Crimea: Steeped in history, immensely popular resorttext_fields
Yalta (Crimea): It's a land that's seen the Charge of the Light Brigade. It's where the Big Three Met at the height of World War II to decide on the final contours of the conflict. It's also been in the news for all the wrong reasons, but that hasn't kept the tourists away from what was once the preferred retreat of the Russian Tsars.
By September 2016, Crimea, annexed two years ago by Russia after a referendum termed dodgy by the Western world, recorded over four million foreign arrivals, 24.9 per cent more than last year. In 2013, National Geographic rated it one of the best trips of the year.
With its pebbled Black Sea beaches to mountain trails, Crimea is a popular health retreat. Not surprising because during the Soviet era, the mansions of the elite during the time of the Tsars were converted into sanatoriums.
But then, Crimea could also be living in a time warp. Despite the language barrier, you might be asked if you are an Indian. "Raj Kapoor" is what you are likely to get in response.
The group of Indian journalists I was with was of course greeted with much enthusiasm here.
"Mera Juta Hai Japani", and "Awara hoon main" might have been forgotten in India, but not here.
In Koktebel, coming back from a cruise on the Black sea, a shop owner winding down for the season was happy to have us Indians visiting his city, invited us to a party and even gave parting gifts.
In Yalta, where Anton Chekhov wrote his "Lady With The Dog" short story, his statue, along with the lady and her dog, catch the eye as one walks along the promenade by the Black Sea.
Chekhov's house here, named White Dacha, where he penned several of his famous works, is also well-preserved.
The promenade, with shops and restaurants lined on one side and the pebbled sea beach on the other, stays alive through the day with locals, shoppers, tourists, as well as performers.
As shops shut for the day and the calmness of the night takes over, the promenade remains alive with activities. And, as the crowd thins and restaurants and shops shut for the night, the promenade echoes with songs of love and rebellion -- and even politics.
The city is dotted with historical monuments worth visiting. These include a surprisingly small neo-castle atop a cliff called the Swallow's nest; the Livadia Palace, the last vacation home of Tsar Nicholas and also where the Yalta conference was held between US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin; and Vornotsov Palace, where Churchill and his delegation stayed during the conference.
The Vornotsov Palace was designed by British architect Edward Blore, who also designed London's Buckingham Palace. It was built between 1828 and 1848 for Russian Prince Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov.
The central bay of the southern facade of the palace is said to be inspired by Delhi's Jama Masjid.
The ancient fortress at Sudak, a nearly two-hour drive from Yalta, is said to be built in the first in second century AD, though there is no archaeological evidence to prove this.
Some historians believe it was built in the 7th century by the Byzantines; others say it was built between 1371 and 1469 by the Genoese colonists as the main fortified base on the Crimean peninsula. Occupied several times by different rulers, the shrine inside the fortress was initially built as Turkish mosque, then rebuilt as a Russian Orthodox cathedral and then as a Catholic cathedral as the religion of the rulers changed.
Since the late 18th century it has served as an Orthodox Church, a German Lutheran Church and an Armenian Catholic church. It is now an archeological museum.