Various literary events will no doubt be taking place this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Boris Pasternak's sweeping Russian epic Doctor Zhivago, but one travel company has put together a two-week tour devoted to the book. Beginning in Moscow and ending in Beijing, it kicks off with a couple of days of walking tours around the Russian capital, taking in various sites mentioned in the novel before heading across the Urals to the city of Perm, known in Doctor Zhivago as Yuryatin. Attractions there include Russia's only Soviet-era gulag open to visitors. The last few days of the trip are spent on the Trans-Siberian Railway, cutting through Manchuria, which is the final reference point for readers. (Don't expect to find any movie settings on the tour because David Lean's location shooting for his 1965 film took place mostly in Spain and Finland.)
The package is being operated by The Russia Experience, a British outfit that specialises in Trans-Siberian rail travel, but Hong Kong travellers can arrange to meet their representatives in Moscow, join the tour there and head home from Beijing. Prices for the 13-day trip start at #899 (HK$13,850) each for three or more people, #999 each for two and #1,095 for solo travellers. Departure dates are pencilled in every week for the rest of this year. For further information and reservations, visit www.trans-siberian.co.uk.
Luxury in the Indian Himalayas, or at least the foothills, is on offer from Oberoi Hotels and Resorts in the shape of its Oberoi Himalayan Adventure. It includes four nights' accommodation at Wildflower Hall, a former residence Lord Kitchener (the British diplomat, not the calypso singer) set in nine hectares of forest outside Shimla, in Himachal Pradesh. The adventure part of the trip includes a three-hour white-water rafting trip with picnic, and a one-hour mountain-biking trip or three-hour nature hike. Less adventurous diversions are a 60-minute spa treatment, daily yoga and meditation sessions and complimentary use of the resort's indoor swimming pool, health club and sauna.
Available until the end of June, the price for all this is US$1,400 for two people sharing a room, or US$1,200 for single travellers. Flights into Shimla from Delhi operate every other day, or daily to Chandigarh, from where you can take the scenic but cramped narrow-gauge train up through 103 tunnels to Shimla, which stands at about 2,130 metres above sea level. For more details and bookings, visit www.oberoihotels.com then click on Special Offers.
The hippie trail
Back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, overland bus trips between London and Australia along the so-called Hippie Trail were all the rage. Then they seemed to fizzle out as Middle Eastern strife made the crossing of Iran less feasible and an unpopular proposition, even for beard-stroking backpackers. Now a new company, Ozbus, is resurrecting the old route with a 12-week bus journey that starts in London and ends in Sydney, crossing Europe, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Myanmar and Southeast Asia. The first bus is scheduled to leave London on September 16 and arrive in Sydney on December 9, but seats (there are 36) are going fast. The ticket price is a substantial #3,750 (HK$57,500), but this includes most meals and accommodation (although this will be camping for the most part). A full itinerary, practical information and FAQs can be found at www.oz-bus.com. Probably worth a read before committing to a trip like this is Rory MacLean's Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India, which is filled with anecdotes and memories and is a modern retracing of that classic route. The book is available at amazon.co.uk for about HK$170.
Destination Air Shuttle, a Phuket-based seaplane operator, finally became airborne last week after several months' delay. The service provides scheduled flights off the island every two hours to places such as Phi Phi Island, Ranong, Krabi and Koh Lanta. Sightseeing and snorkelling trips will also be available. Ticket prices had not been posted on the company website at time of writing but last summer, when Destination Air Shuttle was first scheduled to take off, round-trip flights were listed as starting from about 10,000 baht (HK$2,200), with sightseeing trips costing about the same. See www.destinationair.com for further information and online ticket sales.
Passage through India
Gray Line Worldwide, the world's biggest sightseeing firm, has begun operations in India, providing luxury coach tours in Delhi, Mumbai (right), Bangalore and Chennai. Gray Line, which was started in the US capital, Washington, in 1910 with one driver and a converted Mack Truck, plans to operate in another 30 locations across the country by the summer. This will be seen as a welcome development by many, with vehicular travel in Indian cities daunting at the best of times, and traffic jams and all-too-inevitable beggars taking the edge off the government's swanky Incredible India sales pitch. Still, lording it over the street-level poverty from an air-conditioned luxury coach won't be to everyone's taste. For a list of tours, see the Destinations section at www.grayline.com.
Deal of the week
Hiroshima doesn't often pop up on the package radar, but Westminster Travel is selling two nights in the city from HK$3,250 a person, twin-share. Accommodation is at the Prince Hotel (www.
princehotelsjapan.com), or you can choose from the ANA Hotel (www.anahotels.com) for HK$3,590 or the Hotel Granvia (www.hgh.co.jp) for HK$3,650. Flights are with China Airlines via Taipei and a stopover there is allowed on the return journey. Prices will be available until the end of March, except from February 12 to 20. For an overview of Hiroshima's attractions, see www.apike.ca/japan_
hiroshima.html, and for details and reservations contact Westminster Travel on 2313 9800, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, quoting reference number 5621.