Sharm El-Sheikh, city of peace

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Updated 23 November 2012
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Sharm El-Sheikh, city of peace

Sharm El-Sheikh’s beautiful beaches and the desert activities make the city one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Middle East. Many hotels offer reasonable packages for groups and families who are looking for a new adventure.
The city is situated on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, overlooking the Red Sea. Sharm El-Sheikh is called the “city of peace”, referring to the large number of international peace conferences that have been held here.
Sharm El-Sheikh offers a dramatic mountain backdrop and stretches of golden beaches on outstanding waters. It has an international reputation as the most extraordinary diving destination in the Red Sea. Scuba diving and snorkeling is always a rewarding experience here, thanks to the crystal clear water, magnificent corals, exotic underwater flora and rare tropical fish.
The list of things to do at the seashore also includes parasailing. Take a jet boat and head for the open water while you are suspended from a parachute. If heights are not your thing, take a glass-bottom boat to see the Rea Sea underwater life. Beach explorers may enjoy windsurfing, kite surfing, boating, canoeing or simply lying by the beach and getting a suntan.
Ras Mohammed, about 20km south of Sharm El-Sheikh, is a must-see national park of South Sinai, located on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. It has famous dive sites in the Red Sea, with 800-meter deep reef walls and coral gardens. The quantity and variety of sea life are exceptional and put this diving spot among the best around the world.
For those who are looking for land activities, Sharm El-Sheikh provides many, such as biking, hiking, horseriding or simply driving to the Sinai desert and go camel trekking. One can go on a camel ride to the Bedouin tents and enjoy a real Bedouin dinner with them under the desert stars, away from the noise of the city.
Take a camel ride to the Moses Mountain and follow the footsteps of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) when he climbed Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments from Allah. The climbing requires an individual to be in moderate shape. It takes about three hours to climb the 2,285-meter peak following the path of Moses, via a stairway of nearly 4,000 steps.
Some companies offer a package deal that includes exploring the desert on a quad bike or buggy and enjoying a cooked meal by the Sinai Bedouins. You could also just drink Egyptian tea and smoke shisha in one of the tents built especially to welcome tourists who are looking to experience the real Bedouin life in the desert and get a chance to see the sunset from the top of the mountain.
Millions of years ago, the sea covered Sinai. This left a brilliant legacy upon the landscape of the colored canyon, close to the coastal town of Nuweiba. The walls of the canyon reach up to 16 stories. One can easily say it is the most colorful and intriguing rock formation in all of Sinai.
The canyon mouth is accessible by car; it is perfect for a short hike of about 700 meters. As one ventures into the canyon, the walls narrow width to just a few feet in some places, which gives the place a secretive atmosphere. This canyon is most commonly compared to the Jordanian city of Petra, even though the canyon was not man-made.
The Pharaoh’s Island is also a must-visit. It lies just a few kilometers south of Taba, at the very top of the Gulf of Aqaba and just a few hundred meters from the coast. The island is one of the most blatantly picturesque spots in the entire gulf. Many boat trips take tourists to this location.
The Pharaonic Water Park, Cleo Park, is located in Na’ama Bay and it is the first themed water park in Sharm El-Sheikh. It is the perfect place for thrills seekers and water enthusiasts: it offers Cleopatra baths, Nile adventure river rides, Nile spring cruise, a young pharos oasis and slides.
For some fun at night, one can go to Na’ama Bay, by far the busiest place in Sharm El-Sheikh. It is open during daytime but it comes alive at almost midnight. Many say it is the heart of Sharm El-Sheikh, as everyone meets here after a long day at the beach. Na’ama Bay’s open-air area offers a huge number of local and international restaurants that are open until after midnight. Coffee shops offer live local music and shisha. Souvenir shopping can get quite hectic here, when friendly Egyptian sellers are trying to make a profit.
For a more modern and less chaotic night out, go to Soho Square. It offers complete entertainment for the whole family. The ice rink, bowling alley and kids’ arcade are perfect for the young ones to enjoy while parents can smoke shisha and have dinner.
Soho Square offers the best selection of restaurants from Japanese, Thai, Cantonese, Italian and Indian to Egyptian and many open-air coffee shops that offer shisha. There are also a few shops selling souvenirs and clothing.
II Mercato is another shopping destination in Sharm El-Sheikh. It is the open-air version of Dubai’s II Mercato and designed by the same architect. Apart from many restaurants and shisha cafes, it is a child-friendly place with open parks and game rooms. The shops filled with local and international brands and of course many souvenirs provide great presents for friends and family that weren’t so lucky to visit Sharm El-Sheikh yet.

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Sensational Sikkim: Exploring the unspoiled wilderness from Chumbi Mountain Resort

The Chumbi Mountain Resort. (Supplied)
Updated 15 January 2019
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Sensational Sikkim: Exploring the unspoiled wilderness from Chumbi Mountain Resort

  • Chumbi Mountain Retreat is located in India, in the northeastern state of Sikkim
  • The retreat is both a luxury resort and a repository of traditional culture and craft

DUBAI: At the ungodly hour of 6 a.m., I was awoken by a phone call from reception. “Madam, we have a really clear view of Kanchenjunga mountain this morning, so Mr. Chopel has asked us to wake you, so you can see it,” said a disembodied voice, apologetically but with a sense of urgency.

I smiled and flung open the curtains, and there it was. The majestic Himalayan mountain — the world’s third-highest — looked like it was right outside my bedroom window, within touching distance. Clustered with its neighboring snow-clad peaks, it sparkled a bright white, against the impossibly blue skies.

General view of Kanchenjunga mountain.(Shutterstock)

That’s the kind of thing that you don’t mind dragging yourself out of bed — and barefoot onto the cold stone terrace — for; to capture that perfect photo before the fleeting view disappears behind a veil of clouds.

And it’s the kind of personal touch that makes the Chumbi Mountain Retreat special. Owner Ugyen Chopel (a filmmaker and prominent local personality) has made it is his mission to showcase this little-known corner of paradise to the world.

The retreat is situated in India, near the Himalayas in the northeastern state of Sikkim — the country’s second smallest and one of its youngest, having remained a Buddhist monarchy until as recently as 1975. Sikkim has a rich and unique heritage, as well as the more recent distinction of being India’s first fully organic (in terms of agriculture) state.

Nestled in the hills of Pelling in western Sikkim, Chumbi Mountain Retreat is both a luxury resort and a repository of traditional culture and crafts. The traditional monastic design and motifs recreated using natural materials such as local stone and wood, in an artisanal approach, and the many hand-picked historic artifacts used in the décor make staying in this serene hideaway an immersive experience.

Nowhere is this truer than at Dyenkhang, an intimate specialty restaurant offering authentic local cuisine in the traditions of the royal palace. It’s the only place in Sikkim offering this kind of meal, I was told.

The food is served in a traditionally reverential manner — the servers are meant to never show their back to the diner — on gleaming copper tableware, the fit-for-a-king feast includes phing zekar (glass noodles with marinated local greens); chu zhema (cottage cheese dumplings); gundtruk sadako (fermented greens tossed with onion and chilli); and phyasha saltum (chicken cooked in traditional herbs).

The fresh, organic produce ensures each dish bursts with flavor. But dinner here is as educational as it is delicious, providing an insight into the many influences that went into shaping Sikkimese culture and cuisine.

Another great way to experience that local culture is with a traditional ‘Dottho’ hot-stone bath in the resort’s zen-like Mhenlha Spa. An Al-fresco soak in a wooden tub with heated mineral stones added to the water together with local herbs makes for a healing, hugely relaxing experience — aided by a fermented rice drink which you are meant to sip throughout.

With its vantage point boasting panoramic views across the valley, and with numerous nooks and communal spaces to relax in, guests may be tempted to simply stay in the resort for the duration of their trip. But that would be a shame, as there is a great deal more to see in this unspoiled region.

From the scenic Khecheopalri Lake (which, local folklore has it, has the power to grant wishes) and the impressive perennial Kanchenjunga waterfall, to the sacred Pemayangtse monastery — a mountaintop Buddhist temple where fluttering prayer flags and meditative chanting create a rarified atmosphere of tranquility — excursion options abound. For the more adventurous, trekking and hiking trails are also available nearby, as are farm tours.

Kanchenjunga waterfall. (Shutterstock)

Truth be told, this isn’t the easiest place to get to or around — the roads aren’t great and Sikkim’s overall infrastructure is still developing. But those making the effort to visit this remote land will be rewarded with stunning alpine landscapes, great hospitality from unaffected, friendly people, and an inescapable sense of spiritual wellbeing. And, who knows, maybe even an elusive sighting of some of the world’s greatest mountain peaks.