Julley Spiti!

Spiti doodle

My Spiti Travel Doodle

“Traveling. It leaves you speechless and then it turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn BattutaIt all began with discussing wanderlust with a bunch of friends on a Saturday evening and randomly throwing in Spiti Valley as a dream destination. A Whatsapp group was created that saw high attrition as always happens while planning a group trip. Two months later four of us actually ended up booking tickets to Chandigarh and accommodation in Kaza. Spiti was on!

The Journey

The journey to Spiti was probably the most challenging yet beautiful part of the trip and definitely not meant for everyone. We followed the Chandigarh – Manali- Kaza route which is about 220 kms long and functional from June to October, i.e., the summer months. Spiti, being the cold desert that it is, experiences summer for 3 months with average day temperatures hovering around 16 degrees and night temperatures falling to 2 to 3 degrees. Our journey from Manali began at 4:30 AM in a Tata Sumo. Shambhu ji, our trusty driver insisted we leave as early as possible to avoid getting stuck before Rohtang Pass. We did get stuck, nevertheless, for 4 hours! Keeping ourselves entertained wasn’t a problem though. There were hawkers trying to palm off saffron and ashwagandha with fables, and there were over enthusiastic tourists in space suit like snow suits who would eventually end up rolling in the dirty ice at Rohtang. The roads enroute to Spiti are virtually non-existent. The rocky, rugged terrain with a steady view of the mountains and stream crossings all while you drive along the Spiti river is a far cry from the near perfect roads in Ladakh. We took two stops for food at dhabas in the middle of nowhere and loo breaks-behind the boulders.

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The 6 AM traffic jam

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Cattle Roadblocks at Rohtang

Chandrataal

Chandrataal (moon lake) is Spiti’s equivalent of Ladakh’s Pangong Lake. It is approachable via Kunzum Pass and offers a breathtaking view literally in the middle of nowhere. There are camps located at the base and involve a 3 km trek to the lake. This was our first stop and here’s when the adventure began. Two out of the four of us happened to wander off right before it started getting dark and lost our way. It is important to note that there is no mobile connectivity in the Lahaul- Spiti region, hence there was no way we could use GPS or reach out to the others who were waiting for us at the parking spot. Getting lost in the mountains with nothing but more mountains in sight can be quite scary especially when the temperatures are known to drop sub zero. The nerd in me remembered survival tips from Discovery Channel shows I gorged on as a kid (Thanks, Ma!) and decided to follow a trail- because that would lead to somewhere- it did! We finally reached the camp after an arduous trek only to realise our friends were still up there! The camp staff seeing our condition promptly fed us hot tea and parathas, and set out on a “search operation” to find our friends. This was just the beginning of the amazing Himachali hospitality we would witness over the course of the next 5 days.

Chandrataal Lake

Chandrataal Lake

At the Moon Lake Camps with the super staff and our driver, Shambhu ji

Kaza

Kaza is the administrative headquarters of Lahaul and Spiti. Due to the influx of tourists, it may be difficult to find accommodation here during peak season, hence it is advisable to book it before hand. We stayed at the Zostel in Kaza. The painfully slow wi-fi was the only way to tell family back home that I was safe and sound. The five days of tech detoxification were oh so refreshing. Kaza is also home to the highest petrol retail outlet in the world.  A neck injury thanks to the treacherous roads got me a meeting with Dr. Dolma Yumtso at the Kaza Community Health Centre. Dr. Dolma could very well be the pahadi McDreamy. The kind doctor shyly admitted he doesn’t remember brand names of medicines but would prescribe salts that the only pharmacist in Kaza would be able to provide. Kaza has a number of cosy cafes offering cuisines to suit every palate. My favourites included the thukpa and tenduk at Dolma’s Kitchen, and seabuckthorn tea at the Himalayan Cafe, and live jam sessions at Cafe Zomsa.

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Spiti Roads

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We made it to Spiti!

Spiti River

Langza

Located at a distance of 14 kms from Kaza, Langza is one of the numerous villages in the gorgeous countryside. We stayed at Lara Tsering’s homestay and this was my highlight of the trip. The beautiful house straight out of a fairytale that provided a breathtaking view of the Himalayas during the day and a blanket of stars at night along with Mrs. Tsering’s amazing hospitality and culinary skills made this memorable.

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Not your average Monday view

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Lara Home Stay

Monasteries

Like Ladakh, Spiti too is rich in Buddhist heritage. There are a number of monasteries worth visiting such as Key, Tabo, and Dhankar. The Key Monastery is located at a significantly high altitude and offers a spectacular view of the mountains and the Spiti river. The sense of calm one experiences there is unmatched. It should definitely be on your itinerary.

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Key Monastery

Pin Valley National Park

Spiti Valley being a cold desert doesn’t have much flora and fauna. However, it is home to the elusive snow leopard, ibex and blue sheep. We didn’t see any of these on our way to Dhankar but did come across beautiful wild horses, donkeys, herds of sheep and sheep dogs. It isn’t uncommon for local kids to come and strike a conversation with tourists. My fun interaction happened with three kids named Kaza, Kimmy and Lotte. Kaza, the friendliest of the lot liked mathematics as much as she likes Bollywood; Kimmy, a champ whose been outside of her tiny village to participate in tournaments. Lotte didn’t speak Hindi or English because he was still in class two. They tried to get me to be friends with Lucky -the pahadi dog but he probably didn’t like my invasion in his territory.

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Pin Valley

Kaza, Kimmy and Lotte

Spiti was an unforgettable experience, something that I will cherish forever. And I can’t wait to go back!

Star gazing at Zostel, Kaza

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The journey back home

Travel tips

Carry thick woollens irrespective of the time of the year you are visiting. Temperatures fall drastically and the winds are chilly.

Carry enough cash with you as most places don’t accept credit cards. There’s an ATM at Kaza though.

Carry a well stocked medical kit and get acclimatised to the altitude before undertaking any treks

Carry wet wipes and deodorants as you may have to go without a shower for days

Carry a DSLR. You don’t want to miss out on capturing the night sky.

Be prepared to shun connectivity and be one with nature.

 

Eat.Pray.Love

thailand-doodle

My Thailand travel diary

” Respond to every call that excites your spirit” ~ Rumi

2016 was a rollercoaster year for me. There was excitement of meeting new people, joy of discovering new places, I was finally following my passion…and then there was heartbreak. Major heartbreak.

But this story isn’t about that. It’s about picking up the pieces and getting your life back on track. And a shout-out to all the lovely people who’ve stood by me like a rock. So when my sister-from-another-mister asked me whether I’d like to go on a holiday, there was no way I was going to say a no. Skyscanner suggested Thailand to be the most feasible option and off we were to this beautiful country.

We had 5 days at hand and decided to cover Krabi, Phuket, and Bangkok. Each of the three, very unique, in what they had to offer.

Krabi

Ao Nang

A rather bumpy (but cheap) Thai LionAir flight from Don Muang airport took us to Krabi. And a shuttle from Krabi airport dropped us off to our hostel at Ao Nang, and thus began the HoliYAY. Ao Nang is a beach town and a pretty happening place to be at.We stayed at the Slumber Party Hostel and Bar, which was your no-frills but clean accommodation,located at just a 5 minute walk from the beach. There are plenty of 7 Eleven stores around from where you can buy local beers for about 30 Baht (~ INR 60) and chill at the beach. The area also has plenty of restaurants around where you can head for a nice meal when you’re hungry. Post sunset, head to one of Ao Nang’s live music cafes and you can enjoy some traditional Thai music interspersed with their renditions of English chartbusters over Singha and Chang beers, and woodfired pizzas or Thai curry. And if you’re tired after an entire day’s stroll around the island, head to one of the foot massage shops located right on the streets for cheap-but-oh-so-good foot massages for 200 baht.

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Long tail boats

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Beer by the beach

Phi Phi

Phi Phi is a 2 hour ferry ride away from Ao Nang and a return ticket for 600 baht can be purchased from one of the curio shops that double up as travel agents. The ferry ride across the Andaman sea is breathtakingly beautiful as you are treated to 50 shades of blue. Once on the island, you can pamper yourself with some island shopping, street food, shakes and what not! We opted for a snorkelling session at Maya bay. Sun, our instructor, also the captain of the long tail boat as well as part time travel deal vendor, was extremely patient as we struggled to get used to our snorkelling equipment. But once that hurdle was sorted, seeing marine life up close and personal was an experience I’ll never forget.

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50 shades of blue at Phi Phi

Phuket

We took a 3 hour bus to Phuket from Ao Nang that dropped us at Central Festival in Phuket. Bad idea- as where we really wanted to go was Old Town and the lack of availability of public transport and sweltering heat of Phuket makes it nearly impossible to walk around the city. We somehow managed to reach Rang Hill Residences- our abode, which is located at a convenient distance from Old Town.

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Old Town

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Graffiti at Phuket Old Town

Post sunset, however, the weather is much more bearable. We strolled about the quaint Old Town, came across some beautiful cafes and graffiti. We also we to the Phuket Trickeye museum, quite an interesting concept with 3D art imitating real life. Then we went pub hopping- the way locals do- with live Thai music and chilled beer.

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Phuket Trickeye Museum

Bangkok

Bangkok is a bustling metropolis which is evident right from the time you land at the airport and make your way into the city. The Bangkok Sky train system is the best way of getting around the city, though Uber and city taxis are quite useful too. Tuktuks might be a ripoff but must be experienced because they are unique to Thailand.

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Tuktuks in Bangkok

We stayed at a hostel at Sukhumvit which is located at walking distance from Phrom Pong station. Most grand malls of Bangkok are built around train stations with entrances extending from the skywalks itself- smart business move, I say. The one not to be missed is Terminal 21 located at Asoke station and every floor of which has a unique city specific architecture. So, on the ground floor you find yourself in Istanbul but by the time you reach the 5th floor, you’re in San Francisco!

We visited the Grand Palace and The Temple of Emerald Buddha. The best and fastest way to reach is taking a long tail boat on the Chao Phraya river. Once there, the sheer grandeur and the gold leaves you in awe. There’s also a post office in the precinct, where I sent postcards to India from.

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Grand Palace and Temple of Emerald Buddha

Another thing that is unique to Thailand is the lady boy show, wherein men, believe it or not, dress up and look(!) like beautiful women in cabaret. We saw the Mambo cabaret show, wherein the performers danced to the tunes of English and Thai chartbusters and Sheila ki jawani! It is advisable to book tickets online or through agents rather than on the spot for better deals. Also, a word of caution- you might get bedazzled by the charm of the ladyboys but every picture with them costs 50 baht- a tourist trap which a lot of people fall prey to.

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Mambo Cabaret show

The nightlife of Bangkok is quite nice as well. Being the cosmopolitan city that it is, there’s plenty to eat, drink and make merry. Probably the best way to move on and have a good time.

We spent a total of 5 days in Thailand. A longer trip might have given us more time to chill but the break was refreshing none the less and much needed! I understood that it is really important to do things that make you happy, it is important to find your passion and do what you love. For me it is travel and I realised what a great healer it can prove to be!

Travel tips:

Carry flip-flops and loads and loads (and loads) of sunscreen

Pack comfortable cotton clothing because I cannot stress enough on how hot it is. But certain places like temples and the Grand Palace require you to be covered from neck down to toe, so make sure that’s taken care of.

Bargain like it’s your birthright.

Almost every food preparation is done in fish oil, so if you’re allergic, make sure you ask a dozen questions.

McDonalds will offer you free wifi for 45 minutes if you purchase an ice cream for 24 baht.

The people of Thailand are very friendly, they’ll make you feel at home.  🙂

Backpacking across Eastern Europe

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Take vacations. Go to as many places as you can. You can always make money. you can’t always make memories.

Europe is a continent that has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. So when Air India announced special fares for the Delhi- Vienna sector there was no chance I’d let go of the opportunity. Fellow wanderlusters from the workplace joined in, and after a few hiccups with the visa formalities we were finally backpacking across Western Europe!

Vienna

Vienna is the modern European city which has also managed to preserve its traditional past. Since we were on a budget trip we decided to use public transport at all our stops, buying a pass gives you unlimited access to underground, trams, buses for the duration you choose. But what I’ve realised is the best way to explore a place is on foot. Walking around Vienna is a little bit like finding yourself in the pages of a story book. You’ll encounter horse drawn carriages around the corners of buildings with baroque architecture. Now Vienna is an expensive city. Here’s what we did in order to minimise our expenses but not miss out on experiences.

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We stayed at a hostel that was located in the heart of the city and at a stone’s throw away from the underground station. The hostel provided an all you can eat buffet breakfast at €3 that was fuel for breakfast and lunch. The Vienna Opera which has hosted the likes of Mozart has tickets priced at €150 but we didn’t mind the “standing tickets” for a German opera for €4! Entry to the grand Schonbrunn Palace and Belvedere Palace is free. We explored the well manicured gardens and marveled at the ornate architecture. There are certain sections of the palaces that require an entry ticket and we chose to skip those. The beautiful St. Stephen’s cathedral too has free entry and the choir is sure to uplift your spirits.

Budapest

Budapest is a must visit for the traveler looking for some fabulous Eastern European experiences. It is ridiculously cheap in terms of food and travel (we got passes issued again) and offers a plethora of experiences for the architecture buff, history junkie, or the party animal. The city is known for its pub crawls which start every night after 8 pm at Oktagon, your guide to discovering some of the best pubs in the city and hanging out with people from all over the world.

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We opted for the free walking tours- wherein a tour guide will show you sights and sounds of the city for free albeit with a tip you deem fit at the end of it. I got to know some pretty interesting facts about the communist history of Hungary courtesy through this. The Chain bridge connects Buda and Pest which are separated by the Danube river. When the lights come on at night, it is recommended to opt for a Danube river cruise just like we did. The city looks magical especially the Hungarian parliament and the Buda castle. The Fisherman’s Bastion at the Buda castle offers a spectacular view and must not be missed!

Prague

Prague was our last destination and as it turned out we had saved the best for last. Every part of the city is picture postcard perfect. We stayed at Hostel Downtown and had a blast because we would sightsee by day and party by night with the hostel mates.Charles bridge which was barely 400 meters away offers some of the most spectacular views. So was the John Lennon wall where artists from all around the world are given the freedom to paint graffiti.

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As with the other cities, it made sense for us to invest in the 48 hour transport pass and opt for the walking tours to know more about the Prague Castle and the iconic buildings at the Old Town Square. Infact, the one of a kind astronomical clock has an interesting history behind it which must be seen to be believed. Prague also houses the gorgeous Klementine Library, however this was a let down IRL since they don’t allow you access to the inner sanctums. The view from the top is great though.

Another thing that I loved about Prague was the Farmer’s Market where one could find traditional Czech artifacts, and local foods including the Trdelnik, goulash and hot mulled wine.

As a schoolgirl I’d learnt this phrase, ‘when in Rome do as Romans do’. This probably is the best travel advice anyone can give you. The best experiences at any destination are the ones recommended by locals, frequented by locals and this trip was all the more interesting because of unplanned itineraries and befriending and relying much on our now-turned-friends from these places!

Damage:

The trip cost me approximately Rs. 70,000 airfare and visa fee included.

Here’s the breakdown of the expenses:

Return tickets from Vienna: Rs. 29,000

Schengen visa fee: Rs. 7000

Intercity travel in Vienna: 13.6 euros~ Rs. 1000

Stay at Wombat City Hostel, Vienna (3D/2N): Rs. 2300

Brunch: 18 euros~ Rs. 1300

Bus tickets from Vienna to Budapest: 22 euros ~ Rs. 1650

Opera tickets: 3 euros~ Rs. 200

Stay at Art Photography Hostel, Budapest: Rs. 2700

Travel card: Rs. 3300

Food and drinks: Rs. 1000

Sightseeing: Rs. 1000

Bus tickets from Budapest to Prague: Rs. 1250

Stay at Hostel Downtown, Prague : 84 euros ~ Rs.6000

Food and drinks: Rs. 7400

Sightseeing: Rs. 1700

God’s Own Country and more!

My new year resolution was to travel more. Work more in order to travel more. Half the year has gone by and I’m glad that I’m able to fuel the resolution. My quest for wanderlust (and a dear friend’s wedding) took me to Kerala this monsoon. They don’t call it God’s Own Country for nothing and I was going to discover that over the course of the next five days.

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My Kerala travel journal

Cochin International Airport is housed in an elegant building that could very well be mistaken for someone’s mansion. I’m told its fired up by solar lighting- this was just the beginning of the many eco friendly things I’d see during my stay. Now the airport is located a little away from the city, 3 hours away to be precise, so we decided to take accommodation close to the airport at the SAJ Earth Resort which is located a kilometer away from the airport.  The property is beautiful with an island style design. It houses a coffee shop, a poolside bar and a 24 hour restaurant. I had a scrumptious meal of Malabar parotta with butter chicken for lunch. Lip smackin’!

The Kerala Massage

I had heard so much about the traditional Ayurvedic massages and decided to give the panchkarma massage a shot. The therapist was a sweet lady who knew nothing but Malayalam, so when she asked me to strip to nothing (yes, you read that right, NOTHING) it took me a while to understand what she was trying to say. They put copious amounts of oil on you, enough to make America invade the room, but once you get over the initial awkwardness the massage is actually quite relaxing and recommended. Of course, a nap follows and I slept like a baby.

Kochi City

Ernakulam popularly known as Kochi is a long drive away from the airport. The drive though is spectacular with greenery on either sides of the road, backwaters and plantations. It is easy to get an Ola taxi from the airport, however the cars are not very well maintained. Ours, for example, had a cooling problem which turned out to be quite a nightmare on the humid afternoon.

The Old Lighthouse Bristow Hotel is an amazing property at an amazing location. They have beautifully done up rooms each giving a glimpse of Kochi’s colonial past, overlooking the Arabian sea. You could spend hours there chilling in the pool watching the sun drown into the horizon whilst listening to the sound of waves. The staff too is extremely courteous and helpful. We decided to rent bicycles to explore the city.

So armed with Google maps and with a little help from TripAdvisor, we set out to explore the city. Kochi has a lot to offer in terms of art and culture- Chinese fishing nets, Kerala Kathakali centre, Jew Town, spice market and plenty of of nice cycling tracks to ride your bike in.

Two places you shouldn’t miss out in Kochi would be the Kashi Art Cafe which serves the most scrumptious omelettes and lemonades and the Brunton Boatyard Restaurant for a meal with a view- wining and dining watching the ships sail by.

Kottayam and Thrissur

We were headed to Kottayam next which also happens to be the passageway to the famous backwaters of Kumarakom. The backwaters are dotted with houseboats for all budgets. However, we were there for the Kerala wedding- the venue of which was a church in the middle of nowhere (rubber plantations). This was straight out of a fairytale and a fairytale wedding it was!

The next stop was Thrissur for the second edition of the wedding ceremony. A traditional Malayali affair, the wedding ceremony was followed by the lavish Sadhya dinner which involves food served on banana leaves. Rice, papad, chutneys, payasam, appams, sambar, rasam, and so many more things..I literally stuffed myself till I couldn’t eat any more.

So much more to see

And just like that it was time to head back home. I missed visiting Munnar, Wayanad, and a couple of other places but Kerala is beautiful and I’m sure one day these places will call out to me…and I will go!

Stories from Udaipur

If you’ve seen the latest Rajasthan tourism ads, you’d probably know how they claim that Rajasthan has something different to offer to everyone. What they said is indeed true for my solo travel to Udaipur was an experience I’ll cherish for a long time to come.

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My Udaipur travel journal

A 1 hour 20 minutes flight from Mumbai took me to Maharana Pratap Airport which is about 25 km away from the main city. But Uber and Ola have made their debut in Udaipur so I did not need to book a prepaid ( ripoff) cab. Upon reaching my hotel, my wallet was lighter by 500 bucks but then before I could sulk about that I realised what an amazing location I’d stumbled upon thanks to Tripadvisor. Hotel Lakend is located right on the banks of the Fatehsagar lake. However, since I was crunched for time on the trip I figured it would be wiser to venture out and catch the light and sound show at the City Palace. Check-in formalities completed, I hailed another Ola and was off to watch ‘Hathnal ki chadai’. Maps had suggested that it wouldn’t take me more than 20 minutes to reach but Udaipur is a tricky city to navigate with narrow alleys and random one ways which Google doesn’t take into account. The cabbie however seemed to know a shortcut as he was earlier employed with the royal family and spoke to some palace guards in the regional language to ensure I get to watch the show even though I was over 10 minutes late.

The palace precinct is grand and by the time I reached the show had already started. Once I figured what was happening, I actually enjoyed the show. The stories were reminiscent of those books back in school. However, the show will be enjoyed strictly by history buffs. When it ended, I overheard a family complaining to the guard that they should’ve really shown something more interesting for 500 bucks per person. The crowd was more interested in taking photos post the show something that seemed to bemuse the palace guards. Anyway, I  decided to wander about the beautifully lit palace precinct which reminded me of those childhood fairy tales and stumbled upon the Sunset Terrace- an open air restaurant overlooking by the lake overlooking the shimmering Jagmandir Palace and Lake Palace. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to have dinner at. However, there was one catch- the place seemed to be open for house guests only and required prior reservation but then they wouldn’t disappoint a single woman traveller. #win

Day 2 started with a stroll followed by breakfast by the lake. And then I set off to wander about the City Palace during the day. Now the thing about travelling alone is that you will meet all kinds of people (or not if you choose to keep to yourself). So I met chatty cab drivers who offered to turn off their Ola and Uber devices for the day and take me around the city, honeymooning couples who wanted me to click pictures for them while they posed awkwardly, brooding photographers who were ‘looking for inspiration’ in the grand havelis and just big fat Indian families who were on one of those travel website tours but seemed more interested in khakras and achaar rather than admiring the courage of a young princess from Mewar who had to consume poison because her father accidentally sent out proposals for her marriage to two princely states.  So after shedding a tear upon hearing her story on the audio guide that I rented for Rs. 200, I wandered some more and came across a beautifully painted wall and desperately wanted a picture with it. I randomly walked up to these two women who were trying to take a selfie with a DSLR. I made a click for click deal and then we got talking and realised how all three of us were single women travellers. We spent the afternoon taking a boat to the Jagmandir Palace island, sharing the yummiest chicken biryani and exchanging travel stories.

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City Palace window

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Lake Palace

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Jagmandir Palace Island

Evening was spent trying to burn off those calories from lunch by gallivanting about the streets of Udaipur and checking out the royal family’s vintage and classic car collection. The collection was impressive with the 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom that was featured in James Bond’s Octopussy (also the museum’s showstopper) and the Cadillac that Queen Elizabeth II was driven around in when she visited the city. But for Rs. 250 I thought it was quite a ripoff. I asked the over enthusiastic caretaker to share some more stories about each of the cars, sadly he had none and directed me to the folk music and dance performance scheduled to happen later that evening at Bagore ki Haveli.

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The 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom

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Dharohar at Bagore ki haveli

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Gangaur ghat by night

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Rajasthani thaali at Natraj

Bagore ki haveli is one of the many heritage buildings in Udaipur and is located right next to Gangaur ghat which makes the setting idyllic. They host a traditional dance and music show called Dharohar every evening. If you’re in Udaipur, this is something you should definitely not miss because it is basically a one hour glimpse into all the culture and vibrance that Rajasthan has to offer. But seating is limited and tickets get sold out early on, so make sure you reach at least an hour in advance. After the mesmerizing show, I went and sat on the banks of the lake at Gangaur ghat. With the bright lights from the hotels on the other side of the lake reflecting on the lake and a mandali of young men humming Hindi songs from the sixties and seventies, I couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful January evening. This was followed by scrumptious dinner at Natraj dining hall. For Rs. 200 the Rajasthani thaali with unlimited refills was the ultimate foodie dream come true.

Now, you can’t be in Rajasthan and not shop. The following day was spent doing just that. A quick trip to the artisans’ village, Shilpagram and picking up some terracotta wares, minakari earrings, miniature paintings and traditional puppets and hearing their stories satiated my shopping cravings. I was told that the place doesn’t really feature on tourist itineraries because it is government run and the agents don’t really get a cut on the items sold. What a pity. I headed back to the main city and paid my respects to the gods at the Jagadish temple of the Om Jai Jagadish fame #feelingsanskari. I basically spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the narrow lanes around the City Palace area and just soaking in all the sights and sounds the area had to offer. I came across a tiny post office and wrote a couple of postcards as well.

The sleepy town really prides itself on being the backdrop for 1983 James Bond flick, Octopussy so nearly all the small cafes screen it every evening. And it really is a good way to unwind over some good food and conversation.

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One of the many restaurants screening Octopussy in Udaipur

This pretty much sums up my tryst with Rajasthan’s vibrance, culture and heritage. The state truly lives up to all the hype and more.

Padharo mhare des

——

 

 

Indian Train Things

(ting ting ting) “Yaatrigan kripaya dhyaan de…” 

If you have heard that familiar phrase, chances are you spent a major part of your life at railway stations in India. The automated voice of a woman announcing the train number, time of arrival, platform of arrival always manages to send people in a flurry..coolies (porters) and kids in tow trying to figure out where their coach is, after all in the end it is a game of first come first serve. While in all compartments except the general class, one has berths allotted, there always arises a need to jostle for luggage space. You’d also invariably find people trying to exchange seats with co-passengers, elderly folks requesting for lower berths, men of the family trying to swap berths to accommodate their entire clan in one compartment.

The train encompasses another world in it altogether, you see relatives dropping their family members ensuring they are seated comfortably and getting them some savoury snacks, water and magazines to keep them company through the journey from the Wheeler stalls at the platform. They wouldn’t step off the train until the wheels have begun to roll, and then goodbyes and bid.

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Indian Train Things doodle

 

Indian trains have either 6 seater or 8 seater compartments and for long haul journeys, chances are you will indulge in small talk with your co-passengers. There would be chatty aunties who’d want to know all about your family history and where you’re travelling for what business; the young person who’d usually perch him/herself on the upper berth listening to music and coming down only when there is a need to use the washroom; that family with annoying kids or infants that wouldn’t stop throwing a tantrum or crying their lungs out; or flatulent middle aged uncles who have major snoring problems. Hence, it is advisable to keep headphones, a book and a deodorant handy.

Now most long distance Indian trains are equipped with a pantry car which provide you with piping hot standard fare which would include rice, chapati, daal, pickle, curd and vegetable for lunch or dinner and two slices of bread with cutlet and a ketchup satchet for breakfast. If you aren’t a fan of train food, you could always carry a dabba from home or opt for the scrumptious local food served at various stoppages by station vendors–the palate changes as the geography changes.

While express trains like the Shatabdi and Rajdhani have impeccable cleanliness, other long distance trains might not be as well maintained; partly owing to lack of civic sense of the passengers, hence it is always advisable to use the Indian style loo as opposed to the WC, and carry loads of soap and sanitizer with you.

One thing I however love about train journeys is sitting by the window and watching the topography shift, oftentimes have come across people who make you believe in humanity with their random acts of kindness and just the general harmony where people are just happy traveling together irrespective of their socio-cultural backgrounds.

If it were not for time constraints and that challenge of booking a confirmed ticket on the IRCTC portal, I’d trade a flight journey for train travel in Indian railways any day!

Sula Trippin’

“Wine is win with an e on the end”

If you’re Indian and are asked to name a brand of wine chances are you’d say Sula. The meccah of wine production in India is located off Gangapur-Savargaon road at Nasik, 180 kms away from Mumbai. An amazing three hour drive on a beautiful highway along the Western ghats will take you to the sprawling property lined with grapevines and rose shrubs.

The ideal time to reach Sula is around 10:30 am to avoid the afternoon sun and the steady stream of visitors, people of all age groups. It was surprising to see so many families thronging and amusing to see parents getting high on the spirits while their kids created a stir running around the patio.

We bought our tickets for the wine tour and tasting session at 1 pm and were told that all slots till 3:30 pm were occupied. To kill time as well as hunger pangs, we made our way to the patio located on the first floor.

The patio overlooking the endless vineyards had beautiful French decor complete with brightly coloured aluminium chairs. We made ourselves comfortable and called for the menu. While there were plenty of options for spirits for obvious reasons- we ordered four different kinds of wine bottles-the food options were quite limited and the serving sizes were small. Thus, it is highly recommended to have a hearty breakfast before setting out for a day trip to Sula.

Getting back to the wine, we ordered the RaSa Cabernet Sauvignon to start with (all because it sounded fancy) and soon realised that red wine wouldn’t go well with the arid afternoon. We soon switched to chilled white wines which brought much needed respite to our parched throats. A beautiful looking Rose wine followed and we were all set for the tour and tasting session (or maybe not).

sula

Sula Vineyards

Our tour guide greeted us at the entrance of the brewery and narrated the history of Sula. We then entered the wine distilling premises with huge steel apparatus fermenting the grapes at controlled temperatures followed by a room stocked with numerous barrels all holding in them the tens of varieties of wines that Sula produces.

The tour ended with us landing at The Tasting Room where the chirpy lady got us to sample six of their special wines with description about the age,notes, flavours- all that it takes to be a wine connoisseur. Alas! we we’d already had too much wine by now to identify and differentiate one wine from another.

We were let off with a gentle chide of paying more attention to the sessions we attend in the future. But for wine we got at MRP right where it is produced, it’s okay to get a little buzzed, right?

Sula also has a beautiful resort called Beyond where guests can stay and enjoy tours and their drinks at leisure, it is advisable to plan your trip at least a month in advance if you plan on staying there overnight.