Monday, August 21, 2017

Stop and Shop on Your Next Visit to Matheran

The last time I visited Matheran I was merely 13, a school trip; major part of which was spent talking about boys and celebrity crushes. :D This time around though, I really saw Matheran, and it is one of the most beautiful places I have been to so far. The subtle breeze that sweeps you off your feet, the dewy greens that land you straight into a fantasy and the majestically beautiful mountains, what's not to love? And I am going to give you one more reason to love it: its not-so-hustling-bustling but genuinely amazing market.

So, if you are done witnessing the beauty of King George Point, Louisa Point, and One Tree Hill  Point, among others; these are the stores to head to.

1. Leather Boutique


This corner store on M. G. Road instantly grabbed my attention due to its trendy sling bags. Hardly did I know, there was more to it than just sling bags. Once inside, I was in for a treat. Shoulder bags, laptop bags, clutches, sunglass cases, and coin purses; there was nothing this store did not offer, and all of it in fine leather. Thanks to the lovely collection (that comes at reasonable prices), I ended up spending more than an hour, deciding what to buy. I ended up buying five times more than I was supposed to. So, make sure you carry some spare cash with you while heading here.


Address: M.G. Road, Opp. Ram Mandir
Contact: 02148 230015





  2. Reliable Footwear

With genuine leather footwear placed neatly between the price range of Rs 300 and Rs 1000, this store offers an immense variety for both, men and women. The store offers a wide range of footwear that's suitable for your ethnic as well as sporty needs. The soft spoken and delightful owner makes the shopping experience all the more pleasing.

Where: Shop No. 1, M. G. Road, Opp Ram Mandir
Contact:  9422495546








3. Bhagyashree Footwear


I don't know why exactly their name says footwear, because this store does not have any footwear on offer. However, their collection of bags, piggy banks, and other similar articles is downright fabulous. The piggy banks come in the range of Rs 400 - 800, depending on the size, while the handbags go beyond Rs 1000, a tad bit expensive than the ones we got at Leather Boutique.

Where: M. G. Road, Opp. Masjid Kapadia Market
Contact: 9404561807



            

4. Nariman Chikki Mart


Surprisingly the only food store on the list, Nariman Chikki Mart sure deserves the spot; not only for its mouth-watering chikkis, but also for the melt-in-the-mouth fudges. Apart from the dozen varieties of chikkis, the fudges also come in four different flavors: chocolate, strawberry (yes, you read that right), dryfruit, and mango - all of them really delicious. Among the chikkis, I would recommend dryfruit, groundnut, groundnut powder, cashew, and my favorite - the chana chikki. Those with a love for walnuts can opt for the walnut one. Goodies like jams and fruit pulps are another reason to explore the store.

Where: M. G. Road
Contact: 02148 230131





Conveniently enough, these stores are located not very far from each other, making it all the more easier to shop, eat, repeat. Hope you enjoyed this post.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

5 Experiences You Just Can't Afford to Miss in Bangkok

Budget-friendly, awe-inspiring, and proximate - Thailand makes the perfect spot for a quick holiday. And if you're going to Thailand, you obviously cannot skip the visit to the hustling bustling city of Bangkok. With grand temples, floating markets and some delicious street food, this is just the place for anyone infected with the travel bug. What's the best of Bangkok, you ask? Here's what!

1. Experience a Spiritual High



Even as a really busy city, Bangkok doesn't disappoint you one bit when it comes to offering you a spiritual treat. In order of grandness, The Grand Palace (known for Wat Phra Kaew), Wat Pho and Wat Arun are the three temples that amaze you not only with their royal beauty, but also with their spectacular architecture.

Note: A strict dress code is followed at all the temples in Thailand. Wearing tank tops, shorts, or dresses is strictly prohibited in the premises. Too late now? Don't you worry. You can rent pyjamas and wraparounds at the stalls outside the temples.

2. Board the BTS Skytrain




Extremely convenient and cheap, the BTS skytrain is absolutely the best way to commute around Bangkok. All you have to do is Locate Your Station on the Ticket Machine, Select Fare, Insert Coins and voila, you have yourself a ticket. The only challenge here is the absence of actual station boards, which instead direct you to Mo Chit (towards Chatuchak) or Bearing (towards  Asoke). I found this video very helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzWZH32VS0A . An interesting tip: make sure you board the last coach, if you want to enjoy the beautiful skyscape of Bangkok; the others are usually covered.

3. Shop at Chatuchaak Market




Chatuchak is more than just a market, it is shopping paradise spread out in approximately 70 acres with as many as 15,000 stalls that grace it every weekend. It can be a real challenge navigating through the market, so make sure you pick up a map at the information booth. There's nothing that you won't get here, be it t-shirts, trendy denims, souvenirs, bikinis, and home decor items, and so on.

4. Hop into a Tuk Tuk 



You cannot go to Thailand and come back without having ridden in a Tuk Tuk. Although it costs you almost the same as a taxi, the Fast and Furious-like experience is something everyone should enjoy once in a lifetime.

5. Relish the Massages



1 hour massages at 300 rs! Now who's gonna say no to that, definitely not us. They're just what you need after a long hard day of trotting around. We got them at the end of each day, there's nothing more heavenly, trust me.

A few more unmissable experiences include the street food (which my choosy taste buds didn't allow me to relish), the floating market, the Sea Life, and a dinner at Rang Mahal.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Exploring Pondicherry




How We Got There: Pune to Chennai (By Air - 1hr 45 mins)
                                        Chennai to Pondicherry (By Road - 2.5 hours)

Where We Stayed: https://www.airbnb.co.in/users/show/90542004




It was only a few years back that I stumbled upon the beauty of Pondy. I had been dying to visit the French city since. So when I was asked to choose a weekend getaway destination, I was quick to decide, and I am glad I chose Pondy.

So far, Pondicherry tops my list of cities in India because it's got everything, it literally has everything. It's got churches, temples, museums, it's got beaches, beautiful streets, and colorful cafes; it's got the hustle bustle of a city but it also has the peace and quiet; AND it has the friendliest people that I have ever come across. Pondicherry, if you ask me is a perfect dish, with all the ingredients in just the right amount.


What more could you ask? Well, I couldn't.

It being a chilled-out weekend trip for us, we chose not to keep hopping from one place to the other. However, even 3 days was an ample time to explore quite a few places in the city.

Day 1:

Tired from all the traveling from the previous night, we headed straight to the Promenade late in the morning. Thankfully, our host's lovely home was only a 2-minutes drive to the place. 
The Promenade is to Pondicherry what Marine Drive is to Mumbai, except that with no vehicles, the former takes the cake. As sunny as it was, it did not do the slightest harm to the windy walking plaza. It was just as pleasant to take a stroll here. Luckily for my growling tummy, we came across Le Cafe. Hurriedly, I grabbed a table facing the sea. Sipping my watermelon juice and watching the sea stretching endlessly was just what I had needed to begin the trip.
img_20170204_104332_327.jpg
Promenade


Next we headed to Auroville, which was a 15 minute ride from the Promenade. A short movie gave us a brief idea about the principles of Auroville, and why it was founded. To sum up, 
Auroville is a planned township which was founded by the Mother in 1968. It has residents from all over the world who live together above caste and creed. In the center of the town is the Matrimandir, a place for silent concentration.
matrimandir
Matrimandir



Note: To visit the Matrimandir, you need to book at least 2 days in advance.

Also interesting is the fact that the urn in the Auroville amphitheatre contains soil from all the 124 countries which participated in its inauguration, along with 23 Indian states.


The walk towards Matrimandir (about 2 kms from the entrance) is a peaceful one, with interesting quotes to keep you company all along. One may also choose to rent a bicycle to go around. The place as a whole, feels like a big beautiful garden, with tall trees, lots of flowers and a variety of birds. Luckily, we spotted a beautiful Indian Paradise Flycatcher on one of the trees.

After spending some time eyeing the beauty of the beautiful Matrimandir, we decided to go back and explore the cafes and boutique shops in the vicinity. The cafes offered a mix of both, Indian and French food; while the boutiques showcased a variety of items including clothing, jewelry, handmade paper items, and souvenirs.






Boutique Shops at Auroville


We decided to spend our evening at the Promenade, and what a pleasure it is to be here for a sunset. The cooling of the breeze, the changing colors of the skies, accompanied with the music of waves - a treat to all the senses.


Once the sun had set, and the day came to an end, people from every part of the city started to come in to wind down for the day: gajra-clad women indulging in the daily gossip, new moms chasing after their toddlers, the toddlers chasing the soapy bubbles, a group of young thalaiva fans, tourists from all over the world, and fellow visitors like us - everyone comes here to wind up their day. This is one place I got to experience the culture of the city, which instantly made it my favorite.









For dinner, we decided to head to the Bay of Buddha. The lovely sea-facing terrace restaurant was decorated very well with dim lighting, and a specialty of Pondy - the paper balloons. It was just the place to give a fancy end to our evening.


Day 2:

We started the next morning with an early sunrise. I am not much of an early riser, but give me a sunrise on a beach, I'll be the first one to wake. It's not called awakening for nothing. 













We went back home to have breakfast with our lovely host Mr. Prithvijit, and got introduced to their very adorable dogs Zorro and Pupatti. 















After a long discussion of places to visit, we quickly left for the day, our first stop being the 
Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar TempleThis Ganesha temple is adorned with huge canvases which depict events from Lord Ganesha's life. Like all the temples in South, this one too is colorful, grand, and beautiful.



img20170204122148.jpg


Next on the list was the Pondicherry Museum. The museum is divided into various sections, namely, Bronze gallery, French gallery, and the Geology section. While the Bronze gallery has bronze sculptures of gods and goddesses from the Pallava and Chola dynasties, the French gallery displays a collection of fine French furniture. The museum also has a wide collection of arms, ammunition, and coins.






Beautiful Streets in Pondy


For lunch, we decided to stop by the very popular Cafe Des Arts. A casual eatery with simple snacks on the menu, the place failed to impress as far as the food was concerned. The setting of the place was however, quite nice.








This is where we realized we still hadn't seen any of the beautiful churches in Pondy yet. Since we had too many places to explore, we decided to visit the one that was nearest - the Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges. The church, also known as Our Lady of Angels Church is the fourth-oldest church in Pondicherry. Peaceful and beautiful, it is located right on the Promenade. The colorful glass ceilings along with the lovely flower decorations make it a must-go. We are so happy we stumbled on this one.




img_20170212_095410.jpg




And then it was time for us to GPS the lighthouse.
Going to the top of the lighthouse needed us to climb a never-ending stairwell. But it was every bit worth it. The view of the clear blue waves from the top, the small huts on the beaches, the lovely green of the coconut trees and the various colors of Pondicherry were all worth the pain.



img_20170212_095558.jpg
View from the LightHouse




The heat of the day was a sign we had to head to the beach now. Quickly, we decided to go to the Paradise beach and saw the sun set. I spent hours  collecting shells here - all of them so different and so beautiful.









By the time we left the beach, a part of me had already become a part of the city, which is why I was missing spending my evening at the promenade; almost like I had always been here all of my life and I was missing my daily ritual. I don't know if everyone feels that way, but that's what Pondy felt like to me - like home. 
This day, we ended, with a long, laid-back dinner at the Spice Route.




Day 3:
Ah, it was time to say goodbye already. We spent the Sunday morning having a lazy breakfast with our wonderful hosts. When it was time for a goodbye, I did it quick. Hate goodbyes!

But we still had some time before we set for Chennai. So, we headed to the Aurobindo Ashram, which is home to the samadhi of Sri Aurobindo. After spending a few minutes in silence in the ashram, we headed to 
Auroshikha, which is my most highly-recommended shopping place in Pondy. 
The small little fragrance shop sells everything ranging from potpourris to room fresheners, as well as body fragrances, and all for very reasonable prices. This is the place to stop by to get everyone those souvenirs.

In short, my small visit to Pondicherry was everything I had wanted it to be. A little spiritual, a little quiet and chilled-out, a little romantic, and very much colorful, giving me just the break I had needed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Stok Summit


My love affair with the hills, dates back to my childhood, and if I can escape the censor board, it has only become steamier since then. As a high school kid, I remember escaping school, taking a train to do long treks to waterfalls and hills near  Ranchi. Last month I went back to Leh, I’ve done Chadar trek there in the winters earlier. Chadar is one of the most loved treks because of its uniqueness. This time the challenge was different - Stok Kangri being the highest trek-able summit of India at 20172ft.
We spent a couple of days in Leh acclimatizing and adjusting to the high altitude. While in Leh, we did little forays into local markets and made a few friends too. The Shanti Stupa and Leh Place are two local attractions that we visited, among the many little eateries that we tried out. Thupka – a kind of soup soon emerged as one of the favorites from the local cuisine and we frequented the German bakery to satiate our taste buds quite often.


Shanti Stupa

Day 3: Our supercharged group set off for Stok village in an Innova early in the morning. The mood soon rubbed on to our driver too, who regaled us with Hindi music from the 90s, spicing it up with some local gossip. It was a motley group of 6 adventurers with experienced trekkers, deep sea divers and ofcourse a few lazy not-so-experienced friends.
After a short drive to the base village, we started walking towards our first camp – Chang Ma.(Churma Chang) Our group was led by Pemba, a veteran with 4 Everest summits and even Annapurna summit in his kitty. It was an easy climb initially, but we soon met with an extremely steep cliff to climb. The strenuous hike shook us off our slumber and it dawned upon us that this expedition will not be a cake-walk. I was carrying a full backpack then and was quite tired. It was quite a relief on reaching the camp. The camp was located in a valley surrounded by intimidating geography. It can only be experienced, no camera can really capture the moments we spend in the Himalayas.


Magnificent Geography


Day4: The biggest challenge when you are coming for the first time to a Nature trek is going to the toilet. You either go in the open or to a pit toilet. For hygiene factors, you have to dig a pit and then later cover it with mud/stones that you dug up, everyone should follow this to ensure the environs are clean. We also make sure on each trip, we pick up plastics on our way. The good part about this trip was, we pitched our own tents & helped the cooking staff as well. Having the back-up staff do everything for you is not really a true trekking experience. We packed everything and started off for the next camp – Manokarma.

Manokarma




This trek was a lot easier than the previous day with just one steep climb. We had a lot of fun on the way as we walked through the gorgeous environs and drank directly from clean mountain streams.

Clear Himalayan streams gave us drinking water






We would reach the next camp always in the afternoon and rest. But here we chose to do a small climb to the nearby peak as practice. During our little sojourn while going up, we discovered the cutest creatures of these parts, the Marmot. They were surprisingly very friendly and gave us a lot of photo opportunities.






Himalayan Marmots



Day 5: We always knew this will be a difficult day. It was a tough climb but by now I had found my rhythm. The key to a good trek is rhythm, we walk at a slow consistent pace and breathe at regular intervals. Due to the altitude, people had started feeling light headed and a couple of them started showing symptoms of altitude sickness. We trudged upon with determination and reached the base camp (16300 ft) in good time. I was first to reach and by now was very confident of summiting. The base camp and Manokarma have a tent shop/eatery with essentials and snacks. Many people do not carry food and depend on the shop for supplies.







Mountain Goats




The camp is simply gorgeous, with a river and view of the Stok range on one side, and the valley down on the other. Normally we have clear skies for night shots of stars, we didn’t have much luck in this regard though. It was not easy breathing here, couple of guys who had taken ill were not doing any better. One of them chose to quit. It is extremely important we make the right decision as AMS can be fatal. If the symptoms persist the patient is given oxygen and taken to lower altitude.
In the evening, we climbed the hill nearby again as practice and the view from there was exhilarating!









Prayer flags and the view from the top








It was in the evening that I got a shocker. During oxygen checks, I showed an abysmal reading and it was sure that if I didn’t recover it meant my trip had ended. It was a difficult evening, I did not want to quit. It was time for a short prayer to God. I started drinking a lot of water, it is the one chance we have against AMS. The weather also was not looking up. There was the occasional rain also clouding our chances of making it to the top. After the usual rounds of chatter, food and few games of Uno & Cards, we decided to rest as the next day was crucial.



Day 6: This was the D-Day or should I say the D-night. J  The day was for rest and preparations like readying the crampons and the snow axes. Fortunately, drinking 5 liters of water had worked wonders for me, I was feeling a lot better and my oxygen levels were much higher.
All 5 of us were brimming with excitement in anticipation and sleeping early that day was surely difficult. But it was important to rest as the climb was to begin at 2300 hours and which it did.
We had a quick meal at about 2230, simple hot porridge to keep us full and yet healthy. Armed with snow axes, crampons, rain protection and a few energy bars we started climbing in the dead of the night. The summit was at 20172 ft and we all knew what lied ahead of us, will be the toughest part of the trek.

We soon found snow and had to gear up to avoid slipping. The terrain became even more treacherous as we moved up climbing past deep valleys and gorges.








Roping up as a team to avoid someone from falling









By early morning we were all exhausted but no one was in the mood to give up. We kept pushing us, however, the challenge now was huge. After climbing up a glacial wall, we had to walk on a narrow path and a wrong step could have had dangerous implications.







The Final Stretch






It was here that many fellow climbers took a call to not proceed. We did not want to give up and as a team we decided to summit and there was no turning back after that. Occasionally, we took a short break wherever we could stop on the nearly vertical climb.








Resting at the corridor




We reached the summit at 0835 hours, about 9 hours 30 minutes after starting. It was a brutal climb but the sense of accomplishment through team work and supporting each other all through, made us all emotional. After a few minutes we recovered and there was a little celebration on the summit.







Pemba - A veteran of many 6k+ peaks, Everest and Annapurna among them!


This was certainly not the end of adventure, one of the not-so-well-kept secrets in climbing is that coming down is always a bigger challenge. We are testimony to the fact as there was rescue that we had to do to ensure of us came back safely. I used a little bit of my ice climbing skills learnt in Alaska to help a few people who didn’t have the experience. To make matters worse, it started snowing and raining in patches, we did not have an option but to go on. After a lot of gut-wrenching effort, we could get our team back to safer altitude. From here started a long climb down to the base camp, often in knee-deep snow. The unknown terrain underneath snow caused a few falls but thankfully no one was hurt.
As soon as we reached base camp, there was a deluge of congratulatory hugs and high-fives from the support staff and other folks at the base camp. We however wanted just one thing – Sleep.

We woke up the next day morning and came back to Stok village in heavy rain in a single go. The next day it was time for Rafting in the mighty Zanskar River. That’s another story for another day. The one thing that is difficult to learn and we only know through such experiences is the might of a team, it helps us achieve the insurmountable!





The Team at Stok Kangri Summit

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kawah Ratu in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia

Kawah Ratu or Queen's Crater

Mt Tangkuban Perahu, a StratoVolcano 30 km north of Bandung, Indonesia.

Locals are friendly, you get to see hot springs. You can even have eggs cooked on the boiling surface!