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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

10 out-of-the-box activities one can do in Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi is popular for the Cheena-Vala or the Chinese Fishing nets, but it has a whole bunch of tourist attraction for all kind of tourists and is a treasure trove waiting to be explored.So take your pick of what you like to do when you are in Fort Kochi. If you are looking for pure relaxation then book one of the upmarket heritage properties with a good view of either the sea or the harbor and go for some Ayurveda massage, have some chilled beer in the balmy weather, read a book under the sun or just take a nap. If you want to be the regular tourist, then list down the popular tourist places like the Jewish Synagogue, the old Portuguese churches , the Dutch palace and the Fishing nets etc and hire a cab and go around, if you want to be a little more adventurous, you can take an auto or just hire a cycle and go around the places. One can also head out south to Allepy or Kumarkom to enjoy the backwaters.

If you want to add a zing to your travel, here is my list of 10 things you can try and make your stay at Fort Kochi funky & interesting!!!

1. Take a walk;you can cover the entire list of places to visit in Fort Kochi on foot; The circuit is about 8.5 kms with well laid roads so do it on your own pace; start early to avoid the sun & the crowd. Don't forget to wear comfortable shoes. Read up the history & enjoy the stroll. Don't miss out on the little Jew town in Matanchery.

2. After the walk try a good Ayurveda massage in one of the many traditional/ new age spa's.
3. Buy Spices from the wholesale market instead of the tourist shops....there are shops that are many centuries old or just stroll through the lane and enjoy the spicy-fragrant air!

4. Check out the funny & quirky and sometime artist-y graffiti on the walls across the town in small alleys and pathways. You will find everything from Mahatma Gandhi to local Fisher-woman to the Local Working class heroes on the walls

5. There are some old heritage buildings that are now converted into hotels and offer an amazing views;Xandari Harbour, has a pool package, but doesn't have a liquor license, but the Seagul Restaurant not only serves good food, it has a great view and some awesome food as well;you can just drop into one of them and spend an entire day chilling with  beer & food.

6. Use the public transport extensively and mainly the ferry's between the islands of Fort Kochi, Boglhaty, Vypin, Ernakulam mainland & the Wellingdon Island. The ferry's are so big that it can carry cars & bikes and multitudes of people in every trip and its an experience in itself. You can also use the Jetty which is smaller & carry only people.

7. Explore the sea front; on a less tourist-traffic day you can walk around the coastline and sit on one of the benches and see the sun go down or just sit & Read a book. You can also walk around and enjoy the beach at Cherai.

8. Go watch the Kathakali dancers do their make up in front of Live audience and follow it up with the performance. Though the performances are not exceptional but the make-up portion is certainly a must-do.

9. Visit the St. Francis Church for the sheer thrill that Vasco De Gama's body was once buried here. There is also the Basilica & The Fort Emmanuel and the residence of the Bishop apart of many named and un-named, small & big old heritage buildings, Churches & lighthouses.

10. Last but not the least, feast on sea food- Squids, Prawns & Fish, all fresh catch from the sea. Try the road side cafe's that even make it to your taste. The Kerala style is what you should try if you have an Indian Pallet. The food anyway is very adapted and nothing original, the continental food has more than a hint of desi taste and the Indian food is mostly bland in comparison to what we eat otherwise. So go ahead and ask for what you like the best.

Apart from these you should  watch the fishermen lowering their Chinese Fishing nets for a catch in the morning and the glorious sunset through the nets in the evening. Most Tourists do it & its what Fort Kochi is most famous for!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Misty Monsoons & McLeod Ganj......

History can be so astonishing even in its inconsequential corners, like for example how do you name a place and then that place for eternity is known as such, without anyone to question.....I was so amazed to know that Dharamshala was so named coz when the British annexed that empty piece of land in the middle of 19th Century, it only had 1 Hindu rest house, dharamshala and so came along the name....McLeod Ganj came some years later to accommodate the bulging crowds at Kangra. The British moved two regiments to Dharamshala, in few years it had two important places of civilian settlement, McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj, named after their Divisional Commissioners.

But all this was to change in the post-Independence era when, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, set up the Government of Tibet in exile in 1960,  McLeod Ganj became his official residence and home to several Buddhist monasteries and thousands of Tibetan refugees. This place is today bustling with tourists and is a sought after holiday destinations for many across the plains.

For me Dharamsahala & McLeod Ganj were both disappointing as I am neither a religious traveler neither appreciate the half-heart-ed-ugly-urbanization of the hill-stations. So like most other hill stations in the country this place is over-crowded, unsymmetrical and chaotic, but it was notably clean in most parts and the weather comfortably cold and rainy making it very misty; and the mist hiding away the ugliness and making the place feel magical!

To beat the disappointment I goggled up and found a favorite trek point that could be done in a day - The place was called Triund and is about 9-7-5 kms one side walk up depending on where you start your trek from. As we missed the first half of the day to the rains we took the easy way out at 5kms.
(You can start the trek frm McLeod Ganj (9kms), near the Tibetian school (7kms) or the Goolu Temple (5kms).

Almost all the blogs (amateur/picnickers) mention this one as a 'easy day trek' and trust me there is nothing easy about it and I am still nursing my aching body! The trek from Goolu Devi temple is a medium steep till the mid-point (abt 3kms and took us abt 1hr 15mins) and from here it’s a very steep climb up and it took us equal time to cover the next 2 kms. The view through the trek was a mix of dense forest and open valley and settlements below; The Cricket Stadium @ Dharamshla makes a spectacular focal point to the view. (You can do the trek on your own or hire a local guide)

After a lot of huffing-puffing we made it to the summit; there are 3 makeshift shops selling hot tea, maggi and daal-chawal, very basic but delightfully warm and comforting after the climb; No toilets so you are on your own; On a good-weather night you can camp beneath the stars and you won't be disappointed. We were late and had to walk down before sunset as its difficult and slippery to walk in the dark and there are dangers of meeting the original inhabitants (bear, cheetahs) so either you stay-put  and climb down the next day (in an off-season you can easily rent a tent & sleeping bag and there are 2 permanent structures as well) or climb down before sunset. In season you might have to book in advance, as the place gets really crowded.
Apart from the eventful trek, all that I remember of the trip is F-O-O-D, the place is bustling with eateries and you can get everything from continental to PAN Asian (Chinese/Tibetien/Korean to even Vegetarian Japanese) apart from the very Indian daal-chawal-kukkad-shukkad!

Seems like the place is very popular for weed and everyone knows how and where to get it (except for us,coz no one picked our clues); While HOMP(highway on my plate) has a lot of recommended places, I wasn't particularly impressed with any so the trick is to try everything out!

In that category(trying everything) 2 of the places made it to the top of my list- 1 small tucked in bakery - 'Tibetian Bakery' was a real surprise, specially the Yak cheese cake, never had anything like that before! And then there is the Mandala Café close to the Bhudhist Temple; The Yogurt Cake was worth a try there.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the momo’s either, I still dote on the ones @ Chanakyapuri, New Delhi.

So in-all  McLeod Ganj is for foodies who want to enjoy a variety of food and not feel guilty about it, as the weather there is perfect and the steep lanes will help you digest well.You can just eat-sleep-relax....and if you are going in off season you don't need to book in advance, just walk in and negotiate...We stayed at a small and cozy home-stay-kind of hotel called 8 Auspicious Him View and it was an absolute pleasure.(Review on tripAdvisor)

What to eat - Momos, Thukpa, bakery items(cheese cakes, carrot cakes etc), Fish fry and Chicken from the street vendors, continental stuff- pasta etc, Korean and Japanese food..and the list goes on!

And don't miss to spend a day strolling the markets up to the Buddhist Temple lined up with amazing food outlets and curios @ bargain!

What to buy - Buddha's of all size, shape, postures and colors, Yellow Chilli powder(A lady next to the prayer wheels in the market sells it for 20 rupees a pack), Incense stick holders and Tibetan incenses and hand woven woolens..!

Travel Trivia:-
You can reach McLeod Ganj from Delhi (522 kms) by road (bus/car) or flight (closest airport is Gaggal) or by train. We chose the train option; took a late night (22:45pm) train (Dhuladhar Express) from Old Delhi Railway station and reached Pathankot by 8am; From there its a easy-breezy 130 km/ 2.5hrs ride to McLeod ganj; Jullandhar is another close by rail head about 4-5 hrs away (196 km , we took the Shatabdi back from there;

Nearby places/towns you can include in your itinerary 

 But what ever you, just don't dirty the place...if you are trekking, pl carry back your waste!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Monsoon road trip with a zing of History

Standing beside a 'kachi kabr' a tomb where the earth is still wet, as is prescribed in the Quran, you feel what was it that makes someone renounce all the wealth and leave behind a non-descript grave for generations to come and wonder! For a man preceded by an opulent lineage, who ruled for almost five decades and had wealth and power beyond the wildest imagination, this would have been difficult I assume or may be the most easiest because he had no ego. His last wish , to be buried at the feet of his guru, the last of the Chisti clan and so he lies in peace at the foot of his guru.

When I first heard about the Tomb, rather the Kabr, I was astonished, coz I never thought about it, as it was not too often mentioned. And when I finally saw it here at a non-descript corner of the world, absolutely bare, I was very intrigued. Taj Mahal was built at a cost of 3Cr rupees and all the other tombs and mausoleums built by loving husbands and wives that exude opulence is a stark contrast to this one; this was built with a mere 14 rupees;

It is said Aurangazeb was a gifted calligrapher, he made copies if the Quran and sold anonymously, he also knitted prayer caps and all that was used for his grave was the revenue he made from the sale of the caps; the 350 rupees from the sale of the Quran was distributes among the poor; some of the surviving copies of his hand written Quran are supposed to be in Mecca, Madina, HAzrat Nizamuddin Aulia's tomb in Delhi and in a few museums. One of the unique thing about this place is that it also has a piece of cloth, believed to be of the Paigamber Mohammed himself. This is displayed once every year.

Aurangzeb in our text books is a fanatic, ruthless, treacherous and intolerant ruler. But what really drove him to this extreme is what intrigues me; either he was an extremist and he followed the holy book to the T or it was his penance, but whatever it is, it has left quite an impression about the man on my mind.

That was the zing of History and as a diehard history junkie, thought will start my post with what I was influenced the most. Now for the road trip, I have now come to believe that there is always a special season for a special place and luckily most of these are off season for tourist and therefore the best trips in terms of deals and also the places being relatively chaos free.

Monsoons in India are not a favorite travel time for most Indian travelers, coz th
e schools open and people fear getting stuck due to rains. As for foreigners, I guess they go by the belief that Nov-Jan is the best time to travel.

I have also concluded that irrespective of the enormous risks of the monsoon, the western parts of the country, specially the Konkan coast and places in Maharashtra-Andhra-Karnataka-Kerala are a delight both in terms of perfect temperature and green-scenery; its so much green everywhere that the eyes start aching after some time. 

The road trip we took was approximately 400+kms and we did it from Pune; You can also fly into Aurangabad or travel in from Nasik or Mumbai; But the road between Pune-Aurangabad I thought was very scenic, better laid and four lane; Its about 235 Kms and takes a good 4 hrs, but no one is complaining as the views keep you quite engaged. And if you are a wretched soul from the northern part of the country, I bet for once you would want to renounce everything and not want to come back!

In Aurngabad city, there is the Bibi Ka Makbara, referred as the mini Taj Mahal; Built by Aurangazeb's son in memory of his mother; It’s also the city of gates, 13 of the original 54 have survived the test of time and you will see them everywhere. Apart from a whole lot of
'urban activities' you should try the famous pan @ the Tara Paan Shop. Some legends survive only on the legacy, while some create legacy in every act and this one is of the second type. We had 3-4 pans each and were still wanting more; an absolute delight.

A little ahead is the Daulatabad fort (this is where the initial portion of the Allah Jane song from Teri Meri Kahani was shot) with the dark passage and some real heavy duty cannons on display; You can check out the old coins ( i am assuming all duplicates); the hawkers sell them all over this region and you can drive home a hard bargain.  
Further up there is a quaint village called Khultabad, where Aurangazeb lies at the feet of his mentor.

About 15 kms ahead are the famous Ellora caves and further on are the Ajanta caves; Honestly, after the initial enthusiasm, I was quite bored; the irritating and noisy tourists and the stink of the caves really got on to me by the time I was past the 2nd set of caves.

So if you are a history junkie and a road person or a road person who likes to explore history, it’s a must do circuit. 

You can find more info in the link below

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shimla beyond the Honeymooner's paradise and an over-crowded hill station!

When we decided to do a weekend @ Shimla, I was not sure what to expect and when I thought of blogging about it I was definitely short of Ideas, I was wondering what can I say about this place that has already not been said or quoted. I did a lot of google-ing before going and most of it mentioned nearby places like Chail, Shogi, Kufri and a whole lot of entertainment on the Mall road....and finally I spotted what I wanted, there were heritage walks, very few and much lesser information provided, for the sheer lack of enthusiasm I guess. But my quest was well quenched, when Sam spotted a book that had 10 treks / walks with in Shimla; We picked up the first one and what a trek it was. Discovered so much history in one day that the history junkie in me is satiated for a long time!!

We started the walk from the Simla Club, which was a social club and opposite to it is the Chalet day school which in the times of the Raj was a 'Hen-House', part of the club where the Gentlemen could entertain their lady guests. 

We walked down a little further and at the curve was a very cute looking hotel called 'The Clarkes', it was like any other heritage property, but the story behind it makes it so much interesting. This was the beginning of a real rags to riches story of an Indian entrepreneur.
The story goes that Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoiji was a college drop-out and was working as a front desk Clerk (Wiki mentions him as a bell boy) @ the Cecil hotel on the other side of the Mall and was asked by the Clarkes couple to come and join them when they bought the current day Clarkes hotel, which was then called Carlton. He agreed and was soon managing the entire hotel when the couple went for a 6 months retreat to London. On their return they decided to leave India for good , they sold off the hotel to Mr. Oberoi for 25000/- rupees and on a loan, which he paid back in full by the end of the fourth year and rest as they say is history; And today the Cecil hotel is also part of the Oberoi group of hotels!!

From this point there is a descend down towards the real hustle bustle of the Mall road; It is lined up with a lot of shops and some of them like the Embassy and some photo shops, that lay their claim in shaping the history of this place. A further downhill walk takes you to a flight of stairs, that lead you to the Christ Church and further to the Ridge.
The Christ Church is the second oldest church in North India, after St John's Church in Meerut. The Church is beautiful and a must visit, The church contains five fine stained glass windows. One represents the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Patience and Humility. These stained glass paintings that are one of the finest I have seen. The Pipe-Organ of Christ Church is the biggest in the Indian subcontinent and was erected in September 1899.

Just outside the Church is a Gandhi statue and a rather slim and bent looking statue of Indira Gandhi, and some great places to sit and relax; There are these shops selling softies and momos and popcorn to keep the  average Indian traveler busy, so naturally the place is very well littered and sound pollution is the highest. As you start walking down, you see the Gaiety theater on your left and the views of the valley continue on your right. There is also a very fancy and antique looking coffee shop and I am sure you can feel like a memsahib in the 1800's sipping the earl grey on a sunny afternoon in there or like one of the melancholic or gay characters of choice from the pages of Rudyard Kipling's writings. 

As you come down further you reach a Chowk like structure which is called the Scandal point, and the folk lore is rather scandalous as well; the then Maharaja of Patiala, who had a glad eye for the daughter of the Viceroy is said to have abducted the lady; Which sounds like quite a fake story and therefore the second theory makes sense which said, this being midway in the city was a point for the locals and goras to stand and gossip about scandalous things. The Point now has a statue of Lalaji (Lala Lajpat Rai Ji) pointing a finger  in the air, and the story about this one 'finger' is quite interesting; The statue was ordered from Lahore and on its transit the prominent finger broke and was then fixed in Shimla! But I really wonder whats with all our politician's statues pointing fingers like the ones you find across Andhra, where Mr. Ambedkar is also pointing his finger all through the hinterland and in the middle of busy crossings!

From here the road branches into an upper road that has the half-timbered structure in white and Red, the General Post office and further up is the Kalibari. The road going down, winds through a cluster of old and new shops and ends in a building that was supposed to look like a locomotive.

Further down is an Old structure that is truly a genius piece of work. It’s the Railway board building and was constructed in 1896-97 and it’s still an architectural masterpiece Further up the road are the Vidhansbha and the Gurson Palace, reminiscent of the colonial past that Shimla stands testimony to.

A further 400 mts from the Vidhansabha is the Oberoi Cecil hotel, one of the finest heritage properties; The building has been here for as long as the city and is splendid in its architecture and feel. So this place is a must do; If you cannot afford to stay here like us, a meal or at least a coffee 'to banta hai'. 

We turned around from this place but one can go further up to see the Viceregal Lodge. It was built in 1888 as the residence of Viceroy Lord Dufferin. On our way back @ the scandal point we took the lower road and crossed the Nagar Nigam building and the Police assistance booth; Both buildings together form a kind of a chowk, bustling with activities and further down is the lower part of the gaiety theatre. This ended one of my most revered heritage walks in a perfect weather and has left a permanent impression on my otherwise fickle mind; 

My recommendation to the 'explorer' in you is even if you have visited Shimla and done all that needs to be done, do find out about these walks and trails and see it from a different perspective, I am ready to go back again for a 'road less traveled'  as they say!


Shimla was under the Punjab Province till Independence and also served as the capital of Punjab in the new Indian republic till 1956.

Shimla was a small nondescript village with about 10 houses before the British set foot here. It served as the summer capital even when the capital of India was Kolkatta.

The Kalka-Shimla railway line, constructed in 1906, had more than 806 bridges and 103 tunnels, and was touted as an engineering feat and came to be known as the "British Jewel of the Orient" In 2008, it became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, 

 How to Reach:-

There are overnight buses from Delhi and Chandigargh and if you have time, take the Delhi-Kalka Shatabdi (4hrs) and another 3 hrs gut-churning ride in a hired cab easily available @ Kalka station; The Kalka station has a SPecial waiting lounge, that has flat TV, Sofas, Air conditioners and a clean and gyser fitted bathrooms, all for 20 rupees per person; You can also take the Toy Train from here that takes about 5 hrs to reach Shimla station.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dilli Travel-log Luv-shuv-te-Qila-Purana….Part III- Kotla Feroze Shah

For a cricket crazy nation Feroze Shah Kotla is a cricket stadium with some famous and some forgettable stories about the game and all there is in...but surprise..surprise, its the 5th city of the eight cities that Delhi is made up of (Indraprastha, Mehrauli, Jahanpanah, Tughlakabad, Shahjahanabad, Siri, Lutyens and ofcourse Ferozabad!)
Some facts and Trivia -
  • It was built by Feroze Shah, who was a cousin to Bin Tughlak and succeeded him to the throne of Dehli in 1351; He ruled for about 37 years and lies buried in Hauz Khas in his tomb;
  • His father was a sepey-salar in Tughlak's army and his mother was supposedly a hindu princess.
  • The Islamic reign was still in its nascent stages during his rule and he also faced a lot of resistance like his predecessors, but he had learnt to be patient and non-extremist and that helped him survive for long!
  • But what strikes most is his choice of place to build the palace , a most intelligent one, because he was the only one who thought about building it on the banks of Jamuna to beat the scarcity of water in an arid city.
  • The city was destroyed and plundered by Taimur in 1398 when he attacked Dehli and plundered it.

The Complex today houses the ruins of the fort, a circular baoli (this is aIMG_1544 unique one considering its the only one in that shape in the city, a pyramid with a Ashoka Stamb (bought in from Ambala ) and the Jami Masjid is  said to have captured Taimur's fascination so much that he ordered all the workers in and around Dehli to be sent to his other provinces and he commissioned a similar mosque in Samarkand
IMG_1566But what strikes the most is the view from the top of the pyramid....you can see the new Dehli emerging from the old. The place is very well maintained by ASI and is  a must do for a winter afternoon; The lush green grounds and the chirping of parakeets and other birds make for a relaxing experience. As this is an offbeat location you would hardly see any crowd, taking the experience to a new level.
How to reach there:- The Complex lies next to Shaheed Bhagat Singh Park on Bahadur Shah Zafar marg. Its a 1.5 km walk from the Barakhamba Metro station.

10 out-of-the-box activities one can do in Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi is popular for the Cheena-Vala or the Chinese Fishing nets, but it has a whole bunch of tourist attraction for all kind of tour...