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Review: Thar Oasis, Jodhpur

Thar Oasis, Jodhpur

One of the highlights about a desert holiday is camping in the sand dunes. On my recent trip to Jodhpur I happened to stay at Camp Thar Oasis and I can agree that it is one of the best camping sites in Jodhpur. The moment you enter the gates of the resort and are greeted by the warm gentleman at the gate with a handsome moustache you know you are in for a great stay.

Pros:

Location: Located far away from the city, this place truly is an oasis in the middle of the desert with expanses of desert and sand dunes around it. The moment you enter the Resort you can see the sprawling lawns and the swimming pool brimming with clean blue water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camps & cottages: You can opt to either stay in the camps or the cottages. The cottages are very well maintained, spacious, and well equipped with all basic necessities. the cottages have maintained the essence of Rajasthan with paintings on the walls of the cottages.

The camps are located at a distance from the cottages at a more secluded area. The camp area has an oasis in the middle of it which adds to the experience of staying the sand dunes. The camps are extremely well maintained with beds, washrooms, etc.

Restaurant: The restaurant is equipped with a massive bar and serves delicious food, both indian and continental. The staff too was very polite and warm in their approach.

Do not miss the dinner at the campsite in the middle of the desert under starry skies accompanied with drinks of your choice, amazing Rajasthani folk music and dance.

Cons:

Cons aren’t many. But yes the only not  so  good thing about the location is that it is quite far from any of the cities and if you are in for a short trip staying here is not the most convenient option.

I must conclude that I am totally in love with this place I must say 🙂

 

Review: Hotel Annamalai, Pondicherry

Hotel Annamalai, Pondicherry

Hotel Annamalai is one of the modern day hotels in Pondicherry. Conveniently placed in the heart of the city, this is a great place to stay if you are looking for a hotel with all modern facilities like swimming pool, bar, buffet breakfasts, capsule lift.

Pros:

capsule elevator

Location: Great location , although not in Heritage town, yet it is centrally located and for anyone travelling to Pondy by bus from Chennai, there is a bus stop very near to hotel. One could walk to the hotel from the bus stop. The hotel has an auto stand right next to it and also the bus terminus is at a distance of 15 mins.

Rooms and amenities: The hotel is well equipped with all modern amenities, rooms are spacious and have air conditioning, tea makers & mini fridge as well. The hotel also has a capsule elevator, something that is not so commonly found in hotels nowadays.

Others: There is a swimming pool in the terrace, and a restaurant with bar facilities. The hotel also helps in arranging for a scooty if required for at a reasonable price. The breakfast buffet is pretty decent as well.

Staff: In general the staff can speak and understand english and hindi and is pretty hospitable and helpful.

Cons:

Although the it is a little under maintained.  I found the water to be not so clean and also there is no strict rules about costumes in the swimming pool. While I was at the pool I had a few guests who went into the pool with t-shirts and briefs. Maybe this explains the not so clean water.

Also the fact that the hotel is not in Heritage town steals away the charm of staying in Pondicherry and waking up to the typical french architecture.

The Indian “Great Wall of China” – Kumbhalgarh Fort, Rajasthan, India

Things you need to know before visiting the Kumbhalgarh Fort:

  • The place usually gets very crowded during peak season (September – March), so make sure to reach early to be able to have a not-so-rushed visit
  • The stairs inside the Fort are pretty steep and narrow, so be careful, not very convenient for people who have problem with small spaces (claustrophobia)
  • Take a guide who can help you around the Fort to not get lost. Do bargain
  • The walk up to the Fort is pretty steep, so be well equipped with proper walking shoes and a water bottle since it could be exhausting
  • Being at the Fort during sunset is one of the best things to do, since it is a captivating view
  • You might consider watching the Light and Sound show in the evening, although it is too much of talk and less about the Fort, watch at own risk (it is in Hindi language though!)
  • Eat properly before going up there, since to walk around the Fort properly is pretty time consuming
  • Mornings and Evenings are best time to visit

 

What you need to know about the’GREAT WALL OF INDIA’:

For the longest time we only knew about The Great Wall of China and its history, but we have a close counterpart in India as well which happens to be the Second Longest Wall in the world after The Great Wall of China. Unknown to the outside world for a very long time, this place is now gaining popularity, Kumbhalgarh Fort in Rajasthan, India also referred t now as the GREAT WALL OF INDIA.

Built in the early 15th century by the Great Maharana Kumbha and further extended in the 19th century, this fort is also where The Great King & warrior of Mewar, Maharana Pratap was born. History has it that this is the invincible Fort which could not be conquered even by the mighty Mughals alone, only together with the armies of Delhi, Amber and Marwar they were able to break through the Fort. This Fort is a standing icon of the bold and unbreakable Rajput glory and spirit.

The Fort is a safely protected by the massive snake like meandering Fort Wall which is 15 kms long and 1150 m to 1200 m in height, the wall is as thick as 12-25 feet and broad enough to allow an army of eight horses to ride abreast. It runs through the mountain cliffs and valleys of the Aravalli ranges sometimes going uphill or taking a descent structured with long walk ways, stairs and seven huge gates. Also within the Wall it guards 360 temples. Along with the Fort the Wall encompasses around some of the forest ranges of the Kumbhalgarh National Park which helps in the safe keeping of a few Indian endangered species, it is home to the famous panthers & leopards of India and also a variety of other wildlife. The Wall is an standing proof of the brilliant architecture from the Rajput era, built with such brilliance that even after 700 years of its being it still stands tall unmoved. It is this wall that is known as the second longest continuous wall on the planet after the ‘Great Wall of China’.

 

 

Must Visit Places in Singapore – Part I

Must Visit Places in Singapore – Part I

  1. Marina Bay

Singapore has a place for everyone and for the ones interested to indulge in a bit of luxury, Marina Bay Sands is the perfect destination. It is a one of its kind integrated resort which rules the Singapore city skyline. It consists of three 55-storey towers of luxury hotel rooms and exquisite suites. It also houses the Sands Sky Park which forms the crown of the three marvelous towers. The Sands Sky Park provides breathtaking 360 views of the city from the observation deck. If you splurge enough to be a guest at the Hotel, you can experience the unique feeling of swimming in the infinity swimming pool overlooking the horizon at a height of 200 metres. One of the luxury must try experiences in Singapore is taking a dip in the pool while the watching the sun go down across the horizon. Indulge in shopping at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, which has the largest collection of coveted designer show rooms and boutiques in Asia. Immerse your taste buds in exotic fine dining options, which includes restaurants by celebrity chefs, fine dining or casual eateries.

Stunning Laser show at Marina Bay Sands at night

For those interested in Science and Arts head to the Lotus inspired building, ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, it is well known for the highly accoladed exhibition FUTURE WORLD: Where Art Meets Science. The museum is host to many blockbuster touring exhibitions that explores creative processes at the heart of art, science, technology and culture such as Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal, Collider and more. Ground attractions include the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands, featuring stunning performances for world-class entertainment. 

  1. Clarke Quay
Dazzling Clarke Quay at night

Nightlife in Singapore is always buzzing with action. Clarke Quay is one of such places and indeed one of the best places to be in after sunset. It is the nightlife and party hub of Singapore. Sparkling with dazzling lights, partying people and jazzy nightclubs, Clarke Quay is one place you don’t want to go home from. It is booming with a host of unique bars, concept restaurants and pubs along the Singapore River. Originally a centre of commerce along the Singapore River, Clarke Quay is nowadays a hub of restaurants, concept bars, retail stores and entertainment outlets. Go for a drink at the Bamboo Bar at The Forbidden City or Lunar Asian Fusion Bar which has got great shows, or Bar Opiume at the Empress Place by the riverside and for a late night out dancing and drinking drop in at the Attica or Canvas. 

 

  1. Gardens by the Bay

Step into the future at Gardens by the Bay, it is a pompous, mammoth colourful futuristic park encompassing 250 acres of land on the waterfront of Singapore. Famous for what is called the Supertree, these structures form an extravagant skywalk over the gardens, 9 to 16-storey-tall vertical gardens that collect rainwater, generate solar power and act as venting ducts for the park’s conservatories.

View from below of the magical Gardens by the Bay

Huge seashell-shaped greenhouses create temperature dipping hilly climates and there are innumerable trees and plants of various species to be discovered, cool-dry climate of regions like California and South Africa, and boasts more than 32,000 plants comprising some 160 species, cultivars and varieties, is also  world’s largest columnless greenhouse. Besides ultra-modern design, the conservatories also use cutting-edge technologies for better energy efficiency. Not to be missed is the cool, misty Cloud Forest Dome, with its 35-metre-tall “Cloud Mountain”, covered in orchids, ferns and bromeliads and containing the world’s largest indoor waterfall. If you dare, take the OCBC Skyway, a suspended 128-metre-long walkway between two Supertrees, for a bird’s eye view of the park. This destination is a perfect fun place for both kids and adults alike. The most spectacular view of the Gardens is visible from the top of the Marina Bay which happens to be directly opposite the park, it’s hard to miss the sprawling 101-hectare lot right by the water in Marina Bay. . This dazzling light and sound show takes place nightly amid the Supertrees. Then dine at romantic Pollen in the Flower Dome, glamorous Indochine at the top of the Supertrees or Satay by the Bay for hearty local food. Getting here is easy, either via walkways from the hotel, giving you an elevated view of the gardens, or taking the slightly longer riverside promenade to enter the park near the two domes. The park entry is free of cost except for the climate controlled greenhouses or for a walk amongst the Supertrees, for which there is a charge. The main park area is open from 9:00 to 21:00.

  1. Raffles Hotel

One of the most iconic places and old buildings that contribute to the heritage of Singapore is the luxurious Raffles Hotel. It is a colonial-styled and has a long standing history dating back to 1887 due to which is has become one of the most significant Singapore landmarks. It has an interesting list of celebrity guests that have graced the hotel consisting of the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Queen Elizabeth II and the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

Iconic Raffles Hotel

The Raffles Hotel has 103 suites and 18 distinctive restaurants and bars. It also has a brilliant arcade with over 40 international designer stores like Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co, etc. Having a Singapore Sling at the Bar in Raffles is a heritage experience that one could indulge in. It is here that ‘The Singapore Sling’ also regarded as the national drink of the country, was first created in 1915 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon.

The World famous ‘Singapore Sling’

Primarily a gin-based cocktail, the Singapore Sling also contains pineapple juice as the main ingredient, along with grenadine, lime juice and Dom Benedictine. Giving it the pretty pink hue are cherry brandy and Cointreau. 

  1. Merlion Park

Hailed as Singapore’s national icon, the mythical Merlion with the head of a lion and the body of a fish is an unevitable statue that cannot be missed, seven in total placed around the city. The Merlion is a reminder of the beginnings of Singapore as a fishing village when it was called Temasek, meaning ‘sea town’. Its head represents Singapore’s original name, Singapura, or ‘lion city’ in Malay. Visit the Merlion Park to get a closer look at the legend of Merlion. Spouting water from its mouth, the Merlion statue stands tall at 8.6 metres. This icon is a ‘must-see’ for tourists visiting Singapore, similar to other significant landmarks around the world. Built by local craftsman Lim Nang Seng, it was unveiled on 15 September 1972 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the mouth of the Singapore River, to welcome all visitors to Singapore.

The most famous picture that depicts Singapore

But with the completion of Esplanade Bridge in 1997, the statue could no longer be viewed clearly from the waterfront. So in 2002, the Merlion was relocated 120 metres away from the original position to where it stands in Merlion Park today, in front of Fullerton Hotel and overlooking Marina Bay. The park also houses a smaller Merlion statue. Known as the ‘Merlion cub’, it stands at 2 metres tall and weighs three tonnes. The original sculpture and its cub are the most well-known among the seven approved Merlion statues in Singapore. 

  1. Singapore Flyer

If you are in the mood to fly in the sky and take a spin in the air you must go to the Singapore flyer. Standing out in the Singapore skyline, the Singapore Flyer is not just another orb. Asia’s largest giant observation wheel provides some of the most magnificent views of the city. Located at the heart of downtown Marina Bay a complete spin takes one as high as 42 storeys. Step into this thrilling ride which consists of one of the 28 fully air-conditioned glass capsules, and be raised for a 30-minute spin overlooking stunning day and night scenes. Grasp the enchanting views of the city and the iconic and historical landmarks such as the Marina Bay, Singapore River, Raffles Place, Merlion Park, Empress Place and the Padang are visible.

Don’t miss the sky high ride for a complete bird’s eye view of Singapore

On clear days many of you might also be able to spot landmarks far away like Changi Airport, Sentosa Island and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia as well. Imagine dining amongst the clouds, this is something the Singapore Flyer offers, you can have high tea, enjoy fine-dining or sip on cocktails and Champagne on the Singapore Flyer’s special in-flight packages. Also an interesting mix of entertaining experiences such as a flight simulator and a fish spa are also available. Once you land, done miss visiting the Singapore Food Trail, a unique 1960s themed food street offering famous local fare such as ‘bak kut teh’ and Hainanese chicken rice. 

  1. Resorts World Sentosa

Want to go wild and crazy with no dearth of things to do? Resorts World Sentosa is the place you should be headed to. It is an integrated resort experience designed to keep the whole family enthralled. The key attractions includes the Universal Studios theme park, Adventure Cove Water Park, and S.E.A. Aquarium, which includes the world’s largest Oceanarium. It also has several dining options with various themes when you are hungry. This is not just it, the resort also has a casino. Try your luck the Bond’s way.  One is sure to get drained out after all the activities, to rejuvenate yourself take a break and pamper yourself at a spa or better book a stay at one of the hotels in the resort itself which has couple of jazzy hotels. Some of the not-to-miss places you have to indulge in are:

  1. Universal Studios Singapore

Universal Studios Singapore is Southeast Asia’s first Hollywood movie theme park. It is a spectacular assembly of extravagant adventure rides and huge selection of attractions and entertainment for both families and adventure seekers. Majority of the rides here are specially designed for the Singapore Park. The theme park is home to seven block-buster movie-themed zones, and each one of them is designed with a lot of detail and very close to movie avatars. It also has a fantastic Hollywood Walk of Fame at the Hollywood zone, you would feel as if you have ventured into New York, the landscape transforms into impressive city skylines, including a replicas of subway entrances. Feel the power and adrenaline rush of being in a real movie like set up and feel the action and thrill and the powerful special effects produced by Steven Spielberg.

Breathtaking rides: Sci-Fi City features the blockbuster ride TRANSFORMERS The Ride: The Ultimate 3D Battle ride where you get to fight evil forces in heart-pounding 3D combat. Next step into the Ancient Egyptian world and come face to face with mummies and beetles in an indoor roller coaster in total darkness – ignite your senses here. Looking for your favorite animated movie character, meet them at Madagascar and prepare to be drenched in a wet river boat ride.

Thrills and spills: Performances here are equally spectacular. Kids will fall in love with the Shrek 4-D Adventure at Far Far Away. This cinematic experience lets you feel the action of the movie. Fond of Spielberg’s dinosaurs from the Jurassic Park series, walk into The Lost World and witness death-defying stunts and explosions in the live performance in the Water World. I am sure these thrilling rides will leave you exhausted, rejuvenate your energy between the attractions and step in to the many themed restaurants across the parks. 

  1. The Adventure Cove Waterpark

Is a water lover’s paradise; it has an extremely well maintained world class Marine life. This includes the S.E.A Aquarium that is abode to over 100,000 marine animals. The Adventure Cove Waterpark is a dream place with thrilling wet and wild rides. The very cute Dolphin Island, where you can interact with the friendliest mammals. History lovers can visit the Maritime Experiential Museum to learn about Asia’s rich maritime history and Singapore’s past as a trading port. At night immerse yourself in the mesmerizing display of water, fire and light at the Lake of Dreams and the Crane Dance, where mechanical cranes transform into birds through a journey of love.

Continued in Part II….

 

Singapore – Getting There

At a Glance

 

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Singapore is a stunning and beautiful island strategically located in the heart of South East Asia which also happens to be world’s only island city-state. This breath taking island is one of the most popular and busy travel destinations in South East Asia. It is not only of great commercial interest but also a booming tourist destination as it sees travelers dropping in from all around the Globe.

Singapore boosts of an interesting mix of uber modern architectural marvels as well as age old temples and traditions. Not to be fooled by the size of this tiny island, it has a lot to offer with innumerable options to choose from. It is like a parallel universe residing together all in this small city.

On one side the city skyline is clouded with tall skyscrapers and modern state of the art structures such as Marina Bay Sands, a three-towered skyscraper that is a vital part of Singapore’s horizon, Resorts World Sentosa which is home to the very famous Universal Studios theme park, and the majestic Gardens by the Bay and many more such iconic places. On the other hand there are the humble century old buildings like the elegant Raffles Hotel still standing tall more than a century after being built. This island state was a former British trading post and colony and even after independence and the blend of cultures is ingrained in all aspects of life in Singapore.

The cultural blends are strongly visible in the food scenario most prominently. Cuisines from all around the world are available. Alongside world class fine dining restaurants offering international cuisines, the street food available here is also finger licking good. Due to its vicinity with other South East Asian countries the food culture in Singapore is an amazing confluence of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences. One can escape the hustle and bustle of modernity in Singapore by visiting the very exotic Chinatown and Little India to get a flavor of the neighboring Asian countries.

How to get there

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Visa & customs:  For information on visa requirements and the Visa Free Transit Facility, you can visit and check with the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority or the Singapore Overseas Mission in your city or country. The visa application form is available for free at all Singapore overseas missions. For detailed information and requirements for entry to Singapore you can visit the Official website for Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore

By Air: Changi Airport in Singapore is one of the most busy and well connected airports in the world. It sees over 100 airlines flying to more than 250 cities around the world. Most of the well-known international airlines have their operations in Singapore. Few local airlines operate from Singapore such as the renowned Singapore Airlines and budget airlines Tiger. The airport itself is very well maintained and conferred with many awards, it boosts of modern amenities and activities for tourists and travelers making it a world-class attraction in its own way.

By Sea: Singapore is an important port of commercial interest due to its strategic location in the heart of Asia; it is one of the world’s busiest cruise centers. Several cruise operators of various kinds like luxury, premium, and contemporary types operate from here. The newest is the Marina Bay Cruise Centre in Singapore which can accommodate the largest range of cruise liners.

By Road: Singapore is also very well connected by roads; it can be easily reached from West Malaysia through a scenic ride. Two checkpoints need to be crossed before entering Singapore; one is at Tuas in the west and Woodlands in the north. They both operate 24/7 facilitating ease of reach to Singapore via road.

Getting around Singapore:  Singapore has one of the best public transport systems in South East Asia, it is fast, efficient and world class and is well connected;  enough to make reaching the various places in Singapore easy and comfortable without much hassle.

By train: MRT (mass rapid transit) system in Singapore is definitely the most efficient and fastest way to commute around the city. The Rail network is extensive and connects almost all the key attractions in the city. Tickets can be bought for single trips, for a mix of both rail and bus network one can buy the Singapore Tourist Pass, a value card which will allow unlimited travel for one day (S$10), two days (S$16) or three days (S$20). Cards are available for purchase at the Transit Link Ticket Office at the following MRT stations: City Hall, Raffles Place, Ang Mo Kio, HarbourFront, Bugis, Changi Airport, Orchard, Chinatown, Lavender and Bayfront. The MRT stations and trains are well equipped with facilities to make travel smooth for wheel chair users, visually impaired, as well as families with strollers.

By taxi: Taxis are also frequently used and a common mode of transport especially for the places not accessible by buses or trains. Cabs run on meters, although it is advisable to check with the driver because a lot of them charge based on time, location and destination of travel and might also add surcharges depending of the company the cab belongs to. Make sure to ask for a receipt at the end of the trip. Taxis can be boarded from the roadside at most places, or by queuing for any of the taxi stands found at shopping malls, hotels and tourist attractions. Cabs can also be booked by calling at a common taxi booking number, 6-DIAL CAB (6342-5222), which than routes the call to any available taxi company’s call centre.

By bus: The most economically viable mode of transport in Singapore is the bus system which is extensively connected covering all routes to places in the city. It is also a great and comfortable way to explore and see the city also because most buses are air conditioned, a very important aspect for traveling in the tropical climate of Singapore. Singapore Tourist Pass is commonly used to pay for the bus travels by using the card reader located next to the driver as your board and exit. Cash payments are also accepted but need to be exact change amount.

Singapore Visitor Centre: Three Singapore Visitor Centres in ION Orchard, Orchard or Chinatown are available in case you need help. Information on tips and recommendations to plan your itinerary, purchase tickets to attractions and tours are available here, also you can pick up locally designed souvenirs and book accommodation for your stay.

To be continued in next post ‘Must Visit Places in Singapore’

What not to expect from the French city of India – Pondicherry

India has a touch of so many worlds, it has got a place for all cultures, people and religion and it is always a visual treat to witness such an amalgamation. One such place is Pondicherry, after years of wanting to visit this place, last month (February 2017) I finally found myself in this tiny French colony of Pondicherry.

How to Reach: Best way to reach is to travel to Pondicherry from Chennai. Chennai is at a distance of approx 170 kms. By bus or car its takes 3-4 hours. Best and cheapest option is to travel by bus, bus tickets range from Rs 100 – 400 depending on the type of bus. For a more comfortable journey you can hire a car for an expensive fare of Rs 3000 one way.

Matri mandir in Auroville

What not to expect in Pondicherry: 

Well, to be honest when we hear about Pondicherry we picture pastel colored French buildings and architecture, lovely bakeries and a hip culture. Upon visiting this place I realized that this is only partially true.

This is not GOA: Sometimes Pondy is compared to Goa due to its beautiful beaches and influx of foreign tourists. But unlike Goa, Pondy doesnot have shacks like Goa, nor a late night pub or club culture. The beach side cafes and restaurants close at 10:00 PM dot. The ones not beach facing have a buffer of 1 hour and close at 11:00 PM exact.

‘Tiny’ French colony: The most popular part of Pondy is indeed very very small with a capital S. The rest of Pondy except Heritage town in pretty much like a typical, regular south indian city,  so do not expect an extensive French town full of beautiful buildings.

Early nights: Pondy is not the best for the lazy souls. The beach side restaurants shut down at 10:00 pm dot or else expect to be almost thrown out. If you wish to push your nights a bit longer past 10 pm, best bet would be to dine and wine at one of the not so beach side cafes\restaurants to be able to chill till 11 pm. But! Do expect an annoying waiter to be over your shoulder every 10 mins reminding you its time to leave once it is past 11  pm

Language problem: In case you are not  able to find a hotel or accommodation in Heritage town, be ready to struggle a bit, well lets make it quite a bit owing to the prominent language problem. Hindi and English are not commonly spoken except for specific areas in Pondy. I being an Indian had a tough time moving around in the city, imagine what it might have been for someone not from the country.

A teeny weeny bit less hospitable: Okay this is only my personal opinion and no one needs to agree with it, also maybe these opinions are due to specific experiences I had, but nevertheless somehow I had instances in restaurants and hotels where I faced some reluctance or lack of warmth while addressing lets say an issue I was facing. Maybe its the influx of foreign tourists and dollars that has attributed to this or something else I am not too sure about.

I would like to add that hope this post does not discourage anyone from travelling to Pondy, rather it should help you from getting disappointed by setting the right expectations about this tiny lazy extremely pretty French city of Pondicherry.

 

 

What you need to know about the ‘Crazy markets of Bangkok’!

Seriously, there is just one word to describe the Bangkok markets: Crazy!!!
I had one night in Bangkok! Since I was staying in a hotel in the commercial side of Bangkok, it was the best chance to explore the market scene of the city. After checking into the hotel, and resting a while I set off to explore the markets in the afternoon.
Now what’s so crazy about the Bangkok markets?

Well there are several markets situated at pockets not very far off, but what’s crazy is that they all have different opening timings, few shut off at 2pm, a few at 4pm, another at 6pm and some at 8pm. So if you think of wandering into a market aimlessly it won’t work because you might as well find out that the market is closed or about to close. And that’s exactly what happened to me by the time I reached one market that was closing, I had to rush rush rush to the other one, resulting in waste of time and not being able to shop well.

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So if you are off to Pratunam market make sure you are there well before 8pm because that’s from when the market starts closing down. It’s a famous market for shopping of clothes, more like the fashion district. It stretches into alleys in circles like a puzzle maze and its very easy to get lost and keeping looping around the same alley, so my suggestion is start from one side of the market and proceed ahead if you do not want to get caught in circles. Pratunam stretches from alleys into a shopping center usually selling goods in bulk, more quantity, lower the price. Buy 3 instead of 1, you are sure to get a better price.

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Next up is Pantip Plaza, I wouldn’t say I was very impressed by the rates here, being an Indian and having shopped in India, Nehru Place market in Delhi, India seemed to be by far much better an electronic market than this one. Also what I noticed was that the shop keepers were a little impolite and moody, suppose they din’t want to sell their stuff to you, they would quote an absurd price, naturally leading you away. Nevertheless, its worth a visit, the market is vast and totally full of electronic goods. The plaza starts closing down at 8:00ish pm.

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After dark shopping head to Khao San market, it is one market that opens in the evening as stays up till midnight. I found Khao San market lively and friendly at the same time. The shopkeepers are polite, friendly and warm. Shop for souvenirs, gifts to your heart’s content. It also has several restaurants, and it’s a delight to see the variety of cuisines it has to offer.

Bangkok will never be the same without its thoroughly crazy markets!

Kashmir: At the time of Curfew – Part II

Day 2: Sonmarg

I had planned a more elaborate trip to Kashmir, but upon discussions with locals and the drivers I understood that Pahalgam and Gulmarg were not a safe place to travel during the ongoing curfew since it was pretty disturbed at the moment with stonepelting still continuing. Gulmarg which is famous for the Gondola ride was closed for close to 2 months at the moment. I also had a couple of days of stay booked in Pahalgam. Considering all this I dropped my plan to go to these places and instead decided to go to Sonmarg and  stay back in Srinagar for a day longer and made a plan change to go to Jammu instead. So on my 2nd day I headed to Sonmarg in the wee hours at 4:30 am, since usually everyone is asleep at that time and it helps avoid any commotion on the road that might happen during day time. So we travelled in the dark and on empty roads and it took us around 3 hours to reach Sonmarg with a few toilet and tea breaks in between. So by 7:30 am we reached Sonmarg. The air was cold and fresh and the view was magical. The sun had risen and its warmth was so comforting. After having my breakfast at a local stall.

I understood that usually one would hire a horse and a rider to take me uphill. So after negotiating we decided on Rs 1400 for a horse ride up and down the hill. As per locals this was a very cheap rate given the low tourist footfall. And so at around 8:30 am my splendid ride began with my horse named ‘Heer’ who was just 4 years old and quite a girl, she would gallop atimes and walk on the all the possible loose edges of the hill although there were broad paved roads right beside them, almost giving me a heart attack. Apparently the horses prefer to walk on the edges I was told.Phew!!!

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A herd of sheeps grazing at the foothills
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my pretty ride for the day ‘Heer’
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Beautiful valley

I should admit that within no time I and Heer befriended each other and soon the rider let me and her take the lead on our way up. Soon I was comfortable enough to be clicking pictures and enjoying my ride. We crossed locations where the recent movie ‘Bajrangi Bhaijan’ was shoot (Bollywood movie) and few others the horse keeper named that I don’t remember now. Soon we reached the drop off point from where I climbed a bit of the hill by foot where a huge cave was formed out of stacked frozen ice. After clicking some pictures, having some tea and snacks and resting a bit, while Heer had some water to herself we headed back downhill.

Once we reached I patted my beautiful black horse and bit adieu to the rider who too was a real nice person although we didn’t talk much during our ride. By the time we were back it was around 12:00pm and lunchtime.

I was interested in having Wazwan which is Kashmiri cuisine and I did find a comfortable local restaurant serving them luckily, unlike many which were closed and serving just basic food. I ordered Rista which is basically mutton balls in spicy gravy to be had with rice. After a good and super spicy wazwan we headed back. I stopped by for a bit of shopping at a government store on the way, where I also relaxed a little and had some kashmiri tea: Kahwa which is a specialty. This too was a great place to shop and more so since the shopkeeper was very sweet.

Finally at around 6 pm I was back at my house boat and the roads had a little more people than the day before, a few more shops were open. I rested a while and decided to go out for a stroll. It was comforting to see that a few shops were selling samosas and breads, was I walked down further I came across a big hospital due to which there were vans selling biryani and fried chicken. So yes, post 6 pm life was a little better than the morning for the locals here, I also saw a park fun of kids playing and I wished that the crisis in Kashmir would end soon.

Expenses:

Srinagar to Sonmarg by car and back: Exorbitant Rs 6000, due to the curfew. Usually they charge Rs 2500.

Sonmarg horse ride uphill and down: Rs 1400 per horse, usually during normal situation its more.

Continued…

What not to miss in Darjeeling

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Darjeeling is absolutely one of my most favorite hill stations in India, the charm of this place is elegant and gracious. In my previous post I was busy admiring this place and only had enough time to write about my first impressions once I reached Darjeeling. Now it has been a week of me staying here and I think I am finally ready to write about what are the absolute have-to-visit or have-to-do places in Darjeeling. While I sip on to my cup of tea sitting here in the valley facing CCD cafe, join me in as I pen down my personal favorites here.


Momos
Ah!!! The momos one can eat in Darjeeling is unmatched. I don’t remember ever eating such heavenly momos anywhere else. The momos are served with red hot spicy sauce and a very clear chicken soup. The best ones I found where in the small dingy road side eateries lined up on the road around the Darjeeling railway station run by local people. No! do not get skeptical by looking at these places, they might look really shabby from the outside, the places are usually clean and really tiny with just enough space for 6-8 people to fit in but it’s the food they put on your plate that will leave you wanting for more. This is where I went and then went there again for 3 consecutive days and had my itinerary permitted I would have gone there everyday.

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Glenarys
The most famous bakery in town, also known as the Glenary’s Cake Shop is located at the ground floor of a beautiful white colonial building, its a typical British colonial building and very near to the Mall road. While the Restaurant is located upstairs, the bakery is on the lower floor, go there for the yummy breakfast, rolls, pies, pizzas, pastries, fruit & rum cakes and also freshly baked breads. The view from the cafe is breath-taking. Order a pot of Darjeeling tea and it almost feels like having a cup on tea sitting on the clouds. Also lookout for the red telephone booth, a perfect selfie location

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Red telephone booth inside the cafe
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Placed in one of the corners in the cafe
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View from Glenarys bakery

The Restaurant is equally regal and beautiful, famous for its continental food, order with a glass of wine to enjoy the feel for colonial life.

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Wine for three 🙂 @Glenarys
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Restaurant in Glenarys on a casual evening

Keventers

Popular for being featured in some of the recent Bollywood movies, it is located facing the Clock tower. I have never had a sausage platter so big and so huge in my life. A foodies paradise. USP huge quantity, sausage platter for breakfast with breads and Darjeeling tea. Overlooks the clock tower. The terrace is the best place to find a table.

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The famous sausage platter
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View from the terrace in Keventers
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Look out for one of the ship shaped building from the terrace in Keventers

Mall Road

As many hill stations in India, Darjeeling too has the mall road lined up with shops selling rich authentic local handicrafts and jewellery. I bargained to buy really gorgeous jewellery and artifacts

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The usual scene from Mall Road

Toy Train

Well Toy Train is heritage and a ticket is hard to find unless booked in advance and pretty damn expensive too. My advice ditch the Toy train, take a train from Darjeeling station to Ghoom and back to get a flavor of the a train journey on the hills by the tea gardens. (Although this is my personal opinion)

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The world famous Toy Train
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Ghoom or Ghum Railway station

Mountaineering Institute & Zoo

Usually I don’t do the usual places like zoo when visiting a place, but this one is different. The Mountaineering Institute houses all the clothes and equipments used by the very first climber Tenzing Norgay and their team and also a detailed description of the route and their journey followed by them. In the Zoo specifically look out for the Red Panda lazying around.

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Himalayan Zooligical park
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The super lazy Red Panda

Rope-way ride

The  Cable Car is a must see only because it allows majestic views of the acres of the tea garden which looks like a green carpet from above. To me it seemed like a trip into a Jurassic Park scenario. We reached  here to board the cable car from Singamari which is approx. 3kms away from Darjeeling Chowk Bazaar.
The ride is about 45 minutes and on an altitude of about 7,000 ft. down to 800 ft. where the last station Singla Bazar is located.

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View from the rope way on rainy day
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The green carpets of tea garden from the rope way as can be seen below
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Into the clouds

Cup of Darjeeling Tea

And finally nothing beats having cup after cups of Darjeeling tea sitting in Darjeeling. The Mall road is lined up with tea cafe come shops like Nathmulls , Golden Tips which serves Darjeeling tea plus all forms of tea related things like cups, sets, pots etc. Look out for the tea cups with strainers with beautiful dragon paintings on it.(below pictures taken in Nathmulls)

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This is a tiny tea set, one of the many beautiful things available in the tea shops
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Alas! Darjeeling Tea


One night stand with Bangkok

One night stand with Bangkok

What do you do when you have one day in Bangkok and want to make the most of it, how to come up with an itinerary that makes full use of the time. Not having the luxury of too many days leaves from work, me any friends planned a 5-6 days trip in Thailand, a perfect break! According to our itinerary we had 1 day in Bangkok! And trust me we made the full use of each minute! So here we go..
The Flight:
We had booked an early morning flight, well early in the true sense. Kolkata, India to Bangkok flight, departing at 12:05 am. We had a Spicejet flight that cost us really cheap, but this was the worst flight experience in my life. To start with the seats were unusually cramped up. For a 5feet 4inch figure too it was extremely difficult to sit properly due to excessively less leg space. The flight somehow managed to have all the unruly passengers at once. There was a huge group of middle aged men who were the loudest and the most uncouth, lets blame the mid-life crisis for that. Anyways the flight was on time never the less. We arrived at 4:00 Bangkok time. The flight duration was 2 hours roughly. After a smooth Visa on Arrival process that roughly took us about an hour, we were all set to step out into Bangkok.

The Taxi ride:

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Pink taxis plying on the road

 The taxi service was pretty smooth, after having booked a pre-paid taxi we were utterly pleased to be directed towards a striking Pink Taxi. What more would be so pleasing for a bunch of girls at 5:00 in the morning, more than a hot pink taxi. That just set in the right mood. The roads were empty, clean and the sky a gloomy blue. The taxi driver was a pretty old man with wrinkles with a very warm smile. Yes he did not understand a word of English. So we have to wake our sleepy brains up to try and explain him where we needed to go. We had a hotel reservation near Khao San road. Unable to understand us and vice-versa we showed him the hotel reservation printout, although he was unable to read it. He did take help from a passerby to read him out the direction. He had lovely Thai music playing, we did not understand the language but it calmed and relaxed. Our first pic in Bangkok was one with the pink taxi taken by the driver!
Morning in Khao San road:
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Board at a cafe in Khao San

We arrived at the hotel which was perfectly place on the main road, no alleys or hassles to find out the hotel, since we had reached

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Open air street side cafe!Lovely place

early at around 7:00 am. And the check in time being 12:00 pm, we had a lot of time to laze around until we got a room. So instead we munched on a few freebies kept in the waiting area, had some fresh coffee and headed out to explore what was around. The morning walk felt lovely, fresh air, empty roads, it was just the best start to a lovely day. We kept walking by closed shops, eateries and banks until we met a guy, whom we asked if there was any market place nearby. Fortunately we were a stones throw away from the famous Khao San road. We fastened our pace. And we knew we had reached Khao San the moment we could see restaurants with lazy tourists like us and colorful eateries, roadside stalls selling local food. The road sides were lined up with tables and chairs, with empty, some full with people busy enjoying there morning breakfast.

We walked across the several restaurants admiring the various unique decors, names and themes that each place had. The entire stretch of the road somehow had a unique freshness and warm feeling to it, very welcoming and bright.
We decided upon a unique place that caught our eye. It had a very welcoming living room type décor with super comfy sofas and waitresses dressed in pink, by now pink had already seemed to become the color of Bangkok. We ordered continental food but to our surprise it was lip smackingly delicious.
There were a couple of there tourists too who interacted with us, clicked pictures with us as well. Well the one think I loved about eating in Bangkok. You do not need to pay taxes. What a relief to be able to pay for exactly what you eat, also that almost all of these places offered free wifi. Sipping on some fresh juiceOn our way we could not stop having a few tall glasses of freshly made fruit juice.
By the time we were back in the hotel it was 11:00 am and were allowed an hour early check-in.
Chao Phraya River ride:
Chao Phraya River
Chao Phraya River
At the hotel we all took a quick one hour nap while the other was in the shower, that way we had our share of power nap while utilizing the time. We were ready in sometime and also set to explore the traditional side of Bangkok, also referred to as Old Bangkok. We asked the hotel receptionist for directions around old Bangkok, and they were really helpful to guide us with all necessary details and a map.
And we took off, admiring the many shops on the way and after making our self a quick coffee and ready to eat noodles easily available in the departmental store. Within 10 minutes of walking we reached the Chao Phraya River side. The hotel guys were so helpful in advising us to not take a tuk-tuk (local 3 wheeler transport) which would cost us around 100-150 thai baht, and instead go via the quickest and cheapest transport, the ferry which hardly cost ur around 10 thai baht. Not only that the ferry ride is too beautiful. The river side if full of big fishes which is amusing to watch.
Feeding some ferocious fishes in the river
Feeding some ferocious fishes in the river
Imagine yourself in a ferry and any direction you see there is heritage and tradition and the culture of the Bangkok. The ride itself seems like an attraction. One of the local guys helped us identify the ferry with a reddish orange flag as the one that would take us.
Old Bangkok:
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Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha @ Wat Pho
Old Bangkok is mesmerizing with architecture that is intricate and colourful. Old Bangkok is house to most of the famous attractions like, the Grand Palace, the inspiring beauty of Wat Phra Kaew, the traditional learning centres Wat Pho and Wat Mahathat, the latter widely considered one of Thailand’s first universities and a centre for meditation. Sanam Luang, a historic park next to the Grand Palace traditionally used for important Royal or Buddhist ceremonies, and the National Gallery. We deboarded from our ferry at the Grand Palace.
Grand Palace is an epitome of wonderful thai architecture. Its intricate detailed work and maintenance is commendable. It still hosts important ceremonies today. After Grand Palace we headed to Wat Pho.
 Wat Pho or better known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha is a must visit just to witness the magnitude and massiveness of the place. Please be aware that all these places have strict dressing rules, women are required to not wear short or revealing clothes. Although Wat Pho has the arrangement of a robe incase you are not dressed appropriately for the place. But yet it is advised to either carry a cover up change or clothes like we did as advised to us by the receptionist or be dressed in not revealing clothes. You are also required to take off your shoes before entering. What strikes the most about the place is the massiveness of the reclining Buddha. The figure is 15 metres tall, 46 metres long, so huge it would make you wonder how it even got inside the building. The Buddha’s feet are 5 metres long and decorated in mother-of-pearl illustrations of auspicious ‘laksanas’ (characteristics) of the Buddha. 108 is a significant number, referring to the 108 positive actions and symbols that helped lead Buddha to perfection.* The rest if the area too is big enough and worth taking a walk through. There are many English speaking guides but I felt its better to gain knowledge about the place online than waste 200-400 TB unnecessarily.
While these 2 attarctions were on one side of the river, the next place Wat Arun was on the opposite side of the river. We again took the cheapest and quickest way out to the other side of the river by the ferry at 3TB, it opposite to Wat Pho. Make sure to keep Wat Arun at the end of the list since it looks stunning during sun-set when it lights up. When we arrived it was still sunlight. Same dressing rules apply.
Wat Arun: Temple of the Dawn
Wat Arun: Temple of the Dawn

Wat Arun is not only beautiful but adventurous too. The Temple has a unique structure and architecture. As you start climbing up the stairs of the temple the stairs start becoming steeper and steeper, and the stairs gets narrower. It does get scary at the heighest point, we did muster up the courage to climb up but trust me looking down the stairs was pretty scary. There is a railing to hold onto for sure, I would suggest don’t miss the climb. BY the time we got down, it was just about sunset, as we made ourself comfortable on the lawn on the banks on river Chao Phraya, the temple lit up. It was so inspiring as symbolic to us to be present there to watch it light up against the setting sun.

Wat Arun bu the evening..Gorgeous sight!
Wat Arun bu the evening..Gorgeous sight

After we were done soaking in so much tradition and beauty of Thai architecture and culture we knew it was time to enjoy the night-life. Since the ferry services last only till around 7:30 pm we had to make a quick chase to get back to Khao San via ferry, we were lucky to get onto the last ferry. The river ride is even more beautiful at night with the spires of the Thai architecture lit up all around. We go of and headed towards Khao San. Its transforms into a different place at night. Unlike morning it was bustling with energy and tourists of all kinds and places. The energy is infectious that it gets onto you. After an entire evening of walking and climbing we settled down for an obvious foot massage, very easily available at evry 10 minutes distance. Trust me the foot massage acted like an energy bar for me. As it it took away all the exhaustion. We set off to explore almost the entire stretch of Khao San, it has amazing clubs and eatries. We tried the local pad thai noodles and must say it was cooked to perfection.

20141127_201348 You can also find many vendors selling fired crickets, flies, scorpions, cockroach, but incase you are 20141127_201404not a fan of fried insects you can click a picture of them or with them for 5-10 THB. Now that’s business!

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Sea food platter! YUM!
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Street side delicious street side noodles

You can see restaurants, bars, clubs of all sizes, colors and styles, and most of them seem pretty inviting with great continental or local thai cuisine. Indian food is usually expensive there. For shopping I would suggest this is not the best place as its on the more expensive side. Shopping for souviniers is easy though as bargaining is possible. With this we ended our one day in Bangkok, we made the most of it and loved every bit of it.

Stay tuned for our next blog entry on the other side of Bangkok.
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