After a search for the most captivating, exciting and beautiful travel photography, the Travel Photographer of the Year Awards announced their final winners last week. Here is a selection of our favourite images from this set of talented photographers.

Eagle hunter, Alti Region, Mongolia

By Simon Morris | www.tpoty.com

Powell Point, Grand Canyon South Rim, USA

 By Gerard Baeck | www.tpoty.com

 A woman serves butter tea in her home in Laya, Bhutan

 By Timothy Allen | www.tpoty.com

Emma Orbach playing the harp in her mud hut in Pembrokeshire, Wales

By Timothy Allen | www.tpoty.com

Japanese Macaques, Jigokudani Yaen Kōen, Japan

By Jasper Doest | www.tpoty.com

Nepali New Year festival, Bhaktapur, Nepal

By Jovian Salak | www.tpoty.com

Lionesses hunting, Chief’s Island, Botswana

By Ed Hetherington | www.tpoty.com

Northern Lights, Kirkjufell, Iceland

By James Woodend | www.tpoty.com

Lioness defends her kill from vultures, hyenas and jackals Masai Mara, Kenya

By Nicolas Lotsos | www.tpoty.com

 Phuket, Thailand

By Justin Mott | www.tpoty.com

Cheetah cub and mother, Masai Mara, Kenya

By Marco Urso | www.tpoty.com

Altai Mountains, Mongolia

By Tariq Sawyer | www.tpoty.com

Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India

By Roberto Nistri | www.tpoty.com

Lionesses hunting, Chief’s Island, Botswana

By Ed Hetherington | www.tpoty.com

A spear gypsy spear-fishing in the Andaman Sea

 By Cat Vinton | www.tpoty.com

Amazon rainforest, Brazil

By David Lazar | www.tpoty.com

Camel racing, north of Wahiba Sands, Oman

 By Jason Edwards | www.tpoty.com

Kolkata Skateboarding Club, Kolkata, India

By Gavin Gough | www.tpoty.com

A grain seller, Jaipur, India

 By Merissa Quek | www.tpoty.com

Pokot tribe, Amaya village, East Pokot, Kenya

 By Roberto Nistri | www.tpoty.com

The Flatiron building, New York City, USA

 By Tom Pepper | www.tpoty.com

Masai Mara, Kenya

 By David Lazar | www.tpoty.com

Stand in the middle of Moscow’s Red Square and in a 360-degree turn, the turbulent past and present of Russia is encapsulated in one fell swoop: flagships of Orthodox Christianity, Tsarist autocracy, communist dictatorship and rampant consumerism confront each other before your eyes.

Red Square, is, well, red-ish, but its name actually derives from an old Russian word for “beautiful”. It might no longer be undeniably so – its sometimes bloody history has put paid to that – but it continues to be Moscow’s main draw. In summer, postcard sellers jostle with photographers, keen to capture your image in front of one of the many iconic buildings; but in winter, you step back in time a few decades as Muscovites, in their ubiquitous shapki fur hats, negotiate their way through piles of snow, while the factory chimneys behind St Basil’s Cathedral churn out copious amounts of
smoke.

It’s hard to avoid being drawn immediately to St Basil’s, its magnificent Mr Whippy domes the fitting final resting place of the eponymous holy fool. Should retail, rather than spiritual, therapy, be more your bag, try GUM, the elegant nineteenth-century shopping arcade, which now houses mainly western boutiques, way out of the pocket of the average Russian, but very decent for a spot of window-shopping or a coffee, or just to shelter from the elements outside. If you think that the presence of Versace and other beacons of capitalism would have Lenin spinning in his grave, you can check for yourself at the mausoleum opposite, where his wax-like torso still lies in state. Despite the overthrow of communism, surly guards are on hand to ensure proper respect is shown: no cameras or bags, no hands in pockets and certainly no laughing. Putin’s police officers are never far away, casting a wary eye over it all – perhaps having learned a thing or two from Lenin’s bedfellows and disciples (including Uncle Joe), who are lined up behind the mausoleum under the imposing walls of the Kremlin.

Red Square can be reached from Ploshchad Revolyutsii, Aleksandrovskiy Sad, Biblioteka Imeni Lenina and Borovitskaya metros.

 

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The Beira Baixa is a land of burning plains and granite visions, isolated in one of the most remote corners of Western Europe, where the Spanish border blurs under a broiling sun. Here, if you search hard enough, you’ll find at least two of the most startling medieval villages in Europe: Monsanto – Mon Sanctus in Latin – is truly a sacred hill; you can feel it in the air, in the very fabric of its ancient houses and the long life of its inhabitants. Even as you drive past the cork trees below its flanks, their valuable bark sliced away to reveal an ochre core, this mini-citadel grips the imagination and quickens the blood.

It is a village built into the earth, not on it: the famous Casa de Uma Só Telha – the house with only one tile – boasts a roof consisting of a single slab of granite. No surprise that its flower-buttoned facades once won it the title “most Portuguese village”, or that mystery and superstition permeate the draughts of warm air rising from the rocks in the relative cool of evening.

A few octogenarian villagers still sell marafonas, rag dolls traditionally hung over doorways to “scare thunder storms, sorcery and the fox”. While you’re unlikely to come across many foxes, far less sorcery, you might just hear the high, ululating strangeness of one of these old women accompanying herself on the adufe, a square, tambourine-like percussion instrument of Moorish origin, once common in Alentejo and Trás-os-Montes yet now largely confined to the Beira Baixa; or be regaled by toothless men old enough to remember their fathers holding off Vatua hordes in Mozambique.

Had the “most Portuguese village” competition not been scrapped after envious howls of protest, it would surely, sooner or later, have been scooped by Sortelha, some 35km to the north. A walled horseshoe of ancient history on a 45-degree angle, it’s the kind of place that sends your brain spinning: silent, sleeping streets and Vesuvian hulks of stone piling down upon garden, upon pantiled roof, upon carved stairwell; a film set waiting to happen. At its apex sits Bar Campanario, a tiny stone hostelry hiding one of the world’s most atmospheric terraces, its infinite views wheeling endlessly across the primordial plain-scape beyond, and only ghosts for company.

The Beira Baixa region lies more or less equidistant between Coimbra and the Spanish town of Cáceres. Monsanto is accessible via (infrequent) bus from the regional hub of Castelo Branco, Sortelha via a €12–15 taxi ride from nearby Sabugal.

 

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Stretching north to south for 4270km and only 64km wide at its narrowest point, this land of ice and fire, periodically shaken by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, is one of the most geographically diverse on earth.

Most travellers fly into the capital of Santiago, roughly in the middle of the country, and head either towards the fjords, forests and mountains of the south, or the beaches, stargazing observatories and deserts of the north. To help structure your trip, here is our first-timer’s guide for things to do in Chile (see our map of these top sights here).

Around Santiago

The mountains around Santiago and Chillán, further south, in the foothills of the Andes, are prime skiing spots. Just an hour from the capital, you can ride the funiculars up the many hills of the historic port city of Valparaíso, or visit the excellent wineries of the Maipo and Casablanca valleys.

Northern Chile and the Atacama Desert

North of Santiago, the arid Elqui Valley is the place to sample pisco (Chilean brandy) and gaze at the stars through powerful telescopes at the Cerro Mamalluca observatory – one of the most unforgettable things to do in Chile.

The Humboldt Current that keeps Chilean waters frigid provides an ideal environment for penguins at its namesake coastal reserve just off the mainland north of La Serena, and even further north, the teal-coloured waters of Bahía Inglesa could fool you into thinking that you’re in the Mediterranean.

The Nevado Tres Cruces National Park, reachable from the mining town of Copiapó, boasts Chile’s highest peak, Ojos del Salado (6893m) and the electric blue of high-altitude lagoons – Verde and Santa Rosa attract flocks of flamingos and roaming herds of guanacos and vicuñas.

The adobe village of San Pedro de Atacama, at the heart of Chile’s vast northern desert, is the jumping-off spot for sand-boarding down dunes and visiting the otherworldly crimson landscapes of the Valley of the Moon, the Atacama salt flat, aquamarine high-altitude lagoons, and the El Tatio geysers with natural hot springs. Atacama’s clear skies also make the desert an ideal location for the world’s most powerful telescopes.

Heading north from there, seaside Iquique is one of South America’s top paragliding destinations; you run off the giant sand dune that backs the city.

From Iquique, the scenic route to the border town of Arica takes you past the Giant of Atacama petroglyph, the picture-perfect adobe church of Isluga, the vast dirty-white Surire salt flat – home to three flamingo species – and through the elevated Lauca National Park – all green meadows, snow-tipped volcanoes and peacefully grazing alpacas and vicuñas. Arica’s biggest attraction, the ancient Chinchorro mummies – some of the world’s oldest examples of artificially mummified remains – are found in a museum in the nearby Azapa valley.

The Lake District & Chiloe

Heading south of Santiago, you see the smoking snow-tipped cap of the Villarica volcano long before you arrive in Pucón – the Lake District’s activity centre for hiking, biking, rafting, horse-riding and the challenge of the all-day volcano climb. More technical climbs await on the volacnoes in Puerto Varas, further south – a supremely picturesque spot on the shores of Lago Llanquíhue.

The Río Petrohué attracts rafters and kayakers, and the Lake District’s flat, deserted roads, snaking around a profusion of crystalline lakes and waterfalls, is a paradise for cyclists.

A short ferry hop across the channel from Puerto Montt takes you to South America’s second largest island: fog-shrouded Chiloé. Its biggest draws are the tiny villages, each sporting a unique wooden church; two wild national parks – Parque Nacional Chiloé and Pargué Tantauco – and birdwatching while kayaking at dawn in the sunken forest of Chepu Valley; or else checking out Magellanic and Humboldt penguins off the Puñihuil coast.

Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

South of the Lake District, northern Patagonia is a lush, untamed mass of forest, rivers, fjords and mountains, bisected by the infamous Carretera Austral (Southern Highway). At its north end is Pumalín Park, a virgin protected area; the southern half is good for hiking, whereas the north is only reachable by private boat. South of the park is Chaitén, a town half-destroyed by the volcanic eruption in 2008; from here a road leads east to Futaleufú, South America’s most challenging white-water rafting destination.

The potholed dirt-and-gravel Carretera Austral is Chile’s biggest driving challenge. The road cuts through spectacular mountainous landscape before terminating by the glacial waters of the vast Lake O’Higgins, passing the unique boardwalk village of Caleta Tortel along the way. From Villa O’Higgins, the end of the line, there is a spectacular hike to Argentina’s El Chaltén that involves two river crossings.

Southern Patagonia – a land of vaqueros, mountains and huge swathes of scrubland, dotted with roaming guanacos and ñandú (ostriches), has two main towns: historic Punta Arenas, and the smaller Puerto Natales – gateway town to the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park. Natales is where hikers and climbers gather before and after their assault on the distinctive bell-shaped mountains, rock towers, glacial lakes and backcountry trails of Chile’s most popular natural attraction.

Across the stormy Magellan Strait, and south of Tierra del Fuego – South America’s largest island and Chile’s southernmost settlement – is Navarino Island. Tiny Puerto Williams, a remarkably warm and hospitable community of king crab fishermen, nestles at the foot of the bare Dientes de Navarino mountain circuit. This is the continent’s most challenging multi-day hike, and the best place to organise yachting adventures to the ships’ graveyard of Cape Horn.Flying here gives you unparalleled views of the jagged southern Andes, while the a weekly ferry to Punta Arenas provides a close-up look at the most pristine of Chile’s fjords, where you’re likely to spot dolphins, penguins and the occasional whale.

The island territories

The country’s most far-flung territories include Easter Island, far out in the Pacific Ocean, home to a now extinct civilisation and the world-famous moai (stone statues). Closer to home is the Juan Fernández archipelago consisting of tiny islands; the main one, Robinson Crusoe Island, is famous for the castaway who inspired the eponymous novel. Inhabited by a couple dozen lobster-fishing families, it boasts incredible topography and endemic wildlife species such as the firecrown hummingbird.

Getting around

Getting around Chile, from the far north down to the Lake District, is straightforward. There are two major bus companies: Tur Bus and Pullman, both of which run fleets of comfortable buses. You can choose between cama (bed), semi-cama (reclining seats) and regular seats. Fairly frequent minibuses ply the Carretera Austral, connecting the main town of Coyhaique with Chaiten and Futaleufú up north and as far south as Villa O’Higgins.

To reach Patagonia, you either have to take a bus via Argentina from either Pucón or Futaleufú, take the scenic four-day Navimag ferry cruise south through the fjords, or fly.

Travel in the Lake District, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego may also involve ferries. LAN and Sky Airline cover all major cities in Chile between them, flight-wise, though to reach Robinson Crusoe Island you’ll need to hop in a tiny six-seater Cessna from Santiago.

During the colder months, bus, plane and ferry services in the south are greatly reduced, whereas transport in the northern half of the country is generally unaffected. Inaccessible by public transport, the national parks of northern Chile are easiest done as part of an organised tour.

If you want to explore more of this small but exciting country, buy the Rough Guide to Chile. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. You can see the author’s photographs of her trip in Chile here.

Poland’s oldest football team, Cracovia Kraków, serves as a metaphor for the multicultural history of the city. During the interwar years, Cracovia was nicknamed the “Yids” because significant members of Kraków’s Jewish community were on both the terraces and the team sheet. It also happened to be the favourite team of local boy Karol Wojtyła, who would later become Pope John Paul II.

Before World War II, many of Cracovia’s supporters came from Kazimierz, the inner-city suburb where Poles and Jews had lived cheek-by-jowl for centuries. Most of Kazimierz’s Jews perished in the nearby camps of Płaszów and Auschwitz, but their synagogues and tenement houses remain, providing a walk-round history lesson in Jewish heritage and culture. Kazimierz’s complex identity is underlined by the presence of some of Kraków’s most revered medieval churches. In May the suburb’s narrow streets swell with the solemn, banner-bearing Corpus Christi processions that are among the best-attended events in the Polish Catholic calendar.

Today Kazimierz’s Jewish population is a tiny fraction of what it was in the 1930s, but the district retains a vibrant melting-pot atmosphere – thanks in large part to its varied population of working-class Poles, impoverished artists and inner-city yuppies. The most dramatic change of recent years has been its reinvention as a bohemian nightlife district, full of zanily decorated cellar bars, pubs that look like antique shops and cafés that double as art galleries. With the area’s non-conformist, anything-goes atmosphere drawing increasing numbers of the open-minded, tolerant and curious, Kazimierz is emerging once more as a unique incubator of cultural exchange.

The tourist information office is at ul. Jozefa 7 (www.krakow.pl). The Cracovia stadium lies west of the town centre on al. Focha.

 

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The former French Concession in Puxi, Shanghai, is one of the city’s most beautiful areas. With many streets shrouded by overhanging trees it can seem like a world away from the manic bustle that characterizes rest of the place and its 22 million inhabitants.

Established in 1849 and handed over in 1943, many of the original French-style buildings survive, making the area a relaxing place for a breezy walk in the daytime. It has also become a fantastic nightspot, with some of the best bars in Shanghai offering more underground alternatives to the flashy riverside venues on the Bund or the enormous super-clubs.

You could spend a month exploring the bars in just this area, but in our Shanghai nightlife guide, we’ve chosen the top ten places you shouldn’t miss.

The Shelter

As far as nightclubs go The Shelter is somewhat unique, being based on the site of a disused bomb shelter (hence the name). It’s underground by nature as well as in the literal sense, having garnered a reputation strong enough to attract some of the global dance music scene’s most credible cult acts. The drinks are cheap, it’s always rammed at weekends and it’s open until the sun comes up, making it a must-visit location for night owls.

Address: 5 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu

Arcade

This small upstairs bar gets its name and vague decor theme from the retro video game emulator customers can play in the bar for free. But this is no nerd-fest: local hipsters flock to Arcade for its reasonably priced cocktails and air of relaxed cool (as well as its invariably pounding dance music), making it the perfect pre-club drinking haven.

Address: Second Floor, 57 Fuxing Xi Lu, near Yongfu Lu

Senator Saloon

The Senator is Shanghai’s answer to the American speakeasy bar. Head barman David Schroeder, an ex-US cop, has gained a reputation as making some of the finest cocktails in the area – his Old Fashioned will blow the ears off the side of your head. Despite the fine cocktails the place has become so popular with young locals that most nights it resembles an enjoyably raucous and friendly pub.

Address: 98 Wuyuan Lu, near Wulumuqi Zhong Lu 

The Chalet

There aren’t many frills to be found at The Chalet – a relaxed boozer loosely based on the decor of a Swiss mountain cottage. It feels more like a fun British bar though, with surprisingly good pub grub on offer, indie rock on the stereo and a fun mix of locals and expats getting drunk. Go there on a Tuesday night for the “happy hour” that runs until 3am, closing with most drinks around half price. The crowds it attracts make it feel like a Saturday.

Address: 385 Yongjia Lu, near Taiyuan Lu

DADA

Every city should have a DADA (in fact Beijing does – albeit a slightly more upscale branch). It’s a small, sticky-floored dive: there’s no cover charge and barely any security and never any queues despite the place always being busy at weekends. This all makes it the perfect location for after-hours debauchery. The music tends to be underground house, there’s table football, and you’ll only spend 25RMB (£2.50) for a bottle of Tiger beer. If you’re staying in the area, you’ll find yourself at DADA again and again – usually from about 2.30am.

Address: 115 Xingfu Lu, near Fahuazhen Lu

Arkham

Helmed by the same owners as Arcade, Arkham is a medium-sized nightclub that borrows some of the same underground cool as The Shelter (being similarly subterranean) but in a much wider open space, making it more of a “hands-in-the-air” experience. Charmingly named promoters S.T.D. attract good international DJ names and an increasing amount of live bands, so check local listings sites to find out who’s appearing.

Address: 1 Wulumuqi Nan Lu, near Hengshan Lu

Tattoo Family

This place has got to be one of the most unusual bars in Shanghai: a working tattoo parlour that had a top-notch cocktail bar added to its downstairs area in October 2013. Harley Davidson motorcycles are often revved outside as the achingly hip local crowd sip great cocktails in the dingy but cool bar area, but there’s still an inclusive – you could even say “family” – vibe. The owner also promises not to tattoo you on the spot if you have a few too many drinks then demand an inking session, which is good of him.

Address: 260 Xiangyang Lu, near Yongkang Lu

El Coctel

There’s often a queue to get a seat in the swish and popular cocktail bar El Coctel, but it’s worth the wait. Some of the best cocktails in Puxi are on offer here, and at weekends it becomes one of the trendiest bars to people watch in as you sip creations such as the Spice Rum Treacle.

Address: Second Floor, 47 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu

The Retreat

This minute café/bar on leafy Gao’an Road is so intimate it’s impossible not to acquire new friends here. Being owned by a Brit as well as his Chinese girlfriend, Union Jack flag cushions abound, along with paintings of Oxfordshire scenery. It’s a great place in the week for a pre-meal drink or, if you end up there in the early hours during the weekend, perfect for toasting new friendships until dawn.

Address: 101 Gao’an Lu, near Zhaojiabang Lu

Explore more of Shanghai and this vast country with the Rough Guide to China, book hostels for your trip and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

You can’t go anywhere in India without seeing men and women sipping on small cups of steaming Indian tea. From strong, black pure teas to spice-infused masala chai, Heidi Fuller-Love went to discover the best of Indian tea.

The silhouettes of Fort Cochin’s giant Chinese fishing nets – as menacing as monsters from a Hollywood horror – sink into the pewter horizon behind us and soon we’re en route to Munnar. As the road climbs higher, the shade cast by mighty blue gums grows longer and a refreshing breeze flutters the bright orange petals of marigolds in wayside shrines. It’s easy to see why planter families came to this hill station to escape Kerala’s heat and dust during the steamy summer months.

I’m heading to Munnar, high in the UNESCO-listed Western Ghats, to learn more about India’s tea trade. Doped by the overseas image of the British as inveterate tea drinkers, I vaguely imagined that the famous leaf was first cultivated in the UK. It comes as a surprise to learn that tea was first grown by the Chinese and its consumption for medicinal purposes was widespread in India countless centuries before the first pot of Rosy Lea was ever brewed on British shores. In fact tea didn’t become popular in the UK until the mid-1800s after the British East India Company discovered tea bushes growing wild in Assam and decided to commercialise their finds.

I’m a fan of Earl Grey and I’ve sipped many a mug of PG Tips, so it’s a further blow to realise that I don’t even know what tea looks like. As we drive higher into the Ghats, chauffeur Shijo points out sloping fields planted with serried rows of bushes. Connected by a network of narrow passageways, these tea plantations look a bit like the maze at Hampton Court Palace, but lacking the surprise element because the tea bushes are only waist high.

As purple mist inks out the soft slopes of the Western Ghats that evening, we arrive at The Windermere Estate, a sprawling complex with gabled roofs, polished hardwood floors and hand-embroidered linen furnishings. A gloved butler leads me to the Planters Villa, a luxurious wooden-floored complex the size of three hotel rooms with incredible views of the tree-tousled hill ranges opposite. Sipping my pink gin on the terrace and watching the fan whiz above, it’s easy to imagine the privileged lives of the burra sahibs, the tea planters, who lived here during the British Raj.

The next morning we drive out of the estate past woolly rows of bushes where women in ruby, turquoise and emerald saris nimbly pluck the tea leaves, flicking them into net bags that hang from a band tied around their head. We stop to watch them and one giggling girl tries to teach me to snap the teashoots between thumb and forefinger, but gives up in despair when I repeatedly crush the tender twigs with my clumsy fingers.

With its gentle slopes and pretty copses, the Kannan Devan Hills area is known locally as “India’s Scotland”. Parked outside the Kannan Devan Plantation Museum I watch schoolgirls in white shirts and blue pleated skirts playing hopscotch – it’s like a scene of British life from fifty years ago. Later, inside the museum, I learn it has been tea plantation policy to provide schooling, housing and other facilities for plantation workers ever since the days of the Raj.

We’re taken on a guided tour, from noisy airless rooms where fresh leaves tumble on conveyor belts until they wither and oxidise, to light-filled rooms full of large drums where leaves are baked to stop the oxidation process according to the type and strength of tea required. Most of the tea here is black, but with increasing awareness of health benefits green tea is now produced in large quantities.

At the end of the hour-long visit we’re given different teas to taste. The barely-oxidised white tea is fresh and fruity, the partly-oxidised green tea has a herbal zing and the 100-percent-oxidised black tea is dark and treacly.

Back at The Windermere Estate that evening I head for the tea room, a luxuriously rustic hut surrounded by tea gardens and palm-sized cardamon fronds, where I’m treated to the estate’s tea ritual.

As dusk filters from blue to black and a silver slither of moon appears over the fuzzy-headed Ghats, waiters clad in coat-like sherwanis poke up charcoal on a long cooking range. When the charcoal glows brightly they hang samovars filled with spring water over the coals and throw in handfuls of tea leaves and sugar. Then, when the brew turns caramel brown, they add basil, ginger, milk and crushed cardamom, heating the aromatic blend until it boils.

Served with nuggets of deep fried vettu cake and avalose podi (coconut-flavoured rice snacks) the syrupy masala chai is rich and satisfying – and it sweetens the knowledge that tomorrow I’ll be back in steamy, summer-struck Cochin.

Time for tea tourism?

For more tea tourism in India, you can follow the Darjeeling tea trail from the Happy Valley Tea Estate, discover Assam’s rich brews on a tea tour with Greener Pastures, or get your fix of Tamil Nadu’s aromatic blends during the state’s colourful Tea Festival in Ooty.

You can explore more of India with the Rough Guide to India. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

As dawn breaks in India’s largest and noisiest city, there’s a hubbub on Chowpatty beach that sounds altogether stranger than the car horns, bus engines and tinny radios that provide the usual rush-hour soundtrack. Standing in a circle on the pale yellow sands of the beach, a group of men and women are twirling their arms in the air like portly birds trying to take off. Dressed in a mix of saris, t-shirts and punjabis, they take their cue from Kishore Kuvavala, a man with a smile as wide as the Ganges, and the leader of the Chowpatty Beach Laughter Yoga Club.

Invented by Indian doctor Madan Kataria in the mid-Nineties, laughter yoga now has thousands of devotees. Many sessions, such as Kuvavala’s, are free for anybody to join, providing newcomers don’t mind an early start. Propelled by the philosophy that laughter gives humans huge spiritual and medical benefits, the session is book-ended by prayer and breathing sessions, and its main objective couldn’t be simpler – to set your giggling, howling, chortling and smirking instincts free.

Kataria soon found out after starting his original group that simple joke-telling wasn’t enough – not least because his devotees ran out of gags. So these days, laughter yoga clubs rely on physical comedy: stirring an imaginary bowl of lassi, laughing at yourself in an imaginary mirror, pretending to be an aeroplane and doing a giant hokey-cokey are all part of the forty-five minute Chowpatty beach session, which ends with a huge call and response shout-a-thon. It’s hard to let yourself go, but look around at the hordes of men and women roaring without restraint and soon you’ll be producing laughter of a volume and tone that would get you thrown out of most bars.

It certainly seems to be working. Laughter yoga clubs have now sprung up across the USA and Europe. The smiles on the faces of our motley crew of policemen, pensioners, students and office workers as they leave for work tell their own story. As Kishore explains at the end of the giggle-fest. “No need for lie-ins – but every need for laughter!”

The Chowpatty beach laughter club meets every morning at 7am at the eastern end of Chowpatty beach in South Mumbai. For more information on Kishore Kuvavala, see www.essenceoflaughter.com.

 

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Pine forests, wild mushrooms and a sunrise above clouds: not what you might associate with Mexico, better known for beaches, colonial cities and Aztec ruins. The mountains of the Sierra Norte, two hours’ bus journey north of Oaxaca, are home to a cluster of villages, a semi-autonomous community known as “Pueblos Mancomunados” (meaning “united villages”), where you can stay in simple adobe cabañas called “tourist yu’u” (pronounced “you”). This tourist accommodation is a community business venture that has provided an alternative to logging and helped develop schools, roads and health posts in the region.

Here, at nearly 3000m altitude, it is cool but often sunny and, if abundant growth of lichen is proof, the air is exceptionally clean. After resting in a hammock, admiring the alpine scenery, you’ll probably want to head off for an adventure. A guide from one of the villages will lead you through dappled groves on mountain bikes, horses or on foot, across kilometres of trails through pine forests, villages and valleys up to rocky viewpoints. The flora and fauna ranges by altitude and includes several endangered mammals, such as jaguar, spider monkey and tapir. In summer, you can pick baskets of wild shiitake or cep mushrooms.

Afterwards, sweat it out in a herb-scented temazcal – a Mexican sauna – before heading off to a kitchen-café in a villager’s home. While donkeys bray and smoke curls into the crisp mountain air, you can tuck into soft tortillas, peppers stuffed with goat’s cheese and refried beans, all washed down with herb and orange-peel liqueur.

You can get to the Sierra Norte by bus from Oaxaca City (2hr). For details of excursions  and rates see www.sierranorte.org; +52 951 514 8271. Cabañas sleep up to two adults and two children.

 

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