Thai New Year: Songkran & it's Indian Connection

Last year at this time, we were drenched to the skin and loving it as we walked down the Beach Road at Pattaya. No it was not raining, it was bright and sunny. Hot to be precise. It was Songkran day and ice-cold water was being poured on us by everyone on the street.

Songkran is Thai New Year. A festival, celebrated for 3 days starting from 13th April, where getting wet and having fun is all part of the celebration.

At about eight in the morning we left our hotel and walked down the street in search for some breakfast. We noticed locals with bottles of water and big drums of ice water placed outside the shops, assuming that on a hot day like this, hydration must be high on the agenda, we walked on. But as we turned to the Beach road we were bombarded with a garden hose. Stunned, Speechless and completely Soaked, we felt a little Stupid not remembering that today was Songkran. The posters and information was available all over since we had arrived in Thailand.

From then on there was no looking back, you can’t avoid it (unless you stay in your hotel room for 3 days). The lively celebrations on the streets were infectious and we even spotted foreigners joining in with water battles. And they say – if you can’t beat them join them! So we did.

It’s like our very own Holi, just no colors and the other skin harming stuff. Only some chalk (white mud paste) and water is sprayed. From garden hoses to the well-aimed bucket or water-cannon delivered in a festive spirit. The best way to beat the heat, wouldn’t you say!

Bands of youngsters roamed the streets or whizzed past in open trucks with water guns and buckets of water with which they doused one another and others on the street. You’ll find toy stores in big malls selling water-guns and accessories. 7-Eleven sells handy little plastic purses that are the right size for a camera, some money and keys.

Although Songkran seems like amusement for the kids. It has a more significant role – the underlying significance of Songkran is the process of cleansing and purification – the purging of all ills, misfortune and evil and starting the New Year afresh with all that is good and pure. Water is symbolic of the cleaning process and signifies purity.

Traditional Songkran celebrations focus on the renewal of the earth and the home. Wats, homes and Buddhist statues are cleaned. Often, the statues are removed from their wats and paraded around their communities, allowing everyone the chance to make merit by washing them with water, which Buddhists believe will help them achieve a higher ranking in the celestial order when they are reborn.

Songkran Day has been celebrated as New Year’s Day in the Thai solar calendar since ancient times. It is also popular in the neighboring countries of Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. The date coincides with the day the sun leaves Pisces and enters Aries, usually falling on April 13 of each year.

Doesn’t Songkran kind of sounds like of the Hindu festival of Sakranti? Well, because it is related to it. Sankranti is the sanskrit word in Indian Astrology which refers to the transmigration of the Sun from one Rāshi (sign of the zodiac) to another.

Sankranti is celebrated all over South Asia with some regional variations. It is known by different names and celebrated with different customs in different parts of the country. In India it is known by different regional names Makar Sankranti, Uttarayan, Maghi, Pongal, Magh Bihu and so on. In Thailand it is Songkran, Laos – Pi Ma Lao, Myanmar – Thingyan, Cambodia – Moha Sangkran.

Here are some things that coincide with the Thai Ney Year, and are significant in India.

  • The festival of Baisakhi falls on April 13 every year and April 14 once in every 36 years. Change in date is because of the fact that date of Baisakhi is reckoned according to the solar calendar.The other celebrations are ‘Rongali Bihu‘  in Assam, ‘Naba Barsha’ in Bengal, ‘Puthandu’ in Tamil Nadu, ‘Pooram Vishu’ in Kerala and ‘Vaishakha’ in the state of Bihar.
  • On 13th April 1699, The Tenth Guru of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa Panth or the Order of Pure Ones and gave a unique identity to Sikhs. On the same day the guru administered amrit (nectar) to his first batch of five disciples making them Singhs, a martial community.
  • On 13th April 1875, Swami Dayanand Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj – a reformed sect of Hindus who are devoted to the Vedas for spiritual guidance and have discarded idol worship.

 

Back to our trip. Last year Thailand was under political unrest and yet the Red shirt anti-government protesters celebrated the Songkran New Year festival with full enthusiasm and let others enjoy as well. The Siam area where they were protesting was ironically a peaceful sight.

Like any other form of good entertainment, there is an unfortunate side to the holiday. There is a lot of drinking and roads/pavements get slippery and wet by the end of the day. It’s best to be careful mostly about – road accidents, rowdy hooligans and getting sun burnt. Basic common sense helps!

It would be silly in my opinion to avoid Songkran, I mean, welcoming the New Year with a gigantic water fight seems like the best idea ever. But here are some tips from Travelfish on avoiding the water festival.

Although Songkran Festival is celebrated throughout Thailand, I have read that Chiang Mai City is the best venue for the event. Here tourists can take part in the Grand Songkran Festival ceremony and pour scented water on the image of Buddha. The important ritual of bathing Buddha with the water is witnessed by thousands of foreign tourists.

We had a great time in Pattaya and Bangkok and wish I was there today!

Wish you all a happy new year!! sa-wat-di pi mai!!

 

Photos courtesy – Ratchaprasong, Kara van Malssen, Karol Gajda , Eternal Vagabond and Ritika Sabharwal

Destination Coorg

252 kms from Bangalore and 1525 m above sea level lies Coorg which means ‘dense forest on steep hill’. Coorg is often called the Scotland of India.

Being one of the closest getaways from Bangalore (apart from Mysore), it is a nice place to spend a weekend.

The misty hills, lush forest, acres and acres of pepper and coffee plantation, orange groves, undulating streets and breathtaking views are what make Coorg an unforgettable holiday destination.

252 kms from Bangalore and 1525 m above sea level lies Coorg which means ‘dense forest on steep hill’. Dubbed as the Scotland of India.

Being one of the closest getaways from Bangalore (apart from Mysore), it is a nice place to spend a weekend. The misty hills, lush forest, acres and acres of pepper and coffee plantation, orange groves, undulating streets and breathtaking views are what make Coorg an unforgettable holiday destination.

I have lived in the Himalayan regions as well as in the north eastern states of India and mountains and hills are not new to me, but Coorg managed to live up to my expectations. The experience of having coffee & pepper fruit & seeing the cardamom on the roots was unique.

The first time we went there, we stayed at ‘Planters Camp’  (www.coorgplanterscamp.com). Two of our best friends were visiting from Mumbai  & we stayed in two big tents that had all the comforts a tent can provide ;). The tariff where very reasonable & included the tents, all meals, a coffee plantation tour, a nature walk and bonfire.

The weekend was as relaxing as it could get. Lighting the bonfire under a clear night with great company & lots of chit chat was as good as it can get. On the food front, distinctive cuisine includes Pandhi Curry, Kadambuttu, Chilli Pork, Rice Rotis, Chicken Curry, Paputtu, Naputtu, Mutton Pepper Fry, Coorg Mango Curry … Yummy!!

On the way back to Bangalore, we stopped at Bylakupe, the largest tibetan settlement in South India, about 5 kms from Kushalnagar to visit the Namdroling Tibetan Monastery, popularly known as the Golden temple. Unfortunately we neither found momos nor thukpa, but none the less the grandeur of the monastery was worth the stop.

If you are not into budget traveling, another nice place to stay is Club Mahindra Coorg Resort. We booked the studio apartments (recommend taking the top floor), four people can easily be accommodated and it has all modern amenities that you can think of. It has a pool, a recreation center, restaurants, spa & massage center and lots of exciting activities to do.  The only thing I missed was the Coorgie food that we had enjoyed at Planters Camp.

The best time to visit Coorg is from October to April. The intrepid traveler who would care to make a visit during the monsoons during the months of June to September would be rewarded with many an unforgettable sight. There is some local sightseeing to do though we had come to relax & have fun so didn’t venture out much.

On the way back, we did manage go to Abby Falls (or the Liril Falls – the first liril advertisement was shot here). Even during the summer there is plenty of water in these falls. The roar of the falls can be heard from the main road, from where a path goes through lovely coffee and cardamom plantations right up to them. All in all a chilled out place. Do take your jackets with you.

Fact File : Chail – Himachal Pradesh

It might not be one of the Top 10 Hill Stations in India as per mustseeindia, but Chail
has all the makings of a perfect holiday in the hills. And the icing on the cake is that it’s not as crowded as some of the top 10!

Chail is about 350km from Delhi and it takes about 8-10 hr to reach there. We spent a day there last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed the drive especially from Kandaghat to Chail.

We started from New Delhi and took the route via Panchkula and basically traveled on NH1 and NH22. New Delhi –Ambala (250km on NH1) then turn on to NH 22 for another 100Km of driving distance. We crossed Panchkula- Kalka- Dharampur- Solan bypass- Kandaghat – Sadhupull – Chail.

So, What is unique about Chail?

Chail has always stood for the ‘alternative’ and owes its very existence to an impulsive decision by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala to create an alternative capital; a challenge to the British dominated Shimla. There is a legend that the Maharaja was facing an exiled from Shimla after he was banished from Shimla for eloping with Lord Kitchner’s daughter. Lord Kitchner just happened to be the Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army at that time. So the Maharaja decided to create his own summer capital.

Maharaja Bhupinder Singh is perhaps the most famous Maharaja of Patiala. Did you know-  that he was the first man in India to own an aircraft, which he bought from the United Kingdom in the first decade of the twentieth century. He was also the captain of the Indian cricket team that visited England.

Chail main attraction is the Cricket Ground that is the highest cricket ground in the world. Well, as the Captain of the Indian Cricket team the least the Maharaja could do was to have a Cricket pitch in this back yard!

On the premises of the Chail Palace lies ‘The Shimla View point’. On a clear day on can see all of Shimla, although we could imagine it across the clouds when we visited. This is another one of the Maharaja’s genius (almost egoistic ideas), to be on a hill higher than the British, and keep an eye on them- literally.

And the Military School is also very famous. I was surprised to know that the Chail Military School was established after the First World War in 1922, the school occupies the second largest area in Chail after the Palace, they say!

What to do in Chail?

Nothing. Well, I know it’s not as easy as it sounds. But Chail is the perfect places to do noting, maybe, look out your window to admire the beauty of the gigantic Deodar and Oak forests. The other option is to take a book or your iPod and get lost in deep thought. If you are with family/friends it is a good idea to carry some board games.

For the wildlife enthusiasts there is a Sanctuary that one can visit. The monkeys and languor will come visit you in any case. Trekking is another option.

Where to stay in Chail?

We stayed at the Chail Palace that was built in 1891 so we could experience the grand architecture created by the Maharaja. Himachal Tourism, now owner of the gracious mansion has set up nice resort to suit visitor’s needs and budget. The rooms range from 3 to 10k. There is an option to stay in side the main building of the palace that has a bar, dinning room, lounge and a children’s gaming arcade (a couple of video games). There are also cottages and log huts to choose from. Beautiful lawns and thick forests surround the palace. It is perfect for quiet walks on something known as a ‘lovers hill’. Enjoy the badminton courts, lawn tennis courts, billiards and even a children’s park.

The room we stayed in was within the Palace. It was a large room with a nice bathroom. The service here is not awesome, as it is a government run hotel and you may find the service slow, The décor could be better, especially since they have beautiful furniture, wall hangings and ornate mirrors to work with. We had a nice breakfast; the dining room and the bar has the old world charm that we enjoyed.

There are other options like the Lion Hotel or if you prefer camping, Camp sights like http://www.rootsoutdoor.com/ are also available.

After spending a great day in Chail we are off to Kasauli… see you there! 

Fact File : MHOW

Flag of Indian Army

Have you guys seen the Madhya Pradesh Tourism advertisement? ‘Hindustan ka dil dekha…’
Isn’t it awesome? I totally lov it! Not only is the jingle catchy, the concept was clutter breaking and most of all – enjoyable.

For me the thought of Madhya Pradesh takes me to the years I’ve spent in Mhow.

Mhow?!?

Haven’t heard of it, have you? Here is some info to get you started.

MHOW

Must Know – Mhow is a acronym for Military Headquarters of War. It’s a cozy little town about 25 km from Indore and one of India’s most prestigious military training establishments. The military cantonment was founded in 1818 by Sir John Malcolm and is located in the Malwa Plateau. It was established as a result of the Treaty of Mandsour signed by the British Government and the erstwhile Holkar king.

College of Combat, Infantry School and MCTE are the three institutions situated within the cantonment. It has all things that are fauji – a golf cource, open air theater, swimming pool, Army School, Command Hospital and lots and lots of faujies.

 

Must See– Many of my memories of Mhow are of the picnics we had. Mhow is famous for its mild and pleasant weather, beautiful countryside and thus picnics were almost mandatory.

A few of the picnic spots near Mhow worth visiting are Patal Pani Waterfall (5 km), Berchha Lake (8 km), Mandleshwar (70 km), Nakheri Dam (8 km) and Choral Dam (12 km) . Chaaki wale Mahadev, Paatal Hanuman and Kaali Mata temple are the three significant temples in the town.

Must Do – If you are going to Mhow, I am assuming you know someone from the India Army and so something you must do is watch a movie in the open air theater at Infantry/ MCTE movie hall. The experience of watching a movie under the stars is very different for our normal run-off the-mill multiplexes. Another favorite activity for a lot of people in Mhow is fishing at Berchha Lake, although I have absolutely no patience for this.

Also, if you do get a chance to see the light & sound show put up by the Infantry college, you must. It is truly out of the world. The sounds of live fire and the fireworks display at the end. I was fortunate to see a couple of them & will cherish those fun times.

Hsmoking

Must Buy – Mhow is famous for a special kind of embroidery called ‘smoking’. A

mm

must buy are the night gowns and kiddy clothes. They are easily available and ask around in the market for shops that stock them. Leather is also famous – shoes, been bags and more.

About a decade or so back there was a weekly market by the nomads. (don’t know what the situation is now).This was an open air market where what you’ll find was like going on a little adventure. One could find anything from beautiful handmade jewelry or artifacts, clothes, vegetables, knives, gardening equipment, well anything!

Must Try – There is a strong Parsi legacy to this small town as well (the architecture will tell you that) and so the bakeries here are wonderful. Also, try the sabudana namkeen it is a sweet & salty snack with potato flitter, peanuts and sabudana.

The lyrics:

Hindustan Ka Dil Dekha
Bandar dekha, haathi dekha.
Barahsingha, aur cheetal dekha.
Mowgli ke jungleon mein,
Sher Khan ko dekha.
Pachmarhi Satpura ka ajooba,
Bhopal lake mein suraj dooba.
Mandu ka jahaz mahal,
Aur marble ka pahad dekha.
Mahakaal mandir mein pooja,
Photo khicha jaake Orcha.
Gwalior ke kile mein bhatka,
Khajuraho ne de diya jhatka.
Dhim tana dhi re na… nadir…
Purvajon ko milne jule,
Jaa bahita mein Bhimbhetka.
Train ki chik chuk sunte,
Aa pahucha mein Sanchi stupa.
Sanchi ki shanti mein,
Khudke aandar jhaak ke dekha.
Hindustan ka dil dekha.
Hindustan ka dil dekha.

Travel Tips: Udhagamandalam / Ooty

Someone once told me that one should not see everything in a place, so that there is always a reason to come back. Never-the-less, I have some ‘Must do’s’ about every place that I’ve been to. The Travel Tips series are some of my notes-to-self which I thought I’d share with you guys.

Someone once told me that one should not see everything in a place, so that there is always a reason to come back. Never-the-less, I have some ‘Must do’s’ about every place that I’ve been to. The Travel Tips series are some of my notes-to-self which I thought I’d share with you guys.

 

Udhagamandalam aka. Ooty

 

Must Know – Ooty is the “Queen of hill stations” and the capital of the Nilgiris district. It used to be one of the most popular summer and weekend getaways for the Britishers during the colonial days and still retains the old world charm.

Tea plantations

Most movies in the 70’s and 80’s had at least one song shot in Ooty, if not entire sequences. It did not matter whether the movie was Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada or Mallu. It was a place where the hero and heroine would sing in the rolling tea fields or the hills. A large number of potboilers were shot here, as well as well-known hits such as Karz, Moonram Pirai, Gitanjali, Saajan to name a few. Mithun Da’s cult classics like Cheetah, Gunda, Ravan Raj have been shot here.

Ooty - Coonoor Toy train

Must See – Winding roads, cool breeze, tea plantations, beautiful cottages, the lush and verdant greenery, the War memorial at the prestigious Defence Service Staff College at Wellington, the lakes and the botanical garden at Ooty.

Must Do – Take a trip on the ‘Nilgiri toy train’ that connects Coonoor to Ooty. The train itself is a charming blue and cream with wooden coaches and large windows. This train averages at 10.4 km per hour and
is probably the slowest train in India. It leaves Coonoor at 7.45 a.m. crossing Wellington, Aruvakadu, Ketti, and Lovedale, it reaches Ooty by about 9 am. The fare is Rs. 4 for adults in second class and Rs. 76 for adults in first class.

Coonoor Ooty Toy Train

There are many tunnels along the way and the deafening whistle of the train as it goes through the tunnels has a charm of it’s own. If you enjoy taking pictures, keep your camera ready for a few memorable shots of the valley, plains and the picturesque landscape.

Must Buy – Ooty’s famous chocolates. Do pick up some fudge & chocolate from King Star Confectioners. It is a tiny shop at 33 Commercial Rd, Ooty, next to HP Gas. Well known for its home made chocolates of every conceivable description. You just can’t leave Ooty without trying some chocolates from King Star !

Must TryShinkows Opp. the Nilgiri Library, Ph: +91-423-2442811, for Chinese. Like they say, In the hills, things never change, Shinkows was recommended by my parents who were in wellington 25 yrs ago, and is still going strong.

Unique Shopping Destinations within Delhi

Shopping in Delhi

78% of all men/women when asked about his/her ideal way to spend their leisure time would say Shopping.

It a way to de-stress for some, for others it’s the reason why they earn. Purchasing something new, innovative, colorful, antique basically anything interesting gives most of us shoppers a high.

But for the other 22% shopping can be tiresome & boring. How many malls can one see & how many shoes can one try ?

The distinct feature of Delhi markets is that every shopping hub has its own ambience and specialty. Here are a few of my recommendations for people who don’t want to go to the same old boring branded shops.

Dilli Haat

delhi haat

Situated in the heart of Delhi, Dilli Haat is an upgraded version of the traditional weekly market, offering a delightful assortment of craft, food and cultural activities.

The handicraft stalls are allotted on a rotational basis to craftsmen from all corners of India, usually for fifteen days. This ensures a kaleidoscopic view of the richness and diversity of Indian handicrafts and artifacts. One gets to appreciate the hard work & skill that goes into creating one-of-a-kind handicrafts while watching the live demonstrations by craftsmen.

Dilli Haat is a joint collaboration between the New Delhi Municipal Corporation and the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Department. The basic idea of setting up this crafts bazaar was to promote the Indian handicrafts industry and Indian cuisine. Spread across 6 acres of land, Dilli Haat is situated on Sri Aurobindo Marg, opposite the INA market.

There is an entrance fee to go in, but it is well worth spendingthe Rs. 20,  just to see the imaginative landscaping, creative planning, see the artists, and eat the regional food, even if shopping is not on your mind.

Santushti Shopping Arcade

The Air Force Wives association runs this small shopping complex, which is a favorite haunt of diplomats’ wives, located opposite the Ashoka Hotel. More than a dozen boutiques are ringed around a small garden. This isn’t the best spot for bargains, but it is the perfect place to find high fashion Indian clothing.

There is a handbag shop here that has an annual one-day sale when everything in the shop is on a discount. I strongly recommend going to the sale and get there soon because you know how women get around the ‘Sale Sign’.

Must have a ‘spot of tea’ at the popular Basil & Thyme restaurant.

Pragati Maidan

Pragati Maidan

Pragati Maidan hosts a variety of exhibitions, trade shows and trade fairs each year. Functional since 1972, Pragati maidan is a premier event venue in India. It has a dozen indoor halls and almost 10,000 sq. m. of open display space that is spread across 61,290 sqm. Facilities here include Medical aid, ATM’s, Restaurants & parking.

India International Trade Fair & the New Delhi Auto Expo are the well known events, but something or the other is always happening here.

Crafts Museum

There is plenty to see near Pragati Maidan:

  • Crafts Museum which is open from 10am-5pm daily, except Monday. Pick up some souvenirs from Crafts Museum Shop.
  • Dolls Museum – A unique museum of Dolls is located near the ITO crossing on the Bahadur Shah Jafar Marg. These dolls are collected from different parts of India as well as from other countries of the world. Pick up some children books from Children Book Trust of India in the same building.
  • National Science Centre
  • Rajpath and India Gate

Sundernagar Market

If you are a jewelry buff, Sundernagar should be on your Top 10 things to go to. A choice selection of Antiques and silver trinkets, especially of silver jewelry from Ladakh, semi- precious stones, some textiles, brass, copper and silver artifacts are available here.

The Sundarnagar market also has shops selling India’s finest tea and a tea tasting session at one of these shops should be on the top of your itinerary.

Shopping is always on top of the itinerary for me, especially when visiting Delhi. There is whole hoopla of places to go for hard-core shopping. However, this list is for those looking for something more unique, something different.

Hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Shopping @ South Delhi

cloth

I once saw a fuchsia pink ambassador (India’s oldest and most iconic car), driven by a Blonde European Lady, outside South Extension Market, with the back seat filled with Nalli & Benetton shopping bags: an image that forever will make me smile.

Well! Delhi is all about contradictions – unusual things usually happen here. The shopping is no different.

Take Khan Market for instance. It gives an impression of a local market, 2-3 lanes with a couple of big showrooms, double story buildings with a parking lot in the centre & a few nice restaurants.

But did you know that Khan Market is the most expensive retail destination?!?  In its annual report on global retail rents, the worldwide real estate consultancy firm Cushman and Wakefield put India at 16th position & Khan Market moved up eight places from its 24th position last year. Believe it or not, the market ranks above some of the fancied elite shopping destinations, such as Moscow, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Amsterdam and Toronto.

If you’re in South Delhi the list of places to shop is endless including, but to limited to, Khan Market, DefCol, Southx, Lajpat Nagar & Hauz Khas Village…this is just the start. There is also New Friends Colony, Ashram, Munirka, Ansals Plaza, GK, Lodi Market, Green Park and Nehru Place, and some place even I don’t know about.

Khan Market

Khan Market

Khan Market is popular with the diplomatic community. It houses stores like Benetton, Tag Heuer, Levis, Woodland, Nike and also specialty boutiques like Anokhi, Ogaan, Bizarre, FabIndia and some-such.

Apart from these one will find excellent book shops, opticians, grocers, photographers, tailors, and household furnishing stores. Across the other side of the road there are shops that mainly specialize in Lamps, there is also Khadi & Hyde Out (for Shoes). Must visit Cafe Turtle, Big Chill & Khan Chacha Rolls whenever you are there.

Defense Colony
There are two DefCol markets; one is more famous for the restaurants and the other for the designer boutiques under the flyover.  Since my office was in A block, I know the one with the restaurant like the back of my hand. There is not much to shop here, except a nice Punjabi T’shirt shop. It’s mainly a place to indulge yourself. My recommendations- Appam & stew @ Swagat, Sizzlers @ Moet’s, Iddli @Sagar, Pizza @ Little Italy, chana-kulcha and onion chaori @ Nathus. Try the ‘Harry-Shanti’ saloon for a haircut.

South Ex
On both sides of the ring road when one finds colorful displays & neon lights, with huge departmental stores like Ebony, Big Jos, Hopps – one can be sure to have reached South Extension.

Southx is an up-market shopping area where quality garments and footwear sell like hot potatoes. The annual sales here are a much-awaited feature. Remember- most shops are closed on Mondays.It’s basically a hangout for the-so-called- hip-n-happening-college-crowd. Must do’s here include a peek at the jewelry shops & eating bhelpuri at the corner shop in Southx-Part 1.

Lajpat Nagar
Delhi is a genuine paradise for shoppers, where else can one buy cheap-export-rejected-designer-branded-goodies. If that caught your attention, Lajpath Nagar Market is the place for you. I once bought home-décor table runners with potterybarn’s label for 100 bucks a piece (beat that!).
But that’s not all , you get good photo-framing options, accessories, home tit-bits and running cloth material. It has the largest ladies suit market in Asia. Of course one has to bargain, but the prices are very reasonable anyway. One can never get tired of just looking around when here.

Hauz Khas Village
The haunt of the nouveau riche, HKV offers a combination of ethnic chic and designer lebels, Indian and international. A few years ago, an association called Dastakar – set up a showroom in the village. Over time, a village had developed around the medieval college and the tomb of Firoz Shah Tughlaq. Now the village has a plethora of boutiques and art galleries which coexist with hatched roof buildings and men with hookahs on charpoys. Far from being a deterrent, the “rural” ambience is a positive attraction.

Bridal Shopping in Delhi … coming soon!!

Your shopping Guide to Delhi

ConfessionI’m an obsessed Delhiite and I’ll love Delhi no matter how crazy it becomes.

Although, this was not always the case; there was a time when I thought Delhi sucked.

This was way back when I found traveling in Delhi inconvenient and the pollution levels unbearable. Things have changed for the better, with the metro and the CNG autos and buses. Traveling has become easy and pollution comparatively less. Agreed, the traffic jams and road rage is still a problem, but I can handle Delhi hormones 🙂

I’m planning do a 4-5 part series on Delhi for the benefit of some of you planning to visit Delhi for the Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010 or otherwise. For the people who are know-it-all and disagree on my-take-on-Delhi I have only one thing to say : “You may not agree with me but the difference between you & me is that – I wrote this & you are reading it !!”

So, let me get back to the topic of discussion …Shopping! Delhi is a shopper’s paradise; one can find stuff in every budget and every style.

connaught place map

Let me start with the heart of Delhi – Connaught place aka. CP. The area is built on a series of roads which run in concentric circles – much like a wheel. In the center of the wheel (hub) there is a huge underground bazaar called the Palika Bazaar, selling all kinds of things. Above this is our very own Central Park.

Connaught Place

CP is a kaleidoscope of Restaurants, Banks, Movie halls, Branded Shops, Roadside shops and Offices. I have spent hours just window shopping there.

Spend some time in the State Emporiums (opposite Hanuman Mandir) for the traditional handicrafts of each state – The Rajasthan and Jammu-Kashmir emporeums have really amazing stuff, and the prices are also reasonable. Central Cottage Industries Emporium on Janpath has things from anywhere-n-everywhere in India; it is exclusive and hence expensive.

Visit Khadi Bhandaar. I always pick some handmade soap and khadi kurtas – excellent stuff for gifts. Other interesting thing includes the Chuddi (bangles) Market behind Hanuman Mandir – a treasure trove for bangles in colors to match every outfit and the wholesale market for flowers in front of the Coffee House (from 5-8 am).

cottage emporium

Bargain hunters must visit Janpath & Tibetan Market for silk scarves, bags and clothes. House of Scarves on Janpath gets my vote for the best variety. Another cool store is People Tree near the Rivoli movie theater for unusual stuff (I admit – some of it is overpriced).

janpath

The Inner & Outer circles have there share of big-branded-shops. During the ‘SALE’ season, crowds can make it difficult to walk. Whenever we go to CP, a stop at Wengers (A block) is a must, the chicken puff is-to-die-for among other delectable delights & the cold-coffee at Kavenders or DePaul can’t be missed.

Panchkuian Marg is best for furniture & cane stuff, we bought our dog’s basket from there 😉

In the summer days enjoy the cool underground market & test your bargaining skills. At Palika Bazar you’ll find all types of electronics, clothes, leather goods, and jewelry… even the Nintendo Wii which may not be available in the rest of the world will be in stock here.

Shankar Market is famous for Indian dress material. Fresh Juice Shops & Rajma-Chawal corner shop were my office lunch time hang outs in this area. Gol Market & Bengali Market near CP, are better known for the food than shopping.

A short ride away is Daryaganj. It’s the most extensive second hand book pavement market. Book lovers and students come from all over to purchase books at throw away prices every Sunday. Some day I hope to find hidden treasures among the heap of books.

daryaganj

I can go on and on but am gonna leave some stuff for the next post ! Keep Reading.

Trip-ping in Goa

Our drive to Goa was anything but NON-Entertaining, driving 14-15 hrs on a road that went on and on forever. We drove thru a windmill farm, a one lane National highway, then a six lane express way, a jungle, train crossing, a ghat with no street lights and finally we drove parallel to moon lit beaches. Good Fun!

Goa car

It was the shortest route possible, or so said the Yahoo maps! Guess Yahoo is still learning about the good & the bad roads of India. But like I said, it was exciting. We started at 5 in the morning from Bangalore & reached at about 9 in the evening at Sinquerim in North Goa.

North Goa offers glistening sands, hippie culture, ultra fresh seafood, luxury hotels & budget guesthouses and cheep chilled beer ‘n’ friendly people completes this compelling kaleidoscope.

goa Mix

We stayed at Lui Beach Resort a budget resort with all the basic amenities, a functional restaurant, a pool & a/c rooms. We’ve stayed at Taj Aguada &  Goa Beach Apartment earlier & will recommend them both. Kingfisher Villa  is also parked on the same stretch of road, only you’ll need to be Dr Mallya’s guest to stay there 😉 (http://wikimapia.org/449932/Kingfisher-Villa-Vijay-Mallya-s-mansion).

Goa is known internationally for its beaches, be it water sports ace Candolim beach, the overpopulated Baga beach, foodie Calangute beach, rocky Anjuna beach or snobbish South-Goa beach. The golden sand spreads over miles and miles and the sunsets are to die for. One finds people just lazzzing around and getting that sun tan look or enjoying the cool waters of the Arabian Sea.

Since Goa is all about food and wine, we splurged with 4-5 mini meals a day. Some of my favorite restaurants in North Goa include Bristo on Baga, Xaviers on Candolim, and Fisherman’s Cove & Tuscany Gardens on the road to Fort Aguada. In the peak months (Nov-Feb), every courtyard of the houses on this stretch becomes a restaurant; I love the whole hustle-bustle.

We also went to Tito’s which was a big letdown. There wasn’t a valet parking facility and finding a place to park was a pain. At the entrance, their waterfall was spilling water on the pathway; I thought I spotted a stray dog in the restaurant also. Restaurant decor was somewhat akin to a shack. Food n Drinks menu was very limited, and the food was not up to the mark. It looks like Tito’s is just cashing the name. The entire road has big TITO’S signs and is very confusing. Basically Avoid. The disc section opens at 10.00 pm, and the crowd was (sorry to say) ghatti & rowdy. We didn’t even enter. Fortunately there are hundreds of other amazing places to go to.

As far as the drinks are concerned, we had the port wine (I know, I know, it’s not really a wine but I like it). The Kings beer a local beer is worth a try.

Suggested itineraries for Goa generally include attractions at capital City Panaji, Old Goa churches that are a legacy of Portuguese colonization (http://www.goaholidayhomes.com/churches-in-goa.php), Fort Aguda Lighthouse, River Cruise & the beaches.

On the beaches, sit back and relax get a non-permanent tattoo or buy cool trinkets. If you are the ‘lets-do-something-can’t-sit-still’ kind then a variety of water sports options are also available, just make sure you negotiate a good deal.

Shopping in Goa is luck by chance; you may get something incredible or nothing at all. Anjuna and Mapusa markets are famous for traditional curios and handicrafts of Goa. Remember to bargain a lot.

Goa will always be one of my absolute fav places to chill out. It is easy to slip into Goa’s warm effortless existence.

Looking forward to the next year’s trip!

Just what the doctor ordered…GOA!

Picture this ….Beach-Beer-Book on a Sunny Sunday Afternoon. Isn’t that what a relaxing holiday is all about!

Our recent trip to Goa is just what we needed, not that we are over worked or exhausted, but who doesn’t love a little pampering & relaxation.

Most believe Goa to be a place for huge groups of friends, open-top Gypsies, Loud music, Water sports & late nights at Titos. They are right & we have done that a on our previous visits and sure it was fun … but there is another side to Goa, where chilling, taking things slow, (the travel-show-hosts cliché of ‘being spiritual or being one with the surroundings’) is priority.

On our most recent trip, we decided to drive down to Goa, stay in a small resort, chill on the beach & basically make no plans.

I confess, I am a planner, although I’d love to be the impulsive type I’ve never been able to NOT Plan. Surprisingly I got used to an unplanned day very quickly. I guess its easy when all one has to do is lie in the sun & look at the surf, read ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – a trilogy in four parts’ (that’s always makes me smile).

After this trip, I have decided to leave all the planning to hubby dear, I’ll be there to enjoy the moment. WHAT FUN!!

So what were the unplanned things we did? We hit the restaurants, beaches at odd hours of the day. The great thing about Goa is that food & drink is available all the time. The same is true for the crowds at Baga, Anjuna & the others.

Read on about Goa in the travel & review section.