Thursday, 7 February 2013

Visit Britain… a golden legacy – part one (in and around Southampton)

I belong to India – a country which is very rich in terms of culture, heritage, values and traditions. The country is marked by vivid and diverse cultures and lifestyle – the states of Kashmir and Himachal up north flanked by the majestic Himalayas are distinct and quite different from the states of Delhi and Punjab in the plains. The old and rustic charm of Rajasthan and Gujarat in the west with sand dunes, salt pans and earthy colours are cataclysmically opposite to the ethnicity of Bengal in the east. A visit to the Southern states of Karnataka and Kerala opens your horizons to a different world altogether with the smell of spices and greenery of the tea gardens. Yet, there is unity in diversity which spellbinds a tourist on a visit to this magical country. Being an avid travel enthusiast, I can claim to have travelled far and wide in my country. However, something which has really amazed me each and every time I did put on my travel shoes and set off is the reflection of a glorious past. The states do retain their original charm to their fullest; however also reflect the memoirs of the colonial rule. One can find remnants of Persian era, the Mughal era and the two-decade long British rule. You can find traces of French rule in Pondicherry, a taste of Dutch power in parts of Kerala and Portuguese influence in Goa.

To say the least, the British influence on Indian architecture, lifestyle and culture is sort of everlasting. As a young student of History, I always wanted to visit Britain and find out the genesis of those historical names – Piccadilly, Ten Downing Street and Leicester Square – which have been a part of our lives for years. One of my prime agendas during my stay at Southampton whilst pursuing my Masters was to see all the places in Britain I always craved to visit. I made full use of those weekend trips and breaks after semester exams and visited quite a few places. Travel is by far the best form of education – the kind of exposure one gets is unparalleled and the experiences are worth a treasure. I personally feel that international students at the University should make every attempt to visit a few places whilst they are in UK.

One of the most enduring memories I have is of my visit to the historic city of Bath. It is around 63 miles from Southampton with an excellent connectivity by rail. The entire city takes you back in history to the Roman era. The Roman Baths have been well preserved and an audio tour explains its historical significance. For the spa lovers like me, you have Thermae Bath Spa, quite close to the Roman Baths where one can be a little self-indulgent and pamper oneself with a spa session. The Royal Crescent which overlooks Queen Victoria Park looks spectacular with its majestic and vast expanse. A day is just not enough to do justice to all that you have to see. I made a trip to the Bath Abbey Church and the Jane Austen Museum, my wife being an avid Jane Austen fan. The fact that this centuries-old heritage has been well preserved is really fascinating and worthy of applause. The city is a world Heritage site and a must see for all.

The Roman Baths

Posing outside the Jane Austen museum whilst my wife was engrossed inside

A stay in Southampton would be incomplete without a trip to Portsmouth. I have made at least half a dozen trips to Portsmouth, and shamelessly have to admit that most of these were shopping trips. Portsmouth is a great waterfront city and Gunwharf Quays provides multiple options for shopping with a large number of factory outlets with a year-round sale on. However, it is worth noting that Portsmouth is the birthplace of my most favourite authors of all time, Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling. Portsmouth also has a number of tourist attractions related to its rich maritime history. My biggest advice to all my fellow Uni mates would be to explore beyond Gunwharf Quays and Spinnaker Tower and visit Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard.

Gunwharf Quays - shop 'til you drop

Another place worth visiting would be Brighton towards the south east of the UK. Brighton is synonymous with its vast sea front and pebble beaches. There’s nothing like a drive to this city on a sunny day and that is exactly what I did in August last year when we suddenly decided to bask in the warm sun. The much sought-after Brighton Pier has a lot of exciting options to eat and to enjoy which can take up a whole day. The Royal Pavilion is worth a visit for its notable architecture and oriental interiors. However, all aside, the best part of my Brighton tour was a trip to Devil’s Dyke. A 45 minutes bus ride on Bus No. 77 takes you to a V shaped valley with spectacular views and magnificent beauty. If you ask me, I could spend a whole day just at Devil’s Dyke.

The magnificent Devil's Dyke

The Royal Pavilion - in all its splendour

So my list of three must-see places around Southampton would be Bath, Portsmouth and Brighton. I have not included places like Winchester, Bournemouth and the New Forest, which are also great places to see and visit, but you’ll see that Joanne has talked about these in a previous post.

I hope my fellow students had a great innings at their exams and are looking forward to yet another eventful term. And yes, if you need to unwind and recharge yourself, you know where to head to!


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