Tag Archives: travel

What not to expect from the French colony 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.
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.

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

I have seen Kashmir in Bollywood movies and always wondered when I would get that chance to go there. It seemed like a piece of Europe in my own country India, enormous mountains, tall pine trees, rivers running in between the valleys, blue skies, shikara rides, gorgeous looking people and so much more beauty all in one place.

So I booked my flight and hotel tickets way back in the month of May to travel to Kashmir in September. September being a busy season in Kashmir and when I had booked my tickets in May the hotels were almost getting sold out. But as my luck would have it, curfew struck Kashmir in July. All the news channels and newspapers were flooded with news about the curfew. So I waited for a few months until August to check back on the situation, unfortunately not much had changed. Came September and a few days left for me to travel to Kashmir and by then the curfew had been on more that 50 days. With uncertainty and my wish to visit Kashmir, not knowing when next I would get a chance to travel to this beautiful place I decided to go ahead with my plans. I definitely did receive a lot of ‘are you crazy to go there now?’ type statements from various people I know. And so I did go..

As a result during my time is curfew stricken Kashmir I did end up busting a few myths about how Kashmir really is during curfew..Here is a detailed account of my days in Kashmir during curfew.

Day 1:

With an anxious heart and partially worried head I finally arrived at the Srinagar airport. I was greeted with the impact of curfew the moment I landed in the Srinagar Airport. While I was waiting for my luggage to arrive I happened to get acquainted with a local woman from there living in Delhi, we started chatting and boom came the question ‘What brings you to Srinagar?’, when she heard I was there travelling for leisure, she was totally livid! How could I plan to travel to Kashmir during the curfew, my reply as usual was that my tickets were booked way in advance and I wanted to take the chance. This was just one of those many discouraging conversations that followed later during my days in Kashmir.

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view from the flight

My houseboat owner arranged for my travel to the houseboat from the airport. On my way to the houseboat I noticed that all roads were totally barren and all the shops were closed. Except for the army personals there were no other people on the roads and not even one shop was open.  I reached my house boat and was greeted by the keeper with a warm smile. After taking some rest I discussed with the hotel people on what are the places I could visit.

The Mughal Gardens:

So for my first day I visited the Mughal Gardens. There are 4 gardens which make it up to the Mughal gardens. I would say a few of the gardens were beautiful with lovely blossoms of various kinds, although don’t expect too much, I must admit I was a little disappointed by a few too. None the less all of them are well maintained and have a heritage value so these are more than just gardens and rather monuments, lets put it that way.

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At the Mughal Garden
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All the lovely flowers in the Mughal gardens

Sankaracharya temple:

Next I went to the Sankaracharya temple, it’s a beautiful climb up the hills, it’s a 800 year old temple, clean and very well maintained, due to the curfew it was ONLY me who was there at that time, there were no tourists at all. And I loved the experience to be able to take in all the beauty all by myself. I realized I had not been in so much silence in a long time. The view from the top is breathtaking, the entire Dal lake and Srinagar could be seen from above, the peace and serenity of the place is contagious, I wish they would have let me click a picture of the view, I could not click any since it is a high security zone and cameras and phones are not allowed.

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Adoring the beautiful view from the view point on the way to Shankaracharya Temple

Sunset at Dal Lake:

On my way down, I spent some time at the Dal lake. The sun was setting and it was a mesmerizing view to behold, as the sun was setting the shikaras formed a silhouette and a perfect vision to take away with me for life.

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Mesmerizing sunset at Dal Lake

Shopping:

I planned to shop a little and since most of the shops were closed, our taxi driver took me to an underground store belonging to the co-operative, I must say the place was a steal, huge collection and very reasonably priced.  I almost bought everything in the shop! It should be a must visit place for anyone who plans to go shopping. I retired to the houseboat after this, on my way back I could see a few shops were open since the curfew would usually last from 6am – 6pm. Few shops were open and for a change I could see some locals on the streets which was welcoming to see. Although my plan to dine somewhere outside failed since all the eating places were shut down. So I settled in for a homely dinner at the house boat. I did enjoy my first day in curfew stricken Kashmir.

Details:

Airport to Houseboat transfer: Rs 500

Day tour of Srinagar: Rs 1500

Continued in Part II…Coming soon!

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


Darjeeling – My Muse

Darjeeling – My Muse

As a kid I remember waking up to the beautiful aroma of Darjeeling tea everyday along with morning chatter and my Dad sipping on to it while reading the newspaper. It is since then that ‘Darjeeling‘ has enchanted me. When I grew up, inevitably I too took to this drink as my favorite cup of tea. I had visited Darjeeling on many occasions earlier as a kid but that was more of a holiday with family. This year I am visiting Darjeeling again after 12 years, but this time it is with a different mindset, it is with the knowledge that this is the place which was the reason for my morning enchantment as a kid and continues to be, it is  with desire to see the hills that bear them.

Darjeeling is classically beautiful, it is beauty that never ages, it is evergreen  and elegant.

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Sign board on the road way up the hills

As I drove up towards Darjeeling from the Bagdogra Airport in a taxi few hours ago, the spiral hilly roads only added to my anticipation of seeing this old colonial hill city yet again, which was once the summer resort for the British during their rule in India. It is the British influence that I could immediately seen once I reached Darjeeling.

I will skip the part on where and which hotel I checked into because I will detail about my hotel & details of my stay in a following blog post as and when I travel around Darjeeling, since Darjeeling cannot be talked about in only one blog post. In this post I only want to sink into admiring this hill city right now as I stand there. I checked into my hotel a while ago, it is almost sun down now. In the same airport taxi I got dropped off at the next place I could not wait to get to, the Mall Road. Mall Road is a small stretch of road which ends with a huge open space with a stage at the very end which has an enormous live screen playing amazing music videos along side it. The place is busy with tourists and locals lazying around either sitting on the side benches or on the stairs to the stage. There are many horse keepers ready with their horses to take people for a ride around the mall road for a nominal charge. The place is so infectious as if it is inviting me to come, sit, stay and just stop for a while and take a break. Just down the road is the ‘Clock Tower’ with this huge clock standing tall in the heart of the city. It immediately reminded me of some Bollywood movies that were shot around the clock tower (latest Bollywood movie being ‘Barfi‘).

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Clock Tower in Mall Road

As I strolled past the several antique stores by the road the clouds came descending down to kiss me as if to say ‘you are welcome back’.  There is a CCD cafe right in the heart of the mall road facing the valley below.

For now I am sipping onto a lovely cup of Darjeeling tea sitting on a couch telling you all about my first few hours in Darjeeling, while I watch the clouds form a garland in the valley below and I contemplate on my itinerary for my stay of next few days in these hills whom I call ‘My Muse‘.

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Garland of clouds as clicked from the CCD cafe

 

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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DEFINITELY Goa

Things to DEFINITELY do in GOA in an all girls trip

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Definitely 1.
Buy a bikini.
Goa has all kinds of beaches, few in which you can wear a bikini and few in which you might feel a little out of place. So, skip the afternoons and the overcrowded evenings. Try the early morning beach in a bikini in Baga or Calangute or the more calmer Morjim, feel the cold ocean in a fluorescent bikini. Nothing like the morning sea caressing you. Bliss!
Definitely 2.
Buy your poison..beer cans mostly.. soak yourself in the ocean waist down, sip from your can and celebrate the evening. I bet beer never tastes this good anywhere else.
Try this especially in the evening or at night..when the beaches are lit up with the candles on the shack tables, when the breeze is cool and the shore is not so crowded. Feel the infinity before you under the starry skies.Cheers.
 Definitely 3.
Loads of sunscreen of the highest SPF
You never want to get all tanned and spoil all the pretty pictures do you? Saline water and the sunny beach are a deadly combination for severe tanning. Stay protected.
 Definitely 4.
Dig in to the Goan Seafood.
Goan food, pickles, seafood try them all. Also don’t forget to take note that the second language used in all the menus in most restaurants is Russian 😉
 Definitely 5.
Don’t miss The Banana boat ride.
 Ok it is the funniest ride I have had in a long time, its like a self imposed accident/capsize into the saline water :P. It looks as funny as it feels to be in one.
Definitely 6.
Put on your dancing shoes and head to Club Cubana.
 It has the perfect location on top of a hill, you can see the searchlight beam from afar. The most interesting part, the open jeep ride from the parking to the club..it really gets the energy pumped up, the curvy track uphill is the most adventurous part.
(Gurls, don’t miss the girls night, madness and hot men guaranteed ;))
 Definitely 7.
Climb up the light house to catch the stunning view of Goa from the light tower.
Note: Girls!!! avoid wearing short skirts (the mistake I made). Inevitably while de-boarding the vertical metal stairs you don’t want the long queue of people below getting a glimpse J..So dress smart!
Definitely 8.
Grab a plate of magi cooked in which ever style you want after a hard hitting dance night at Tito’s lane.
The maggi stall is just outside the Titos lane and you can almost find it open at the wee hours J. Just want your would want after a crazy night for your hungry stomach. The best mid night snack.
 Definitely 9.
Drive down to Anjuna beach to watch the sun setting beyond the rocky shore and for the love of all things junk.
Also explore the flee markets of Anjuna in the mysterious looking rocks. Especially in the evenings the small flee shops amidst the rocks lighten up, also check out the several open shops selling glowing accessories and crazy junk jewelleries. Definitely a must have souvenir from Anjuna.
Sunset @Anjuna Beach
Sunset @Anjuna Beach
 Definitely 10.
Rent a jeep or a bike to explore Goa in your own style.
Sure as hell you will get lost..but sure as hell you will have the time of your life trying to figure out the roads. But do be careful as even a minor scratch on the rented vehicle can lead the your paying out heavily to the vehicle owner. So take a ride on your own risk!
Goa definitely has a lot more than just this to offer, this just happens to be my personal list of picks 🙂 We would love to hear yours as well!
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