Described in glowing prose by Irish author Dervla Murphy in her book On a Shoestring to Coorg: An Experience of Southern India (1976), the Indian district of Coorg is still almost the sole preserve of domestic tourists. Dubbed by the British as 'the Scotland of India', this lush, hilly, coffee-growing region in the Western Ghats of Karnataka state has two things that could put off overseas visitors. One is its relative remoteness. Coorg (sometimes known as Kodagu) is the only district in India with no railway lines, and the nearest airport is Bangalore, 250km away. The other is a lack of good accommodation. The major places in the largest town, Madikeri, are the Hotel Crystal Court (www.hilldale resorts.com) and the Hotel Coorg International (www.nivalink.com/coorg) - both uninspiring concrete boxes with poor facilities (unless you like playing table tennis) and furnishings reminiscent of developing world airport hotels of the 1970s.
But the situation looks as though it's about to change with Tata Coffee, the major business in the region, announcing plans to convert bungalows on its plantations into tourist accommodation. Coffee has been grown in the region since the mid-19th century and is planted among orange trees, pepper vines and cardamom. From Bangalore it is a half-day's drive by car, and the scenery along the way is mostly attractive. Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines all fly to Bangalore daily from Hong Kong via their home airports. You can find out more at ww.karnataka.com/tourism/coorg. On a Shoestring to Coorg: An Experience of Southern India is available online from paddyfield.com for $105.
Last month we mentioned audio postcards (www.audiopostcard.net), a service whereby tourists can alienate friends and family at home by sending pre-recorded messages to their mobile phones. Another new, more recipient-friendly take on the traditional postcard comes from British company Shot2Go. Take a holiday photo, slip it into a clear-fronted plastic wallet, write the address on the back, add a stamp and post. Packs of six are available online at www.shot2go.com for #2.99 ($40) each, plus shipping.
Big Apple bites
Continental Airlines is selling round-trip, economy-class tickets to New York City for $7,200, valid for departure until the end of this month. This compares favourably with Cathay Pacific's online price of $9,700 (at the time of writing) for the same period. Also available from Continental for travel from September 8 to December 14 are round-trip tickets to Toronto for $6,600 with an option to connect to many United States' east coast and midwest destinations for an extra $1,600. Bear in mind that Continental charges economy-class passengers US$5 for all alcoholic beverages, even cans of beer (right up there with the average five-star hotel minibar) and consumption of one's own supply is mysteriously 'illegal', so don't forget to take dollars for the long haul. For reservations and tickets call Continental on 3198 5777.
As part of its multi-million-dollar renovation and re-launch, the Oriental Singapore (below; www.mandarinoriental.com) is offering an Oriental Indulgence Package, with the emphasis on indulgence. For S$3,999 ($18,700) a person a night (plus a total of 16 per cent in various taxes and service charges), extravagant guests will receive the following: accommodation in the Oriental Suite, a round-the-clock private limousine, a personal butler, personalised in-room menus prepared by the executive chef and sommelier, a Romance Spa package, a personalised tour of Singapore, S$500 dining credit at all hotel restaurants, personal golfing arrangements, theatre tickets and breakfast. Before you crack open the piggy bank, however, it should be added that this package also has a minimum three-night requirement, so couples are looking at about $112,000 before tax for the whole deal. If you're still reading this, bookings can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When in Rome
The Italian Association for Public Bathing, apparently an organisation with some clout regarding coastline conduct, has issued a set of 10 rules listing what local and foreign tourists can do while visiting the country's beaches. Women can still go topless, but must be lying down at all times. They must cover up while playing beach volleyball, swimming and walking. Alcohol is also now banned, as is, presumably for reasons aesthetic, hanging wet clothing on beach umbrellas. Mobile-phone users who talk too loudly will be told to switch off their phones and there is no changing into swimwear under beach towels. 'People feel entitled to do whatever they want, just because they've put on a bathing suit,' said association president Riccardo Scarselli when the new regulations were announced.
Deal of the week
From August 27, $3,390 will take you to Tokyo and back with Cathay Pacific and buy you two nights' accommodation (without breakfast). The hotel at this price is the austere-looking Princess Garden (www.princess-garden.co.jp). Several notches up is the Hotel East 21 (www.hotel-east21.co.jp), which is available for $4,150 with breakfast. The Westin (www.westin-tokyo.co.jp) is available (without breakfast) at $5,250, but the best of the bunch is the Park Hyatt (below and left; tokyo.park.hyatt.com), which is going for $6,650 with breakfast. As usual with Tokyo holiday packages, airport transfers are not included. For details call Swire Travel on 3151 8833, or e-mail email@example.com.