box filled with rice – only then, will they receive their blessing of year-long happiness.

This video shows two British tourists tackle this rather chaotic, and in some parts terrifying, celebration:

Since the 1960s, foreign tourists have flocked to Goa, India’s smallest state, attracted by its palm-fringed golden beaches, glorious sunshine and distinctly relaxed attitudes. Domestic tourism has taken off enormously in recent years too, such that now almost ninety percent of visitors are from within India.

Kerala, several hundred kilometres south, draws double the number of both domestic and foreign tourists than Goa, with its dense tropical landscape, tantalising festivals and 550km of striking coastline.

Here’s what to expect from each of these captivating states, and how to decide whether to visit Goa or Kerala first.

What’s the local culture like?

Goa was a Portuguese territory from the sixteenth century until 1961, and a quarter of the population remain Christian today. Though Hindus still make up the majority of the population, unusually for India you’ll find churches in pretty much every town, some of the best of which are in Old Goa, the state’s former capital and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kerala is intensely ritualistic, with numerous ancient indigenous practices that are unique to this region and which make a visit here far more alien to Western perceptions than Goa. All-night festivals are frequent occurrences at temples across the state, with fireworks, splendidly adorned elephants and deafening drums combining to create magical spectacles.

A performance of kathakali, Kerala’s most famous form of ritual drama, is well-worth experiencing to see the elaborately made-up and fantastically dressed performers act out ancient stories with astonishing intensity.

Which is best for food?

Goa and Kerala are renowned for their excellent cuisines. South Indian curries are generally much spicier than those in northern India, and use simpler, tangier ingredients often including copious amounts of coconut, fresh chillies, tamarind and curry leaves.

Masala dosas originated in southern India, and are a breakfast staple across both states. Rice usually replaces bread in family homes of both states, though in touristy places – and especially in Goa – naans, chapatti and parathas are readily available.

Yet despite these similarities, Goan and Keralan cuisines differ more than you might think.

Idli, steamed rice cakes, are a staple in Kerala, usually served with sambar, a lentil-based vegetables stew. Vada, deep-fried lentil doughnuts, are also immensely popular here, where meals are often served on banana leaves. The vindaloo, meanwhile, is a Goan creation. Vinegar, one of the key ingredients, is a Portuguese legacy, and these ultra-hot curries are traditionally made with pork.

Keralan food is traditionally vegetarian, but you’ll find meat in most places, and fresh, delicious seafood is ubiquitous, as it is in Goa.

Where can I party?

When hippies flocked to Goa in the 1960s, parties spread like wildfire. By the 1990s, Goa Trance was in full swing, attracting partygoers from all over the world to dance till dawn on the sand or in beautiful jungle settings. At the turn of the millennium, the authorities clamped down, banning loud music after 10pm, and with it went the rave scene.

These days parties do still exist (if the police are successfully paid off), and Goa still has a reputation as the party capital of India, particularly around Anjuna and Vagator. Beer as well as local and imported spirits are widely available at beachside restaurants, and cocktails are especially popular in the early evening happy hours.

Kerala, by contrast, has never had much in the way of nightlife, unless you count all-night kathakali performances. Some hotels and restaurants catering for tourists do serve alcohol (amusingly sometimes disguised in tea pots in unlicensed places). In coastal resorts such as Varkala, you’ll find plenty of cheap booze, and even the odd impromptu party which carries on till the small hours.

Where will I find the best beaches?

Goa’s beaches tend to be wider and cleaner than that of Kerala, and are, overall, more tourist-friendly. You can take strolls down the beach and continue for hours, connecting from one resort to the next, which isn’t possible in most places in Kerala. Beachside accommodation is plentiful, from budget shacks to glitzy resorts. There are coastal yoga retreats galore and shops selling the usual hippy tat wherever you go.

Though Kerala’s beaches tend to be smaller, and the beach-shack culture is pretty much non-existent, “God’s Own Country” is home to numerous pretty shores, particularly in the far north where you’ll find some gorgeous quiet coves scattered among little fishing villages. Kerala is also queen of Ayurvedic treatments – if you’re interested in some alternative therapies, this is the place to for you.

What sights are there to see?

Old Goa is home to some lovely examples of whitewashed churches, and the Dudhsagar waterfalls near the southern border with the state of Karnataka manage to draw curious tourists inland. But it’s Goa’s beaches which brings most people here, rather than any specific “sights”.

The main attraction for visitors to Kerala is Fort Cochin, with its European-era architecture, spice markets, iconic Chinese fishing nets, art exhibitions and hip cafés. Another Keralan allure is the chance to ride a boat through the myriad of narrow backwaters that weave their way through lush forests and offer a glimpse into traditional rural village life that’s barely changed for centuries.

Where should I go in a nutshell?

If you’re up for some serious sun worshipping, plenty of boozing and some yoga to cleanse your soul the morning after, your best bet is Goa. If you’re looking for a quieter, more culturally immersive trip, try Kerala. And if you have a weakness for punchy curries, extend your trip and go to both.

Explore India with the Rough Guide to IndiaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Ghost stories are fun. Though folk tales and flatout fabrications abound, the best of them possess a kernel of historic truth that prompt us to ponder the lives of those who inhabited the world before we came along.

From Hollywood horror hotspots to dilapidated colonial settlements, here are the most haunted places in America. Fact or fiction, funny or frightening: you decide.

The White House, Washington D.C.

Home to every American President since 1800, the White House in Washington DC is a hub of paranormal activity. Indeed no spectre seems so active as President Abraham Lincoln. A frequent visitor to those who sleep in his former bedroom, Lincoln’s lively apparition has been spotted by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, and sent scores more running and screaming.

Even Winston Churchill swore that he saw the deceased President smiling by the bedroom’s fireplace. Having just risen from a hot bath, Churchill was naked during the encounter (save for a smouldering cigar), and refused to sleep in Lincoln’s old bedroom on all subsequent visits to the White House.

The White House / Pixabay / CC0

112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, New York

Here, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six members of his family in 1974. One year later the the Lutz family moved in, suffered a bout of physical injuries caused by unseen forces, glowing red eyes, rotating crucifixes and general madness before moving out.

It’s upon these experiences which best-selling book, The Amityville Horror, and its eponymous Hollywood blockbuster are based. Though the story has been subject to scathing scepticism, some may be worried to know that the Lutz’s passed a polygraph interrogation about the hauntings.

Cape May, New Jersey

Sun on your skin, a warm ocean breeze and white sand between your toes – by day Cape May seems far from frightening. But the pleasures of America’s oldest seaside resort, established in 1620, are said to be enjoyed by both the living and the dead.

At night, the cheerfully-coloured Victorian mansions take on a spooky silhouette. Resident paranormal investigators lead ghost tours down dark streets lit by flickering gas lamps, telling grisly tales of the old wooden buildings now infamous for unearthly happenings. Conveniently, many of the most haunted estates have been converted into lovely inns and quaint B&Bs. Sweet dreams.

Cape May / Pixabay / CC0

Gettysburg Battlefield, Pennsylvania

With the lives of nearly 8,000 civil war soldiers lost during the decisive Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, many visitors claim they can still hear the cannon fire and bloodcurdling screams of soldiers.

The deceased don’t seem limited to the battlefield either, with apparitions of ghostly horsemen roaming as far as Gettysburg College. Indeed, believers have sworn witness to entire battles raging throughout the area – soldiers stuck performing their final acts of patriotism like broken records on an eternal loop.

The RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach, California

The Queen Mary served as an ocean liner, warship and swanky cruise ship before being converted into a proper luxury hotel, permanently docked at Long Beach in 1967. But the souls of passengers who died aboard the ship’s tumultuous past have reportedly remained – and these ghosts keep today’s guests rolling in.

Haunted highlights include the sounds of phantom children playing in an empty nursery, and the particularly rowdy spirit of a purser murdered in Cabin B340 (sadly, the cabin is no longer rented out due to the safety hazards of flying furniture).

The Queen Mary by Chris Michaels on Flickr (license)

Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Kentucky

More than 8,000 people perished behind the immense gothic façade of Waverly Hills, a hospital opened in 1910 to treat Kentucky’s tuberculosis epidemic. However, in 1962 the sanatorium was converted into a home for individuals with mental illness. This is when Waverly Hills earned its frightening reputation.

The facility turned rife with stories of suicide, medical mistreatment and grotesque experiments upon patients. In 1982 the state of Kentucky finally forced the centres closure due to “patient neglect”. This is easily one of the most haunted places in America – prime ghost hunting territory. But be warned, those who died here did not do so happily.

Overnight stays are a tour option for daring visitors, and mysterious orbs frequently appear in photographs of the Sanatorium’s dark, crumbling halls.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium by Louisville Images on Flickr (license)

Jerome, Arizona

Once a buzzing mining town during the days of America’s Wild West, Jerome’s population plummeted from 10,000 to 100 when ore deposits ran out during the Great Depression. The spirits of past residents have remained however, with reports of sharp-shooting spectral cowboys and disembodied miners strolling the old cobblestones and checking into haunted hotspots like the Jerome Grand Hotel.

Today, the veritable ghost town has been transformed into a vibrant artists’ community, with cheap rents and phenomenal views over Arizona’s Verde Valley and Mogollon Rim inspiring a new wave of residents to establish art galleries, cafes and wineries.

The Stanley Hotel, Colorado

Ever woken up at night to find your blankets stripped off and folded neatly at the foot of your bed, or played billiards with an invisible opponent?

These are the types of phantasmal encounters that turned the posh Stanley Hotel into an almost-abandoned spook house. However, a single serendipitous night in the hotel’s eerie atmosphere was enough to inspire author Stephen King horror classic, The Shining.

Now over a century old, The Stanley attracts a steady stream of visitors eager to partake in paranormal investigation tours, search out similarities between King’s novel and their lodgings, or just enjoy the stunning Rocky Mountain wilderness at The Stanley’s doorstep.

The Stanley Hotel by wakedawg on Flickr (license)

Explore more of America with the Rough Guide to the USA. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
cover image from: Pixabay / CC0

Traditionally, pilgrimage meant hoofing it, wayfaring the hard way. Yet most Catholic authorities will tell you there’s nothing particularly sinful about making it easier on yourself.

You could roughly trace Spain’s Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, by car … but then taking full advantage of the fringe benefits – discounted accommodation and gorgeous red wine – would prove difficult. The answer? Get on your bike.

Day 1 by Juan Pablo Olmo (CC license

With reasonable fitness and not a little tenacity, the mantra of “two wheels good, four wheels bad” can take you a long way on the religious pilgrimage route that pretty much patented European tourism back in the Middle Ages.

The most popular section begins at the Pyrenean monastery of Roncesvalles, rolling right across northwestern Spain to the stunning (and stunningly wet) Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, where the presence of St James’s mortal remains defines the whole exercise.

Camino de Santiago by Fresco Tours (CC license)

Pack your mac, but spare a thought for the pre-Gortex, pre-Penny-Farthing millions who tramped through history, walking the proverbial 500 miles to fall down at Santiago’s door.

Bikers can expect a slight spiritual snag, however: you have to complete 200km to qualify for a reprieve from purgatory (twice the minimum for walkers). But by the time you’re hurtling down to Pamplona with a woody, moist Basque wind in your hair, though, purgatory will be the last thing on your mind.

Granted, the vast, windswept plains between Burgos and León hold greater potential for torment, but by then you’ll have crossed the Ebro and perhaps taken a little detour to linger amid the vineyards of La Rioja, fortifying your weary pins with Spain’s most acclaimed wine.

photo by Luis Marina (CC license)

The Camino was in fact responsible for spreading Rioja’s reputation, as pilgrims used to slake their thirst at the monastery of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The medieval grapevine likewise popularized the route’s celebrated Romanesque architecture; today many monasteries, convents and churches house walkers and cyclists.

Once you’re past the Cebreiro pass and into Celtic-green Galicia, rolling past hand-ploughed plots and slate-roofed villages, even a bike seems newfangled amid rhythms that have scarcely changed since the remains of St James first turned up in 813.

A “credencial” or Pilgrim’s Passport, available from the monastery at Roncesvalles or via csj.org.uk, entitles you to free or very cheap hostel accommodation. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

Today Ethiopia is celebrating Christmas. Following the Julian calendar, this East African, Orthodox Christian nation celebrates Christmas on the 7th January each year.

In Lalibela, one of the holiest sites in Ethiopia, tens of thousands of pilgrims gather for mass in the town’s 12 rock-hewn churches. All through the night there’s chanting, singing, swaying and praying – an evocative sight if you’re lucky enough to witness it.

Photographer Karoki Lewis travelled to Lalibela for Christmas, and here he shares his best pictures of the spectacular event.

Pilgrims gather on Christmas eve for the all-night Christmas celebrations at the Bet Maryam (Church of the Virgin Mary), Lalibela, Ethiopia

Pilgrims visit Bet Giyorgis, the Church of St George

Young pilgrims wearing Ethiopian national dress

Pilgrims celebrate the end of their 43 day fast, drinking the local honey based liquor tej

Pilgrims arrive from all over Ethiopia (some having walked for 4-5 weeks)

Priest and deacons line up for King David’s dance, the final ritual at the Bet Maryam

Priest and deacons get ready to dance in Bet Maryam

Pilgrims light candles to the new born Jesus

A pilgrim waits for Christmas day in Lalibela

Priests and deacons wearing white Shemas (shawls) and cloaks perform ritual dances

Pilgrims gather on Christmas eve

Pilgrims carry candles during celebrations

Pilgrim reading bible in the courtyard of Bet Maryam

Priests and Deacons in the courtyard of Bet Maryam

Pilgrims camp out near the churches of Lalibela

These tukuls become temporary homes for the pilgrims

Priest holds a 12th century bronze cross inside Bet Danaghel

Young priests sing and chant

Bet Maryam (Church of the Virgin Mary)

Priest with wooden cross and 500-year-old canvas painting in Bet Golgotha

Pilgrims at the Bet Gabriel

All images © Karoki Lewis 2016. Explore more of Ethiopia with the Rough Guide to Ethiopia. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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